Darwin wrote the Origin of Species in 1859. He does not use the term evolution, but he does speak at length about natural selection. The greatest problem, although it was certainly not Darwin’s fault, was that people interpreted the “selection” part to be something in which the organism itself was somehow able to self determine, or select.
This confusion is further complicated by the fact that humans have for many thousands of years selected traits, in corn, or dogs, for example, that suit human needs. However, the process of unconscious artificial selection differs considerably from natural selection.
Natural selection is driven by the environment. If a glacial period favors short, stocky hairy people, then Neanderthals will thrive and breed more Neanderthals. If the environment favors bison that are not set upon by predators on trains with rifles, the environment favors the survival of vast herds of bison.
It is confusing because people by their own natural selection, developed innate and behavioral traits that favor straightforward, and often binary answers. This is a survival mechanism that sometimes works against living things, none more so than human beings.
Life is never black or white. There is no nature versus nurture. They drive, and involve, one another. There is no good versus evil. They are a matter of perspective. There is no argument of whether the Bible is right, or Darwin is right. They both have valid information of varying kinds.
Darwin, as had many ancients, and even his grandfather before him, was certain that all life was related. Natural selection, he realized, was the driving force as to how it changed according to each different environment. A trait favored by the environment is more likely to be retained.
On the Galapagos Islands, he realized that very subtle changes were completely particular to subtle changes in each environment. He also noted this in other places, but it was the aptly named “Enchanted Isles” that his brilliant insight gained most of its strength and support.
Natural selection means that nature and the environment, favor some traits over others, when a species is struggling over a long period of time to evolve.
Microbes and virus, and even some insects, evolve much more quickly, proving the fact of evolution, but this would not be discovered for some time later, after DNA was found.
Natural selection is a process whereby all of those organisms with favored traits have not a guaranteed chance of survival, but better overall odds. Their slight variation in antennae, or beak shape, does not mean they will not succumb to a predator or parasite, but that they have an increased chance of surviving in comparison to their cousin species who may not have that same adaptation.
Survival of the fittest is a phrase sometimes used to explain Natural selection, but it has been dropped by most biologists, as it just confused the reality which remains. Natural Selection, and its result, evolution, is driven by the environment, or as some call it, God.