Charles Robert Darwin (February 12, 1809 - April 19, 1882) was a revolutionary British geologist and naturalist who laid the foundation for both the modern theory of evolution and the principle of common descent with his proposal of natural selection as a mechanism. He published this proposal in 1859 in the book Origin of Species, which remains his most famous work. A worldwide sea voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle and observations on the Galapagos Islands in particular provided inspiration and much of the data on which he based his theory.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, the fifth of six children of Robert and Susannah Darwin nee Wedgwood), and the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, and of Josiah Wedgwood.
After finishing school, Darwin studied medicine in Edinburgh in 1825.
His dislike for dissection and the brutality of surgery at the time led him to leave the medical school in 1827.
Whilst there, however, he was influenced by the Lamarckian Robert Edmund Grant.
His father, unhappy that his younger son had not become a physician and fearing that he would become a "ne'er do well", enrolled him at Cambridge University, with the hopes of Charles' eventually becoming a parson.
While at Cambridge, he came under the intellectual influence of scientific minds such as William Whewell and John Stevens Henslow which (combined with his interest in collecting beetles, which was encouraged by his cousin, William Darwin Fox) resulted in him pursuing natural history.
After taking his degree with honors, Darwin stayed at Cambridge for further studies in geology, where he proved particularly adept. In the summer of 1831, Darwin worked with the great geologist Adam Sedgwick mapping strata in Wales.
Darwin had planned to visit Madeira with some class-mates upon graduation in 1831. These plans, however, fell through. After Darwin finished his studies, Henslow recommended him for the position of gentleman's companion to Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the HMS Beagle, which was departing on a five-year expedition to chart the coastline of South America.
Journey on the Beagle
Darwin's work during the Beagle expedition allowed him to study both the geological properties of continents and isles and a multitude of living organisms and fossils. He collected an enormous number of specimens new to science in a very methodical way, and his specimens sent back to the British Museum were by themselves a significant contribution to science, and made him one of the precursors of ecology. No other collector has rivalled his work since.
During his voyage, he visited the Cape Verde Archipelago, the Falkland Islands, the South American coast, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand and Australia, collecting considerable quantities of specimens.
After returning from the voyage on October 2, 1836, Darwin analyzed the specimens he collected, and noticed similarities between fossils and living species within the same geographic area. In particular, he noticed that every island in the Galapagos Archipelago had its own kind of tortoises and birds that were all slightly different in appearance, favored food etc., but otherwise similar.
In the spring of 1837 ornithologists at the British Museum informed Darwin that the several very different species of birds he had taken in the Galapagos were all finches. This, coupled with a re-reading of Thomas Malthus' 1798 essay on populations, triggered a chain of thought that would culminate in the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.
He developed the hypothesis that, for example, all the different turtles had originated from a single turtle species, and had adapted to life on the different islands in different ways.
Based on these thoughts, he formulated his ideas about the changes and developments of species in his Notebook on the Transmutation of Species, which was in accordance with Lyell's Principles of Geology and Thomas Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population, which stated that the size of a population is limited by the food resources available.
Realizing the potential of this understanding, Darwin undertook extensive experiments with pigeons and plants, and extensive consultation with pig breeders and other animal husbanders, in an attempt to discover holes in the hypothesis.
In 1842, Darwin formulated a short "Pencil Sketch" of his theory and by 1844 had written a 240 page "Essay" which provides an expanded version of his early ideas on natural selection.
Between 1844 and 1858, when he would present his theory to the Linnean Society of London, Darwin would modify his theory in a number of ways.
Darwin published other treatises in science, including an explanation for the creation of coral atolls in the South Pacific, and the story of his voyage aboard the Beagle.
Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood in 1839.
After living for a number of years in London, the couple eventually moved to Down House, in Downe, Kent (which is now open to public visits, south of Orpington).
Darwin and his wife had ten children, three of whom died early. Between 1839 and 1843, Darwin's Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle was published in five volumes.
The Origin of Species
Darwin's work brought him a correspondence relationship with Alfred Russel Wallace, working in the islands of the South Pacific. In June, 1858, Wallace sought Darwin's ideas on a theory Wallace had developed which exactly mirrored Darwin's own work. Scientist friends persuaded Darwin to go public with the theory, now independently confirmed. On 1 July, 1858, Darwin's paper about The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was read to the Linnean Society in London, jointly with Wallace's paper.
Darwin's book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published one year later, and was of sufficient interest to have the publisher's stocks completely sold to bookstores on the first day.
It provoked an outraged response from the Church. A large meeting was organised in Oxford where 'Soapy Sam' Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, numerous Clergy and Robert Fitzroy (the Captain of HMS Beagle) argued against Darwin, Thomas Huxley and their Evolutionist supporters. On being asked by Wilberforce, whether he was descended from monkeys on his grandfather's side or his grandmother's side, Huxley, recognizing the stupidity of the question, apparently muttered to himself: "The lord has delivered him into my hands", and then replied that he "would rather be descended from an ape than from a cultivated man who used his gifts of culture and eloquence in the service of prejudice and falsehood" [several alternative versions of this supposed quote exist, see Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter.
In several of his later books The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of Emotions in Animals and Man (1872), Darwin expanded on many topics introduced in Origin of Species.
The value of Darwin's work was appreciated throughout the scientific community.
He became a member of the Royal Society of London in 1839 (on the basis of his collecting during his voyages) and of the French Academy of Sciences (l'Acad?e des Sciences) in 1878.
Darwin died in Downe, Kent, England, on 19 April 1882 was given a state funeral, and interred in Westminster Abbey near Isaac Newton.
Darwin was given particular recognition in 2000 when his image appeared on the Bank of England ten pound note, replacing Charles Dickens. His impressive and supposedly hard-to-forge beard was reportedly a contributing factor in this choice.
Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882), British scientist, who laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory with his concept of the development of all forms of life through the slow-working process of natural selection. His work was of major influence on the life and earth sciences and on modern thought in general.
Charles Darwin Charles Darwin was greatly influenced by the geologist Adam Sedgwick and naturalist John Henslow in his development of the theory of natural selection, which was to become the foundation concept supporting the theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory holds that environmental effects lead to varying degrees of reproductive success in individuals and groups of organisms. Natural selection tends to promote adaptation in organisms when necessary for survival. This revolutionary theory was published in 1859 in Darwin’s now famous treatise On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.Culver Pictures
Charles Robert Darwin Quick Facts © Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on February 12, 1809, Darwin was the fifth child of a wealthy and sophisticated English family. His maternal grandfather was the successful china and pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood; his paternal grandfather was the well-known 18th-century physician and savant Erasmus Darwin. After graduating from the elite school at Shrewsbury in 1825, young Darwin went to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. In 1827 he dropped out of medical school and entered the University of Cambridge, in preparation for becoming a clergyman of the Church of England. There he met two stellar figures: Adam Sedgwick, a geologist, and John Stevens Henslow, a naturalist. Henslow not only helped build Darwin’s self-confidence but also taught his student to be a meticulous and painstaking observer of natural phenomena and collector of specimens. After graduating from Cambridge in 1831, the 22-year-old Darwin was taken aboard the English survey ship HMS Beagle, largely on Henslow’s recommendation, as an unpaid naturalist on a scientific expedition around the world.
II VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE
Voyage of the Beagle On December 27, 1831, 22-year old Charles Darwin joined the crew of the HMS Beagle as a naturalist. The five-year expedition collected hydrographic, geologic, and meteorologic data from South America and many other regions around the world. Darwin’s own observations on this voyage led to his theory of natural selection.© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
HMS Beagle HMS Beagle set sail in 1831 with the purpose of charting the South American coast. It was captained by Robert FitzRoy and included in its crew the young naturalist Charles Darwin. While the crew surveyed the coast, Darwin observed and collected thousands of wildlife specimens he had never before encountered. As the ship moved from one South American habitat to another, Darwin noted the different adaptations that enabled animals to live in environments as diverse as the rain forests of Brazil and the desolate Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of the continent.Corbis
Darwin’s job as naturalist aboard the Beagle gave him the opportunity to observe the various geological formations found on different continents and islands along the way, as well as a huge variety of fossils and living organisms. In his geological observations, Darwin was most impressed with the effect that natural forces had on shaping the earth’s surface.
From Voyage of the Beagle
Near the end of his five-year voyage from 1831 to 1836 on board the English surveying ship the HMS Beagle, British scientist Charles Darwin explored the Galápagos Islands. There he discovered that each island supported its own form of tortoise, mockingbird, and finch. The various forms were closely related but differed in structure and eating habits. These observations led him toward his masterwork, On the Origin of Species (1859). Darwin edited his journals from the explorations and published them in 1839 as The Voyage of the Beagle. The scientist’s abundant enthusiasm and curiosity shine through these richly detailed accounts.
At the time, most geologists adhered to the so-called catastrophist theory that the earth had experienced a succession of creations of animal and plant life, and that each creation had been destroyed by a sudden catastrophe, such as an upheaval or convulsion of the earth’s surface (see Geology: History of Geology: Geology in the 18th and 19th Centuries). According to this theory, the most recent catastrophe, Noah’s flood, wiped away all life except those forms taken into the ark. The rest were visible only in the form of fossils. In the view of the catastrophists, species were individually created and immutable, that is, unchangeable for all time.
Darwin Joins the HMS Beagle
The catastrophist viewpoint (but not the immutability of species) was challenged by the English geologist Sir Charles Lyell in his three-volume work Principles of Geology (1830-1833). Lyell maintained that the earth’s surface is undergoing constant change, the result of natural forces operating uniformly over long periods.
... Darwin was most impressed with the effect that natural forces had on shaping the earth’s surface.
Aboard the Beagle, Darwin found himself fitting many of his observations into Lyell’s general uniformitarian view. Beyond that, however, he realized that some of his own observations of fossils and living plants and animals cast doubt on the Lyell-supported view that species were specially created. He noted, for example, that certain fossils of supposedly extinct species closely resembled living species in the same geographical area. In the Galápagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, he also observed that each island supported its own form of tortoise, mockingbird, and finch; the various forms were closely related but differed in structure and eating habits from island to island. Both observations raised the question, for Darwin, of possible links between distinct but similar species.
III THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION
Common Cactus Finch British scientist Charles Darwin’s studies of finches in the Galápagos Islands laid the groundwork for his theory of natural selection. His finding that each island was home to a similar yet distinct species of finch helped convince him of the gradual nature of evolution. Shown here is the common cactus finch of Santa Fe Island, Galápagos Islands.Bruce Coleman, Inc./Tui De Roy
After returning to England in 1836, Darwin began recording his ideas about changeability of species in his Notebooks on the Transmutation of Species. Darwin’s explanation for how organisms evolved was brought into sharp focus after he read An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), by the British economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who explained how human populations remain in balance. Malthus argued that any increase in the availability of food for basic human survival could not match the geometrical rate of population growth. The latter, therefore, had to be checked by natural limitations such as famine and disease, or by social actions such as war.
From Darwin's On the Origin of Species
Few books have rocked the world the way that On the Origin of Species did. Influenced in part by British geologist Sir Charles Lyell’s theory of a gradually changing earth, British naturalist Charles Darwin spent decades developing his theory of gradual evolution through natural selection before he published his book in 1859. The logical—and intensely controversial–-extension of Darwin’s theory was that humans, too, evolved through the ages. For people who accepted the biblical view of creation, the idea that human beings shared common roots with lower animals was shocking. In this excerpt from On the Origin of Species, Darwin carefully sidesteps the issue of human evolution (as he did throughout the book), focusing instead on competition and adaptation in lower animals and plants.
Darwin immediately applied Malthus’s argument to animals and plants, and by 1838 he had arrived at a sketch of a theory of evolution through natural selection (see Species and Speciation). For the next two decades he worked on his theory and other natural history projects. (Darwin was independently wealthy and never had to earn an income.) In 1839 he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and soon after, moved to a small estate, Down House, outside London. There he and his wife had ten children, three of whom died in infancy.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
Darwin’s theory was first announced in 1858 in a paper presented at the same time as one by Alfred Russel Wallace, a young naturalist who had come independently to the theory of natural selection. Darwin’s complete theory was published in 1859, in On the Origin of Species. Often referred to as the “book that shook the world,” the Origin sold out on the first day of publication and subsequently went through six editions.
Often referred to as the “book that shook the world,” the Origin sold out on the first day of publication
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is essentially that, because of the food-supply problem described by Malthus, the young born to any species intensely compete for survival. Those young that survive to produce the next generation tend to embody favorable natural variations (however slight the advantage may be)—the process of natural selection—and these variations are passed on by heredity. Therefore, each generation will improve adaptively over the preceding generations, and this gradual and continuous process is the source of the evolution of species. Natural selection is only part of Darwin’s vast conceptual scheme; he also introduced the concept that all related organisms are descended from common ancestors. Moreover, he provided additional support for the older concept that the earth itself is not static but evolving.
IV REACTIONS TO THE THEORY
The reaction to the Origin was immediate. Some biologists argued that Darwin could not prove his hypothesis. Others criticized Darwin’s concept of variation, arguing that he could explain neither the origin of variations nor how they were passed to succeeding generations. This particular scientific objection was not answered until the birth of modern genetics in the early 20th century (see Heredity; Mendel’s Laws). In fact, many scientists continued to express doubts for the following 50 to 80 years. The most publicized attacks on Darwin’s ideas, however, came not from scientists but from religious opponents. The thought that living things had evolved by natural processes denied the special creation of humankind and seemed to place humanity on a plane with the animals; both of these ideas were serious contradictions to orthodox theological opinion.
V LATER YEARS
Darwin spent the rest of his life expanding on different aspects of problems raised in the Origin. His later books—including The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)—were detailed expositions of topics that had been confined to small sections of the Origin. The importance of his work was well recognized by his contemporaries; Darwin was elected to the Royal Society (1839) and the French Academy of Sciences (1878). He was also honored by burial in Westminster Abbey after he died in Downe, Kent, on April 19, 1882.
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