Charles Darwin


Like many modern students, Charles Darwin exceeded only in
subjects that intrigued him. Although his father was a
physician, Darwin was uninterested in medicine and he was
unable to stand the sight of surgery. He did eventually
obtain a degree in theology from Cambridge University,
although theology too was of minor interest to him. What
Darwin really liked to do was to tramp over hills,
observing plants and animals, collecting new specimens,
scrutinizing their structures, and categorizing his
In 1831, when Darwin was only 22 years old, the British
government sent Her Majesty^Òs Ship Beagle on a 5 year
expedition that would take them first along the coastline
of South America and then onward around the world. As was
common on such expeditions, the Beagle would carry along a
naturalist to observe and collect geological and biological
specimens encountered along the route. Thanks to the
recommendation of one of Darwin^Òs previous college
professors, he was offered the position of naturalist
aboard the Beagle.
The Beagle sailed to South America, making many stops along
the coast. Here Darwin observed the plants and animals of
the tropics and was stunned by the diversity of species
compared with Europe.
Perhaps the most significant stopover of the voyage was the
month spent in the Galapagos Islands off of the
northwestern coast of South America. It was here that
Darwin found huge populations of tortoises; and he found
that different islands were home to distinctively different
types of tortoises. He then found that on islands without
tortoises, pricky pear cactus plants grew with their juicy
pads and fruits spread out over the ground. And on islands
that had hourdes of tortoises, the prickly pears grew
substantially thick, tall trunks, bearing the fleshy pads
and fruits high above the reach of the tough mouthed
tortoises. He then wondered if the differences in these
organisms could have arisen after they became isolated from
one another on seperate islands.
In 1836, Darwin returned to England after the 5 years with
the expedition. He became established as one of the
foremost naturalist of his time. But constantly gnawing at
his mind was the problem of the origin of the species.
Darwin sought to prove his ideal of evolution with simple
examples. The various breeds of dogs provided a striking
example of what Darwin sought to prove. Dogs descended from
wolves, and even today the two will readily cross-breed.
With rare exceptions, however, few modern dogs actually
resemble wolves. Some breeds, such as the Chihuahua and the
Great Dane, are so different from one another that they
would be considered seperate species in the wild. If humans
could cross-breed such radically different dogs in only a
few hundred years, Darwin reasoned that nature could
produce the same spectrum of living organisms given the
hundreds of millions of years that she had been allowed.
Darwin also maintained that seperate species evolve as a
result of the principles of natural selection, or survival
of the fittest. He knew that many more members of a species
are born than can possibly survive. He also postulated that
strong positive genes would be bred and rebred into each
new generation of animals.
Darwin, contrary to popular belief, never said that human
beings evolved from apes. He said that all life began as a
primordial soup, with molecules acting on each other. So
from the first single celled organism all life came. One
single organism, when acted on by several different
molecules could give rise to many different species of
animals. It is in this way that he stated that Ape and man
were similar..each having a similar life^Òs beginning.
Darwin^Òs theories caused the people of the time to begin
to question where it was that they actually came from. His
response was the book On the Origin of Species. In it he
addressed the concerns of the people. He said "It is
interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with
many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the
bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms
crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these
elaborately constructed forms....have all been produced by
laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the highest
sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance and
Variability...; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a
struggle for life, and as a consequence to Natural
Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and Extinction
of less-improved forms....There is grandeur in this view of
life, with its several powers, having been originally
breathed into a few forms or into one, and that, whilst
this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixded
laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms
most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being,


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