Charles Darwin


Charles Robert Darwin was the fifth child of Robert Waring
Darwin and Susannah Wedgewood. He was born on February 12,
1809 in Shrewsbury, England where his father practiced
medicine. He attended Shrewsbury Grammar School which was a
well-kn own secondary school which concentrated on teaching
classic languages. Even as a boy Darwin loved science and
his enthusiasm for chemical studies earned him the name
"Gas" from his friends. The headmaster at Shrewsbury, Dr.
Samuel Butler noted, "Here's a boy, plays around with his
gases and the rest of his rubbish and works at nothing
He was also an avid collector. Anything he could get his
hands on- shells, eggs, minerals and coins interested him.
Darwin was expected to follow his father and become a
doctor and in 1825, at the age of sixteen, his father
removed him from Shrewsbury and entered him in the
University of Edenburgh to study medicine. He found all of
his classes except chem istry dull. After two years at
Edenburg, he quit school and went to live with his Uncle
Josiah Wedgewood. After he abandoned medicine, his father
urged him to attend Cambridge University to study to be a
clergyman. At Cambridge he met John Steven Henslow who
helped him regain his interest in nature. It was Henslow
who was influential in getting Darwin the position of
naturalist on the boat The Beagle. In April of 1831, he
graduated from the University.
In the fall following his graduation, the government
decided to send the H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of
Captain Fitzroy, to complete an unfinished survey of
Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego to help map out the shores
of Chile and Peru. Th e voyage was to last two years.
Darwin volunteered his services without salary and offered
to pay his own expenses on the condition that he was
allowed to keep all the plants and animals he collected. On
Henslow's recommendation, Darwin was chosen to serve as
naturalist for the exploration. The Beagle set sail from
Devonport on December 27, 1831 and returned on October 2,
1836. Throughout the journey, Darwin shipped back to
England crate loads of tropical plants, insects, flowers,
spiders, s hells and fossil animals. He was very popular
with the crew and was given the name "Fly Catcher."
During the five year journey, he was exposed to different
species of birds, insects and reptiles. He noted that in
the different environments that he visited changes occurred
in the same species that helped them to adapt to their
surrounding s. It was as a result of these observations and
observations of other naturalists and geologists that
Darwin began to formulate his theory of evolution known as
"Natural Selection." Darwin had left England as a youthful
collector and returned as a dedicated naturalist. Before
the journey, he believed like Henslow, that the history of
the earth was short and whatever changes occurred were the
result of vast catastrophes. By his return, he was
convinced that the earth was extremely old and its
evolution was the result of many small changes.
Natural Selection, proposed by Darwin, is the most widely
accepted theory on evolution today. The theory is based
upon five basic principles. The first states that organisms
increase at a higher rate than their food supply. However,
while there is overproduction of organisms, there is never
overpopulation because many young never reach adulthood.
The second principle notes that because the resources of
nature are limited, all life engages in a struggle for
survival in which only thos e with superior characteristics
survive. The third principle states that no two individuals
are identical. No matter how slight the difference may be,
all show some variation from one another. The fourth
principle notes that some individuals poss ess variations
that are most helpful in adapting to an environment,
increasing their chances for survival. This in turn enables
them to produce more offspring. Darwin's fifth principle
concludes that these offspring will inherit the favored
charact eristics of their parents and pass them on to their
children. Each generation maintains and improves the
characteristics which help them diverge further from the
original type. Ultimately the new forms will be so
different in structure and behavior from the original, that
they will not be able to breed with them and are therefore
considered a new species. In summary evolution is based on
the survival of the fittest. The individual who's best
suited to its environment will have a higher survi val
rate. Those not favorably equipped will die preventing
overpopulation of the earth. In November, 1859, Darwin
published The Origin of Species in which he proposed his
ideas of evolution. The first edition was sold out on the
day of publicatio n and by 1860 over five thousand copies
had been sold. Instantaneously conflict arose and
"Darwinism" was put on trial. Darwin was attacked as a
blasphemous radical by the church. Scientific journals
contained articles critical of his theory. Eve n some of
Darwin's closest friends turned on him. Darwin, himself,
stayed clear of the debate and arguments knowing he had
done his work well and it would be its own best defense.
Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, spoke for the
church and c harged that Darwin and his followers were
atheists who denied that God was the creator. T.H. Huxley,
Britain's leading zoologist, defended Darwin in the debate
with the bishop and by using careful reasoning convinced
many to at least consider Darwin 's theory as plausible.
The idea of evolution became popular with scientist all
over the world.
Darwin lived another twenty-two years after the book was
published, but the major accomplishments of his life had
concluded. However, he continued to work observing
earthworms, plants and anything else that seemed
interesting. His work beca me the foundation of modern
biology and established two new sciences- animal behavior
and ecology. When asked what drove him on he answered,"From
my early youth I have had the strongest desire to
understand or explain whatever I observed and group a ll
facts under some general laws..."
On April 19, 1882 Darwin died of a heart attack. The family
wanted Darwin to be buried in his home, the village of
Downe. However, Parliament requested that he be buried in
Westminster Abbey, a cemetery for Britain's kings and
queens and i ntellectual giants. This was an indication of
how far Darwin had come towards universal acceptance and
respectability. Darwin's coffin lies next to Issac Newton
which is only fitting because Darwin has been called "The
Newton of Biology." Darwin w as modest of his monumental
achievements to the very end and said of himself shortly
before his death,"With such moderate abilities as I
possess, it is truly surprising that I should have
influenced to a considerable extent the belief of
scientific men on some important points." 


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