Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. His father was Robert Waring Darwin and his wife was Susannah, and he was the grandson of scientist Erasmus Darwin. His mother died when he was 8 years old, and his sister brought him up. He was taught at Shrewsbury, then sent to Edinburgh to study medicine, which he disliked very much so. Like many modern students, Darwin was only good in subjects that interested him him. Although his father was a physician, Darwin was not interested in medicine and he was couldnt stand the sight of surgery. Eventually he did get a degree in theology from Cambridge University, even though he wasnt really interested in it.
What Charles really liked to do was walk over the hills, observing plants and animals, collecting new specimens, investigating and observing their structures, and categorizing his findings, with the help of his cousin William Darwin Fox, an entomologist. His botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, who was pushing for Darwin to be a naturalist on the surveying of HMS Beagle to Patagonia, encouraged Darwins scientific inclinations. Under Captain Robert Fitzroy, Darwin visited Tenerife, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Tasmania. In the Cape Verde Island Darwin devised his theory of coral reefs. Another important stop on their trip was in the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin found huge populations of tortoises and he found that different islands were home to visibly different types of tortoises. Darwin then found that on islands without tortoises, prickly pear cactus plants grew with their pads and fruits spread out over the ground. On islands that had hundreds of tortoises, the prickly pears grew very thick, in tall trunks, bearing the pads and fruits above the reach of the tortoises. During this 5 year expedition, he got knowledge of the fauna, flora, and geology of many lands, which helped him in his later investigations. In 1836, Darwin returned to England after the 5 years with the expedition, and by 1846 he had became one of the most important naturalists of his time, and he also published several works on the geological and zoological discoveries of his voyage. He developed a friendship with Sir Charles Lyell, became secretary of the Geological Society, a position which Darwin held for four years. In 1839 Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. But constantly bothering Darwin 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 crossbreed. 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 separate 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. From 1842 Darwin lived at Down House, a country gentleman among his gardens, conservatories, pigeons, and fowls. The practical knowledge he gained there, especially in variation and interbreeding proved invaluable. At Down House Darwin addressed himself to the great work of his life, the problem of the origin of species. After five years of collecting the evidence, Darwin began to speculate on the subject. In 1842 he drew up his observations in some short notes, expanded in 1844 into a sketch of conclusions for his own use. These conclusions were the principle of natural selection, the germ of the Darwinian Theory, but with typical caution he delayed publication of his hypothesis. However, in 1858 Alfred Wallace sent Darwin a letter of his book, Malay Archipelago, which, to Darwin’s surprise, contained the main ideas of his own theory of natural selection. Lyell and Joseph Hooker persuaded him to submit a paper of his own, based on his 1844 sketch, which was read simultaneous. Sly with Wallace’s before the Linnean Society in 1858. Neither Darwin nor Wallace was present on that historic occasion.

Darwin then set to work to condense his vast mass of notes, and put into shape his great work, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. This great work, received throughout Europe with the deepest interest, was violently attacked because it did not agree with the account of creation given in the Book of Genesis. But eventually it succeeded in obtaining recognition from almost all biologists. Darwin, contrary to popular belief, never said that human beings evolved from apes. He said that all life began as 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’s beginning. Darwin died after a long illness, leaving eight children, several of who achieved great distinction. Though not the sole originator of the evolution hypotheses, or even the first to apply the concept of descent to plants and animals, Darwin was the first distinction thinker to gain for that theory a wide acceptance among biological experts. By adding to the crude evolutionism of Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, and others, his own specific idea of natural selection, Darwin supplied a sufficient cause, which raised it from a hypothesis to a verifiable theory.
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