Charles Darwin, one of the most influential persons in history, never dreamed that he would develop one of history’s most important scientific theories. Moreover, he would be surprised at the major controversy his ideas spawned in his lifetime and how they would fester over 100 years later.
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England on February 12, 1809. Charles was the second youngest child of a large family of six children. Darwin’s family came from a long line of accomplished scientists. Charles’s father was Dr. R. W. Darwin, an esteemed physician. Charles’s grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin was a famous botanist, known throughout the scientific world.
Charles Darwin was a lucky child of wealth, privilege and accomplishment. Charles loved the freedom that allowed him to explore nature. He was infatuated by how all that surrounds man in the natural world works and why.
In October of 1825, Charles and his brother Erasmus enrolled at Edinburgh University. After successful studies at Edinburgh, he decided to further his studies at Christ’s College in Cambridge. Charles’s father wanted him to train in medical science and become a doctor. However, Charles was always infatuated with natural history and he was not comfortable at the sight of blood, which often made him sick. Charles’s father also suggested that Charles become a parson, a person of the Church. Darwin was convinced that he would follow his interests and continue his studies of natural history.
Darwin was very fortunate to meet a renowned botany professor, John Stevens Henslow. Soon, Professor Heslow became Darwin’s mentor and helped Darwin accentuate and accelerate his studies of botany and natural history.
Darwin graduated Christ’s College in 1831 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Professor Henslow had an opportune graduation present for Charles when he recommended Darwin for the position of ship’s naturalist to Captain Robert FitzRoy, a Captain of a scientific surveying ship, the HMS Beagle. This significant introduction and the consequent ship’s voyage would be the opportunity of a lifetime for the young beginning naturalist.
The HMS Beagle
The HMS Beagle began its voyage around the world with Charles Darwin as its Ship’s Naturalist on December 27, 1831. The five year voyage provided Darwin with a wealth of experience and information. He observed and collected numerous natural specimens such as insects, plants, birds, mammals and fossils. While visiting numerous unique lands around the world during the five year voyage, Darwin did hands-on research and experimentation on a variety of subjects allowing him to observe principles of geology, botany and zoology.
Darwin was most intrigued and interested in the islands and lands of the Pacific Ocean. He found great pleasure visiting South America, various Pacific islands, atolls and the Galapagos Archipelago. Darwin spent much of his time observing, recording and thinking about all of the unique natural life found in these peculiar lands.
After returning to England upon the completion of the HMS Beagle’s voyage, Darwin began compiling his notes and findings. He then embarked on writing various reports including a report to the Journal of Researches, published as part of Captain FitzRoy’s comprehensive voyage report; later included into the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle.
Darwin’s trip around the world had a profound impact on his view of natural history. With this new knowledge and “awakening”, Darwin started to develop a revolutionary theory about the origin of all living things. This new theory would prove to be very contrary to established views held by the world’s naturalist and biologists.
Established thinking among the world’s naturalists, biologists and scientists had as fact that all species on earth came into being at the start of the world or they were created over the course of history. All species were thought to remain the same throughout history. Religious beliefs further complicated the issue of when and how all of earth’s species, including man, came into being.
During Darwin’s fateful world voyage he noticed and recorded that many species had strong similarities no matter where they lived around the world. He also noted that although species had very observable similarities, there were distinct variations of species based on the environment of their locations. These species similarities led Darwin to believe that species evolved from common ancestors.
Additionally, Darwin posited that a process called “natural selection” helped stronger species to adapt successfully to changing requirements of their habitat. Weaker species who could not adapt successfully to changes in their environment failed to evolve and reproduce. Such weaker species did not survive and were forever lost to history.
After more years of study, research and investigation, Darwin announced publicly his revolutionary Theory of Evolution in a letter read in a meeting of the Linnean Society in 1858. To support his new theory and his new, revolutionary ideas; Darwin published a detailed explanation of his theories in his most famous work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, on November 24, 1859.
Darwin’s famous publication and theory created a worldwide uproar and intense and often heated debate everywhere. The concept of Man evolving from common ancestors along with apes and monkeys and other animal creatures was unacceptable by many due to deep religious beliefs that Man was created by God and was central and superior to the entire world’s species. Darwin was often and viciously portrayed in discussions and print media as an evil and unhinged scientist who must have lost his mind.
Theory of Evolution
However, during the decades ahead and into the next century; further scientific investigations, experimentations and the breakthrough technology of DNA science, proved that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was based in fact.
After a lifetime of research and study, Darwin passed away on April 19, 1882, in his home, Down House, in London. He was buried at Westminster Abbey. Darwin was recognized during his lifetime as a great and important thinker and revolutionary scientist. Many scientists and learned men around the world believed that Darwin was a good man who helped his fellow man advance forward dramatically in his understanding of the world around him. It took years for other people to finally accept that Darwin’s theory was based on factual science. However, even in our modern age, there are many who do not believe in the Theory of Evolution as it conflicts with their strong belief in Creationism, the religious view that all nature was created and born of God.