The Life of Charles Darwin

Portrait of Charles Darwin.
Portrait of Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. Darwin wrote a highly influential book, "On the Origin of Species" which was published in 1859 explaining the theory of evolution. The book had compelling evidence in the subject and overcame scientific rejection of earlier ideas such as transmutation of species. A portion of the general public together with the scientific community began to embrace the idea of evolution not only as a theory but as a fact.

5. Early Life

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Darwin was the fifth born of six children born to Susannah and Robert Darwin, who was a wealthy doctor. Both of Darwin's grandfathers, Josiah Wedgewood on his maternal side and Erasmus Darwin on his paternal side, were distinguished abolitionists. At the age of eight, Charles Darwin joined a day school which was run by a preacher and acquired an interest in natural history. Darwin attended the Shrewsbury boarding school and later the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Darwin neglected his studies as he found surgery distressing and lectures boring.

4. Career

Throughout his lifetime, Darwin held the title of naturalist, geologist, biologist, taxidermist, clergyman and author. Darwin spent five years on the HMX Beagle, an exploring ship sent on a voyage around the world by Britain's Royal Navy. Darwin had the job of observing the various flora and fauna of countries that were visited. Upon returning home, Darwin rushed to Cambridge to meet his close friend Professor John Stevens Hensley who advised him on how he could find available naturalist who would help him describe and catalog the collections. Throughout his career, Darwin invented theories that would be revolutionary to science such as survival of the fittest. Darwin wrote many influential books throughout his career, including "On the Origin of Species" and "the Descent of Man".

3. Major Contributions

Darwin is best known for his significant contribution to the understanding of the science behind evolution. Charles Darwin deduced that all species over time have descended from common ancestors. Charles Darwin, together with Alfred Russell Wallace, published a new theory known as "natural selection" which is a process where organisms that are better adapted to their environment tend to survive longer and transmit more of their genetic characteristics to succeeding generations compared to those organisms that are not well adapted.

2. Challenges

Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection was not received well during its time and there were intense criticisms of his work, even coming from fellow scientists. A great amount of criticism came from various religious communities. it was not until the 1940s that evolution gained traction as a respectable and irrefutable science.

1. Death and Legacy

Darwin was diagnosed with angina pectoris, a heart disease, in 1882 and died on April 19, 1882. There have been more than 120 species and nine genera (level of biological classification) that have been named after him. Multiple geographic locations have also been named for Darwin (most notably the capital of Australia's Northern Territory). There are many statues of Darwin to be found, particularly a life-sized one that is featured in the main hall of the Natural History Museum in London.


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