In the picture: naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, the fifth of six children of wealthy and well-connected parents.
One of his grandfathers was Erasmus Darwin, a physician whose book Zoonomia presented the radical and highly controversial idea that one species could “transform” into another. Transmutation was then called evolution.
In 1825, Charles Darwin studied at the University of Edinburgh, one of the best places in Britain to study science.
It attracted freethinkers with radical views, including transmutation theories, among others.
Darwin trained as a clergyman at Cambridge in 1827, after abandoning his plans to become a doctor, but continued his passion for biology.
In 1831, Charles’ teacher recommended that he take a trip around the world aboard the HMS Beagle.
Over the next five years, Darwin traveled to five continents, collecting specimens and specimens while studying the local geology.
For a long time, with nothing to do but think and read, he studied Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which had profound effects.
The journey also began a life of illness after he suffered from terrible seasickness.
In 1835, HMS Beagle made a five-week stop in the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.
There he studied finches, turtles, and mockingbirds, but not in enough detail to reach any grand conclusions.
But he began collecting observations, which quickly accumulated.
When Darwin returned home in 1838, he showed his specimens to his fellow biologists and began recording his travels.
It was then that he began to understand how “transmutation” came about.
He found that animals that were better adapted to their environment survived longer and had more young.
Evolution occurred through a process he called “natural selection,” although he struggled with this idea because it contradicted his Christian worldview.
After seeing his grandfather ostracized for his theories, Darwin continued to gather evidence while documenting his travels until 1851.
He decided to publish his theory after he began to suffer from long bouts of illness.
Some historians suggest that he contracted a tropical disease, while others believe his symptoms were largely psychosomatic in nature and caused by anxiety.
In 1858, Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, an admirer of Darwin, who read about his Beagle voyage.
Darwin was criticized by the church and some in the press because of the shock of the idea that humans descended from apes
Wallace arrived at the theory of natural selection independently and sought Darwin’s advice on publishing it.
In 1858, Darwin finally went public and credited Wallace for the idea.
Darwin’s ideas were presented to Britain’s leading natural history organization, the Linnean Society.
In 1859 he published his theory of evolution. It would become one of the most important books ever written.
Darwin met with strong criticism from the church and some members of the press. Many people were shocked by the book’s central conclusion that man was descended from apes, even though Darwin only implied this.
In 1862, Darwin wrote a warning about close relatives having children. He was already worried about his own marriage, having married his cousin Emma and losing three of her children to illness and breastfeeding others.
Darwin knew that orchids were less healthy when they self-fertilized and feared that inbreeding within his own family may have caused problems.
He worked until his death in 1882. Realizing his strength was failing, he described his local cemetery as “the most beautiful place in the world.”
He was buried in Westminster Abbey.