Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Life of the Creator
Since the ancient days, there have been many scientists with important works and ideas that changed the world. Many were curious and tried to understand the origin of species, how they came to be, and how they changed over time. One of those scientists was Charles Darwin, who is well known as the “father of evolution”. Being born in England, the young child was affected by the changing society where he lived. Most people were unsuspecting of the nature of living things because of their belief in God. However, his curiosity and interest in nature drew him to go on an important and exciting journey where he observed and developed an understanding of living things. During his life, Darwin wrote many books and theories which became his greatest achievement. He discovered the truth of evolution that earlier scientists attempted to reveal, changing the way humans view themselves and how the world works. As a result, this led to new concepts and inventions that made many people’s lives much better.
Born in 1809 in England, Charles Darwin was a naturalist who is famous for his theories of evolution by natural selection (Desmond, Moore, & Browne, 2007, p. 1823). According to his autobiography from 1958, his sister named Caroline helped him out during his childhood by teaching him when he was behind in his studies. Afterward, he went to a day school in Shrewsbury. At the same time, Darwin, a collector of a variety of things like shells and minerals also developed an interest in natural history. His father was a physician who made him go to a medical school called Edinburgh University. However, he did not enjoy the classes and lectures and thought they were uninteresting. Moreover, he could not tolerate the surgeries because it disgusted him. Fortunately, Darwin met some people that shared an interest in natural science. He also met more after quitting medical school and going to Cambridge to become a clergyman. One of them was John Stevens Henslow, his admirable professor of botany that he befriended. Darwin praised him by saying that “his judgment was excellent, and his whole mind well-balanced” (Darwin, 1958, p. 64). Henslow became Darwin’s inspiration and played an important role in his journey to becoming a great naturalist.
During the late 18th century, the textile industry began using inventions that sped up the production process. Each invention fueled more inventions and those also spread to other industries. This led to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Many changes occurred in England, such as changes in the textile industry, transportation, and society (Montagna, n.d.). Machines played a big part in factories and sped up much of the manufacturing process. It meant that goods could be produced faster. When the steam engine was developed, it was useful to both transportation and industry (Gundraker, n.d.). It generated a lot of power and was significantly better than horsepower (Landes, 1969, p. 97). In addition to industrial advances, cities became filled with people as the population increased (Urbanowicz, 1995). While the poor struggled in unpleasant conditions and had to work long hours, the high class was living a comfortable life with wealth and opportunities (Montagna, n.d.). After the Napoleon wars, Britain’s “Imperial century” followed. It became powerful at sea with its Royal navy and colonies in places such as Australia and India (Gundraker, n.d.).
In 1837, Queen Victoria’s reign began, marking the start of the Victorian Era in England. Liberalism and individualism became a part of society as a result of the Industrial Revolution. People competed to grow their businesses while the poor became even worse off (Nibbi, 2009, p. 16-17). At the same time, the realm of science also began changing. Before, the majority of the people believed in the idea of the fixity of species where God created all things to be perfect and therefore had no need to change. Even scientists based their thinking and explanations of life on that idea. However, a few scientists discovered evidence such as fossil remains that did not fit in with this belief (O’Neil, n.d.). The public slowly became exposed to the unfamiliar idea of evolution (Urbanowicz, 1995). Sometime after, as Darwin had figured out his explanation of evolution by natural selection, Mendel also proposed an idea about inheritance (Andrei, 1866).
In the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the idea of evolution was accepted. However, scientists could not agree if natural selection was the cause of evolution or not. Thus, many theories appeared that countered Darwin’s explanation. This marked the “eclipse of Darwinism” where Lamarckism, Mendelism, and other theories became the new focus (Bowler, 1992). However, as time passed, scientists came to accept both Darwinism and Mendelism in a synthesis called the modern synthesis (Mayr and Provine, 1998).
At a young age, Charles Darwin was fascinated by science and nature. The curious child had a collection of various items such as shells, minerals, seals, and coins. Later on, he also started collecting beetles, some of which were rare. As he failed to find pleasure in his medical studies, he moved to Cambridge to prepare to become a clergyman. It was at that time when he met a professor of botany, Johns Henslow. He gave Darwin a letter that provided him with an opportunity to voluntarily work on HMS Beagle as a naturalist, which would lead to Darwin’s great discovery later on (Darwin, 1958).
In 1831, Darwin, along with captain FitzRoy and the other crew members, set sail and ended up at Cape Verde in 1832. He noticed that there was a white layer of rock made of shells and corals covered by the lava. It was above sea level, meaning that the level of the ground rose (Darwin, 1988). Later on, he sent a letter to Henslow about his observation. He said that the way the land rose was similar to Charles Lyell’s theory that Earth was undergoing gradual changes over time (Wallace and Gruber, 1992, p. 110).
When the Beagle arrived in Patagonia, one of the things Darwin did was he collected plants and insects (Darwin, 1988). Near a layer of earth with armadillo fossils and shells, there were rocks with more shells and bones of animals. He theorized that the rocks were deposited by tides (Darwin, 1832). Moreover, he found a jawbone along with a tooth of a Megatherium (Darwin, 1988). In 1832, Darwin met Fuegians at Tierra del Fuego. He described their behavior to be “savage” and said they dressed “miserably”. They ate birds, seals, and some other sea animals and owned bows, arrows, and spears and feared guns. They also seemed intrigued by the visitors as the natives imitated their actions and danced along sometimes (Darwin, 1860).
After stopping at a few more places, the Beagle reached Chile in 1834. Darwin experienced a violent earthquake that moved the ground. He and Fitzroy also measured and saw that the mussels were above high tide mark, indicating that the ground rose after the earthquake (Darwin, 1988). In the Andes, he found fossil shells, even though it was in a high place. It suggested that the ground level had elevated. In addition, he theorized the process in which coral reefs were formed. He said that coral organisms formed fringing reefs which would become barrier reefs if the land sank. Then, the land sank completely, an atoll would be left (Wallace and Gruber, 1992, p. 111).
Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands in 1835. He spent his time collecting many flowers, plants, shells, and animals with the intention of organizing them and seeing how they were related to each other. In addition, he observed and noted about birds such as finches and mockingbirds. He noticed that the mockingbirds from different islands were not the same, even though they were from islands close to each other. Near the end of the voyage in 1836, he wrote in his notes that the Galapagos tortoises could be identified based on their size, body, and shape. He also started to think species were mutable and said that the small difference in creatures meant that they were only variations of each other (Darwin, 1988).
When Darwin got back to England in 1836, he had gathered more than 5000 samples of plants and animals and had written well over a thousand pages of notes. Darwin continued to do research and worked with the things he collected on the voyage. Moreover, he gave some of the samples to other scientists, so they could study too. A few years later, he married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood and they both settled in a new house. Darwin learned from another scientist that the finches he collected were different species depending on the islands they were from. He then realized that their feathers, structures, and behaviors were similar. However, the size and form of the beaks were what differentiated them. The variance was due to different environments and living conditions that the species lived in. The finches with the best and most useful beaks and body parts would survive and reproduce. Knowing this made his question the fixity of species (O’Neil, n.d.).
Even though he accepted evolution, he still did not know the mechanism behind it. He happened to come across Thomas Malthus’s essay about the human population that explained how a struggle to survive kept the population from growing too much. As a result, his theory of natural selection was influenced by Malthus. Darwin hypothesized that the ones who had the most desirable characteristics would survive, thus passing on those qualities to their offsprings. This meant it would be likely that only the wanted traits would appear in the next generations (Darwin, 1958). He went on to make a small draft of the theory, which expanded into a more detailed version. However, he did not publish it until later in his life when he would more evidence to make his theory more convincing (O’Neil, n.d.).
At the same time, Darwin also studied other things such as the plants and animals from his voyage and barnacles. It took intensive and time-consuming research to study both living and fossil barnacles before he could publish his work in three volumes. Unfortunately, his already bad health deteriorated even more with the workload, so he moved to the countryside (Darwin’s Life, n.d.).
Darwin experimented with pigeons as an attempt to add more evidence to his theory of evolution. In 1859, he read an essay from Alfred Russel Wallace, another young naturalist from England who provided him with the pigeons. The essay contained a theory of evolution that was extremely similar to Darwin’s. So, both of their theories were presented to the Linnaean Society (Natural Selection: Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace, n.d.). Darwin also published his On the Origin of Species shortly after which became a popular but controversial book. He talked about how natural selection would pick out the organisms that would fit the environment best. Those survivors would go on to reproduce and pass their desirable traits to their offsprings. Over time, those changes will accumulate and a new species will appear. He avoided talking about human evolution, in fear that it would offend people (Darwin’s Life, n.d.). His work, filled with a lot of evidence and examples, convinced most biologists of evolution. However, natural selection as the mechanism for evolution was still debated (O’Neil, n.d.).
After publishing the Origin of Species, Darwin’s health declined. He worked on another book called The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. The book explained how humans also evolved from a common ancestor like how other organisms did. It also talked about how some features of an organism would appeal more than others, making it more common throughout the species. For example, birds with colorful feathers would be more attractive to other birds, resulting in more colorful birds (Darwin, 1871). In 1882, Darwin died at his house because of his bad health. He was buried in Westminister Abbey, near other significant figures (Darwin’s Life, n.d.).
Darwin was one of the most significant and impactful scientists. His theory of evolution by natural selection explains our origins which changed the way people then and now see and study the world. He also challenged religion and society’s age-old belief that God was the creator of all organisms, and therefore, nothing needed to evolve because it was perfectly made (Observation and Natural Theology: William Harvey & William Paley). Darwin showed a willingness to observe and prove what would become the truth and showed a progressive manner of thinking. In addition, he opened up a new door for scientific research, leading to more branches of studies and advancements.
Darwin’s work, On the Origin of Species, was published in 1859 and immediately became popular with other scientists. However, his theory was also controversial because it was different from the beliefs they were accustomed to (Darwin’s Life, n.d.). The book was also quickly translated into other languages such as German and influenced people outside of England (Weikart, 1993). People also applied the theory to other fields such as politics and economy. It became the basis for Social Darwinism, created in the late 1800s, which used the “survival of the fittest” idea to argue that it was normal for some people to be superior in terms of wealth, social status, and race (Bannister, n.d.). This made Europeans think they were more advanced and had the right to conquer others, which promoted imperialism (The Age of Imperialism, n.d.).
One of the biggest flaws of his theory was that its mechanism of natural selection was not convincing to many. Even when more people started believing in evolution, nobody knew exactly how it worked. Around the late 19th century to early 20th century, as a result of the lack of concrete evidence for natural selection, the eclipse of Darwinism started. It was a period when other theories such as Lamarckism and Mendelism took over to try to find an alternate mechanism for evolution. However, later on, both the theories of Darwin and Mendel became accepted and were combined in the modern synthesis (Mayr and Provine, 1998).
Today, Darwin’s ideas influence both scientists and every typical people’s understanding of how the world they live in was created and came to be. It also gave birth to new branches of science such as ecology that still exist today. Moreover, his theory is applied to understand how diseases spread and evolve to become stronger or how some can be hereditary (Huncovsky, 2012). Evolutionary thought can also show us that, as a product of natural selection, the common sickness we get is a result of our bodies trying to fix a certain problem or defending itself. It also explains that anxiety and obesity are a result of our ancestors who developed these mechanisms to survive in their environments. Knowing how Darwin’s theory of evolution relates to our modern day problems of disease and health can help us develop solutions and improve wellbeing (Nesse, 2001).
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