The name of Charles Darwin is not only well known, but is part of popular culture. His vision of the evolution of species throughout their natural history was a real scientific revolution, at the height of the Copernican.
Born and raised in England, Darwin, whether in his earliest childhood or in his college years, never thought that, despite his ecclesiastical studies, he would succeed in becoming the enemy of devout believers.
The life of the English naturalist is long and interesting. Let us embark, as he did aboard the Beagle, on this journey through his personal history through a biography of Charles Darwin with the main stages of his career.
Brief biography of Charles Darwin
The long life of Charles Darwin, a member of an influential family of physicians and cousin of the creator of eugenics, Francis Galton, is rich in fascinating events, which led him to postulate on natural selection and the origin of l ‘species.
After all, the life of Charles Darwin is one of the most interesting in the history of science. He is a man with a deep religious background who traveled much of the planet to document new species and ended up making discoveries that would give way to biology as we know it, and striking a blow against it. many of the dogmas held at this time Christianity. Let’s look at his biography.
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Sherewsbury, England on February 12, 1809. Medicine and the natural sciences came from the family, as his father, Robert Waring Darwin, and his paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, were known to exercise this profession effectively.
From his childhood, Charles Darwin showed his taste for natural history, which he showed by his great penchant for collecting objects such as seashells and minerals. His soul as a systematic naturalist was visible.
In 1825, Darwin he entered the University of Edinburgh where, under paternal pressure, he began his medical studiesIn order to continue the family line of eminent physicians, however, Darwin was already showing signs that this was wrong with him.
From the stethoscope to the Bible
Not only was his lack of interest in medicine evident, but also his lack of vocation. When young Charles had to have surgery, he couldn’t stand them. It was a truly traumatic event for him. This is why Darwin, at this time, he began to be convinced that he could live off his father’s inheritance, Who could have a comfortable life without having to practice medicine.
Obviously, this clashed with the plans of his father Robert, who was not going to allow his son to become a more alive person. For this reason, and after having passed two medical courses, he proposed to his son to pursue ecclesiastical studies.
Therefore, Charles Darwin began his ecclesiastical studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1828. Although it may sound ironic, Darwin gladly started his new career, although several years later his discoveries about how living things change were a real scandal and even a sign of heresy.
Although training as a rural pastor drew a little more attention than being a doctor, his interest in studying was rather limited. Darwin preferred to hunt and ride horses, and over time he developed a fondness for painting and music.
But, although not very interested in the studies he was forced to pursue, Darwin did not miss the opportunity to attend, voluntarily, the courses of botany of the Reverend John Henslow, A fact which was a real scientific opportunity for young Charles. Henslow would become a very important figure in Darwin’s life.
After graduating from Christ’s College in 1831, on the recommendation of Henslow, Darwin plunged into geology. At this time, he met Adam Sedgwick, founder of the Cambrian system. Darwin will accompany Sedgwick on an expedition to North Wales.
But it wasn’t just Henslow who helped Darwin lead the expedition to Wales. It would be this reverend who would give him the opportunity to embark as a naturalist aboard the Beagle, with Captain Robert Fitzroy.
Darwin’s father categorically refused to allow his son to tour the world. He found the idea very far-fetched, and would only allow it if someone of common sense agreed to board the ship. That someone was Darwin’s uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, who over the years would become his stepfather.
Traveling with the Beagle
December 27, 1831 would be the key date that would mark the beginning of Darwin’s scientific life. It is on this day that the Beagle left Davenport harbor with young Charles on board.
A curious fact about all of this is that Darwin was very close to not being able to travel there, not because he did not want to, but because Captain Fitzroy, who was a supporter of the physiognomic theories postulated by the Swiss priest Johann Caspar Lavater, felt that Darwin’s nose revealed neither energy nor determination to embark on such a journey.
The purpose of the trip, beyond Darwin’s desire to know all kinds of alien species, was to complete a topographical study of the territories of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, In addition to tracing the coasts of Chile, Peru and the Pacific Islands. The trip lasted nearly five years and took Darwin to see the coasts of South America, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, Oceania and South Africa.
The study of geology was the most important factor by which Darwin had embarked on such a feat, although he also enjoyed collecting birds and other animals which he hunted on New World islands.
During his travels, Darwin was the author of several scientific successes, including a theory on the formation of coral reefs, as well as the geological structure of certain islands, such as Saint Helena.
It was also during this trip that Darwin will see, being in the Galapagos Islands, that his flora and fauna resembled those of South America, but, in turn, specimens of what looked like the same species changed from island to island.
This led Darwin to believe that the traditional theory that species did not change, that they were stable and immutable, could be criticized. It was clear that what he saw were related animals but, due to environmental factors, they had changed in order to continue living in a specific environment.
Return to England
Charles Darwin would return to his native England on October 2, 1836. The trip, for better or for worse, had marked him. His knowledge of nature had increased, but he also suffered from health problems., Probably caused by a bite from a tropical mosquito, symptoms of Chagas disease.
However, despite his frequent ailments due to his delicate health, from his arrival until 1839, Darwin was very active. He worked on the drafting of his travel diary, which will be published in 1839, and will elaborate two other texts in which will expose his observations in geology and zoology.
He moved to London in 1837 and served there as honorary secretary of the Geological Society, contacting Charles Lyell, author of a book on geology which had been of great use to him aboard the Beagle, “Principles of Geology ”.
Being in the British capital would start to think about how species change, as “transmuted”. Based on this observed in the Galapagos, it was clear that at some point in natural history animals such as finches, due to the influence of the environment and their adaptation to the environment, had changed their anatomy. The question was how.
He knew how to relate that to domestic breeding. From time immemorial, farmers have selected the most useful plant varieties, crossing over to ensure that the next generation gets the maximum benefit from it. This artificial selection was extrapolable to nature and would give way to the concept of natural selection.
While artificial selection followed a human criterion, primarily based on the value of a crossroads or otherwise, natural selection, according to Darwin, would imply that individuals better adapted to the environment, understood as “stronger”, would survive and reproduce, While the most disadvantaged would die before having offspring.
Based on this mechanism, a species could be drastically altered, causing more suited individuals to crossbreed while those who simply weren’t so lucky could not contribute to a new generation.
Although this idea was truly brilliant, Darwin himself was aware that the mere fact of wondering that the species that inhabit the face of the earth had all been created independently, and that they had never changed. , it was something which in the UK of his time would be considered a heretical act.
This is why he chose not to write on the subject for a while, although eventually in 1842 he would dare to set out his reflections in a summary and later expand it with a document of about 230 pages, written in 1844. .
Although his scientific life was more than remarkable, they did not only highlight his professional achievements during this time. On January 29, 1839, he married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. After his marriage he continued to reside in London until the end of 1842, moving to Down, Kent, trying to have a calmer life and more appropriate for his delicate state of health.
On December 27, 1839, Darwin’s first son was born, and the English naturalist did not miss the opportunity to experiment with his own son. He initiated a series of observations on the expression of emotions in humans and animals.
Apart from this first child, the Darwin-Wedgwood couple had nine other children, six men and four women in total. Down has finished writing essays on geology, but has also written a new edition of his travel journal.
The theory of evolution. Popularity and opposition
In 1856, Charles Lyell advised Darwin to work entirely on developing his ideas on the evolution of species. This work, which did not fail to give him more fame and popularity, seemed to have an unexpected head when he received a manuscript in 1858 in which a certain Alfred Russel Wallace, who visited the Moluccas, said he shared his views.
Darwin felt widely identified in the figure of Wallace, especially when he told him how he came to the conclusion that species change through survival and respond satisfactorily to the demands of the environment.
Although they both shared essentially the same theory, Darwin did not know how to proceed with the publication of his work, a concern he shared with Lyell. Darwin, although he was the first to conceive the idea, did not want to sound like a usurper of Wallace’s rights.
The incident was resolved amicably thanks to the intervention of Lyell and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker. Darwin he followed the advice of both and summarized his manuscript, presented on July 1, 1858, to the Linnean Society, with the work of Wallace..
The origin of species and recent years
After the incident, Darwin saw the need to stop hesitating and publish his thoughts as soon as possible, without having to do summaries to shorten his notes.
It was for this reason that it was finally decided to send to the press as soon as possible the text by which he would be widely known and criticized: on the origin of species by means of natural selection, or on the preservation of the favored races in the fight for life.
The book, which would be called The Origin of Species, was a true bestseller on the day of its publication, November 24, 1859. The first 1,250 copies were sold out in just a few hours. Unsurprisingly, he presented a more or less closed explanation for the existence of the variety of life forms that inhabit the planet.
The book was controversial because of its theological implications, Since the idea of natural selection involved processes which, until then, were reserved for the idea of the Creator God. That is why the opposition was quick to come.
Religious figures, such as Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, were harsh and critical of evolutionary theses, which far from intimidating Darwin led his followers to give him wide support and security, including zoologist Thomas Henry Huxley, known as the name “Darwin’s Bulldog”.
Although the criticisms are directed at him, Darwin chose not to intervene directly. Nevertheless, in 1871, when publishing the origin of the man and the selection in relation to the sex gained even more critics. In this work he presented his arguments that human beings had appeared on Earth by exclusively natural means.
In 1872 he published The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, a book in which, through his research with his eldest son, he used it to make a modern study of human behavior and compare it to other species.
During his last ten years of life, Darwin put aside the controversy over the origin of species and preferred to engage in the world of botany, a quieter pastime than furious debates over the question of to know if the human being descends or not of the monkey.
At the end of 1881 he began to suffer from serious heart problems, first symptoms of heart disease which led to his death on April 19, 1882.
The intellectual heritage of this English naturalist
It is true that although the first book with which Darwin would make his theory known was called The Origin of Species and that in turn this work left many questions open. However, this researcher’s observations and explanations provided the foundation upon which other scientists would build biology as we now understand it.
We now know that the evolution of species through mechanisms such as natural selection is a reality, And has even been verified from experiments. Cases of evolution have also been observed in a few decades, what is called rapid evolution, and which occurs even in some vertebrates of short duration. Through these ideas, when combined with discoveries in genetics, many technical and technological solutions in biology, medicine and many other related disciplines have been developed.
- Darwin, C., Duthie, JF and Hopkins, W. (1859). On the origin of species by natural selection: o, The preservation of favored races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.
- Darwin, C. and Wallace, AR (1858), On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection, Zoology 3, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, pages 46-50.
- Freeman, RB (2007). Charles Darwin: a companion. The complete works of Charles Darwin online.
- Larson, Edward J. (2004). Evolution: the remarkable story of a scientific theory. New York: Modern Library.
- Rozzi, R. (2018). Transformations of Darwin’s Thought into Furnaces: A Legacy for Environmental Science and Ethics. Magallania. 46 (1): p. 267-277.
- Shapin, S. (2010). The Darwin Show. London: London Book Review.