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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin (1809 -1882) was a biologist whose principal works, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) outlined the theory of evolution.[1]


Early life

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England.[2] His grandfather on his mother's side was a china manufacturer and pioneer of the Industrial Revolution Josiah Wedgwood, while his grandfather on his father's side was Erasmus Darwin, a leading intellectual of 18th century Britain.[3]

Voyage on the Beagle

When he was 22, Darwin joined the ship Beagle for her second survey voyage, under captain FitzRoy. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth late in December 1831 and traversed many (nautical) miles across the ocean wave to put in at the Galapagos Islands (now part of Ecuador), where Darwin collected many specimens which later contributed to his ideas on evolution. The Beagle finally came home to port in Falmouth on a windy day early in October 1836.

Views on the imperfection of the fossil record

An essential element of the theory of evolution as outlined in The Origin of Species is that a "finely graduated organic chain" of transitional forms must have formerly existed. Darwin recognized that the fossil record, especially at that time, did not contain a record of such a chain and admitted that the lack of such fossils "is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory". He discussed various reasons this might be the case and concluded that "If then there be some degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find" them. [4]

What geological research has not revealed, is the former existence of infinitely numerous gradations, as fine as existing varieties, connecting together nearly all existing and extinct species. But this ought not to be expected …[5]

If then there be some degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find, in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms which, on our theory, have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life.[4]

Views on the constancy of the rate of evolution

While Darwin thought that species evolved from one form to the next by very small changes, he did not believe that these changes necessarily took place at a constant rate. In The Origin of Species, he wrote that "Species of different genera and classes have not changed at the same rate, or in the same degree. In the oldest tertiary beds a few living shells may still be found in the midst of a multitude of extinct forms... The Silurian Lingula differs but little from the living species of this genus". [6] (Lingula is a genus of brachiopods, one of the few surviving today but also known from fossils conventionally thought to be over 500 million years old.) Darwin also wrote that "the periods during which species have undergone modification, though long as measured in years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retain the same form." [7]

Darwin's influence

Darwin's ideas about development through selection (or 'the survival of the fittest') have had a wide influence on many strands of subsequent thought. In addition to biology, fields this has affected includes economics[Citation Needed], politics[Citation Needed], psychology, and many other disciplines. Even followers of sinister ideologies such as eugenics and even Nazism have at times linked their ideas to Darwinian principles (or been linked to them by others)[8], although Darwin himself was not a contemporary, let alone a supporter, of such harmful beliefs.

See also

External links


  4. 4.0 4.1 Darwin, Charles, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, fifth edition, John Murray, London,1866, page 372.
  5. Darwin, Charles, 1866, page 370.
  6. Darwin, Charles, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, first edition, John Murray, London,1859, page 313.
  7. Darwin, Charles, 1866, page 551.
  8. Muehlenberg, Bill, Darwin and eugenics, Fri. 18th May, 2007Fri. May 18th, 2007
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