Charles Darwin was born in 1809 in England. He studied divinity at Cambridge University. In 1831, he joined a five year scientific expedition, on the survey ship HMS Beagle. At this time, most Europeans believed that the world was created in seven days, as described in the bible. It was on this voyage that he began developing his theory of evolution by natural selection.
However, like all scientists, Darwin did not develop his ideas in an intellectual vacuum. His work grew from ideas that others had developed before him. Darwin’s great genius lay in collecting new evidenced, asking the right questions, and systematically developing a way to tie this evidence together into a simple, testable, theory, the likes of which had never been seen before in the life science.
Darwin was familiar with the philosophy of classical Greece, including Anaximader, who loosely proposed an idea akin to evolution, some 2000 years before Darwin.
On the voyage, Darwin read Charles Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ which suggested that the fossils found in rocks were evidence of animals that had lived many thousands or millions of years ago.
Darwin made many discoveries in South America and on the Galapagos Islands (500 miles west of South America)
On his return to England in 1836, Darwin tried to solve the riddles of these observations and the puzzle of how species evolve.
Influenced by the ideas of Malthus (1798, On the Principle of Population), Darwin proposed a theory of evolution occurring through natural selection.
Darwin worked on his theory for 20 years. After learning that another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had developed similar ideas, the two made a joint announcement of their discovery in 1858.
In 1859 Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’.
Darwin died on 19 April 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
How did Charles Darwin end up setting out on a voyage of discovery around the world aboard H.M.S. Beagle?
Watch The Voyage of Charles Darwin
Darwin’s Voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle
“Of the five years he spends circling the world on the H.M.S. Beagle, Darwin spends a mere five weeks in the Galapagos islands and, contrary to conventional belief, his greatest epiphanies do not occur on the famed islands. Instead, they are a cultivation of years exploring the wilds of South America where forests become the cathedral of Darwin’s religion. Darwin’s senses are overwhelmed by a world teeming with life, but what he finds along the way is perplexing to a 19th century naturalist. He questions why the fossils he discovers look like giant versions of the sloths and armadillos still living nearby; why do the penguins and other birds he sees use their wings as flippers, fins, or sails – but not for flying; how could sea shells be found embedded in rock layers more than 100 miles from the sea? It is not until after he leaves the Galapagos – where mockingbirds, not finches capture his attention – that he is able to fully appreciate everything he has encountered and pull together his masterwork: On The Origin of Species.”
– National Geographic Channel, http://natgeotv.com.au/tv/darwins-lost-voyage/
Darwin’s giant sloths
Darwin’s discovery of giant armadillos
Darwin’s questions about penguins
The story of Charles Darwin for students
Darwin did not develop his ideas in an intellectual vacuum.