The grandson of Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin is thought by many that it was his grandfather who inspired him. Reason being is Erasmus had views about several species having one common ancestor; not only that but he also wrote letters about the environment playing a huge part in evolution. But even before he got his hands on his grandfathers letters he was already interested in natural history; he would collect shells, birds' eggs, and even rocks. As an adult he went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. This choice of study also played a huge part in the evolutionary interests. While at Edinburgh University he was exposed to the evolutionary theories of Lamarck (he “suggested a dynamic relationship between species and the environment such that if the external environment changed, an animal's activity patters would also change to accommodate the new circumstances”), and other theorists.
Even though he was exposed to many views on evolution by several professors at Edinburgh University, he left because, quite simply, he hated medicine. Soon he went to Christ's College to study technology. That said, given his interests he was pretty much indifferent towards religion. While there he took up interests in botany and geology. Armed with the knowledge he had cultivated and wanting to learn more, when he graduated he boarded the HMS Beagle on December 17, 1831 at the age of 22. This 5 year voyage was the start of a huge life change for Darwin and all around change in science.
When Darwin boarded the Beagle he was in the state of mind that species were fixed as one form, but as the Beagle sailed he began to have secret doubts. Although, when the Beagle reached the Galapagos (islands off the coast of Ecuador) those doubts were no longer doubts but fuel for research. Darwin could see that not only plants but the animals on these islands looked similar but they were different from those of South America. Not only that but from island to island, or even on the same island some animals looked alike, but, again, were different.
The title of this blog has “the legend” in it, and that is true. The study that Darwin did on the finches from both the Galapagos and from the mainland is nothing less than legendary. He found that several finches had notable beak differences. As he observed them he saw how the beaks reflected on how they obtained good. The ones with long straight beaks had to go into bark to get food, but other with small, thick, and short beaks would find food that was in plain sight.
Once he arrived back in England he was writing papers on fossils to different plants, but the love for the change in species he had seen on his voyage on the Beagle over came him. This is when he began to develop his thoughts on natural selection. What this meant is that traits that are desirable are passed on but those that are not died off. In 1844 Darwin had written this thoughts about natural selection but he did not have enough research done to support it, so he did more. Another reason he did not publish his article is because the theory of evolution was seen as a threat to the church, and back then the church controlled everything. But 19 years later in December of 1859 he published “On the Origin of the Species.” Once this book was published there was a roar of disapproval about it (even nowadays the storm still has not abated). Even though the public, and most of all the church, saw the book with many negative emotions, the scientific community was in support of Darwin and his book.
It is amazing how much one man who lived more than two hundred years ago had, has, such an impact on the scientific communities. His book has inspired hundred of thousands curious minds to see what they can find using him as the start; extending on his research. Darwin was the first to find out and realize that natural selection happens on genetic and individual level, while as a population, as a whole they change, they evolve. “On the Origin of the Species,” was just one of more than 20 published works Darwin put out there. The following is a quote from one of them named “The Descent of Man” which covers the evolution of man and sexual selection (sexual selection is similar to natural selection; traits that are desirable will be more likely to live on).
“In each region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is, therefore, probable that Africa was formally inhibited my extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee, as as these two species are no man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probably that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.” This is an example of how ahead of his time Darwin was. He has never been to excavations or the such, but he knew what we have just started to realize and accept. Please feel free to comment on what you thought of the blog, or other physical anthropological subjects you would like me to cover.
Happy birthday, Charles Darwin, the man, the legend.