Charles Robert Darwin

and the Theory of Evolution

Early Life

Naturalist Charles Robert Darwin was born of on February 12, 1809, in the small town of Shrewsbury, England. Darwin was the second youngest of six children born from a wealthy family of scientists. His father, Dr. R.W. Darwin, was as a medical doctor, and his grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, was a renowned botanist. At the age or 16, Darwin, who enjoyed exploring nature, enrolled at Edinburgh University. Two years later, Charles Darwin became a student at Christ's College in Cambridge. His father hoped he would follow in his footsteps and become a medical doctor, but the sight of blood made Darwin queasy and he was more inclined to study natural history.

Voyage on the HMS Beagle

While Darwin was at Christ's College, botany professor John Stevens Henslow became his mentor. After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1831, Henslow recommended Darwin for a naturalist’s position aboard the HMS Beagle. The ship, was to take a five-year survey trip around the world. The voyage would prove the opportunity of a lifetime for the budding young naturalist.

On December 27, 1831, the HMS Beagle launched its voyage around the world. During the trip, Darwin had the unique opportunity to closely observe principles of botany, geology and zoology and collect a variety of natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. The Pacific Islands and Galapagos Archipelago were of particular interest to Darwin.

Upon his return to England in 1836, Darwin began to write up his findings in the Journal of Researches which was later edited into the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. The trip had a monumental affect on Darwin’s view of natural history. He began to develop a revolutionary theory about the origin of living beings that was contrary to the popular view of other naturalists at the time.

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Theory of Evolution

Darwin's exposure to specimens all over the globe raised important questions form other naturalists that believed all species remained about the same throughout time. During his research, Darwin noticed similarities among species all over the globe. This lead him to the belief that all species had gradually evolved from common ancestors. Darwin called this process of survival "natural selection," theorizing that species that successfully adapted to meet the changing requirements of their natural habitat thrived, while those that failed to evolve and reproduce died off.

In 1858, after years of further scientific investigation, Darwin publicly introduced his revolutionary Theory of Evolution in a letter read at a meeting of the Linnean Society. A year later he published a detailed explanation of his theory in his best-known work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

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Death and Legacy

Following a lifetime of research, Charles Darwin died at his family home, in London, on April 19, 1882, and was later buried at Westminster Abbey. During the next century, modern DNA studies revealed evidence of his theory of evolution, although controversy surrounding its conflict with Creationism—the religious view that all of nature was born of God—still continues today.
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