Darwin was born in February, 1809. He left the school at Shrewsbury to
the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. In 1827 he dropped out of
medical school and entered the University of Cambridge, intending to become
a clergyman. There he met Adam Sedgwick, a geologist and John Stevens
Henslow, a naturalist. Henslow not only helped build Darwin’s
self-confidence but also taught his student to be an observer of natural
phenomena and collector of specimens. After graduating from Cambridge in
1831, the 22-year-old Darwin was taken aboard the English survey ship HMS
Beagle, largely on Henslow’s recommendation, as an unpaid naturalist on a
scientific expedition around the world.
Darwin’s job as naturalist aboard the Beagle gave him the opportunity
to observe the various geological formations found on different continents
and islands along the way, as well as a huge variety of fossils and living
organisms. In his geological observations, Darwin was most impressed with
the effect that natural forces had on shaping the earth’s surface.
During the voyage Darwin found himself doubting that all creatures had
been created individually when he found fossils closely ressembling each
other. In the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, he also observed
that each island supported its own form of certain animals; the various
forms were closely related but differed in structure and eating habits from
island to island. Both of his observations raised questions about the links
between different species.
After returning to England in 1836, Darwin began recording his ideas
about changeability of species in his Notebooks on the Transmutation of
Species. He wrote a theory about his findings but did not publish it.
Darwin’s theory was first announced in 1858 in a paper presented at the
same time as one by Alfred Russel Wallace, a young naturalist who had come
independently to the theory of natural selection. Darwin’s complete theory
was published in 1859, in On the Origin of Species. The Origin sold out on
the first day of publication and after this went through six editions. His
ideas were widely critized by scientists and the Church.
Darwin spent the rest of his life based around his theory and arguments
against it. He was honored by burial in Westminster Abbey after he died in
Down, Kent, on April 19, 1882.
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