Charles Darwin Short Biography | Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution by natural selection

Charles Darwin Short Biography

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Charles Darwin developed the first scientific theory of evolution. His books--in particular the Origin of Species--became the bedrock upon which modern biology stands.

Darwin was born in 1809 to wealthy parents, and as a teenager he was expected to become a doctor like his father, Robert. But after he enrolled in the University of Edinburgh, he proved more interested in natural history than medicine. Darwin moved to Cambridge, where he began to train to be a clergyman--a common path for affluent young Englishman with an interest in nature. But an invitation to join a voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle altered the direction of his life one final time: over the next five years Darwin was transformed into a naturalist.

Darwin dug up fossils on his journey, collected birds and plants and other specimens, and became familiar with geology. It was not until his return to England, however, that Darwin began to seriously question the explanations of England's leading naturalists for how life got to be the way it is. Rather than being created at the beginning of the world, or from time to time over the history of the Earth, Darwin became convinced that species had evolved from common ancestors.

Darwin spent twenty years carefully gathering evidence for his theory and anticipating every objection his critics might have. He knew that he would have to find the mechanism by which life evolved. Darwin recognized that species contain vast amounts of variation, some of which could be inherited. Variations that made individuals better adapted to their environment would let them have more offspring. Natural selection, as Darwin called this process, would could gradually create enormous changes over millions of years. But Darwin also recognized other kinds of change, such as sexual selection--the success some males have at attracting females thanks to bright feathers or other displays.

Darwin offered his theory to the public in 1858, prompted by a letter he received from the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Wallace had developed a similar theory to Darwin's, and Darwin feared his own, more detailed ideas would be neglected if Wallace was the first to publish his results. So he arranged that letters from both of them were read at a meeting of the Linnean Society and published in their journal. Darwin followed up with The Origin of Species in 1859. In later years, Darwin further developed his ideas about evolution, publishing books on species ranging from orchids to humans to earthworms.

By the time Darwin died in 1882, he was recognized as one of England's greatest scientists and was buried in Westminster Abbey. By then, most biologists had come to agree with Darwin that species shared a common ancestry. But many rejected natural selection, preferring other kinds of mechanisms to drive evolutionary change. It was not until twentieth-century biologists uncovered DNA that they were able to confirm the reality of natural selection, by discovering how it worked on the level of molecules. -- Carl Zimmer, (Feb. 10, 2009)

Highlights From the Archives

By CARL ZIMMER




Does Washington Know Best?

by Truedizzle

"Charles Darwin wisely noted more than a century and a half ago that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Congress exudes confidence.
Suggesting that Congress and the president are ignorant of the fact that knowledge is highly dispersed and decisions made locally produce the best outcomes might be overly generous. It could be that they know they really don’t know what they’re doing but just don’t give a hoot because it’s in their political interest to centralize health care decision-making. Just as one example, how can Congress know whether buying a $4,000 annual health insurance policy would be the best use of healthy 25-year-old Joe Sanders’ earnings? Would he be better off purchasing a cheaper catastrophic health insurance policy and saving the...

Bird brainiacs: The genius of pigeons  — New Scientist
Before a visit from his friend the geologist Charles Lyell, Darwin wrote: "I will show you my pigeons! Which is the greatest treat, in my opinion, which ..

Penguin Classics The Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches (Penguin Classics)
Book (Penguin Classics)
Modern Library The Voyage of the Beagle: Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World (Modern Library Classics)
Book (Modern Library)
Heritage Press Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle, under the Command of Capain Fitzroy, RN
Book (Heritage Press)
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