Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809 (at Shrewsbury in Shropshire) and died April 19, 1882 (at Downe in Kent), was a British biologist, best known for his theory of the evolution of species, one of the most important theories of modern biology. He was awarded the Wollaston Medal in 1859 and the Copley Medal in 1864.
He was the grandson of a famous doctor, Erasmus Darwin. His father wanted him to study to become a priest, but he preferred natural history. In 1831, Darwin was 22 years old. A scientific expedition was organized aboard a ship, the ''Beagle''. Darwin went on the voyage as a naturalist, although did not have all his diplomas.
Darwin's world tour aboard the Beagle lasted five years: he left on December 27, 1831, he did not return until October 2, 1836. He visited many places, including South America, Australia, Reunion, and , especially, the Galapagos Islands. His work on board was to write about and list all the many animal and plant species discovered during the trip.
The journey made by Darwin aboard the Beagle[edit | edit source]
It was during this fantastic world tour that he developed most of his theories. Thanks to the letters he sent during his trip to publicize his work, Darwin was on his return to England, a famous scientist. He moved to London to continue his studies as a member of London Zoological Society. He met, among others, the geologist Charles Lyell, the paleontologist Richard Owen (the inventor of the word "Dinosaur"), and the ornithologist John Gould.
Charles Darwin married on January 29, 1839, to Emma Wedgwood. They had several children, including George, who became an astronomer, Francis, a botanist, and Horace, a civil engineer. The death of his 10-year-old daughter Annie made Darwin, who had been very religious, doubt the existence of God.
Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882. He received official funerals, and is buried at Westminster Abbey, alongside astronomer John Herschel, and physicist Isaac Newton.
The work of Darwin[edit | edit source]
At the time of Darwin, two were two main ideas: creationists believed that the world as it existed was created by God, while evolutionists believed that living things change over time.
At the time, the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck was one of the pioneers of the theory of evolution of species. He thought that living things could change during their life to adapt to their environment, and then pass these changes to their babies.
Charles Darwin changed this theory: the species he discovered, including turtles and finches he observed in the Galapagos Islands, give him the feeling that they may have evolved from a same common ancestor.
He discovered what makes evolution happen: natural selection.
Natural selection[edit | edit source]
Darwin observed that every living thing is perfectly adapted to its environment. He discovered that the most suitable living creatures have a better chance of survival and have more offspring. As a result, they have the best chance of passing on to their offspring the things that make them more suitable than others to this environment.
Over time, the living creatures that are most adapted to the environment have more babies, while the less-adapted ones reproduce less and their characteristics disappear. Little by little, changes build up and animals and plants no longer resemble their ancestors.
Darwin proposed that it is nature, which selects the living beings most adapted to their environment, to survive. This principle takes the name of natural selection.
The Origin of Species[edit | edit source]
Darwin published his theories in 1859, in a book, The Origin of Species.
Nowadays, the existence of natural selection has been proven. It has even been measured. But at the time, Darwin surprised a lot of people. People thought that his theory went against what the Bible said. Worse, Darwin supposed that Man and the monkey could have a common ancestor.