Charles Darwin


Charles Robert Darwin was the fifth child of Robert Waring Darwin
and Susannah Wedgewood. He was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury,
England where his father practiced medicine. He attended Shrewsbury
Grammar School which was a well-kn own secondary school which concentrated
on teaching classic languages. Even as a boy Darwin loved science and his
enthusiasm for chemical studies earned him the name "Gas" from his friends.
The headmaster at Shrewsbury, Dr. Samuel Butler noted, "Here\'s a boy, plays
around with his gases and the rest of his rubbish and works at nothing
useful." He was also an avid collector. Anything he could get his hands
on- shells, eggs, minerals and coins interested him.

Darwin was expected to follow his father and become a doctor and in
1825, at the age of sixteen, his father removed him from Shrewsbury and
entered him in the University of Edenburgh to study medicine. He found all
of his classes except chem istry dull. After two years at Edenburg, he
quit school and went to live with his Uncle Josiah Wedgewood. After he
abandoned medicine, his father urged him to attend Cambridge University to
study to be a clergyman. At Cambridge he met John Steven Henslow who
helped him regain his interest in nature. It was Henslow who was
influential in getting Darwin the position of naturalist on the boat The
Beagle. In April of 1831, he graduated from the University.

In the fall following his graduation, the government decided to
send the H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, to complete
an unfinished survey of Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego to help map out the
shores of Chile and Peru. Th e voyage was to last two years. Darwin
volunteered his services without salary and offered to pay his own expenses
on the condition that he was allowed to keep all the plants and animals he
collected. On Henslow\'s recommendation, Darwin was chosen to serve as
naturalist for the exploration. The Beagle set sail from Devonport on
December 27, 1831 and returned on October 2, 1836. Throughout the journey,
Darwin shipped back to England crate loads of tropical plants, insects,
flowers, spiders, s hells and fossil animals. He was very popular with the
crew and was given the name "Fly Catcher."

During the five year journey, he was exposed to different species
of birds, insects and reptiles. He noted that in the different
environments that he visited changes occurred in the same species that
helped them to adapt to their surrounding s. It was as a result of these
observations and observations of other naturalists and geologists that
Darwin began to formulate his theory of evolution known as "Natural
Selection." Darwin had left England as a youthful collector and returned
as a dedicated naturalist. Before the journey, he believed like Henslow,
that the history of the earth was short and whatever changes occurred were
the result of vast catastrophes. By his return, he was convinced that the
earth was extremely old and its evolution was the result of many small
changes.

Natural Selection, proposed by Darwin, is the most widely accepted
theory on evolution today. The theory is based upon five basic principles.
The first states that organisms increase at a higher rate than their food
supply. However, while there is overproduction of organisms, there is never
overpopulation because many young never reach adulthood. The second
principle notes that because the resources of nature are limited, all life
engages in a struggle for survival in which only thos e with superior
characteristics survive. The third principle states that no two
individuals are identical. No matter how slight the difference may be,
all show some variation from one another. The fourth principle notes that
some individuals poss ess variations that are most helpful in adapting to
an environment, increasing their chances for survival. This in turn
enables them to produce more offspring. Darwin\'s fifth principle concludes
that these offspring will inherit the favored charact eristics of their
parents and pass them on to their children. Each generation maintains and
improves the characteristics which help them diverge further from the
original type. Ultimately the new forms will be so different in structure
and behavior from the original, that they will not be able to breed with
them and are therefore considered a new species. In summary evolution is
based on the survival of the fittest. The individual who\'s best suited to
its environment will have a higher survi val rate. Those not favorably
equipped will die preventing overpopulation of the earth. In November,
1859, Darwin published The Origin of Species in which he proposed his
ideas