Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in the town of Shrewsbury, England on February 12, 1809 - the same birth date as Abraham Lincoln. Of the six children in the family, four girls and two boys, Charles was next to youngest. For a long time, Charles Darwin seemed to be a misfit in a family of energetic intellectuals. He enjoyed an easygoing life - taking walks, collecting beetles, and playing with his dogs.

When Charles reached 16, Dr. Darwin had had enough of his son’s easygoing ways and insisted he attend the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to study medicine. A professor, John Steven Henslow, head of the botany department at the University, was impressed by Darwin’s beetle collection. It was through Henslow that Darwin met Captain Robert Fitzroy of the Royal Navy. Fitzroy was in search of a young naturalist to be his companion, without pay, aboard H.M.S. Beagle on a five-year sailing voyage around the world. As the ship’s naturalist, he was affectionately known as “Mr. Flycatcher” by the crew. This journey changed his life and led him to develop one of the most important theories of modern scientific thought.

The Beagle was in constant danger during its time in Tierra del Fuego, and yet Captain Fitzroy stubbornly refused to give up his search for new land. On one occasion, when the ship’s boats were drawn up on the beach, an overhanging glacier suddenly plunged into the water. A great wave rushed toward the shore, and it seemed as though the small boats were about to be broken into pieces. Charles and two other men, although in great danger, rushed down to the shore and secured the boats. To commemorate the heroic deed, Captain Fitzroy named a nearby body of water Darwin Sound and a peak to the north Mount Darwin.

On September 15, 1835, almost four years after the Beagle had sailed from England, the ship put in to the remote Galápagos Islands. On these islands, which are located on the equator some 600 miles west into the Pacific from South America, reptiles are the main inhabitants. Darwin even rode a 300-pound turtle, the size of which had never been seen before. He also discovered 13 varieties of finch, each with beaks of a different size and shape. Darwin concluded that the finches must have descended from one variety of South American finch that had flown across the ocean to the islands in prehistoric times. The finches had then evolved in different ways in order to survive. He called this process “natural selection” or “the survival of the fittest.” He had discovered a key to evolution and how different kinds of animals and plants came into existence.

From the Galápagos Islands, the Beagle sailed across the Pacific to Tahiti. After a brief stop there, the brig then sailed on to New Zealand, Australia, the Keeling Islands, around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and to Brazil again. Finally, its missions completed, the Beagle headed for home. As the ship touched the shores of England on October 2, 1836, the ship’s naturalist had arrived home at the age of 27, and still without a profession.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection still holds its place as one of the greatest discoveries of modern science. His theory is accepted by practically all scientists, but it is regarded as only one of the many factors of evolution. He was able to prove that species do evolve and change, but this kind of information has led to an even bigger mystery. The debate still continues about what really causes evolutionary changes. Scientists in their quest for knowledge about the creation of our world and the universe continue to ask how species evolve.

Darwin’s theories were published in 1859 in his famous book The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882.

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