Chan Chan, Peru

The Evolution of...Charles Darwin

Zegrahm Contributor|May 27, 2015|Blog Post

You’re exploring some of the most wildlife-rich regions of Mother Earth, in particular the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current, and have been schooled in the remarkable research and discoveries of Alexander von Humboldt. So, how about that other guy we hear so much about in biology courses, or whenever we’re tempted by travel to remote lands to get up close and personal with the local (wild) residents? Charles Darwin made quite a name for himself, but did you know even he struggled with his own ideas and observations about our place in the world and how we came to be? It was 20 years from the time he conducted much of his research until he went public with his ideas, and it’s been said that he compared the writing of On the Origin of Species as “confessing a murder.”

Born to open-minded Christian parents, the fifth of six children, Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in England. His grandfathers were famous in their own right—Josiah Wedgewood was an industrialist and campaigned against slavery, while Erasmus Darwin was a doctor who championed the idea that one species could “transmute” into another in his radical book Zoonomia. At first glance, it seemed that Darwin was continuing in the footsteps of his dad and granddad and would become a doctor as well, securing a hard-won spot at Edinburgh University, yet he found that pre-anesthesia medicine was a bit too much for him to handle.

Next up, divinity school at Cambridge. While he held fairly mainstream ideas about God, he wasn’t enamored of this new direction in life and so, when his tutor recommended him to be the naturalist on an around-the-world-voyage on the HMS Beagle, he quickly grabbed the opportunity.

For the next five years, Darwin traveled the world, visiting four continents and spending ample amounts of time collecting specimens and communing with the local wildlife and geology. Part of that trip included a five-week visit to the Galápagos Islands and although many believe this is the region that sparked his most forward-thinking ideas, Darwin himself would argue that his conclusions were the result of a steady accumulation of observations and data over a number of years.

It was 1838 when fellow biologists were offered the chance to see Darwin’s collected specimens and he started to write up his findings. It was now that his grandest idea began to percolate in his mind, that evolution occurred by natural selection. Of course, he knew this idea would be at odds with his Christian upbringing. Remembering his own grandfather had met with naysayers when he wrote about transmutation, he was fearful of a similar fate. His ‘silent’ research continued for several years before he opened it up to a wider audience … and from there, after going public with his powerful idea, debate was sparked worldwide. 

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