Charles Darwin
annon

Like many modern students, Charles Darwin exceeded only in subjects that
intrigued him.

Although his father was a physician, Darwin was uninterested in medicine
and he was unable
to stand the sight of surgery. He did eventually obtain a degree in
theology from Cambridge

University, although theology too was of minor interest to him. What

Darwin really liked to
do was to tramp over hills, observing plants and animals, collecting new
specimens,
scrutinizing their structures, and categorizing his findings.

In 1831, when Darwin was only 22 years old, the British government sent

Her Majesty^s Ship

Beagle on a 5 year expedition that would take them first along the
coastline of South

America and then onward around the world. As was common on such
expeditions, the Beagle
would carry along a naturalist to observe and collect geological and
biological specimens
encountered along the route. Thanks to the recommendation of one of

Darwin^s previous
college professors, he was offered the position of naturalist aboard the

Beagle.

The Beagle sailed to South America, making many stops along the coast.

Here Darwin
observed the plants and animals of the tropics and was stunned by the
diversity of species
compared with Europe.

Perhaps the most significant stopover of the voyage was the month spent in
the Galapagos

Islands off of the northwestern coast of South America. It was here that

Darwin found huge
populations of tortoises; and he found that different islands were home to
distinctively
different types of tortoises. He then found that on islands without
tortoises, pricky pear
cactus plants grew with their juicy pads and fruits spread out over the
ground. And on
islands that had hourdes of tortoises, the prickly pears grew
substantially thick, tall
trunks, bearing the fleshy pads and fruits high above the reach of the
tough mouthed
tortoises. He then wondered if the differences in these organisms could
have arisen after
they became isolated from one another on seperate islands.

In 1836, Darwin returned to England after the 5 years with the expedition.

He became
established as one of the foremost naturalist of his time. But constantly
gnawing at his
mind was the problem of the origin of the species.

Darwin sought to prove his ideal of evolution with simple examples. The
various breeds of
dogs provided a striking example of what Darwin sought to prove. Dogs
descended from
wolves, and even today the two will readily cross-breed. With rare
exceptions, however,
few modern dogs actually resemble wolves. Some breeds, such as the

Chihuahua and the

Great Dane, are so different from one another that they would be
considered seperate
species in the wild. If humans could cross-breed such radically different
dogs in only a
few hundred years, Darwin reasoned that nature could produce the same
spectrum of living
organisms given the hundreds of millions of years that she had been
allowed.

Darwin also maintained that seperate species evolve as a result of the
principles of
natural selection, or survival of the fittest. He knew that many more
members of a
species are born than can possibly survive. He also postulated that strong
positive genes
would be bred and rebred into each new generation of animals.

Darwin, contrary to popular belief, never said that human beings evolved
from apes. He
said that all life began as a primordial soup, with molecules acting on
each other. So
from the first single celled organism all life came. One single organism,
when acted on
by several different molecules could give rise to many different species
of animals. It
is in this way that he stated that Ape and man were similar..each having a
similar life^s
beginning.

Darwin^s theories caused the people of the time to begin to question
where it was that
they actually came from. His response was the book On the Origin of

Species. In it he
addressed the concerns of the people. He said "It is interesting to
contemplate an
entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing
in the bushes,
with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the
damp earth, and
to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms....have all been
produced by laws
acting around us. These laws, taken in the highest sense, being Growth
with Reproduction;

Inheritance and Variability...; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to
a struggle for
life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of

Character and

Extinction of less-improved forms....There is grandeur in this view of
life, with its
several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into
one, and that,
whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixded laws of
gravity, from so
simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have
been, and are
being, evolved."