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    Charles Darwin

    English biologist
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    Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was born in Shrewsbury. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a scientist, whose ideas on evolution anticipated later theories. His chief prose work was Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life (1794-96). Darwin's maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgewood, wealthy founder of the famous pottery works. Due his background Darwin was not expected to work for a living but use his education and talents well. More ...

    Books by Charles Darwin

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    Quotes by Charles Darwin

    • It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
    • The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.
    • We must, however, acknowledge as it seems to me, that a man with all his noble qualities...still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
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    Biography of Charles Darwin

    Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was born in Shrewsbury. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a scientist, whose ideas on evolution anticipated later theories. His chief prose work was Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life (1794-96). Darwin's maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgewood, wealthy founder of the famous pottery works. Due his background Darwin was not expected to work for a living but use his education and talents well.

    Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old, and he was brought up by his sister. In 1827 he started theology studies at Christ's College, Cambridge. His love to collect plants, insects, and geological specimens was noted by his botany professor John Stevens Henslow. He arranged for his talented student a place a on the surveying expedition of HMS Beagle to Patagonia. Captain Robert FitzRoy needed a naturalist to serve as his companion and messmate on the tedious trip. Despite objections of his father, Darwin decided to leave his familiar surroundings.

    The voyage took five years from 1831 to 1836. Darwin had good reasons to doubt the view that fossils were relics of Noah's Flood and in Cambridge he had participated in discussions about the "transmutations" of species. Darwin returned with observations he had made in Teneriffe, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, the Galapagos Islands, and elsewhere. He never set foot abroad again. During the voyage he had contracted a tropical illness, which made him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. By 1846 Darwin had published several works based on the discoveries of the voyage and he became secretary of the Geological Society (1838-41).

    From 1842 Darwin lived at Down House, Downe. In 1839 he had married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and when not devoting himself to scientific studies, he led a life of a country gentleman. In the 1840s Darwin worked on his observations of the origin of species for his own use. He began to conclude, although he was deeply anxious about the direction his mid was taking, that species might share a common ancestor. When Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist living in the East Indies, sent in 1858 to Darwin his study containing the main ideas of the theory of natural selection, Darwin arranged his notes, which were presented to the Linnean Society, on July 1st, 1858. They were read simultaneously with Wallace's paper, but neither Darwin or Wallace was present on that occasion. Wallace, who was self-taught and a highly decent man, never showed any jealousy and fiercely defended Darwin's theory. Later he campaigned for women's suffrage and land nationalization

    Darwin's great work, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, appeared next year, and was heavily attacked because it did not support the depiction of creation given in the book of Genesis. Before Darwin, the French anatomist and botanist Jean-Babtiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) had stressed the variations in species, and had given in his books an account of human development that was plainly evolutionary in spirit. Darwin's argument that natural selection - the mechanism of evolution - worked automatically, leaving little or no room for divine guidance or design. All species, he reasoned, produce far too many offspring for them all to survive, and therefore those with favorable variations - owing to chance - are selected. "I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce [direct] evidence of one species changing into another, but I believe that this view is in the main correct, because so many phenomena can thus be grouped end explained."

    At Darwin's hands evolution matured into a well-developed scientific theory, which have been a constant target of religious or pseudo-scientific attacks of "young-Earthers". Especially in the United Staes in the 1980s and 1990s Christian fundamentalists enjoyed some political success, but "creation science" has never found much support in Europe among biologists. However, Darwin himself did not at first explicitly apply the evolutionary theory to human beings. "You ask me whether I shall discuss man," he wrote in 1857, "I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded by prejudice." Darwin rejected the idea of mixing religion with science and wrote to the geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875) in 1859, "I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent." He also knew very well that his challenge to the Biblical doctrine would cause stress to his friends and family, among them his religious wife.

    The popular view - after Darwin's hypothesis was accepted widely - was that Man is descended from the apes which led Disraeli to say that as between Man an ape or an angel, he was "on the side of the angels." In a letter Darwin himself expressed his own doubts about his revolutionary thinking: "Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind...?" T.H. Huxley did not see any reason to hesitate and published in his Man Place in Nature (1863) an application of the theory and Darwin followed him in THE DESCENT OF MAN, AND SELECTION IN RELATION TO SEX (1871) and EXPRESSION OF EMOTIONS IN MAN AND ANIMALS (1872), which showed the similarities between animals and man in the expression of emotions and was the start of the science of ethnology. The remainder of Darwin's books deal with plants. In INSECTIVOROUS PLANTS (1875) he explored how a plant - the sundew - catches, ingests, and digests flies.

    Darwin's voyage with the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Beagle is recorded in the JOURNAL OF RESEARCHES (1836), a blend of scientific reporting and travel writing, one of the best travel books ever written. Also Alfred Wallace wrote a travel book, The Malay Archipelago. Darwin died in Down, Kent, on April 19, 1882. It it thought that Darwin suffered from Chagas's disease, when bitten by a bug during his scientific studies in South America. This would account for his fainting and other symptoms. Darwin's works have had deep a influence also outside the field of natural sciences. Applied to politics it led to the talk about "favored races" and the doctrine that nations struggle in order that the fittest shall survive. Darwin himself once wrote: "Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a more perfect creature than he is now, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who freely admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful."
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