Charles Darwin biography

Charles Darwin


To posterity the name of Charles Darwin is familiar. He is the naturalist whose theories rocked the basic assumptions of a God created universe and put forward a theory based on Natural Selection and the survival of the fittest. His findings decentralized the warmth of the hearth wherein all was according to God’s plan. His theory of evolution made the basis of our existence scientific and rendered theology obsolete.

It was His Britannic Majesty’s brig Beagle that Darwin's theories first began to take shape. In 1831 on a surveying expedition around the world Darwin was the ship's naturalist. Only twenty two and fresh from Cambridge Darwin was of a sensitive and a shy disposition. This was peppered by an inquisitive mind that sought answers and explanations to all that it was confronted with. Darwin refused to take anything on face value. His unflaggingly curious mind sought an explanationto everything.
On their exploration one of the first stops was on the uninhabited Galapagos Islands, hundreds of miles off the coast of South America, in the loneliest doldrums of the Pacific. The place was a naturalist's delight. Darwin was confronted with a variety of species from the animal kingdom that challenged as the mysteries of their existence prodded his keen It presented a living museum of the past geological times, where giant lizards which ought to have been extinct long ago mingled with huge land tortoises. Enormous crabs and gaudy sea lions infested the area. In this virgin Garden of Eden so unaccustomed were the animals to the presence of man that a hawk allowed itself to be knocked off a tree with a stick and ground doves settled trustingly on the explorers' shoulders. Darwin's delight at this unexplored natural habitat stretched before him knew no bounds. The islands presented a fertile ground for study and Darwin discovered that though the islands seemingly similar in soil and climate had their own peculiar fauna. Each island presented a species ostensibly similar but on closer look all of them differed. None of the islands had quite the same species.
Darwin's close observations made him record that though the islands were close together each had a different species of finches, ground doves, lizards, tortoises, insects and snails. This arbitrary creation of different species foxed Darwin. In one of his first recordings he wrote, “One might fancy, that one species had been modified for different ends. On these small, barren, rocky islands we seem to be brought nearer to the mystery of mysteries, the first appearance of new beings on earth." In a daringly subtle way Darwin had started to question the authority of the Genesis and also the belief of the scientistsof the time.
Darwin's fascinating findings continued for the five years that he on board the ship. They sailed to Tahiti, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, Ascension Island, the Cape Verdes and the Azores. Throughout the voyage Darwin was haunted by the single observation of closely related but differing species. He was on the brink of exploding the complacent explanation of a God centered universe. But it was a while before he made his theories public.
By way of fascinating letters and splendid collection Darwin was quite a name when he finally arrived in England. He won praise and acclaim for his work on the origin of atolls and his studies on marine But his observations and findings of the voyage were not made public and were recorded in a little pocket not-book wherein he set down all the evidence he could gather to support his theory of evolution. Darwin visited plant and animal breeders and studied their records in minute details. He bought pigeons and raising them studied them closely. He found that the domestic pigeons all descended from the common blue rock dove. He also observed thatpouters, fan-tails carriers and tumblers so differed from one another, as a result of centuries of selection by fanciers that a zoologist would if he came on them in the wild, classify them as separate varieties. Be it animals or stains of wheat the same process was in motion. Darwin realized that evolution did not belong to a long forgotten past but was going on right before our eyes.
After working for twenty years on his theory Darwin at last confided to a friend, “At last, gleams of light have come, and I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion that l started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. “At this point he had little thought of publishing his findings of two hundred and thirty one pages. It was only on confronting the theory of Alfred Russell of the East Indies that Dawin decided to make his work public. He met Russell and exchanged the similarity 0f their findings. Russel had also come to evolve the theory of evolution by way of natural selection. He wrote, “There is no limit of variability to a species, as formerly supposed. The life of wild animals is a struggle for existence. The abundance or rarity of a species depends upon its more or less perfect adaptation to the conditions of existence. Useful variations will tend to increase, useless or hurtful variations to diminish. Superior varieties will ultimately expatriate the original species. There is a tendency in Nature to progression by minute steps." Darwin and Russel decided to go into publication jointly and presented a new theory of evolution by natural selection at the next meeting of the learned Linnaean Society.
The theory of evolution stated that continuing from generation to generation, natural selection tends to pile up enough small differences to amount to a major difference and that is evolution. The Linnaean society listened patiently but did not give their acceptance to the theories presented by the Mo. lf accepted the theory would make redundant the life work of so many older men. On the other hand the hitherto mysterious fossils of extinct animals and plants began to offer a picture of continuing creation more astounding than the literal Biblical explanation. The discoveries never reached the public ear but were locked away in the unreachable portals of scientific thought.
The following year Darwin published The Origin of Species and brought upon him the heat of controversy. He was hailed as a genius and as a mad man at the same time. He was the creator of scientific anarchy and his was the blasphemy that had soiled the sanctity of the church. Darwin’s book though brought out with great apprehension by the publisher sold out the very first day of the publication. It was an instant best seller and Darwin was an international name.
The book opened the floodgates of controversy and the church seethed with anger. The book was declared totally amoral and the fundamentalist Victorians spoke sharply against the contents. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce accepted a challenge of a debate at Oxford against Darwin’s fiery young champion, the biologist Thomas Huxley. “Soapy Sam" as the Bishop was nicknamed by the rationales had little training in science and depended more on ridicule to get his point across. Midst the debate addressing his opponent he sneered, "Does the gentleman, claim to be descended from a monkey on his mother's side or his father’s?" Springing to his feet the young Huxley retorted, “I would far rather be descended from a monkey on both my parents' sides than from a man who uses his brilliant talents for arousing religious prejudice in discussions of subjects about which he knows nothing.” The well phrased retort got the irreverent Oxford students exited and the final applause was for Huxley and therefore Darwin's.
As for Darwin he spent his days in the country. His health after the voyage on the Beagle was always precarious. He tried to retain tranquility in his home at Kent. His work in the laboratory kept him occupied and The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Men and Animals were writing that stirred the world and put him in the center of fresh controversy. But Darwin carried on regardless. His uncontroversial work on the study of orchids and their fertilization and the methods by which primroses prevent inbreeding managed to quell the rage that his other more volatile work raked.
The work of later scientists has managed to further strengthen Darwin’s theory of evolution. Mendel’s work on inheritance and Genetics as a science was unborn in Darwin's day and nor had De Vries worked out his mutation theory. All these later findings have tried to complete the theory of evolution first propounded by Darwin. He was the first to unshakably state the facts of evolution. The term evolution came into being with Darwin and has lived on for centuries. Constant change that is the cycle of life and this great secret was unveiled by Darwin.
This gentle old fellow grown grey in the quest of knowledge was always a silent humble figure with a belief in his findings but never boisterously shouting for support. In fact it was hard to believe that this humble man was the center of controversy that had questioned the very foundation of thought in his times. At the rare scientific meetings that he attended the entire audience would rise and cheer this dear old man whose unmitigated attention to the cause of science never flagged.
On April 19, 1882, Charles Darwin died. This ended his intellectual adventure. He was buried in Westminster Abbey by pall bearers who included Huxley, Wallace and James Russel Lowell. He was laid to rest beside the body of Sir Isaac Newton. So rests the finest type of Homo sapiens that ever touched the life of man. His zealous search for knowledge and his utter delight in children and flowers were the only passions that marked his life. Though a scientist with a questing spirit never by word of his was God denied, nor the soul of man.

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