Background information about Darwinian evolution, Primordial Earth and Dennett.
Includes information about Darwin's original theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
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Charles Darwin was born in 1809 in the small town of Shrewsbury, England where he attended Shrewsbury School in 1818. The headmaster described Charles as a boy who was always fooling around with nonsense, while never doing anything useful. By "useful", the headmaster was referring to Charles' studies in Greek and Latin verbs. By "fooling around", he was referring, among many other things, to the fact that Charles usually spent his time collecting beetles of all kinds.
In an attempt to give Charles a distinguished and respectable career, Robert Darwin (Charles' father) took Charles out of Shrewsbury and in 1825 sent him to Edinburgh University to study medicine. Charles had no ambition or interest in medicine and found the medical curriculum extremely boring. He was disgusted and outraged by the sounds and sights of autopsies and amputations. Charles eventually ended up wasting as much time in Edinburgh as in Shrewsbury. Although he thought his stay in Edinburgh was an incredible waste of time, it was quite significant.
In Edinburgh, Charles made friends with a zoologist, Robert Grant, who was the first person to expose Charles to Lamarck's theory of evolution. He also made friends with a taxidermist who taught him how to skin and stuff birds. This skill proved to be very useful on his voyage around the world.
Eventually, Robert Darwin saw that Charles was useless with medicine. In result, he sent Charles to Cambridge University to study holy orders. At Cambridge, Charles met a clergyman botanist, John Stevens Henslow, who would often take Charles on plant-collecting expeditions. It was at Cambridge where Charles received the reputation of a natural scientist. Charles graduated from Cambridge University in April 1831.
In August of 1831, he received a letter from John Henslow that would change his life. Henslow wrote, "I have been requested to recommend a naturalist to go as companion to Captain Fitzroy, who has been commissioned by the government to survey the southern coasts the southern coasts of South America. I have stated that I consider you to be the best-qualified person I know of whom is likely to undertake such a situation. As far as the financial side of it is concerned, I have no notion. The voyage is to last two years...
I have stated that I consider you to be the just qualified person I know of who is likely to undertake such as situation. I state this no in the supposition of you being a finished naturalist, but as amply qualified for collecting, observing and noting anything worthy to be noted in Natural History...
Captain Fitzroy wants a man (I understand) more as a companion than a mere collector, and would not take anyone, however good a naturalist who wan not recommended to him like-wise as a gentlemen...
Don't put any doubts or fears about your disqualifications, for I assure you I think you are the very man they are in search of."
Charles dearly wished to take the opportunity, but in his
days, nobody did anything without their parents' consent. After much convincing
and persuasion, his father still would not allow Charles to go on the trip.
Eventually, Josiah, Charles' uncle and the father of his future wife, would
help Robert overcome the paternal opposition.
tools that Captain Fitzroy had Darwin bring with him when he was on the Beagle.
In December of 1831, Charles set sail with Captain Fitzroy aboard the HMS Beagle. The two years on the Beagle turned into five and the expedition to South America turned into a voyage around the world. The Beagle sailed from Plymouth to South America, then across the Pacific to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They then sailed back to South America before finally returning to London. Darwin, himself, considered his time aboard the Beagle undoubtedly the most significant event in his life. For the first years, the Beagle sailed up and down the coast of South America. This allowed Darwin to study the Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific west of South America. It was in the Galapagos Islands where Darwin made some of his most important discoveries and observations.
When Charles returned from his voyage, he started nursing and revising his theory of evolution. It wasn't until 1856 when he finally published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
Prior to writing The Origin of Species, Charles married Emma Wedgwood, his cousin and the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, in November of 1838. While keeping a public front of traditional Christianity, he was privately sketching out a completely revolutionary theory. In 1842, he wrote a 35-page outline of what he called "my theory". In 1844, Charles expanded his outline into a 230-page essay. In the same year an anonymous book entitled The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation suggested that the succession of fossil types was evidence of an unceasing transformation of what God had created at the beginning of time. The book caused such shock and controversy that Darwin delayed the publication of his own work.
It may have been the pressure of keeping his theory secret that made Charles so ill that he retreated from city life and turned to a rural life in the countryside. It may also have been the Chagas disease. The Chagas disease is transmitted through a bug called the Benchuca. The Benchuca may have bitten Charles while he was in the South American pampas.
It was during the latter half of his life (he lived in the Down House which is shown below) when he was experiencing bouts of illness when Charles slowly developed his controversial theory of evolution.