Charles Darwin, Naturalist
Charles Darwin, Naturalist

When did he live?

Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809. He died on 19 April 1882.

A Young Charles Darwin
A Young Charles Darwin

Why is he famous?

Charles Darwin was a naturalist, although he is often called a biologist.

His 5-year voyage aboard the boat ‘Beagle’ – upon which his job was to collect animal, plant and fossil specimens – led to him publishing a book called ‘On the Origin of Species’. It was in this book that he suggested the theory of evolution.

Part of the theory of evolution is the idea of ‘natural selection’: species change because of their environmental needs, and the strongest members of a species survive while the weaker ones disappear over time.

Thomas Henry Huxley used Darwin’s theory to argue that modern people evolved from earlier types of humans, and were related to apes. Darwin then expanded this theory in his next book, The Descent of Man’.

Although he is famous for suggesting that humans evolved from apes, his research was not only about humans. He studied many species, drawing timelines as to how they may have evolved.

Origin of Species
Origin of Species (1859)

What was his mark on history?

Darwin’s mark on history is huge: his theories (and new versions of them) are taught in schools all over the world. Many do not believe a better theory on human or natural development has been made.

Darwin was such an important figure that, when he died, he was given a large ceremonial funeral. He is buried close to Isaac Newton in the famous Westminster Abbey.

In 2002, Charles Darwin was voted the 4th ‘Greatest Briton’ of all time.

Notes

Although Darwin did well at his studies he was often bored by the theories.

Originally Darwin’s father wanted him to work in medicine. It was Darwin’s uncle that persuaded his father to allow Charles to join the Beagle voyage.

Darwin’s place on the HMS Beagle was not a significant role, merely as a collector of specimens. However, from collecting these specimens he was able to create his theory of evolution.

The Beagle’s voyage – and Darwin’s ideas – progressed the most when they were in South America and (most famously) in the Galapagos Islands. It was here that Darwin began to note that some birds and turtles on the islands were only slightly different from the South American mainland. This led him to think that animals changed because of where they lived. Coupled with the fossils he had seen, he was able to draw out evolutionary timelines.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is fought by those who believe in Creationism, the idea that God created the world and mankind. In some areas of the world the choice between teaching Evolution or Creationism in schools remains controversial.

Some have argued Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’ excuses racism, sexism, and the idea of superiority over the uncivilized ‘savage’. However, Darwin himself did not believe that people were born different, but society and environment created stronger groups. Indeed, he was against the idea of ‘ranking’ people.