Darwins Contribution to Science

10 October 2016

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 to Robert and Susanna Darwin. Darwin’s father Robert was a physician, much as his paternal grandfather Erasmus Darwin. Charles Darwin studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but quickly found that his future lay on a different path. Darwin eventually attended Cambridge University, between 1828 – 1831, where he graduated with the intention of becoming a clergyman. In those days, a clergyman was a general lover of all things natural and could be called by some, the original biologists.

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Very soon after, indeed the same year as his graduation, Darwin was invited to go along with Captain Robert Fitzroy on a voyage aboard The Beagle. His main role was to be the resident naturalist. During the voyage, Darwin was expected to gather samples and make observations in order to send back to England for classification. Little did Darwin know that the voyage would last five years. While Darwin is known mostly for his work on the Galapagos Islands, he only spent five weeks of his five year journey on the islands. Most of his work was on mainland South America.

Through his collection of fossils, skins, skeletons, and various other samples, Darwin was able to postulate about isolation and change within a species. Darwin spent years after his voyage on The Beagle, cataloguing specimens, consulting with colleagues, and getting everything in order to make sure that he had the best support for his theories. It wasn’t until he read an economic report by Malthus that describes population growth and decline are based on various factors such as famine or disease (James, 1979), that Darwin began to put together the pieces of what he had learned from his voyage and study.

Malthus’ work helped Darwin to understand that under specific conditions, favorable variations would tend to be preserved while unfavorable characteristics would be destroyed. Darwin began to work on a report outlining his theory of evolution through natural selection, but never published them. In 1856, Charles Lyell convinced Darwin to start working on a book detailing his work. Darwin didn’t put a great deal of effort into a book until after 1858, when Alred Russel Wallace sent a letter to Darwin, explaining in almost identical fashion to Darwin’s work, evolution by natural selection.

After two presentations at the Linnean Society, in which two of Darwin’s papers and one from Wallace was used, Darwin began his work on, “On the Origin of the Species. ” This was a smaller version of the larger book he was intending on writing and was published in 1859 where it immediately became a scientific sensation. Many scientists argued against Darwin’s work claiming that evolution was a product of major sudden changes which caused large mutations. These scientists were known as “saltationists”.

The major argument was the fact that the earth was not old enough for gradualism, or evolution through small steps, to have occurred. It wasn’t until Mendel’s work on genetics in 1856 that Darwin’s theories really began to take hold. It took all the way until the 1930’s before gradualism was widely accepted. Ultimately, Darwin was not fully vindicated until the last half of the 20th century in which DNA and genes were better understood. Although much of Darwin’s later years were spent in illness, he continued to work.

After “On the Origin of the Species” was written, he continued to work on human descent from earlier animals including the evolution of societies and mental abilities. He also did some work to explain the decorative beauty of wildlife and plant life such as his work in 1861 into wild orchids. He showed that an adaptation in their flower petals to attract specific moths in order to ensure cross pollination. He then wrote “Fertilisation of Orchids” in 1862 where he detailed the power of natural selection to clarify compound ecological interactions and made testable predictions.

Darwin went on with, “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,” where he Darwin proposed evidence from many sources citing that humans are animals. He explained that sexual selection can describe unreasonable characteristics such as differences between the sexes of various racial differences while emphasizing that all humans are the same species. Darwin was also pleased by this time that his theories did not meet the criticism that they once did commenting that “”everybody is talking about it without being shocked” (Darwin, 1887).

After Darwin’s demise, many geographical features and landmarks were named after him. Captain Robert Fitzroy named Darwin Sound in commemoration of Darwin’s quick thinking in saving The Beagle from being sunk when a large glacier created a wave that would have decimated their boats. In the Andes, there is Mount Darwin, so named during the celebration of Darwin’s 25th birthday. More than 120 species and nine genera have been named after Darwin. A group of tanagers found in the Galapagos Islands became known as Darwin’s finches, which ironically, has promoted a great deal of inaccuracies about Darwin’s work.

There is even a Darwin Day in England. Darwin’s contribution to science is not insignificant. While not knowing where his theories would lead, he inadvertently became the father of evolution through natural selection. His ideas revolutionized the way scientists thought, thus leading to what we know today. Although, the presence of people such as Alred Russel Wallace goes to show that the truth was out there already, it simply needed the tenacity of a man like Darwin to do the work and publish those finding.

Charles Darwin put in the time and effort to voyage on The Beagle in order to make everything we know today, possible. While I believe that a truth is a truth and all it needs is someone to find it, without those people, where would we be? Darwin himself once said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. ” References Darwin, Charles (1887). In Darwin, Francis. The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter.

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