Who Was Charles Darwin?

Charles Darwin is the first human who made people aware of their place in the evolutionary process, which directly or indirectly helped develop many scientific and humanist ideas

The English scientist Charles Darwin is most known for his books “On the Origin of Species “, and “The Descent of Man”, which were published in 1859, and 1871 respectively. Charles Darwin’s discovery of human’s place in the evolutionary process directly or indirectly helped develop many scientific and humanist ideas

Charles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 in England to a doctor father and a financier mother. He was a poor student, and academically, he was a disappointment to his father. With his father’s insistence, Darwin first went to the University of Edinburgh Medical School, which was the best medical school in England at the time. In the second year of his study as a medical student, Darwin joined the Plinian Society, a club at the University of Edinburgh for students interested in natural history.

Charles Darwin’s medical school adventure did not last long, however. Less than two years after he joined the University of Edinburg, Darwin decided to abandon his study without a degree. Unhappy with his son’s decision, Darwin’s father enrolled Darwin at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1827 for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Darwin was on his way to becoming a vicar.

Hms Beagle - Darwin's Ship. Date: 1832
HMS Beagle was a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig-sloop of the British Royal Navy.
The Voyage of the Beagle

After graduating from the Cambridge University, at a time becoming a vicar of a country parish, seemed inescapable to Darwin, a letter arrived offering him an amazing opportunity. The letter was from Darwin’s former teacher John Stevens Henslow, professor of botany at Cambridge. Henslow informed Darwin that he had recommended him to accompany Captain Robert FitzRoy on an expedition aboard the H.M.S. Beagle.

In 1831, when Darwin was just 22 years old, he set sail on a scientific expedition. His responsibilities were to observe and collect specimens of plants, animals, rocks, and fossils wherever the expedition went ashore.

The expedition took five years and took Darwin to South America, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Atlantic and Pacific islands. During this time, Darwin filled notebook after notebook with sketches and observations. Darwin shipped home barrels, boxes, and bottles by the dozen, filled with pressed plants, fossils, rocks, skins, and skeletons.

While he was away, John Stevens Henslow, published Darwin’s accounts of his observations. As a result, by the time Darwin finally returned to England, he had become famous as a naturalist.

Darwin’s observations and collections on the Galápagos Islands contributed to the inception of his theory of evolution.
Darwin’s observations and collections on the Galápagos Islands contributed to the inception of his theory of evolution.
The Dilemma of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was brought up as an Anglican Christian to an established Anglican family. Therefore, he believed the earth was around 6,000 years old, and the earth and all species were created at the same time.

During his studies, Charles Darwin discovered fossils of different now-extinct animals, and those fossils were on top of other now-extinct species. It could not be that species were created in their current form all at once.

Additionally, he concluded a period of 6,000 years was too short for one species to evolve into another one. He didn’t know how old the earth was but it had to be more than 6,000.

Clearly, the evidence Charles Darwin was collecting in nature didn’t match the literal reading of the Bible, which he was taught when he was a child. He had to choose between making collected data fit his assumed truth, or letting the collected data take him to the unknown.

Charles Darwin made his choice. He joined the scientists who supported the separation of science and religion.

A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, – a mere heart of stone.

Second Half of the 19th Century

Charles Darwin is the man who discovered that humans came from monkeys, or people think so. In reality, long before Darwin scientists had already made connections between humans and apes and monkeys because of the obvious physical similarities between each other… Furthermore, his 1958 book “On the Origin of Species” focused on speciation, but perhaps intentionally, skipped humans. Yet, the journalists found it appropriate to summarise Darwin’s book with a caricature of him, half-monkey, half-human.

Most of the early readers of “On the Origin of Species” did not think that Darwin’s book was contradicting the Book of Genesis therefore it was controversial. By the second half of the nineteenth century, common wisdom among scientists was that the bible should not be read literally.

What is iPhone to smartphones is Darwin to evolutionary biology. If taken chapter by chapter Darwin’s theory was mostly built on ideas that were proposed before. However, no one before Darwin had brought those ideas together and explained so well why there were so many species in the world and what their origin was.

Darwin targeted the general public with the publication of his book. A good starting point for Darwin’s theory was the most familiar example of how animals and plants were known to change: domestication. With his book, Darwin reached houses where the ideas about evolutions had not reached before. For many Darwin sole discoverer of evolution.

Origin of Species
Charles Darwin book “Origin of Species” published in 1859
Charles Darwin As a Person

As Darwin was an eminent scientist, his findings in his book “On the Origin of Species” were taken seriously and the evidence he presented generated scientific, philosophical, and religious discussion, which helped secularize science by promoting scientific naturalism. Despite widespread scientific agreement that evolution had occurred, scientists fully recognized the significance of natural selection long after Darwin had died.

On another note, Darwin was not without flaws. He was a product of his time. His views on races and women were parallel to those of other privileged white men in Europe in the nineteenth century.

It is important to note that Darwin had never claimed he was able to scientifically demonstrate the inferiority of women and Africans to white men. Darwin said most of what he said about races and gender, as the educated guesses of a privileged white man rather than a scientist.

Darwin’s conclusion on the question of race and gender was that the intelligence of white women and Africans were equated to that of white male children. Yes, this didn’t stop him from privately taking advice from important women in her life. Furthermore, he brought up his daughters not any less sophisticated in science and theology than his sons. He even helped his daughters advance in their careers and asked one of her daughters to be the editor of some of his books.

A rare handwritten letter by Charles Darwin to a British marine biologist
A rare handwritten letter by Charles Darwin to a British marine biologist
Conclusion

Charles Darwin was an independent thinker, a great scientist and the most influential biologist in history. He was and is still condemned by some religious people as it contradicts the biblical creation story and undermines claims about the literal truth of the Bible.

One may love him or hate him, but one cannot deny his theory of evolution caused a shift in paradigm in every meaning of the word.

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Tamer Aydogdu
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