Robert Darwin was a British naturalist who achieved lasting fame
by convincing the scientific community of the occurrence of evolution
and proposing the theory that this could be explained through natural
and sexual selection. This theory is now considered the central
explanatory paradigm in biology.
developed an interest in natural history while studying first
medicine, then theology, at university. Darwin's five-year voyage
on the Beagle and subsequent writings brought him eminence as
a geologist and fame as a popular author. His biological observations
led him to study the transmutation of species and, in 1838, develop
his theory of natural selection. Fully aware that others had been
severely punished for such "heretical" ideas, he only
confided in his closest friends and continued his research to
meet anticipated objections. However, in 1858 the information
that Alfred Russel Wallace had developed a similar theory forced
early joint publication of the theory.
1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,
or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
(usually abbreviated to The Origin of Species) established evolution
by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification
in nature. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, continued
his research, and wrote a series of books on plants and animals,
including humankind, notably The Descent of Man, and Selection
in Relation to Sex and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and
recognition of Darwin's pre-eminence, he was buried in Westminster
Abbey, close to William Herschel and Isaac Newton.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on
12 February 1809, at his family home, the Mount House. He was
the fifth of six children of wealthy society doctor Robert Darwin
and Susannah Darwin (née Wedgwood). He was the grandson
of Erasmus Darwin on his father's side, and of Josiah Wedgwood
on his mother's side, both from the prominent English Darwin –
Wedgwood family which supported the Unitarian church. His mother
died when he was only eight. He went to the nearby Shrewsbury
School the next year as a boarder.
1825 after spending the summer as an apprentice doctor, helping
his father with treating the poor of Shropshire, Darwin went to
Edinburgh University to study medicine, but his revulsion at the
brutality of surgery led him to neglect his medical studies. He
learnt taxidermy from John Edmonstone, a freed black slave, who
told him exciting tales of the South American rainforest. In Darwin's
second year he became active in student societies for naturalists.
He became an avid pupil of Robert Edmund Grant, who pioneered
development of the theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and of Charles'
grandfather Erasmus concerning evolution by acquired characteristics.
took part in Grant's investigations of the life cycle of marine
animals on the shores of the Firth of Forth which found evidence
for homology, the radical theory that all animals have similar
organs and differ only in complexity. In March 1827 Darwin made
a presentation to the Plinian society of his own discovery that
the black spores often found in oyster shells were the eggs of
a skate leech. He also sat in on Robert Jameson's natural history
course in which he learnt about stratigraphic geology and received
training in how to classify plants when assisting with work on
the extensive collections of the Museum of Edinburgh University.
1827 his father, unhappy that his younger son had no interest
in becoming a physician, shrewdly enrolled him in a Bachelor of
Arts course at Christ's College, University of Cambridge, to qualify
as a clergyman. This was a sensible career move at a time when
Anglican parsons were provided with a comfortable income, and
when most naturalists in England were clergymen who saw it as
part of their duties to "explore the wonders of God's creation".
At Cambridge, Darwin preferred riding and shooting to studying.
Along with his cousin William Darwin Fox, he became engrossed
in the craze at the time for the competitive collecting of beetles,
and Fox introduced him to the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, professor
of botany, for expert advice on beetles.
subsequently joined Henslow's natural history course, became his
favourite pupil and came to be known as "the man who walks
with Henslow". When exams began to loom Darwin focused more
on his studies and received private tuition from Henslow. Darwin
became particularly enthused by the writings of William Paley,
including the argument of divine design in nature. In his finals
in January 1831, he performed well in theology and, having scraped
through in classics, mathematics and physics, came tenth out of
a pass list of 178.
requirements kept Darwin at Cambridge until June. In keeping with
Henslow's example and advice, he was in no rush to take holy orders.
Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative, he planned
to visit the Madeira Islands to study natural history in the tropics
with some classmates after graduation. To prepare himself, Darwin
joined the geology course of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, a strong
proponent of divine design, then in the summer went with him to
assist in mapping strata in Wales. Darwin was surveying strata
on his own when his plans to visit Madeira were dashed by a message
that his intended companion had died, but on his return home he
received another letter.
had recommended Darwin for the unpaid position of gentleman's
companion to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle, on a two-year
expedition to chart the coastline of South America which would
give Darwin valuable opportunities to develop his career as a
naturalist. His father objected to the voyage, regarding it as
a waste of time, but was persuaded by his brother-in-law, Josiah
Wedgwood, to agree to his son's participation. This voyage became
a five-year expedition that would lead to dramatic changes in
many fields of science.
on the Beagle
As HMS Beagle surveyed the coasts of South America, Darwin began
to theorise about the wonders of nature around him.The Beagle
survey took five years, two-thirds of which Darwin spent exploring
on land. He studied a rich variety of geological features, fossils
and living organisms, and met a wide range of people, both native
and colonial. He methodically collected an enormous number of
specimens, many of them new to science. This established his reputation
as a naturalist and made him one of the precursors of the field
of ecology, particularly the notion of biocoenosis. His extensive
detailed notes showed his gift for theorising and formed the basis
for his later work, as well as providing social, political and
anthropological insights into the areas he visited.
the voyage, Darwin read Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology,
which explained geological features as the outcome of gradual
processes over huge periods of time, and wrote home that he was
seeing landforms "as though he had the eyes of Lyell":
he saw stepped plains of shingle and seashells in Patagonia as
raised beaches; in Chile, he experienced an earthquake and noted
mussel-beds stranded above high tide showing that the land had
been raised; and even high in the Andes, he was able to collect
seashells. He theorised that coral atolls form on sinking volcanic
mountains, an idea he confirmed when the Beagle surveyed the Cocos
South America he discovered fossils of gigantic extinct mammals
including megatheria and glyptodons in strata which showed no
signs of catastrophe or change in climate. At the time, he thought
them similar to African species, but after the voyage Richard
Owen showed that the remains were of animals related to living
creatures in the same area. In Argentina two species of rhea had
separate but overlapping territories. On the Galápagos
Islands Darwin found that mockingbirds differed from one island
to another, and on returning to Britain he was shown that Galápagos
tortoises and finches were also in distinct species based on the
individual islands they inhabited.
Australian marsupial rat-kangaroo and platypus were such strikingly
unusual animals that he thought "An unbeliever... might exclaim
'Surely two distinct Creators must have been [at] work'."
He puzzled over all he saw, and, in the first edition of The Voyage
of the Beagle, he explained species distribution in light of Charles
Lyell's ideas of "centres of creation". In later editions
of this Journal he foreshadowed his use of Galápagos Islands
fauna as evidence for evolution: "one might really fancy
that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one
species had been taken and modified for different ends."
native missionaries were returned by the Beagle to Tierra del
Fuego. They had become "civilised" in England over the
previous two years, yet their relatives appeared to Darwin "savages"
little above animals. Within a year, the missionaries had reverted
to their harsh previous way of life, yet they preferred this and
did not want to return to England. This experience and his detestation
of the slavery and other abuse he saw elsewhere such as ill treatment
of natives by English settlers in Tasmania persuaded him that
there was no moral justification for the mistreating of others
based on the concept of race. He now thought that humanity was
not as far removed from animals as his clerical friends believed.
on board the ship, Darwin suffered from seasickness. In October
1833 he caught a fever in Argentina, and in July 1834, while returning
from the Andes down to Valparaíso, he fell ill and spent
a month in bed. From 1837 onwards Darwin was repeatedly incapacitated
with episodes of stomach pains, vomiting, severe boils, palpitations,
trembling and other symptoms. These symptoms particularly affected
him at times of stress, such as when attending meetings or dealing
with controversy over his theory. The cause of Darwin's illness
was unknown during his lifetime, and attempts at treatment had
little success. Recent speculation has suggested he caught Chagas
disease from insect bites in South America, leading to the later
problems. Other possible causes include psychobiological problems
and Ménière's disease.
in science, inception of theory
While still a young man, Charles Darwin joined the scientific
élite.While Darwin was still on the voyage, Henslow carefully
fostered his former pupil's reputation by giving selected naturalists
access to the fossil specimens and printed copies of Darwin's
geological writings. When the Beagle returned on 2 October 1836,
Darwin was a celebrity in scientific circles. He visited his home
in Shrewsbury and his father organised investments so that Darwin
could become a self-funded gentleman scientist. Darwin then went
to Cambridge and persuaded Henslow to work on botanical descriptions
of modern plants he had collected.
Darwin went round the London institutions to find the best naturalists
available to describe his other collections for timely publication.
An eager Charles Lyell met Darwin on 29 October and introduced
him to the up-and-coming anatomist Richard Owen. After working
on Darwin's collection of fossil bones at his Royal College of
Surgeons, Owen caused great surprise by revealing that some were
from gigantic extinct rodents and sloths. This enhanced Darwin's
reputation. With Lyell's enthusiastic backing Darwin read his
first paper to the Geological Society of London on 4 January 1837,
arguing that the South American landmass was slowly rising.
the same day Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens to
the Zoological Society. The Mammalia were taken on by George R.
Waterhouse. Though the birds seemed almost an afterthought, the
ornithologist John Gould revealed that what Darwin had taken to
be wrens, blackbirds and slightly differing finches from the Galápagos
were all finches, but each was a separate species. Others on the
Beagle including FitzRoy had also collected these birds and had
been more careful with their notes, enabling Darwin to find which
island each species had come from.
London Darwin stayed with his freethinking brother Erasmus and
at dinner parties met inspiring savants who thought that God preordained
life by natural laws rather than ad hoc miraculous creations.
His brother's lady friend Miss Harriet Martineau was a writer
whose stories promoted Malthusian Whig Poor Law reforms. Scientific
circles were buzzing with ideas of transmutation of species controversially
associated with Radical unrest. Darwin preferred the respectability
of his friends the Cambridge Dons, even though his ideas were
pushing beyond their belief that natural history must justify
religion and social order.
17 February 1837, Lyell used his presidential address at the Geographical
Society to present Owen's findings to date on Darwin's fossils,
noting particularly the unexpected implication that extinct species
were related to current species in the same locality. At the same
meeting Darwin was elected to the Council of the Society. He had
already been invited by FitzRoy to contribute a Journal based
on his field notes as the natural history section of the captain's
account of the Beagle's voyage. He now plunged into writing a
book on South American Geology. At the same time he speculated
on transmutation in his Red Notebook which he had begun on the
project he started was getting the expert reports on his collection
published as a multivolume Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle,
and Henslow used his contacts to arrange a Treasury grant of £1,000
to sponsor this. Darwin finished writing his Journal around 20
June when King William IV died and the Victorian era began. In
mid-July he began his secret "B" notebook on transmutation,
and developed the hypothesis that where every island in the Galápagos
Archipelago had its own kind of tortoise, these had originated
from a single tortoise species and had adapted to life on the
different islands in different ways.
pressure with organising Zoology and correcting proofs of his
Journal, Darwin's health suffered. On 20 September 1837 he suffered
"palpitations of the heart" and left for a month of
recuperation in the country. He visited Maer Hall where his invalid
aunt was being cared for by her spinster daughter Emma Wedgwood,
and entertained his relatives with tales of his travels. His uncle
Jos pointed out an area of ground where cinders had disappeared
under loam and suggested that this might have been the work of
earthworms. This led Darwin to the idea for a talk which he gave
to the Geological Society on 1 November, on the unusually mundane
subject of worm casts. He had avoided taking on official posts
which would have taken up valuable time, but by March William
Whewell had recruited him as Secretary of the Geological Society.
Illness prompted Darwin to take a break from the pressure of work
and he went "geologising" in Scotland. In glorious weather
he visited Glen Roy to see the phenomenon known as "roads"
which he (incorrectly) identified as raised beaches.
recuperated, he returned home to Shrewsbury. Scientifically pondering
his career and prospects he drew up a list with columns headed
"Marry" and "Not Marry". Entries in the pro-marriage
column included "constant companion and a friend in old age
... better than a dog anyhow," while listed among the cons
were "less money for books" and "terrible loss
of time." The pros won out. He discussed the prospect of
marriage with his father then went to visit his cousin Emma on
29 July 1838. He did not get around to proposing, but against
his father's advice he told her of his ideas on transmutation.
his thoughts and work continued in London over the autumn he suffered
repeated bouts of illness. On 11 November he returned and proposed
to Emma, once more telling her his ideas. She accepted, but later
wrote beseeching him to read from the Gospel of St. John a section
on love and following the Way which also states that "If
a man abide not in me...they are burned". He sent a warm
reply which eased her concern, but she would continue to worry
that his lapses of faith could endanger her hope that they would
meet in afterlife.
considered Malthus's argument that human population increases
more quickly than food production, leaving people competing for
food and making charity useless. He later formulated this in the
terms of his biological theory as: "Man tends to increase
at a greater rate than his means of subsistence; consequently
he is occasionally subjected to a severe struggle for existence,
and natural selection will have effected whatever lies within
its scope." (Descent of Man, Ch.21) He related this to the
findings about species relating to localities, his enquiries into
animal breeding, and ideas of Natural "laws of harmony".
the end of November 1838 he compared breeders selecting traits
to a Malthusian Nature selecting from variants thrown up by "chance"
so that "every part of newly acquired structure is fully
practised and perfected", and thought this "the most
beautiful part of my theory" of how species originated. He
went house-hunting and eventually found "Macaw Cottage"
in Gower Street, London, then moved his "museum" in
over Christmas. He was showing the stress, and Emma wrote urging
him to get some rest, almost prophetically remarking "So
don't be ill any more my dear Charley till I can be with you to
nurse you." On 24 January 1839 he was honoured by being elected
as Fellow of the Royal Society and presented his paper on the
Roads of Glen Roy.
On 29 January 1839, Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood at
Maer in an Anglican ceremony arranged to also suit the Unitarians.
After first living in Gower Street, London, the couple moved on
17 September 1842 to Down House in Downe. The Darwins had ten
children, three of whom died early. Many of these and their grandchildren
would later achieve notability themselves.
Erasmus Darwin (27 December 1839–1914)
Anne Elizabeth Darwin (2 March 1841–22 April 1851)
Mary Eleanor Darwin (23 September 1842–16 October 1842)
Henrietta Emma "Etty" Darwin (25 September 1843–1929)
George Howard Darwin (9 July 1845–7 December 1912)
Elizabeth "Bessy" Darwin (8 July 1847–1926)
Francis Darwin (6 August 1848–19 September 1925)
Leonard Darwin (15 January 1850–26 March 1943)
Horace Darwin (13 May 1851–29 September 1928)
Charles Waring Darwin (6 December 1856–28 June 1858)
Several of their children suffered illness or weaknesses, and
Charles Darwin's fear that this might be due to the closeness
of his and Emma's lineage was expressed in his writings on the
ill effects of inbreeding and advantages of crossing.
by natural selection
Fearing both scientific and religious criticism, Darwin spent
decades developing his evolutionary theories largely in secret.Darwin
was now an eminent geologist in the scientific élite of
clerical naturalists, settled with a private income, while privately
working on his theory. He had a vast amount of work to do, writing
up all his findings and supervising the preparation of the multivolume
Zoology, which would describe his collections. He was convinced
of the occurrence of evolution, but for a long time had been aware
that transmutation of species was associated with the crime of
blasphemy as well as with Radical democratic agitators in Britain
who were seeking to overthrow society; thus, publication risked
ruining his reputation. He embarked on extensive experiments with
plants and consultations with animal husbanders, including pigeon
and pig breeders, trying to find soundly based answers to all
the arguments he anticipated when he presented his theory in public.
FitzRoy's account was published in May 1839, Darwin's Journal
and Remarks was a great success. Later that year it was published
on its own, becoming the bestseller today known as The Voyage
of the Beagle. In December 1839, as Emma's first pregnancy progressed,
Darwin suffered more illness and accomplished little during the
tried to explain his theory to close friends, but they were slow
to show interest and thought that selection must need a divine
selector. In 1842 the family moved to rural Down House to escape
the pressures of London. Darwin formulated a short "Pencil
Sketch" of his theory, and by 1844 had written a 240-page
"Essay" that expanded his early ideas on natural selection.
Darwin completed his third Geological book in 1846. Assisted by
his friend, the young botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, he embarked
on a huge study of barnacles. In 1847, Hooker read the "Essay"
and sent notes that provided Darwin with the calm critical feedback
that he needed.
feared putting the theory out in an incomplete form, as his ideas
about evolution would be highly controversial if any attention
was paid to them at all. Other ideas about evolution — especially
the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck — had been soundly dismissed
by the British scientific community, and were associated with
political radicalism. The anonymous publication of Vestiges of
the Natural History of Creation in 1844 created another controversy
over radicalism and evolution, and was severely attacked by Darwin's
friends who stressed that no reputable scientist would want to
be associated with such ideas.
try to deal with his illness, Darwin went to a spa in Malvern
in 1849, and to his surprise found that the two months of water
treatment helped. In his work on barnacles he found "homologies"
that supported his theory by showing that slightly changed body
parts could serve different functions to meet new conditions.
Then his treasured daughter Annie fell ill, reawakening his fears
that his illness might be hereditary. After a long series of crises,
she died and Darwin lost all faith in a beneficent God.
met the young freethinking naturalist Thomas Huxley who was to
become a close friend and ally. Darwin's work on barnacles (Cirripedia)
earned him the Royal Society's Royal Medal in 1853, establishing
his reputation as a biologist. He completed this study in 1854
and turned his attention to his theory of species.
and publication of theory
Darwin was forced into early publication of his theory of natural
selection.Main article: Publication of Darwin's theory
Darwin found an answer to the problem of how genera forked in
an analogy with industrial ideas of division of labour, with specialised
varieties each finding their niche so that species could diverge.
He experimented with seeds, testing their ability to survive sea-water
to transfer species to isolated islands, and bred pigeons to test
his ideas of natural selection being comparable to the "artificial
selection" used by pigeon breeders.
the spring of 1856, Lyell read a paper on the Introduction of
species by Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist working in Borneo.
Lyell urged Darwin to publish his theory to establish precedence.
Despite illness, Darwin began a 3-volume book titled Natural Selection,
getting specimens and information from naturalists including Wallace
and Asa Gray. In December 1857 as Darwin worked on the book he
received a letter from Wallace asking if it would delve into human
origins. Sensitive to Lyell's fears, Darwin responded that "I
think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices,
though I fully admit that it is the highest & most interesting
problem for the naturalist." He encouraged Wallace's theorising,
saying "without speculation there is no good & original
observation." Darwin added that "I go much further than
manuscript reached 250,000 words, then on 18 June 1858 he received
a paper in which Wallace described the evolutionary mechanism
and requested him to send it on to Lyell. Darwin did so, shocked
that he had been "forestalled". Though Wallace had not
asked for publication, Darwin offered to send it to any journal
that Wallace chose. He put matters in the hands of Lyell and Hooker.
They agreed on a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on
1 July of On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on
the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of
Selection. Darwin's infant son died and he was unable to attend.
initial announcement of the theory gained little immediate attention.
It was mentioned briefly in a few small reviews, but to most people
it seemed much the same as other varieties of evolutionary thought.
For the next thirteen months Darwin suffered from ill health and
struggled to produce an abstract of his "big book on species".
Receiving constant encouragement from his scientific friends,
Darwin finally finished his abstract and Lyell arranged to have
it published by John Murray.
title was agreed as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection, and when the book went on sale to the trade on 22 November
1859, the stock of 1,250 copies was oversubscribed. At the time
"Evolutionism" implied creation without divine intervention,
and Darwin avoided using the words "evolution" or "evolve",
though the book ends by stating that "endless forms most
beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
The book only briefly alluded to the idea that human beings, too,
would evolve in the same way as other organisms. Darwin wrote
in deliberate understatement that "light will be thrown on
the origin of man and his history."
Darwin's book set off a public controversy which he monitored
closely, keeping press cuttings of thousands of reviews, articles,
satires, parodies and caricatures. Reviewers were quick to pick
out the unstated implications of "men from monkeys",
though a Unitarian review was favourable and The Times published
a glowing review by Huxley which included swipes at Richard Owen,
leader of the scientific establishment Huxley was trying to overthrow.
Owen initially appeared neutral, but then wrote a review condemning
Church of England scientific establishment including Darwin's
old Cambridge tutors Sedgwick and Henslow reacted against the
book, though it was well received by a younger generation of professional
naturalists. Then Essays and Reviews by seven liberal Anglican
theologians declared that miracles were irrational (and supported
the Origin), distracting attention away from Darwin.
most famous confrontation took place at a meeting of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford. Professor
John William Draper delivered a long lecture about Darwin and
social progress, then Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford,
argued against Darwin. In the ensuing debate Joseph Hooker argued
strongly for Darwin and Thomas Huxley established himself as "Darwin's
bulldog" – the fiercest defender of evolutionary theory
on the Victorian stage. The story is that on being asked by Wilberforce
whether he was descended from monkeys on his grandfather's side
or his grandmother's side, Huxley muttered: "The Lord has
delivered him into my hands" and replied that he "would
rather be descended from an ape than from a cultivated man who
used his gifts of culture and eloquence in the service of prejudice
and falsehood" (this is contested, see Wilberforce and Huxley:
A Legendary Encounter). The story spread around the country: Huxley
had said he would rather be an ape than a Bishop.
people felt that Darwin's view of nature destroyed the important
distinction between man and beast. Darwin himself did not personally
defend his theories in public, though he read eagerly about the
continuing debates. He was frequently very ill, and mustered support
through letters and correspondence. A core circle of scientific
friends – Huxley, Hooker, Charles Lyell and Asa Gray –
actively pushed his work to the fore of the scientific and public
stage, defending him against his many critics in this key scientific
controversy of the era, and helping to gain him the honour of
the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1864. Darwin's theory also
resonated with various movements at the time and became a key
fixture of popular culture. The book was translated into many
languages and went through numerous reprints. It became a staple
scientific text accessible both to a newly curious middle class
and to "working men", and was hailed as the most controversial
and discussed scientific book ever written.
work until his death
Despite repeated bouts of illness during the last twenty-two years
of his life Darwin pressed on with his work. He had published
an abstract of his theory, but more controversial aspects of his
"big book" were still incomplete; humankind's descent
from earlier animals, and the mechanism of sexual selection which
could explain features with no obvious utility other than decorative
beauty as well as suggesting possible causes underlying the development
of society and of human mental abilities. His experiments, research
and writing continued.
Darwin's daughter fell ill he set aside his experiments with seedlings
and domestic animals to go with her to a seaside resort where
he became interested in wild orchids. This developed into an innovative
study of how their beautiful flowers served to control insect
pollination and ensure cross fertilisation. As with the barnacles,
homologous parts served different functions in different species.
Back at home he lay on his sickbed in a room filled with experiments
on climbing plants. He was visited by a reverent Ernst Haeckel
who had spread the gospel of Darwinismus in Germany. Even at Cambridge,
students now supported his ideas. Huxley gave "working-men's
lectures" to widen the audience, and Wallace remained a supporter
but increasingly turned to spiritualism. Variation grew to two
huge volumes, forcing him to leave out humankind and sexual selection,
but when printed was in huge demand.
question of human evolution had been taken up by his supporters
(and detractors) shortly after the publication of The Origin of
Species, but Darwin's own contribution to the subject came more
than ten years later with the two-volume The Descent of Man, and
Selection in Relation to Sex published in 1871. In the second
volume, Darwin introduced in full his concept of sexual selection
to explain the evolution of human culture, the differences between
the human sexes, and the differentiation of human races, as well
as the beautiful (and seemingly non-adaptive) plumage of birds.
A year later Darwin published his last major work, The Expression
of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which focused on the evolution
of human psychology and its continuity with to the behaviour of
animals. He developed his ideas that the human mind and cultures
were developed by natural and sexual selection, an approach which
has been revived in the last two decades with the emergence of
evolutionary psychology. As he concluded in Descent of Man, Darwin
felt that despite all of humankind's "noble qualities"
and "exalted powers":
still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly
His evolution-related experiments and investigations culminated
in five books on plants, and then his last book returned to the
effect worms have on soil levels.
died in Downe, Kent, England, on 19 April 1882. He had expected
to be buried in St Mary's churchyard at Downe, but at the request
of Darwin's colleagues, William Spottiswoode (President of the
Royal Society) arranged for Darwin to be given a state funeral
and buried in Westminster Abbey.
The 1851 death of Darwin's daughter, Annie, was the final step
in pushing an already doubting Darwin away from the idea of a
beneficent God.Charles Darwin came from a Nonconformist background.
Though several members of his family were Freethinkers, openly
lacking conventional religious beliefs, he did not initially doubt
the literal truth of the Bible. He attended a Church of England
school, then at Cambridge studied Anglican theology to become
a clergyman and was fully convinced by William Paley's teleological
argument that design in nature proved the existence of God. However,
his beliefs began to shift during his time on board HMS Beagle.
questioned what he saw—wondering, for example, at beautiful
deep-ocean creatures created where no one could see them, and
shuddering at the sight of a wasp paralysing caterpillars as live
food for its eggs; he saw the latter as contradicting Paley's
vision of beneficent design. While on the Beagle Darwin was quite
orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority on morality,
but had come to see the history in the Old Testament as being
false and untrustworthy.
his return, he investigated transmutation of species. He knew
that his clerical naturalist friends thought this a bestial heresy
undermining miraculous justifications for the social order and
knew that such revolutionary ideas were especially unwelcome at
a time when the Church of England's established position was under
attack from radical Dissenters and atheists. While secretly developing
his theory of natural selection, Darwin even wrote of religion
as a tribal survival strategy, though he still believed that God
was the ultimate lawgiver.
belief continued to dwindle over the time, and with the death
of his daughter Annie in 1851, Darwin finally lost all faith in
Christianity. He continued to give support to the local church
and help with parish work, but on Sundays would go for a walk
while his family attended church. In later life, when asked about
his religious views, he wrote that he had never been an atheist
in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally
"an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my
state of mind."
Darwin recounted in his biography of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin
how false stories were circulated claiming that Erasmus had called
for Jesus on his deathbed. Charles concluded by writing "Such
was the state of Christian feeling in this country [in 1802]....
We may at least hope that nothing of the kind now prevails."
Despite this hope, very similar stories were circulated following
Darwin's own death, most prominently the "Lady Hope Story",
published in 1915 which claimed he had converted on his sickbed.
Such stories have been propagated by some Christian groups, to
the extent of becoming urban legends, though the claims were refuted
by Darwin's children and have been dismissed as false by historians.
Charles Darwin's contributions to evolutionary thought had an
enormous effect on many fields of science.Charles Darwin's theory
that evolution occurred through natural selection changed the
thinking of countless fields of study from biology to anthropology.
His work established that "evolution" had occurred:
not necessarily that it was by natural or sexual selection (this
particular recognition would not become fully standard until the
rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work in the early 20th century
and the creation of the modern synthesis). Others before him had
outlined the idea of natural selection: in his lifetime Darwin
acknowledged the earlier writings of William Charles Wells and
Patrick Matthew which he (and practically all other naturalists)
had been unaware of when publishing his theory. However, it is
clear that Darwin was the first to develop and publish a scientific
theory of natural selection, and that the alleged predecessors
did not contribute to the development or success of natural selection
as a theory in science.
work was extremely controversial at the time he published it and
many during his time did not take it seriously. Evolution by natural
selection proved to be a significant blow to notions of divine
creation and intelligent design prevalent in 19th-century science,
specifically overturning the Creation biology doctrine of "Created
kinds". The idea that there was no line to be drawn between
human beings and animals would forever make Darwin a symbol of
iconoclasm who removed humanity's privileged place in the universe.
To some of his detractors, Darwin would be "the monkey man",
often depicted as part ape.
During Darwin's lifetime many species and geographical features
were given his name, including the Darwin Sound named by Robert
FitzRoy after Darwin's prompt action saved them from being marooned,
and the nearby Mount Darwin in the Andes celebrating Darwin's
25th birthday. In Australia's Northern Territory, the capital
city (originally Palmerston) was renamed Darwin to commemorate
the Beagle's 1839 visit there, and the territory now also boasts
Charles Darwin University and Charles Darwin National Park.
14 species of Finches he researched in the Galápagos Islands
are affectionately named "Darwin's Finches" in honour
of his legacy. In 1964, Darwin College, Cambridge was founded,
named in honour of the Darwin family, partially because they owned
some of the land it was on. In 1992, Darwin was ranked #16 on
Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.
Darwin was given particular recognition in 2000 when his image
appeared on the Bank of England ten pound note, replacing Charles
Dickens. His impressive and supposedly hard-to-forge beard was
reportedly a contributing factor in this choice. Darwin came fourth
in the 100 Greatest Britons poll sponsored by the BBC and voted
for by the public.
a humorous celebration of evolution, the annual Darwin Award is
bestowed on individuals who "aid the process of evolution
by demonstrating their unfitness" through fatally stupid
Following Darwin's publication of the Origin his cousin Francis
Galton applied the concepts to human society, producing ideas
to promote "hereditary improvement" starting in 1865
and elaborated at length in 1869. In The Descent of Man Darwin
agreed that Galton had demonstrated that "talent" and
"genius" in humans were probably inherited, but thought
that the social changes Galton proposed were too "utopian".
Neither Galton nor Darwin supported government intervention and
instead believed that, at most, heredity should be taken into
consideration by people seeking potential mates. In 1883, after
Darwin's death, Galton began calling his social philosophy Eugenics.
In the twentieth century, eugenics movements gained popularity
in a number of countries and became associated with reproduction
control programmes such as compulsory sterilisation laws, then
were stigmatised after their usage in the rhetoric of Nazi Germany
in its goals of genetic "purity".
In 1944 the American historian Richard Hofstadter applied the
term "Social Darwinism" to describe 19th- and 20th-century
thinking developed from the ideas of Thomas Malthus and Herbert
Spencer, which applied ideas of evolution and "survival of
the fittest" to societies or nations competing for survival
in a hostile world. These ideas became discredited by association
with racism and imperialism. Though the term is anachronistic,
in Darwin's day the difference between what was later called "Social
Darwinism" and simple "Darwinism" was less clear.
However, Darwin did not believe that his scientific theory mandated
any particular theory of governance or social order.
use of the phrase "Social Darwinism" to describe Malthus's
ideas is particularly disingenuous, since Malthus died in 1834
before the inception of Darwin's theory was spurred by his reading
the 6th edition of Malthus' famous Essay on a Principle of Population
in 1838. Spencer's evolutionary "progressivism" and
his social and political ideas were largely Malthusian, and his
books on economics of 1851 and on evolution of 1855 predated Darwin's
publication of the Origin in 1859.