Essay, Research Paper
Charles Darwin Report
Chareles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution
Charles Darwin lived from 1809-1882, although Darwin has been dead for more than a
century, people are still interpreting, defending, or criticizing his theories of evolution.
Before he became England’s greatest biologist, he was such an indifferent student that his
father declared, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will
be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury on Feb. 12, 1809. Darwin’s
father was a successful and wealthy physician; his mother was a daughter of Josiah
Wedgwood, the famous British potter. She died when Charles was 8 years old, and the
boy was reared by three older sisters, who constantly found fault with him.
At school young Charles had no interest in classical languages and ancient
history. He liked best to collect shells, birds’ eggs, and coins. He also watched birds and
insects and helped his brother make chemical experiments at home. These activities, he
said in later years, were the best part of his education.
At the age of 16, Darwin began to study medicine at the University of
Edinburgh. Here too he found the courses dull, and watching operations made him ill. In
1828 he transferred to Cambridge, intending to become a clergyman. Instead, he devoted
most of his time to studying plants and animals and later to geology. He received his
bachelor’s degree in 1831.
Then came the event that shaped his life–an appointment as unpaid naturalist on
the exploring ship Beagle. It left England on Dec. 27, 1831, to make astronomical
observations, chart the southern coasts of South America, and sail around the world. The
voyage, with many side trips on land, lasted until October 1836. During those five years
Darwin examined geologic formations, collected fossils, and studied plants and animals.
He also began to doubt that the many species of living things had come into being at one
moment. In 1837, soon after returning to England, he began to collect information on the
subject now called evolution.
Early Ideas of Evolution
Evolution was not a new idea, even in Darwin’s day. Long before the time of
Christ, philosophers had explained the great variety of plants and animals by proposing
“natural” ways they could have developed. The Christian bishop, St. Augustine, thought
that some species of plants and animals had developed from earlier creations. Before
1600 Sir Walter Raleigh concluded that dogs had turned into wolves and that the
different races of men were related. Several philosophers also declared that new
conditions caused plants to change into new varieties or species.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-88), in his 36-volume `Natural
History’, declared that modern animals had evolved, or “degenerated,” from others and so
on back to the beginning. Some changes, he thought, were produced when different
forms interbred; others were caused by food, climate, pressure, and so on. According to
Buffon’s theory, the hippopotamus and elephant are large because their ancestors ate a
great deal of food; the hair of lions is tawny because it has been bleached by the brilliant
sunlight of the tropical plains.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) maintained that plants and animals evolved
because of an inborn tendency to progress from simple to complex forms. Environment,
however, modified this progression and so did use or disuse of parts. Giraffes, for
example, developed long necks by straining to reach the leaves of trees; snakes lost their
legs by crawling. Birds, said Lamarck, came from hairy ancestors. Their attempts to fly
forced air into the hairs and so turned them into feathers.
Darwin knew about these attempts to explain evolution. His grandfather,
Erasmus Darwin, had published several books containing ideas much like Lamarck’s
theory of use and disuse. He felt, however, that early writers on the subject had
speculated too much and had collected too few facts. As a result, they failed to convince
the scientific world that evolution had actually taken place. They also failed to give a
reasonable explanation of how changes might have produced the different organisms
found upon the Earth today.