The Theory of Evolution
The theory of evolution is actually a study of nature. Charles Darwin was not the only one or the originator of this theory of evolution. There were other naturalists and scientists who had similar views. Even his grandfather had made comment on it. By observing nature, we can learn that nature itself decides on the life and death of plants and animals. Stronger ones will live, while the weaker ones perish. There is this continuous process of “natural selection”. Animals and plants gradually changed, evolved, and transformed in order to survive better in the changing environment. Charles Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” caused a revolution in science and society.
Charles Darwin's life
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England , on 12 February, 1809. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin was already a well-known scientist having very far-sighted ideas about “air travel”, “submarine exploration” and “evolution”. Charles Darwin’s father, Robert Darwin, was a doctor, and his mother, Susannah, was the daughter of the famous pottery-owner, Josiah Wedgewood.
In 1825, Charles Darwin attended medical school at Edinburgh Medical School, but gave up three years later to pursue Bible studies at Cambridge University. In 1831, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. From there Charles Darwin became friends with two professors, geologist Adam Sedgewick and botanist John Henslow. It was Henslow who recommended Darwin to Captain Robert Fitzroy for his round the world survey expedition. On 27 December, 1831, Darwin set sail on the 235-ton, 90-foot, HMS Beagle, with Captain Fitzroy, as a “naturalist” to survey the world and its natural surroundings. The trip lasted 5 years when HMS Beagle finally docked at Falmouth on 2, October, 1836.
In 1838, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood. He moved to live in Down House, near Bromley in Kent, and concentrated on his research and writings until his death.
Charles Darwin's world expedition
The voyage first crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed along the east coast of South America, rounded Cape Horn and up north along the west coast of South America to the equatorial islands of the Galapagos. From the Galapagos, the HMS Beagle crossed the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand and Australia. All along the journey, Darwin collected and collated numerous plant and animal specimens which would eventually be part of his subjects for his ideas about evolution. From Australia he set sail across the Indian Ocean, passed the Cape of Good Hope, westward back to Brazil and finally northward crossing the Atlantic Ocean again to reach Falmouth, England on 2, October, 1836.
Charles Darwin's findings
Darwin found that fossils from the very deep layers of rock that appeared very unfamiliar, while the upper layers contained fossils that were similar to his present environment. In the Galapagos Islands, Darwin witnessed strange plants, animals, and birds, which did not exist elsewhere. The giant tortoises fascinated him. These giant tortoises also had different shapes of shell depending on which island they lived. Different variations of the same species of birds lived separately in the 13 different islands of the Galapagos.
In 1839, three years after he returned from the round the world voyage, Darwin published his findings under the long title “Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the Voyage round the World of HMS Beagle”. It was a best seller. As member of the Royal Society, Darwin became a respected scientist and author. It was to be another 20 years, in 1859, that Darwin found the courage to publish his “Origin of Species”. It was prompted by another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace who was working in Malaya and Borneo at that time, who had similar ideas about the theory of natural selection. On 1 July, 1858, both of them had a joint announcement of their findings at the Linnean Society. And on 22 November, 1859, Darwin shocked the world with his book “On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”. All of its 1250 copies were quickly snapped up.
Initially, Darwin’s idea of evolution was condemned, especially by the Church, fearing that the prevailing Christian orthodoxy on how life was created, would be challenged. Darwin did not respond to the hue and cry, but continued with his research and writings, until his death on 19 April, 1882, at the age of 73.
At the request of Darwin’s colleagues, and after public and parliamentary petitioning, Charles Robert Darwin was accorded a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey, near to Isaac Newton.
What is Darwin's Theory of Evolution
Contrary to popular belief, which was a misinterpretation, Darwin never wrote anything about the origin of man. The closest to this idea was his subtle statement that, “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history".
What then is Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Animals and plants evolve with the passage of time. Nature did the choosing, the fittest survive to live another day. The theory runs like this:
• Reproduction: Parents produce similar offsprings.
• Too Many Young: Not all offsprings will survive.
• Variations: Not all offsprings are exactly the same.
• Natural Selection: The struggle to survive, species develop special features to better adapt to the changing environment.
• Inheritance: Over a long period, these special features become more dominant and common, resulting in the changes of the species.
• Origin of Species: Species which are better suited to the environment, gradually win the battle to survive. Those weaker species which cannot adapt and change, simply perish. As the environment continues to change, species evolve and stay well adapted to survive another round of this cycle of evolution.
Latest theory of “fits and starts”
The latest theory of evolution is that evolution is not a gradual and continual process. In 1970 the idea of “fits and starts” was presented. It states that species stay the same for a very long period of time. Then a sudden burst of evolution process will take place over a relatively short period, before settling down again. This theory is called “punctuated equilibrium”.