It's in England, in Scherewsbury that Charles Darwin was born in 1809. His father, a doctor, Robert, and his grandfather, a naturalist, Erasmus, have certainly given Charles a scientific spirit! |
Children, he collects insects, seashells ... and shows no great interest for studies.
His father wants to make him a doctor, so Charles started in 1825 to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. In 1827, he changed course and began studying theology at Cambridge (always on the advice of his father). But then again, he abandoned ...
In 1831, thanks to John Stevens Henslow (met in Cambridge), he earned a place on the Beagle, a ship bound for mapping the coast of South America. He is embedded as the capitain's assisstant for a period of 5 years.
During the trip, Charles Darwin studied the geology of islands and continents that he saw, but he will mainly collect specimens and fossils of species that he will find.
In 1832, Uruguay (Montevideo), finding fossils of large armadillos he noted that the species has decreased in size (the first hypothesis of evolution?).
It's mainly in the Galapagos Islands in 1835, that his observations led him to develop an outline of his theory. He noted that the same species, found on several islands, present notable differences. The case of finches is exemplary of these changes: following the place, the beak is adapted to different kinds of food.
In 1836, Charles Darwin returned to England.
Upon his return, Charles Darwin studied all specimens reported and begins to formulate his theory of evolution. At the same time, other scientists are questioning the official theory: the catastrophe and fixisme. Jean Baptiste Lamarck speaks of evolution of species by adapting to the environment (the famous neck of the giraffe lying).
Charles Lyell (geologist) hypothesizes that the Earth transforms itself along as the erosion and volcanic eruptions (which would indicate that the Earth has more than 6000 years).
In 1837, Charles Darwin wrote a " Notebook on the transmutation of species" which resumes his observations and main ideas.
In 1838, Thomas Malthus published "On the population", an essay where the economist shows that as the population perpetually increasing, there is a struggle for survival, and that only individuals with an advantage will survive.
In 1842, Darwin publishes "The Distribution of Corals Reefs" a compilation of his observations on coral reefs collected during his trip.
He is strongly influenced by Lyell and Malthus: their theories enrich his own reflections to the point of writing an essay in 1844: 240 pages devoted to natural selection.
While continuing his research on evolution, he publishes books on the geology of South America (1851) and the volcanic islands (1854).
In 1858, Darwin learns that Alfred Wallace (naturalist) is also preparing a theory on his favourite subject: evolution. This "competition" and the geologist Lyell will convince him to present the result of his research.
On July 1st 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace jointly present their work at the Linnean Society of London…
They will have to wait another year (October 24 1859) before "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection" is published.
The reactions are fast and numerous, both in the religious and scientific community. At the time, popular belief interpreted the biblical texts "to the letter" and left to God the task to change anything (catastrophe) or doing nothing (fixisme)! The debate raged for several years (in fact, some fundamentalists revive it regularly, especially in the USA). Charles Darwin found in TH Huxley (scientific) a strong supporter of his theory which was the subject of multiple attacks.
What embarrassed the religious community was particularly putting forward a kinship between men and Apes. The reaction of the wife of the Bishop of Manchester is often cited. After reading the book, she allegedly said: "Men evolved from Apes? Hopefully this is not true… But if it is, pray that the thing does not spread "
A famous encounter opposed Huxley to the Bishop of Oxford. The latter, cynical, asked "Is this from your grandfather or your grandmother that you got these pes features?". Huxley retorted "If I had to choose between an ape ancestor and a scholar opposing theses, not by arguments but by derision, then no doubt I would choose the ape."
The substantive principles of his theory were confirmed over time… Since 1865, the monk Grégor Mendel discovered through experiments on peas, the laws of heredity of characters. This permited to demonstrate that one of the assumptions of Darwin was true: an evolution / mutation can be passed on to descendants.
Until the end of his life, April 19, 1882, Charles Darwin continued to publish and respond to attacks!
He was still recognized during his lifetime for the richness of his work and became a member of the Royal Society of London, and the Academy of Sciences in France (1878).