To mark legendary naturalist Chares Darwin’s birthday, the 12th of February is given over as World Darwin Day in respect of the Englishman’s lifelong works on the evolutionary theory.
Charles Darwin and the Beagle Voyage
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in the UK on 12 February 1909 and although a career in the medical profession beckoned, he instead opted to study divinity (theology). His interests in natural science lead to the epic HMS Beagle voyage which Darwin embarked upon in 1931 as part of a five year scientific expedition.
Travelling through South America, Australia and Cape Town, it was during this period that Darwin read extensively and began to challenge the beliefs of the time that God created the world in seven days, as set out in the Bible. Specifically Charles Lyell’s book ‘Principles of Geology’ published in 1830 was hugely influential, pointing out that fossils found in rocks pointed to animals roaming the globe millions of years ago. Darwin experience something of an epiphany whilst in the Galapagos Islands as he spotted that finches in particular retained different characteristics, despite being related.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
Upon his return to Britain in 1836, Darwin worked tirelessly for twenty years on his theory of how particular species evolved. He deduced that flora and fauna evolved over time to best survive in their local environment and thereby became more likely to reproduce (rather than become extinct). It was this specific evolution that changed certain species, which was highly dependent on climate and environment.
Darwin was unaware that during this period, fellow naturalist Alfred Russel (1823-1913) was also working on his own, very similar, theory. However, they both shared their ideas via a joint announcement in 1858. And a year later, on 24 November 1859, Darwin published his lifetime works, entitled ‘’On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ which became the very foundation of evolutionary biology.
The book was incredibly controversial due to the fact the Darwin’s book suggested that man had evolved from an animal, specifically apes – which went against religious views of the period. The Church shunned the views, whilst the rest of the world began to ask questions.
Darwin went on to publish more books and papers before suffering ill health. He died on 19 April 1882 from complication from angina. He is buried in London’s Westminster Abbey, close to fellow botanist John Herschel and physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton.
World Darwin Day
Each year on the 12th of February, World Darwin Day is celebrated across the globe, honouring in particular the fields of science, humanity and reason. Special events, talks and exhibitions are held, with more details on the official website http://darwinday.org/
Image credit; Charles_Darwin_seated.jpg
Map credit; Sémhur CC ASA 3.0