Discover the 10 defining characteristics of Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and biologist who developed the theory of evolution and natural selection. Learn about his life, legacy, and what made him such a remarkable figure in the scientific community.
Charles Darwin was an English naturalist born in 1809 and died in 1882, considered one of the most influential scientists of his time, for having raised for the first time (simultaneously and independently with Alfred Russel Wallace) the notion of biological evolution through the selection natural.
This idea was developed by Darwin in his work The Origin of Species, published in 1859, in which he justified his points of view by means of examples taken from his observations of nature. This theory of the origin of life would revolutionize the scientific field and implant the idea of evolution as the main explanation, basis for the modern evolutionary synthesis.
The scientific and cultural importance of his theories and observations is such that he was one of the five 19th century non-royal citizens to receive state funerals in the United Kingdom, and to be buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Isaac Newton and John Hershel.
Born in a wealthy family, Darwin showed early his inclination towards the Natural Sciences, a vocation he cultivated at the University of Edinburgh, although in the School of Medicine. The works of John Herschel and Alexander von Humboldt were decisive in his abandonment of the medical sciences and his determination to become a naturalist.
2. Travel in the Beagle
At eighteen, Darwin was invited as a companion to Captain Robert Fitzroy aboard the Beagle vessel, on a five-year cartographic observation and marine currents trip.
This experience would be decisive in his life, since it would allow him an extensive observation of the fauna and flora of such different regions as the Canary Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde, Brazil, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Australia and the City of the Cape (South Africa).
3. Travel diary
During this trip, Darwin will write frequent geological, zoological, botanical and paleological notes that he will send back to the university, but also a leafy travel diary entitled Diary of the Journey of a Naturalist around the World where he recounts his encounter with other cultures and his appreciation of life on the planet. Its passage through the Galapagos Islands will be important and it will become so famous that it will end up becoming a tourist attraction in our days (“the Darwin route”).
4. The origin of species
His masterpiece, however, will be published in 1859 and will be titled The origin of species through natural selection or conservation of the favored races in the struggle for life. There Darwin will explain and justify the key points of his theory about the origin of life, identifiable in two theoretical blocks:
The offspring with modification of individuals.
The natural selection of individuals.
5. Theory of descent with modification of individuals
In this theory Darwin posits the following:
All living beings have evolved from more or less simple beings.
All species come from pre-existing species.
The new species appear gradually and take time to generate.
Higher classifications of living beings (taxa) evolve through the same mechanisms as individual beings.
The extinction of living beings is a consequence of competition between species.
The fossil record of the species is incomplete. There must be lost transitional species (missing links).
6. Theory of natural selection
In this theory Darwin supports the following postulates:
The number of individuals in a given population increases geometrically.
However, this number of individuals remains stable due to the fact that environmental resources are limited and therefore not all of them will survive and reproduce successfully.
Individuals that survive and reproduce are different from those that perish in variations inherited from previous individuals.
The probability of surviving and reproducing will determine which hereditary variations will be transmitted to subsequent generations.
Natural selection determines the accumulation of positive characters over negative ones, through the survival and extinction of individuals and species.
Darwin’s theories meant a gigantic leap forward in human understanding of the origin of life and especially of its own origin. The evidence of the similarities between our species and that of certain higher primates was evident in the light of their theorizations, thanks to which the commonplace that “man comes from the monkey” occurred. The correct conclusion would be, in fact, that man and the monkey are evolutionarily related.
Darwin’s theories were accepted with no little reserve by the scientific community, which questioned many of its terms, such as gradualism, and much more on the part of the religious, who saw it as an attack on the religious theory of creationism. It is famous a caricature of Darwin in which he is drawn as an ape, mocking his deductions regarding the origin of man.
9. Non-biological applications
Darwin’s theories about the prevalence of some species over others (those best suited to adapt to the environment) have been extracted from their context and applied to other fields of life, such as economics and politics.
Such is the case of social Darwinism regimes, such as the one proposed by German Nazism: Darwinism supposedly would justify oppression by powerful (fit) people to the weak (less fit), based on the belief that these The last ones would have to be strengthened and liberated, or extinguished.
10. Tributes to Darwin
Tribute has been paid to Darwin in the use of his surname for the scientific name of several botanical species (A. darwinii, M. darwinianus, P. darwinianum, for example), as well as to name a lunar crater, a Martian crater and an asteroid spatial (1991), in addition to the Darwin Island in Galapagos, where it is assumed that the scientist stopped during his trip.