Darwinism: The Theory That Shook The World

Other than Mendellson and his studies with genetics, Darwin has by far
contributed the most to our modern science. From his theories on variation of
species to his explanation of natural selection Charles Darwin has shocked the
world by proving the world older than previously thought and creatures not
immutable. In this present day these theories are as common belief as a simple
mathematical equation such as two plus two equals four; but in the year eighteen
hundred and fifty nine Darwin not only risked his reputation with these far
fetched findings but also the risk of being excommunicated from the church.
Previous to Darwin the thought had been that the world itself was only a few
hundred years old and that all creatures were made by God in those seven days as
they lived exactly today (Campbell p 421). Aside from past resistance, Darwin
also comes under scrutiny still today as missing fossils which are to have been
the bridge between a two familiar species are not yet found (Hitching p 3).
Whatever the reason of belief or disbelief in Darwin\'s theories, he astounded
the scientific world as well as the public and was able to convince many in the
presence of a misguided past belief. This fact alone makes him one of the most
important people of science ever.
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury-Shropshire, England on Feb 12,
1809 (GEA & RBi p 42). He was the fifth child in a wealthy English family with
a history of scientific achievement with his paternal grandfather Erasmus Darwin
who was a physician and a savant in the eighteenth century (GEA & RBi p 42). As
a young boy Darwin already showed signs of his love for nature. When he was not
reading about nature and its quirks he was out in the forest looking for wild
game , fish, and insects (Campbell p 424). His father, although noting his
son\'s interest in nature, felt that all the discoveries of the natural branch of
science had been accomplished so he sent his son to medical school at Edinburgh
instead (Bowler p 62). While Darwin was there, he could not keep his mind on
his medical studies and decided to go and study at the University of Cambridge
and become a clergyman. It was here that he was to meet two people who would
change his future forever; Adams Sedgwick and John Stevens Henslow. Out of
these two, Henslow turned into his second father and taught him to be meticulous
in his observations of natural phenomena (GEA & RBi p 42). Upon graduating in
1831, Henslow suggested that he go on the Beagle as an unpaid naturalist on the
scientific expedition (GEA & RBi p 43). Darwin gladly took Henslow\'s advice and
set out on his voyage to South America to analyze and collect data that would
later back up his evolutionary theories (Campbell p 424).
Even as Darwin collected his data pertaining to what would become his
theory on natural selection, many pre-existing views still had a hold on the
scientific world as well as the public. The earliest recorded were those of
Plato and Aristotle. Plato (427-347 BC) believed in two worlds; an illusionary
which was perceived only through our senses and a real world which was ideal and
eternal (Campbell p 422). Aristotle (384-322 BC), on the other hand, believed
in a "scala naturae" in which each being has its own rung on a ladder which was
permanent (Campbell p 422). Also, there were the present religious views that
had to be dealt with as well as the ancient ideals. At that time many believed
that animals and plants did not evolve because they were made holy and immutable
by God on those seven days (GEA & RBi p 43). A person who was widely respected
and also took some beliefs from Aristotle and present religion was Carolus
Linnaeus (1707-1778). He believed species immutable and later became known as
the father of modern taxonomy (Campbell p 422). Perhaps the largest barrier
Darwin had was to convince the present day scientists of his findings in
contrast to their pre-existing theories. The most common of the time was the
catatropist theory. The definition of this theory was that "a violent and
sudden change in the earth" had destroyed all creatures and each time this
happened, God would come back down and recreate all the life in a seperate seven
days (Webster p 131). This theory in itself seemed created for the soul purpose
of covering up the reason for fossils existing and misled