Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was a geologist, naturalist, geographer, and biologist. He did some groundbreaking and very, very extensive studies on earthworms and barnacles, but he is best known as being the one who, along with Alfred Russel Wallace, first proposed the theory that new species could come about through natural selection.

At this time, any theory of evolution was quite controversial, as it challenged the standard interpretation of God's role as the creator of everything. God was supposed to have had created the world, and all the animals in it, just as it is, with no changes since the initial creation. The idea that new species could pop up was scandalous.

Darwin had a rather uneventful youth, playing and hunting in the country side. When he went to the university Darwin studied medicine because his father wanted him to, but he found that he didn't have the stomach to operate on people without the benefit of anesthetics. Next he tried theology, his father's second choice. This worked out okay, but one of his professors, John Stephens Henslow, got Darwin interested in natural science. This was clearly what he wanted to do with his life, and Darwin never looked back.

By a tremendous stroke of luck, Darwin got a job as the ship's naturalist under captain Robert FitzRoy. From 1831-36 he sailed aboard the HMS Beagle, exploring foreign lands and collecting hundreds of samples of odd forms of life. It is likely that FitzRoy took on Darwin because he wanted someone he could talk with on the long voyage, as FitzRoy couldn't converse with his subordinates (the idea!). Darwin was accepted in part because he was a gentleman, and probably because he had a background in theology (FitzRoy was quite religious). Darwin was also the first naturalist FitzRoy found who didn't mind paying his own way, which probably was the deciding factor. They had some spats over slavery, which Darwin was against and FitzRoy was for. The primary topic of discussion was probably religion.

On this voyage Darwin made observations in South America and the Galapagos Islands that later were incorporated into 'On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life' in 1859. At this time, however, he was thinking in terms of evolution.

Once he was back in England -- and it is worth noting that he never left England again -- Darwin set about cataloging his samples. About this time, he came across a book, Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus, which pointed out that populations grow faster than their food supplies, meaning that death was a constant and unavoidable part of life. This apparently triggered Darwin insight into the workings of natural selection. By 1842 Darwin was putting his ideas into writing -- but not sharing these writings with anyone else.

Charles Darwin also did extensive research on geology, barnacles, the fertilization of plants, the construction of coral reefs, and earthworms. In fact, part of the delay betwixt the voyage of the Beagle and the publication of Origin of the Species was eight years full of barnacles. (Darwin was, and to a large extent still is, one of the most respected authorities on barnacles).

In 1858 a friend of Darwin's, Alfred Russel Wallace, sent Darwin a letter, and then paper, explaining the idea of natural selection. Darwin let Wallace know that he had been working on the idea for 20 years, and was almost ready to publish. When Wallace's paper arrived, Darwin (at his friends urgings) had both his paper and Wallace's read at a meeting of the Linnean Society, and published together in the society journal. (Darwin was not at the reading, as one of his sons had just died of scarlet fever.) Wallace was still overseas, and at the time had no idea that anyone was planning on making his paper known. In the presentation it was made clear that Darwin was the first to come up with the idea. Darwin felt bad about the whole thing, but Wallace forgave him.

The following years were full of violent (well, volatile, anyway) disputes over evolution, natural selection, and the origin of species. Darwin avoided it as much as possible, allowing others to defend his idea in public. While Darwin was a firm believer in change through natural selection, he did see some problems with it. (How could evolution produce something as complex as an eye? Wouldn't evolution through this method require literally millions of years? (gasp!) And perhaps worst of all, Darwin's wife was very religious, and he didn't like to upset her.)

Darwin's theory of evolution has been in dispute ever since, but Darwin did live to see his theories become somewhat accepted, and certainly quite respected by many.

*Darwin came up with the idea of natural selection before Wallace, but didn't publish it until he saw that Wallace was onto the same idea.

Patrick Matthew also did some work in this area before either Darwin or Wallace.

Darwinism cannot explain all evolution, and thus Neodarwinism is now used to fill in the holes.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was born in Shrewsbury, England. His father, Robert Darwin, was a physician, the son of Erasmus Darwin, a poet, philosopher, and naturalist. Charles's mother, Susannah Wedgwood Darwin, died when he was eight years old.

Darwin originally studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He later went to Cambridge to prepare to become a clergyman in the Church of England. After receiving his degree, Darwin accepted an invitation to serve as an unpaid naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle, which departed on a five-year scientific expedition to the Pacific coast of South America on 31 December, 1831.

Darwin's research resulting from this voyage formed the basis of his most famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Published in 1859, the work aroused a storm of controversy. Darwin's work, which attempted to explain the repeating patterns observed in the biological diversity of the natural world, was seen to challenge contemporary beliefs about the creation of life on earth.

Darwin continued to write and publish his works on biology throughout his life. Thought now to have suffered from panic disorder, as well as from Chagas' disease contracted during his travels in South America, Darwin was plagued with fatigue and intestinal sickness for the rest of his life. He died on 19 April, 1882, and lies buried in Westminster Abbey.

His other important writings are:

  • The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, 1874
  • The variation of animals and plants under domestication, 1875
  • The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom, 1878
  • The expression of the emotions in man and animals, 1890

Online references:

Darwin was one of the popular examples of the Meyers-Briggs INTP. As such, he was riddled with self-doubt and anxiety over his realization about the Origin of Species. As noted by pimephalis, he was quite a religious man, and when it became obvious that the theory he had formulated was directly contradictory to the doctrine of the church, he was tortured by the truth he had always been taught to believe and wanted to believe, and the truth that he now knew to be fact.

In the end, the scientist won out over the priest. Although Darwin would not live to see his theories vindicated as they are today, he clearly understood the gravity of them, and it was probably that which drove him to his supposed panic attacks, and generally made him sick with worry, which probably contributed to his rather sickly condition near the end of life.

To clarify, Darwin was not the naturalist of the H.M.S. Beagle. He was a companion to the captain, because societal standards did not allow captains and crew to converse, but the captain had to talk to somebody, or go crazy. The official naturalist was actually some poor working stiff who left the ship a few months into the voyage, since he could not serve as naturalist without Darwin constantly doing whatever he did, but more so because Darwin was rich.

Before the Origin of Species, before the The Descent of Man, before the HMS Beagle, before all of the controversy surrounding his theories, there lived a young Charles Darwin . Though he did poorly in school, remarking, "Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind," he showed a fond interest for nature from the very beginning. Of all things though, the young Darwin was really into Beetles (the insect, not the band). In fact, that is quite an understatement. Darwin was really, really into beetles - the rarer the better. In the earlier days of his interest, he heeded the advice of his sister that he should not kill any beetle simply for the purpose of collecting and he therefore stuck to acquiring new and intact beetle corpses. Later, however, his "morals" on the subject went out the window and he pursued the insects at full force, dead or alive. This all lead up to an incident during his time at Cambridge which he recounted in his autobiography:

"I will give a proof of my zeal: one day on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one"

It was as a beetle collector that Darwin's name first appeared in print in various British insect collecting publications. Oddly enough, despite his later tendencies, this fascination had little to do with science. Many times he didn't even bother to find out the names of the varieties of species that he captured. It was simply a hobby as one would collect stamps, coins, or baseball cards, done for the thrill of finding rare and new species and occasionally seeing his name in print as captor.

For me, amidst all of the controversy and propaganda surrounding him, this particular fact really put a human face on the man for the first time - an original geek.

"Whenever I hear of the capture of rare beetles, I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of a trumpet"

- Charles Darwin

Quotes by Darwin and on Evolution/Darwinism

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. Charles Darwin unknown

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world. Charles Darwin "The Descent of Man"

It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man: but some , at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation. Charles Darwin "The Descent of Man"

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain - whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses or hands. Charles Darwin "The Descent of Man"

'Social Darwinism' is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion added to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin's image. But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were written into the equation from the start- 'Darwinism' was always intended to explain human society. Adrian Desmond, & James Moore, "Darwin", (1991)

The Darwinian insight can be turned upside down and grotesquely misused: Voracious robber barons may explain their cut throat practices by an appeal to Social Darwinism; Nazis and other racists may call on "survival of the fittest" to justify genocide. But Darwin did not make John D. Rockefeller or Adolf Hitler. Greed, the Industrial Revolution, the free enterprise system, and corruption of government by the monied are adequate to explain nineteenth-century capitalism. Ethnocentrism, xenophobia, social hierarchies, the long history of anti-Semitism in Germany, the Versailles Treaty, German child-rearing practices, inflation, and the Depression seem adequate to explain Hitler's rise to power. Very likely these or similar events would have transpired with or without Darwin. And modern Darwinism makes it abundantly clear that many less ruthless traits, some not always admired by robber barons and Fuhrers - altruism, general intelligence, compassion - may be the key to survival. Carl Sagan 1995

source: alt.quotations

Why is Charles Darwin sometimes called the last of the natural theologians?


Natural theology can be described as "the attempt to provide proofs or arguments for the existence of god" and, under this definition, a natural theologian would explain the properties of the natural world within a worldview that is consistent with the existence of god. A theological interpretation of nature relies on the direct action of a deity and aims to further religious understanding by studying nature. For natural theologians of Darwin's time, nature was the direct creation of god and so studying nature was studying god's work. Today, Darwin's fame rests on his theory of natural selection which is widely accepted in the scientific community. The majority of the supporters of Darwin's theory view his work as being completely secular because natural theology explains adaptation by supernatural action while Darwinism explains it by natural selection. However, Darwin himself was greatly influenced by the theological interpretations of organisms' adaptation and he had a tremendous impact on religious thought.

His faith

Darwin grew up at a time when Christian beliefs were common and expected. It is well known that religious sources, especially the natural theology of the eighteenth century, had a large impact on Darwin. As a young student at Cambridge University, he embraced a natural theological perspective and saw the stunning adaptations of creatures to their environments as irrefutable evidence of God's plan. Darwin saw the myriad complex and elegant designs in the natural world and interpreted this as only being possible if it were the expression of an omnipotent divine being. He maintained his religious beliefs during his expedition on HMS Beagle and often quoted scripture as an unanswerable authority.

However, as Darwin began to formulate his theory of natural selection, he was forced to reconsider the realities of the Christian doctrine as a scientist. Doubt began to creep into Darwin's mind and he reflected that the Bible's miracles seem incredible in a world where the fixed laws of nature were understood so precisely. In his diaries, Darwin noted the dogmatism of religion and his own waning devotion. He commented on the inevitable inaccuracy of the Gospels and claimed that the morality of the New Testament is largely based on the interpretation of metaphor and allegory. Despite this, he admitted to himself that he was still unwilling to give up his faith.

Darwin's creeping disbelief in Christianity was hastened by the death of his father Robert in November 1848, after a period of great suffering. He hated to see unnecessary anguish and misery and had great difficulty reconciling a loving god with the pain and agony he saw experienced by humankind. The death of his daughter at the age of ten – one of three children his family lost – marked the final destruction of Darwin's belief in a beneficent Christian god and a just and moral universe. The conventional orthodoxy of his youth made way for a sceptical agnostic outlook: "disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete … this is a damnable doctrine".

His work

As Darwin refined his ideas and prepared the first edition of On The Origin Of Species, he began to move away from the optimism of natural theology. His theory developed into an account that did not explicitly include a supernatural divine creator. Post Darwin there was no longer a distinction between god and science. He abolished the need for an explanation of the natural world in terms of a religious entity – nature was both the producer and the product. The beautiful designs of nature, which Darwin first saw as evidence of god's work, were now deemed to the products of natural selection. He wrote that, "the old argument of design in nature, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man."

Over time, Darwin's conception of nature grew in complexity as he understood more fully the inherent dynamic of the principles of population. Natural theologians viewed the adaptation of organisms to be static whereas Darwin's model allowed for a path toward complex specialisation and, indeed, progress in which adaptation was redefined each generation. He no longer had any need for a god because his sagacious creator of the diverse living world was simply "selection" or nature itself. Darwin said that if any biological adaptation could be explained without resorting to a divine miracle "the way was free to an explanation for all adaptation, and thence for the diversity of species." Notably, Darwin also viewed homo sapiens to be a species like any other and refused to single humans out. The idea that one species ought to be divinely ordained over all others was absurd to him.

Despite this, Darwin avoided talking about the theological and sociological aspects of his theories and stressed that evolution and religion were not incompatible. However, other writers used his work to support their own ideas about society. It is only from later analysis and reference to his work that the theory of evolution gained the reputation of being incompatible with Christianity and effectively being the catalyst for the death of natural theology. Darwin never intended to denounce organised religion or to cast doubt on people's faith, but some offence was taken at the implications about god as the creator in On The Origin Of Species. Because of this, he went to great length to stress that evolution does not preclude belief in a Christian god. To distinguish between a providential creator and the evolutionary process Darwin emphasised his belief that organisms behave "selfishly" and that, under his theory of natural selection, they "act solely by and for the good of each."


Few people would consider Darwin to be a natural theologian in any form at all but, looking back over the way he approached his work, it is clear that religious beliefs strongly shaped the direction of his theory. Darwin grew up in a time where the accepted standard was to be a Christian who lived unerringly by the Bible and it took much of his life to realise that, rationally, his research asked some very searching questions of conventional religious beliefs. He had the early view that organisms were "perfectly" adapted and used other religious terminology and ideas in formulating his theory while Neo-Darwinian Christians managed to reconcile natural selection with their religious beliefs. In closing On The Origin Of Species, Darwin reflected that he ought to be called a theist but there is no denying that the theory of evolution revolutionised and, arguable, did much to secularise the biology of organisms. In the sense that he was one of the last to approach his attempt to understand the natural world from the perspective of a natural theologian, it is a fair term to describe him. However, the legacy of his work has proven not to further the ideas behind natural theology.

  • Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin.
  • Desmond, Adrian and Moore, James. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1994).

A battle occurred in the mind of Charles Darwin, and it was witnessed to in a charming and charitable book review entitled DARWIN'S ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES Reviewed by John Morris in the Dublin Review. which appeared within a year of the publication of the Origin of Species. (The review by John Morris is reprinted from the Dublin Review 48 ( 1860), 50-81)

Written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the review is forty pages in length, serious beyond modern standards, and in a lay journal. The reviewer has observed that the 'main work' of Darwin 'approves itself to be genuinely scientific', but then declares himself grieved that Darwin ventures beyond the 'main work' to the 'gratuitous and so repulsive idea' of human origin by evolution from lower forms.

"The work itself, in the main, we will say frankly, seems to us so valuable, and approves itself to us individually as so genuinely scientific; the basis of facts is so unusually broad and comprehensive, the reasoning is so dispassionate, and the writer shows himself throughout so keen-sighted to every objection, that we cannot say how grieved we are that the book should be marred by the introduction of so gratuitous and so repulsive an idea, or that the theory should be carried to such unreasonable lengths. (Wallace et al. 4) Darwinism: Critical Reviews from Dublin Review, Edinburgh Review, Quarterly Review by Alfred Russell Wallace, Thomas Henry Huxley, James Rowland Angell, J. Mark Baldwin, Francis Galton, Daniel N. Robinson; University Publications of America, 1977.

The Dublin reviewer, in a keen and unexpectedly humane insight, identified in Darwin two threads. The first thread, the 'main work' has been 'marred' by the intrusion of the second thread, the 'gratuitous and so repulsive an idea'. But most significantly, in the mind of the reviewer, the two threads must be separated. The wheat is to be separated from the chaff and though the reviewer does not hesitate in his disdain for the chaff he does not dampen his expression of delight in the wheat. What else is a review? It was an excellent review and an outstanding instance of a truth well sounded.

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