Charles Darwin
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Charles Darwin

From 1831 to 1836, a young Englishman named Charles Darwin (1809–1882) set sail aboard the hydrological vessel HMS Beagle on a voyage around the world.

The following may seem somewhat banal today, but barely 150 years ago, the idea that Life with a capital “L” had a History with a capital “H” was heresy. At the time, the dominant belief in the West was that life was a divine creation and could not change over time. To think otherwise was to imply that God’s creation was imperfect (since a perfect creation, it was thought, should not require change). The discovery of ever-increasing numbers of fossils, the study of rocks and geological structures, and careful observation of animal and plant species would all contribute to changing this view of the world.

Now we know that life does have a history and that living beings change over time. They adapt to the conditions that shape their environments. Life evolves and tends toward complexity.

Charles Darwin
From 1831 to 1836, a young Englishman named Charles Darwin (1809–1882) set sail aboard the hydrological vessel HMS Beagle on a voyage around the world. The goal of the trip was to refine the geographical knowledge of explored regions, and Charles Darwin’s purpose on board was to keep the ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, company while writing an account of the natural features and cultures encountered. Darwin’s observations over those five years, and the theory he would eventually develop from them, made it one of the most famous expeditions in history.

Twenty-three years passed before he published the fruit of his observations and his reflections in the book On the Origin of Species. In it, Darwin developed the theory of evolution, the idea that species change, or evolve, transforming over time. He called the mechanism through which these transformations occur natural selection (see below). This idea is attributed to both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, an explorer and naturalist who came to the same conclusions as Darwin during his voyages in Southeast Asia. However, Darwin alone is in large part given credit for the theoretical arguments, scientific observations, and conceptual framework of the theory of evolution.

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