Origin of Species
1809 Today is the birthday of the English naturalist and writer Charles Robert Darwin.
Darwin was born into a large Christian family in Victorian England. His dad was wealthy; he was a doctor and an investor. For generations, Darwin's family were staunch abolitionists.
Darwin's mother died when he was just eight years old. Clever and curious, he managed to find solace in learning. When he went to college at Cambridge, he was planning to be a member of the clergy. He wrote,
"I did not then in the least doubt, the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible."
But then, Darwin met a man who would become his mentor and friend, John Stevens Henslow. Henslow taught botany at Cambridge, and the two men enjoyed learning from each other as they took walks in the country. Their time together inspired Darwin and helped him to focus on his specialty - the natural world. It also opened the door to a strong wanderlust - a desire to see firsthand what the world had to offer.
It was thanks to his friend Henslow that Darwin received an invitation to join Captain Robert FitzRoy on the HMS Beagle. Henslow had written a letter recommending Darwin for the journey, especially endorsing his likable personality.
Once Darwin was officially asked to be part of team Beagle, Henslow presented Darwin with a gift - a rare copy of Alexander von Humboldt's travels in South America. In the book, Henslow had inscribed these words:
"J. S. Henslow to his friend C. Darwin on his departure from England upon a voyage around the World. 21st Sept. 1831."
Darwin treasured this gift above all others, and at his death, the book was safely brought to Cambridge University Library, where it remains to this day.
Darwin's five-year Journey on the HMS Beagle led him to think differently about his faith and his perspective on creation.
It was October 2, 1836, before the HMS Beagle returned to England.
Often, Darwin is depicted on the Beagle as an old man; but he was just 22 when he sailed away and still a young 27 when he returned with boxes full of specimens and a brain swirling with new ideas.
During the revelatory trip on the Beagle, Darwin had found the building blocks to his evolutionary theory in the many fossils and diverse species he discovered on his excursions. In particular, his visit to the Galapagos Islands - which were largely untouched by man; they were pristine - was especially influential.
And, although people assume that Darwin had a lightbulb moment during his time on the Beagle, his writing shows that wasn't the case. Darwin's thinking on the topic of creation and evolution matured as he grew older. Bear in mind, his paternal grandfather, Erasmus, had experienced bigtime negative backlash for his own ideas on evolution. This made Darwin cautious, and it raised the stakes for going public with his own radical thoughts. To mitigate the risk, Darwin was methodical, and he worked to make an irrefutable case for evolution. Thus, it would be another 23 years after returning to England Beagle before Darwin was ready to publish his masterpiece: Origin of Species.
Now, if you ever get the chance to review the first edition online, you might be surprised to know that the word evolution isn't even mentioned. It wasn't until the 6th edition that the powerful word that became synonymous with Darwin's work was integrated into the text - evolution.