In 1831, the young Charles Darwin embarked aboard the English ship Beagle, on a journey that would forever change his life and the history of science.
He had just dropped out of his medical studies, and was running away from the life of a cleric that his father had prepared for him. Ship without a specific function on board. During the five years of travel, he was increasingly assuming the role of naturalist.
The Beagle had the mission of mapping the South American coast. Darwin was impressed by the beauty of those landscapes, so distant and different from old England. Patagonia, Tierra de Fuego, the Chiloé archipelago and, above all, the Galapagos Islands.
The finches and giant tortoises of the Galapagos fascinated him. His curiosity led him to collect a large number of fossils. The wildlife he saw was new to him. However, he was struck by the resemblance to European species. The same happened with the fossils it collected. The extinct animals looked a lot like the current ones, although they were not the same. He began to conceive the idea of a natural selection.
He thought that all living forms had a common origin and, through small and slow transformations, evolved in the various forms of life we know today. When some individuals of a species develop an advantage that allows them to adapt better to the environment, they survive and reproduce. His descendants inherit that adaptive advantage. While the worst adapted individuals do not survive, they leave no offspring and end up becoming extinct.
From generation to generation, the differences get bigger and give rise to the different species. Evolution is so slow throughout the geological eons, and our life so short, that is why we cannot appreciate it.
Darwin published his theory about the origin and evolution of species in 1859. It was a revolution of thought. In general, society welcomed their ideas. He broke sales records and sold out several editions. A few years before Malthus had published his essay on the population, in which he said that the population is growing at a much higher rate than resources, which leads to wars and calamities, and only the fittest survive. Now, Darwin applies the same idea to the natural world. Darwin knew that essay.
His theory involved the confrontation with the Anglican church and the most conservative English sectors. They conceived Creation as something immobile. For them, God created the species as we know them, and man was not just another creature but was on a higher scale. Darwin's evolution deprives man of his privileged position. It is another product of evolution, and its origin is common with other species. Darwin's cruel cartoons were made with the famous legend that man descends from the monkey. Something that, by the way, he never said, at least not so.
Charles Darwin He was aware of the scientific and cultural revolution that his theory involved. That is why it took so many years to publish it, and he only did so when he thought that another colleague, Wallace, was going to advance him.
Throughout the twentieth century, Darwin's thesis continued to be controversial. Some appropriated them to justify the supremacy of some races against others, or of some social classes against the rest. Today, in some areas of America, they are still rejected by creationists.
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