Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin is a name you’ve no doubt heard before. You might know that he is associated with the concept of evolution and significantly impacted the world of biological science. However, his work also influenced the field of psychology.

Charles Darwin Charles Darwin

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Table of contents
    • First, we will briefly look at Charles Darwin's biography.
    • Next, we will explore Charles Darwin's theory.
    • We will go over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
    • Then, we will look at Charles Darwin’s contributions to psychology.
    • Finally, we will visit some of Charles Darwin’s quotes.

    Charles Darwin: Biography

    Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on February 12th, 1809. He is often called a naturalist, a geologist, and history’s most outstanding biologist. However, perhaps following in the footsteps of his physician father, Darwin began his university studies in the medical field at the University of Edinburgh. He did not find a natural affinity for medical studies and never acclimated to the sight of blood. He went on to study theology at the University of Cambridge and developed a keen interest in natural history.

    After completing his studies, a former college professor recommended Darwin for a position on board the British Royal Navy ship, the HMS Beagle. He was accepted as a naturalist (an expert on natural history). The ship embarked in December 1931 and was tasked with charting the harbors of South America. Darwin was to collect samples of fossils, rocks, plants, and animals. He collected specimens and sent them back to England.

    Charles Darwin Marble statue of Darwin StudySmarterFig. 1 - A marble statue of Charles Darwin.

    Darwin spent five years traveling with the HMS Beagle, researching and collecting samples from Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and the Galápagos Islands. It was in this last location that Darwin made significant observations that would greatly influence the scientific community.

    Darwin returned to England in 1836. In 1839, he married Emma Wedgwood, and the couple went on to have ten children together. Darwin continued the study and analysis of specimens that he started on the HMS Beagle. His samples and subsequent work and writings would forever change the worlds of science, politics, and literature.

    Darwin’s work made him a celebrity in his time. He was honored with the Royal Medal, the Copley Medal, and the Wollaston Medal for scientific achievements. By his death in April of 1882, he was so celebrated and respected by the public that he was given a full ceremonial burial in Westminster Abbey, despite being an agnostic.

    Charles Darwin: Theory

    Darwin collected fossils throughout the length of his journey on the HMS Beagle. When he returned to England, he shared these with geologists and paleontologists. His samples and findings led to new understandings of the Earth’s surface and the processes that shape it.

    Drawing from samples he gathered, Darwin also theorized how animals and plants form and change over time. This led to one of his most significant theories, natural selection.

    Natural selection is a process where life forms and organisms that are less well adapted to their environment tend to be eliminated by disease, competition, or environmental changes. Better-adapted organisms and life forms survive and change the nature of the population by passing on their specific genes.

    The Galápagos Islands are home to 13 different types of finches. They are similar in build and habit; however, all 13 types of birds have different beaks. Natural selection came into play in the late 1900s when a drought destroyed the tiny seeds that make up the birds’ natural food source. Those finches with larger beaks could crack tougher, larger seeds that were not typically a part of their food source. They could eat these seeds and survive because they were naturally better equipped to deal with the environmental challenges created by the drought. Finches with smaller beaks begin to die out, and those with larger beaks pass down their genes.

    Charles Darwin Outdoor installation art depicting human evolution StudySmarterFig. 2 - Outdoor installation art depicting human evolution.

    Darwin’s theory of natural selection inspired him to write his most famous work, On the Origin of the Species.

    Charles Darwin: Theory of Evolution

    Darwin detailed his theory of evolution in his famous work, On the Origin of the Species, published in 1859. Darwin’s theory of evolution grew out of his theory of natural selection.

    An evolutionary theory is any theory that accounts for the changes and evolution of life forms and organisms from one generation to the next.

    Darwin proposed that evolution occurs because of natural selection, which is why he is a Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Today, this theory is often referred to simply as Darwinism.

    Peppered moths are “peppered” with dark patches on their bodies and wings, allowing them to blend in better when they perch on the bark of a tree. Those that blend in the best avoid being eaten by predators. Their particular coloration is an example of natural selection, which allows them to pass on their genes while other moths die out. This leads to an evolution in the coloration of peppered moths, as those with better dark patches increase in number while others do not.

    This is why Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is often referred to as the survival of the fittest. Those most suited to withstand the challenges of their environment will survive. The peppered moths that blend in with the tree bark are theoretically more fit, so they survive. Just like the Galapagos finches with larger beaks were fitter to withstand the drought.

    Darwin contributed to how we understand the world and influenced the work of biologists, geologists, paleontologists, political theorists, and religious scholars. His theory of evolution would also have a significant impact on the field of psychology.

    Charles Darwin: Contribution to Psychology

    Darwin’s research and writing provides the foundation of the field of Evolutionary psychology.

    Evolutionary psychology approaches psychological inquiry, cognition, and behavior through the context of adaptation to intellectual challenges and to evolving social and physical environments.

    Evolutionary psychology looks at human cognition, emotion, and behavior from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is responsible for the survival of the peppered moths with better-camouflaged patches and the finches with the bigger beaks. These features make these species more likely to survive. Likewise, we can view certain behaviors or cognitive traits as making us more successful in thriving.

    Evolutionary psychologists believe that certain instincts and behaviors have allowed our species to adapt to changing environments. This has allowed us to survive, live better lives, and evolve throughout time. Evolutionary psychologists believe that our ancestors passed down the psychological and cognitive advantages that helped them survive. This was passed from generation to generation as we evolved as a species.

    Language is an example of how our species has adapted to the challenges of a changing environment. The ability to communicate in complex and nuanced ways became beneficial for our species to survive and thrive.

    Charles Darwin: Quotes

    The following quote, attributed to Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, sums up his evolutionary theory quite nicely.

    It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”3

    When we think of the term “survival of the fittest,” we might assume it refers to strength or power. However, Darwin’s fitness is not about muscle but adaptability. You might think of it more as fitting in (to the environment) than to a level of physical fitness.

    Darwin’s studies fostered a deep humanism and compassion in him. This can be seen throughout much of his writing, including these few excerpts from The Descent of Man and The Voyage of the Beagle, which seem to scorn prejudice and inequality.

    The great variability of all the external differences between the races of man, likewise indicates that they cannot be of much importance; for if important, they would long ago have been either fixed and preserved, or eliminated.”4

    If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”5

    Charles Darwin - Key takeaways

    • Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England on February 12th, 1809.
    • Natural selection is a process where life forms and organisms that are less well adapted to their environment tend to be eliminated by disease, competition, or environmental changes. Better adapted organisms and life forms survive and change the nature of the population by passing on their specific genes.
    • Darwin proposed that evolution occurs because of natural selection, that is why his is a Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
    • Darwin’s research and writing provides the foundation of the field of Evolutionary psychology.
    • Evolutionary psychology approaches psychological inquiry, cognition, and behavior through the context of adaptation to intellectual challenges and to evolving social and physical environments.

    References

    1. Darwin, C. (1859) On the Origin of the Species. Independently Published.
    2. Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man. John Murray.
    3. Darwin, C. (1839) The Voyage of the Beagle. Independently Published.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Charles Darwin

    Who was Charles Darwin?

    Charles Darwin was an English biologist.

    What was Charles Darwin famous for?

    Charles Darwin was famous for his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

    What phrase did Charles Darwin use to mean evolution?

    Natural selection is the phrase Charles Darwin used to mean evolution.

    What did Charles Darwin discover?

    Charles Darwin discovered new information about the ways plants and animals form and change over time. This led to his Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.

    Who is Charles Darwin and what is his contribution?

    Charles Darwin was an English biologist who formulated the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. This theory contributed to the formation of the field of Evolutionary Psychology.

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    Where did Darwin first go to school?

    What did Darwin study at the University of Edinburgh?

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