Charles Darwin was a doctor

Charles Darwin - father of the theory of evolution

With his theory of evolution, the Englishman Charles Darwin laid the foundation for our current knowledge of the origin of animal and plant species. We tell you how the explorer lived and where he made his discoveries

Brief profile: Charles Darwin

  • Charles Robert Darwin
  • Life data: February 12, 1809 to April 19, 1882
  • Nationality: Briton
  • Quote: "Everything that is against nature does not last in the long term."

Charles Darwin is one of the most influential people in history. His theory of evolution is the basis of our knowledge of the origin of animal and plant species.

How Charles Darwin lived

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He lived there with his five siblings and parents, the doctor Robert and his wife Susannah, until he was a student.

Darwin first attended a school run by the Unitarian community, his mother's religious community. He later continued his school career at a privately run boarding school. Darwin was interested in nature from an early age. He observed the behavior of birds, collected shells, minerals and coins and carried out his own playful experiments. Darwin decided that, like his father, he wanted to become a doctor and began studying medicine at Edinburgh University in 1825.

Because the lessons bored him with a few exceptions, he switched to studying theology. He graduated as the tenth best student in 1831. The subjects at the university had carried him away: He was very interested in natural philosophy and the new continents.

When he was invited to travel on the HMS Beagle, a British Navy survey ship, in 1831, Darwin was overjoyed. On this trip, actually for the purpose of surveying Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in South America, he was able to combine his interest in nature and geology.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin set sail with the HMS Beagle. During the trip he collected numerous plants, animals and rock samples. He recorded his observations in numerous notebooks.

After circumnavigating the world, the HMS Beagle returned to England on October 2, 1836.

Turtles, mockingbirds and, above all, a few finches that Darwin brings back from the Galápagos Islands provide the researcher with the crucial clues for his famous theory of evolution (from the Latin word evolve = develop, expire). At first, the biologist does not pay any attention to the fist-sized birds. He thinks they are wrens, blackbirds and hawfinches because they have completely different beaks. Some of these beaks are thick, making them ideal for cracking nuts, while the longer ones are better for catching insects.

Only a colleague who has been summoned realizes that the birds are related species of finches. Darwin therefore suspects: These different species must have originated on different Galápagos Islands. And he also knows why: Because food is scarce on the islands, there is a constant struggle for survival.

At one point or another, finches with thick beaks were born purely by chance. And they had great advantages over their other conspecifics: The thick beaks could crack nuts and thus had a larger food offer than the "normal" finches, which could only eat seeds.

In this way, many new finches developed from a single species of finch - each of which occupies its own food niche. But like an invisible breeder, nature only allows those species to survive that have adapted best to their environment.

Darwin calls this principle natural selection. Charles Darwin coined the term natural selection (selection) with which he explained the changes within a species. Species would evolve and change due to various influences (such as their environment).

In their natural struggle for food and living space, only those who are best adapted to their environment can survive. This selection leads to a change of species over generations. And with it he lays the foundation for his theory of evolution. It has already been supplemented and modified a few times - but its main features are considered proven.

Darwin, who had taken over 2000 pages of notes on his journey, now began to sort and examine them. This is considered to be the birth of the theory of evolution. With it he wanted to prove that the origin of species can be traced back to scientific foundations, and not, as was common at the time, thanks to God. Darwin firmly believed that species evolve and are not simply created, as is written in the Bible.

Charles Darwin later applied his theory of evolution to monkeys as well. Darwin claimed that humans and apes share the same ancestry, only evolved differently. Darwin's theory sparked a wave of indignation, especially in church circles. For many believers his ideas were blasphemy. Science, however, confirmed the theory.

Charles Darwin's life

Before he published his theory of evolution, Darwin made a living reading many books about his travels in general. He also married his cousin Emma Wedgwood on January 29, 1839, with whom he had ten children in the following years. His health deteriorated more and more.

Darwin often suffered from faintness and difficulty breathing. Under medical treatment and therefore only progressing slowly, he was only able to publish the famous work "The Origin of Species" on November 22nd, 1859. In it, however, Darwin finally presented his theory of evolution and thus made a decisive breakthrough in biology.

Charles Darwin continued to work intensively in this area until his death. He published important follow-up works. He died on April 19, 1882 at the age of 73.

His contribution to the theory of evolution was fundamental to biology and to this day provides lively discussions among theologians, philosophers and politicians. Hardly any other scientist has had a more lasting impact on our modern worldview than Darwin.