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Charles Darwin

1809 – 1882
English Naturalist
Exploration Ranking 18th of 26

Sesquicentennial of Darwin's visit to the Falkland Islands. 1982 stamp.

Charles Darwin’s experiences during his five-year (1831-36) voyage on the HMS Beagle were instrumental in shaping his theory of evolution. The voyage took Darwin along the coast of South America, where twenty-nine months were spent charting the waters off the Pacific coast. Darwin explored the Andes Mountains and the pampas (plains), and he kept detailed journals in which he carefully observed differences among the South American plants and animals. He gave particular attention to the Galapagos Islands, where he found a remarkable divergence among the same species from different islands.


Before Darwin began his voyage, he had no reason to doubt the immutability of species, but from his firsthand experiences he gradually began to doubt the creationist view of life. He would later draw upon these extensive field observations to formulate his theory of natural selection. From his travels Darwin drew together vast amounts of scientific evidence to buttress his arguments against scientific and religious challenges. When he returned to England on October 2, 1836, Darwin was an accomplished collector, naturalist and geologist with a new view of the natural history of life.


In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. His theory basically said that living things survive only if they can master their habitat; those that are best adapted to a new environment will reproduce and pass on their adaptations. His book, perhaps more profoundly than any other single work, shaped the development of modern biology and, more broadly, the modern view of human nature.


Key References


1. Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, 1839.


2. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin, 1859.


3. Darwin (An Anthology selected and edited by Philip Appleman), 3rd Edition, 2000.


4. What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr, 2001.

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