Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Russell Clark CoPHI Dr. Oliver 11/18/2014 Darwin’s Early Life Charles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 at his family’s home known as “The Mount” in the town of Shrewsbury, England. He was one of six children born to a wealthy and prominent family. His father, Robert Darwin, was a doctor who wanted to lead Charles down the same path but young Charles became uneasy at the sight of blood. This squeamishness deterred him from medicine but that was not the only science discipline in the Darwin family. Both his maternal Grandfather and his paternal Grandfather were botanists and the study of nature was much more appealing to the young boy. Being that his family was well off he could roam nature and collect things that interested him farthing his aspirations in the field of biology. The family largely aligned with the Unitarian church when Charles was young and he even joined the school run by the preacher of the Unitarian church in 1817, at age eight. His mother, Susannah, was who took the children to that chapel but in July of 1817 she died and the family began to move towards Anglicanism. In 1818 Charles began to attend the Anglican Shrewsbury School with his older brother, where they studied until 1825. At the age of 16 Darwin began college at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He neglected the majority of his medical studies while there and instead focused his time on the study of animal and plant biology. Sensing his son would not focus on his medical studies his father moved him to Christ College, Cambridge to begin training to become a parson. Darwin still lacked interest in his studies and devoted most of his time to being outdoors and collecting and identifying insects and plants. Upon graduation from Christ School in 1831 he was advised by John Stevens Henslow, Darwin’s botany professor and mentor, that he should take a naturalist position on a 5 year trip around the world on the HMS Beagle. Which Darwin would accept and begin the voyage in December of 1831. As the ship traveled and made different stops the young naturalist collected samples of birds, plants, and fossils. He preserved his findings with taxonomy, something he learned while he wasn’t studying in Edinburgh. Darwin gained interest in his findings and began to put together his works when the trip had concluded. Charles Darwin’s Findings Darwin collected and preserved several samples from his travels on the Beagle. His time abroad made the idea of a connection between humans and animals completely plausible to him. In the Galapagos Islands Darwin observed several species and the differences they had from island to island. He kept detailed notes about the differences of the animals he came across and began to develop a theory about why these animals living in such close proximity to one another could have such distinguishable differences. He sent his collections back along with his notes. He had little to no experience in majority of his findings so he sought expert analysis on his findings. Darwin gained notoriety from the materials he had shipped back to his family in England. His observations of seashells in the cliffs of St. Jago reassured his earlier readings that land could move over large periods of time. However the biggest fossil find for Darwin came when he discovered a large fossil that showed signs of dying out without a sign of climate change or disaster. This was huge in developing his theories about extinction and adaption. He ascertained that animals could indeed be affected by their environment and without adaptation they would not survive the changing elements. His research in the Galapagos Islands strengthened his theories about the adaptation of animals. Though he and the crew only spent 5 weeks on the islands his findings were crucial to the development of his argument. He found that from island to island the finches had developed physical tools to best fit their needs. Darwin sent the specimen back to John Gould he identified 14 specimen for Darwin 12 of which were new species. Darwin was not the first to create the theory of evolution but he did help prove the theory with his studies aboard the Beagle. Darwin thought that the finches that did not adapt would die off eventually leaving only the adapted finches, creating a new species. The birds began these changes when they became isolated to these islands, causing one species to branch into several different uniquely adapted species. Of the 12 new species’ the only significant difference from the already known finch was the beak shape and or size, otherwise they were nearly identical. Upon his return his discoveries had made him into a respectable young scientist. He was able to obtain funding and with that went to different experts to study his findings further. With new help identifying the collected materials he was able to begin developing concrete evidence to support the theory of evolution. Darwin’s Impact After publication of his theories a wide array of questions arose and several attempted to disprove his findings. Darwin was open to the criticism and continued revising his original Origin of Species to include the counter arguments. Although several tried none could disprove the findings of Darwin. In fact his discovery has been hailed as one of the most important finds in all of biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky, a prominent geneticist, is quoted as saying, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Outside of just his immediate impact on the scientific community his theories give us far reaching philosophical implications. Evolution presents the possibility of us evolving and adapting to our surroundings over millions of years to become better suited for survival, or in essence branching away from another species and over millions of years becoming human beings. This could help to explain the questions of where people came from, what we are doing here, and even what we are doing wrong as a people today. The idea that humans evolved from primates has been widely accepted as scientific fact in modern biology. However in the realm of philosophy, evolution could lead us to a much more direct connection to the nature around us. Prior to Darwin’s findings creation by higher power was all that could’ve been reasonably explained to a vast majority of the people. The concept that human beings as a race came from monkeys was insulting to some people because creationism often featured the story of a cut and dry male and female being created separately from all other animals. Evolution was thought to go completely against the grain of creationism in that we could all trace back to one species that became separated and continued to evolve into what we now know as many different species. This could mean that the ecosystems and habits around the world shaped the many varieties of animals and people that inhabit them. This could mean that over millions of years of adaptation to the elements an animal dependent upon communication and intellect came to dominate the entirety of the globe. Communication, written language, and memory have led us to the present, in that we as a species have adapted to the climates of most every ecosystem around the world. After people could talk and record their memories of events, we began to learn from the mistakes of previous people and develop ways of correcting and reducing error over a slow period of time. When we began to record our ideas we could show them to other people who could communicate and learn the ideas. We progressed the ideas of our predecessors and built new theories to try and further our understanding of the world around us. The discoveries made across the globe helped to revolutionize our world and after the mechanical revolution we have found ourselves in the uncharted waters of technology and all of its possibilities. The machines we have developed and continue to adjust to better preform, allow us to quickly and efficiently produce goods for purchase rather than each family or group farming or hunting for food. But just the ability to specialize, as a butcher or black smith for example, and know that you could rely on sources outside of yourself for food (you could buy/barter goods) was crucial in the development of society. These innovations have liberated human’s time and given us the ability to focus on acquiring knowledge and think about abstract ideas like philosophy. Darwin benefitted from these advances because as the child of a doctor he could wander through the nature around him and begin to collect and study fossils and specimens. Which led to a life-long fascination of collecting and examining the many elements of biology. Darwin’s hobbies of collecting led him to discover evolution in the opposite direction of traditional scientific methodology. He first traveled the world collecting evidence for the theory he would develop over the next several decades, instead of the developing the theory and then proving it with evidence collected after the theories inception. Science in many ways has direct connections to philosophy in that scientists use concentrated reflection and thought to develop their theories the same way philosophers theorize. Granted both of these fields of study are searching for very different answers but the ability to think outside of the accepted answer is crucial in our continued development. Bringing us to Darwin’s personal philosophies, some of which we have previously discussed in class. His findings of natural selection and evolution create questions that no one can answer definitively. Question about philosophical issues like what is our purpose, what species was the original, or even where did we come from. Darwin’s discoveries don’t directly address any of these questions but instead bring up possibilities of change. The common teachings of the time were based upon religion and many found evolution hard to believe being that it was different from anything they had been taught. Change is the key element in his theory because that is the only thing that causes the need for adaptation. Darwin never proclaimed any connection with Social Darwinism rather he believed in morality and did not advocate survival of the fittest in any social context. He never viewed his discoveries as philosophical rather Darwin thought it was the practical explanation for his findings. He did however toil with the idea of God and continued to change his mind throughout his life, though never attending church consistently. Losing his daughter when she was nine years old caused him to doubt some form of a benevolent, all knowing God. However he continually retraced his steps to the unknown answers of what caused the scientific events he had discovered. After his publication several religious theorists tied evolution to the evidence of a higher power. Darwin himself felt that religion stemmed from a primal need for purpose and an adaption to survival, but could not find an answer to what caused our creation. To summarize his philosophies; Darwin believed that something must have set our creation into motion but did not think that child suffering or disease would be permitted by an all-powerful, all-knowing God. Darwin sought out answers that held weight and could be explained through logic. He is an example of what seeking knowledge can lead to instead of accepting tradition. His flip-flopping on religion comes from a desire to be correct rather than a need for purpose. Darwin felt that as a species we were meant for survival and the acquisition of knowledge was key to continually advancing our chances of survival. His discoveries helped to solve some of the questions of how we got to now but still leave questions of creation open to interpretation. Darwin would have wanted us to continue to challenge ourselves by remaining open to change and continually finding ways to adapt whether physical or intellectual. If we are here for any purpose at all, in Darwin’s eyes, it would be to continue to test our limitations and further our knowledge and understanding of the world around us.


  1. Maybe our purpose is to cultivate vigor, health, and happiness, and then see where that takes us as a species. Evolution's largest canvas may be cosmic.

    In any event, Darwin would agree: our purpose certainly is NOT to dominate and devour our fellow humans.

  2. Also:

    " Darwin never proclaimed any connection with Social Darwinism rather he believed in morality and did not advocate survival of the fittest in any social context."

    Right! This is probably the single biggest confusion among evolution's critics, including William Jennings Bryan at Dayton TN.

    "He never viewed his discoveries as philosophical rather Darwin thought it was the practical explanation for his findings." Nonetheless, his idea of evol'n via natural selection has had possibly the greatest philosophical impact of any single idea ever. To my mind that makes him a member of the ph'y club, whether he wants to join or not.