Charles Darwin was a British naturalist who developed the modern theory of evolution in the 19th century. After training in medicine and theology, Darwin studied nature, learning about anatomy, geology, and classification.
All that studying paid off when he signed on for a job on the HMS Beagle. The Beagle sailed to South America in 1831 to map the continent's coastline. The voyage lasted five years, during which Darwin studied hundreds of species of plants and animals.
His most famous work was done in the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. Darwin was interested in why mockingbirds were different from island to island. Each bird had a beak that was well-suited for the type of food found on its home island.
Later, he found that tortoises and finches differed among the islands too. Darwin came to believe that of the finch species must have evolved, or changed over time, from a common ancestor.
He thought that these changes would take a very long time to happen. He wasn't the first scientist to think that all life forms changed from generation to generation. Before he formed his own ideas, Darwin agreed with Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's theory of evolution.
According to Lamarck, animals that use a certain body part a lot will develop a great strength or size in that part. He believed that these changes would then be passed on to the next generation. Darwin didn't quite see it like that.
He believed that animals couldn't pass down traits they had developed in their own lifetimes. According to Darwin, animals had to struggle for resources, like food and land.
Their ultimate goal is to live long enough and reproduce. Animals with advantageous traits are just the likelier to live long enough to reach that goal. Those traits are then passed down to their offspring. Animals with disadvantageous traits are less likely to survive and have kids. So those traits are less likely to be passed on.
Darwin called this process natural selection. He said that tiny changes, made over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, would lead to the kinds of variations he observed in the Galapagos mockingbirds.
In 1859, Darwin published his findings in a book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Many people opposed the theory of evolution, because it seemed to conflict with their religious beliefs.
Also I would like to point out something. Darwin never said humans came from monkeys; he said that people and primates evolved from a common ancestor. Not as common folklore often points out.
Darwin continued to write and speak about evolution until his death in 1882. He published several more editions of The Origin of Species that expanded on his original theory. It's still called the "theory" of evolution but that doesn't mean it's just a guess. Most scientists today accept an updated version of Darwin's original theory that includes what we now know about genetics and heredity.
Darwin was a great man that revolutionized all of modern science. He, with just an idea, was one of the founding fathers of biology. He deserves the upmost respect.
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