Charles Darwin

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Who was Charles Darwin and what questions did he address?

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Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on 12 February 1809. His father was a wealthy doctor, and his family prominent in intellectual circles. In terms of religion, there were both Unitarian and liberal Anglican elements to his upbringing; his eventual religious position was somewhere between deism and agnosticism. He started his university studies as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, but was far more interested in natural history than medicine and eventually transferred to Cambridge where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1831. 

His first job was as a naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle, which was charting the coast of South America. Darwin's observations and reports over the course of the five-year voyage brought him into prominence as a naturalist, observing and identifying species and behaviors of plants and animals as well as reporting geological observations. In collecting fossils, he also extended knowledge of species extinctions. 

It was during this voyage that he began to consider the issue with which his name is most often associated, namely the origin and evolution of species, including humans. He proposed that species evolved gradually by a combination of random mutation and natural selection over a long period of geological history. Thus the main questions he asked and answered concerned how species evolved and obtained their current forms.



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