Charles Darwin

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What were Charles Darwin's childhood, family life, education, and career like? What inspired and drove his work?

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Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family in England, February 12th, 1809 at his family home. His father, Robert Darwin, was a wealthy doctor and financier. Robert had Charles baptized in the Anglican Church, but Charles and his siblings attended the Unitarian chapel with their mother. So, already from a young age he was open to many schools of thought. Charles attended a day school run by the Church’s preacher. Unfortunately, his mother died the same year. He then joined his older brother at school, attending the nearby Anglican school.

Darwin spent a summer as an apprentice doctor, helping his father treat the poor of Shropshire, before going to the University of Edinburgh Medical School with his brother. He found lectures boring and surgery stressful. Darwin joined the Plinian Society and studied natural history. He was Robert Grant’s assistant and it was he who first presented Darwin with “Lamarck’s evolutionary ideas.” Darwin found these ideas to be amazing, unlike natural history and his medical studies, which he put to the side.

His father sent him to Cambridge to get a Bachelor of Arts Degree. He took an ordinary degree course. He preferred to do anything but study, however he did well, “graduating 10th out of 178 candidates for the ordinary degree.” During this time he also became interested in studying Christianity. “He studied Paley's Natural Theology which made an argument for divine design in nature, explaining adaptation as God acting through laws of nature.” After he finished at Cambridge, Darwin wanted to venture to South America, of which his father disproved and felt unnecessary.

His inspiration came from the various books his read along with his travels. He changed the way we study and know biology today. His works, especially On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, are highly renowned, and when he was first published, considered very controversial by the Church.

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