Two hundred years after his birth, Charles Darwin still remains the most influential naturalist and scientist in our history. The English biologist is of course renowned for the publishing of his manuscript On the Origin of Species, which lay the groundwork for the theory of evolution as well as being the first to observe and explain a multitude of species, interactions and biological aspects of life, which he described in his other book, The Voyage of the Beagle.
Darwin, who was the first to pioneer the idea of natural selection and evolution, is credited with having revolutionized the scientific field and more than one discipline. His journey on the HMS Beagle, which led him around the world discovering its’ rich biodiversity was the catalyst for his thoughts regarding divergent evolution and evolutionary tree, eventually culminating to the discovery of the various finches on the Galapagos Islands which led to his theorizing selective breeding, with his finches being able to illustrate his thoughts on evolution.
Determined to prove his theory, Darwin studied several species, and created the first ever evolutionary tree. He investigated the ability of plants and animals to disperse across the world, delving into archaeological records and enlisting the help of several likeminded scientists to prove his point. Eventually, Charles was able to draw together a coherent theory that encompassed all living creatures within the animal kingdom – including us.
Of course, his theory was met with a mix of criticism and applause, both by the public and the scientific community alike. Indeed, his findings and that of a multitude of other biologists that had either helped Darwin or were continuing his research, were contrary to the school of thought that was being employed. Whilst many supported his views surrounding the origin of species it was his theories on our own evolutionary roots – namely our relation with monkeys – that caused the most furore.
Until then, science and faith had been essentially one and the same, and Darwin’s findings had pit one against the other. A new movement of science was created, Darwinism, which not only supported his ideas, but strived to prove them. Over the years, naturalists and biologists were able to add evidence to his theory, to the point that most scientists agreed that evolution did indeed happen, but debate remained as to whether or not natural selection was indeed the mechanism that drove it.
Of course, in modern times, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been proven through and through, with anthropologists and archaeologists continuing to fill in the evolutionary timelines of our species and many others. Whilst many great scientists came after Darwin such as Tesla, Curie and Einstein, it was his findings that revolutionized science and helped it become what is today.