Report

Darwin and His Theory of Evolution

  • February 04, 2009
  • By David Masci

At first glance, Charles Darwin seems an unlikely revolutionary. Growing up a shy and unassuming member of a wealthy British family, he appeared, at least to his father, to be idle and directionless. But even as a child, Darwin expressed an interest in nature. Later, while studying botany at Cambridge University, he was offered a chance to work as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle, a naval vessel embarking on an exploratory voyage around the world. In the course of nearly five years at sea - during which time the Beagle surveyed the coast of South America and stopped in such places as Australia and, most famously, the Galapagos Islands - Darwin took advantage of countless opportunities to observe plant and animal life and to collect both living and fossilized specimens for later study.

After the Beagle returned to England in October 1836, Darwin began reflecting on his observations and experiences, and over the next two years developed the basic outline of his groundbreaking theory of evolution through natural selection. But beyond sharing his ideas with a close circle of scientist friends, Darwin told no one of his views on the origin and development of life. Indeed, he did not publish his now-famous volume, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, until 1859, more than 20 years after he had first formulated his theory.

Read the full report Darwin and His Theory of Evolution on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.