|Airdate||May 3, 2005|
Charles Darwin launched in BrainPOP Science/Social Studies May 3, 2005.
Charles Darwin’s title on the HMS Beagle was “captain’s companion,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: He was paid to be the captain’s friend.
While the captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy (pictured), had proven himself a capable sailor, he had never captained a ship for a full voyage before. FitzRoy knew that a long journey would be both stressful and lonely — in fact, the previous captain of the Beagle had committed suicide while the ship was off the coast of South America.
Since FitzRoy was from an aristocratic background, while the rest of the crew was drawn from the uneducated working classes (such was life under the British class system), he wanted to have someone on board with whom he could dine and also converse about scientific matters.
The 22-year-old Darwin fit the bill. As the son of a wealthy family, he shared FitzRoy’s upbringing and education. He was also close to FitzRoy’s age — the captain was only 23! Apparently, Darwin and FitzRoy got on pretty well, although Darwin wrote that FitzRoy’s hot temper would occasionally lead to quarrels “bordering on insanity.”
Interestingly, FitzRoy also gave Darwin a copy of Charles Lyell’s book, Principles of Geology. This book provided evidence that most geological formations were created by the extremely slow buildup of materials over time. It probably influenced Darwin’s theory of the slow-moving processes of natural selection!
Here are some quotes attributed to Charles Darwin!
“In the survival of favoured individuals and races, during the constantly-recurring struggle for existence, we see a powerful and ever-acting form of selection.”
“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.”
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
“I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.”
“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities ... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.”
In Depth Edit
So why did Darwin wait so long to publish On the Origin of Species? It’s a pretty complicated story.
In 1844, a book proposing another theory of evolution, called Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, became a bestseller in Great Britain. Its author was Scottish journalist Robert Chambers (pictured), who was so worried about the reaction it would cause that he published it anonymously.
Unfortunately, Chambers was not half the scientist Darwin was, and his work was not well backed up by experimentation. At the time, the British scientific establishment was controlled by noblemen, and they didn’t treat the theory too kindly. They quickly pointed out Chambers’s over-reliance on guesswork, and Darwin himself considered the work clever but basically unscientific.
To avoid the same fate, Darwin wanted to make sure his theory was as thorough and scientific as possible. But doing so was a long, painstaking task—especially since Darwin suffered from serious medical problems during much of this period.
Darwin slowly revealed his theories to his most trusted friends and colleagues, and relied on their questions and comments to help him refine his work. But he remained afraid of the uproar his ideas might cause, and wrote that informing others of his theories was “like confessing a murder.”
It was only after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace had begun publishing ideas that were similar to Darwin’s own that he sped up his publication schedule.
- After his voyage on the Beagle, Darwin suffered from poor health for the rest of his life. Modern medical explanations of his illness include: panic disorder, the insect-caused Chagas’ disease; an inner ear imbalance called Meniere’s disease; lactose intolerance; a combination of allergies; lupus; and even arsenic poisoning.
- Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, published a groundbreaking work called Zoonomia in the late 1700s. In the book, Erasmus argued that all life on Earth may have arisen from a single common ancestor. Hmmm, sounds familiar!
- Darwin was a strong opponent of slavery. In fact, he was afraid that pro-slavery activists would use his theories to justify this hideous practice. And in fact, this eventually did happen; a controversial idea known as social Darwinism suggests that the supposed “superiority” of certain people and races has an evolutionary basis.
- Charles Darwin’s wife Emma was deeply Christian, and her husband’s religious skepticism worried her deeply. Among the letters made public after Darwin’s death was a message from his wife urging him not to apply scientific standards of proof to matters of faith. Darwin adored his wife, and wrote at the bottom of this letter: “When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cried over this.”
- As a young man, Darwin was an obsessive collector of beetles.
- Charles Darwin didn’t just collect animal specimens—he ate a lot of them, too, including iguanas and armadillos! During the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin and the rest of the crew ate their way through 48 Galapagos tortoises!