Charles Darwin’s Theory of EvolutionJune 26, 2021
“Are you related to monkeys by your grandparents or by your grandparents?”
This is the question that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce arrogantly asked Thomas Henry Huxley in a famous discussion they had at the Oxford Museum of Natural History in 1860. Huxley was defending the ideas of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Wilberforce’s question was asked as both an insult and a joke. But it backfired. Huxley murmured in a low voice, “God, thank you for handing him over to me”, then said that he would rather be related to a monkey than a human who avoids discussion by making fun of scientific ideas.
Actually, he could tell from ape-like ancestors from both sides, maybe not recently, but in the past. This was Darwin’s claim. Everyone had monkeys in their family tree. This view has caused quite a stir since his book “The Origin of Species” was published in 1859. It was no longer possible to consider humans to be completely different from the rest of the animal kingdom. Humans were no longer private: they were part of nature, like any animal. This may not surprise you, but for most Victorians it was.
You might think it would be enough to spend a few minutes with a chimpanzee or a gorilla or take a good look in the mirror to realize how close we are to the apes. But almost everyone in Darwin’s time thought that humans were very different from other animals and found the idea of distant kinship with them absurd. There were many who thought Darwin was insane and demonic. Some Christians were firmly convinced that the story in the Book of Genesis about how God created all animals and plants in six days was true. God had designed the world and everything in it and gave everything its place for it forever. These Christians believed that animal and plant species remained the same since Creation. Even today there are people who do not believe that evolution was the process that got us to where we are.
Darwin was a biologist and geologist, not a philosopher. You may be wondering why it is in a section of philosophy.gen.tr. This is because the theory of evolution by natural selection and modern versions of the theory have influenced philosophers thinking about humanity as well as scientists. The theory of evolution is the most influential scientific theory of all time. Daniel Dennett, one of the philosophers of the modern era, calls it “the best idea that has ever come to mind”. The theory explains how humans and the animals and plants around them came to be and are still changing.
One consequence of this scientific theory was that it became easier than ever to believe in the idea that there is no God. Zoologist Richard Dawkins says, “I can’t imagine being an atheist before 1859, when The Origin of Species was published.” Of course, there were atheists before 1859. David Hume, the subject of Chapter 17, was probably one of them, but their number increased later. You don’t have to be an atheist to believe evolution is true: Many believers are Darwinists. But you cannot be a Darwinian and believe that God created all species exactly as they are today.
As a young man, Darwin embarked on a five-year voyage on the ship “HMS Beagle” and visited South America, Africa and Australia. This was the adventure of his life, as it would be for anyone. Prior to this trip, he was not a promising student, and no one expected him to make such a striking contribution to human thought. He wasn’t a genius at school. His father believed that his son would be a waste of time and embarrassment for his family, since Darwin spent most of his time hunting and shooting rats. He began his medical studies in Edinburgh as a teenager, but without success and turned to study theology at Cambridge University to become a minister. He was an avid naturalist who collected plants and insects in his spare time, but there was no indication that he would become one of history’s greatest biologists. In many ways, he seemed a little confused. He really didn’t know what he wanted. However, the Beagle journey changed him completely.
The trip was a scientific expedition around the world, partly with the aim of mapping the shores of the places visited by the ship. Unqualified, Darwin took a job as the ship’s official botanist, but he also studied stones, fossils, and animals in detail wherever they went. This little ship was quickly filled with samples Darwin had collected. Fortunately, he was able to send most of his collection to England for storage ready for research. Arguably the most valuable part of the trip was their visit to the Galapagos Islands, a group of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles from South America. The Beagle reached the Galapagos Islands in 1835. There were loads of interesting animals to study here, such as giant tortoises and sea-loving iguanas. Although he was still very hungry for Darwin at the time.