On this date in History ... 1859:
Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species by Means of
Natural Selection” is published in England. Darwin’s theory argued that organisms and
species evolved by means of a process on which adaption to the environment
sustained life. He hesitated to publish his findings because it was in contrast
to biblical teaching and in fact, when he did publish, scientists embraced it
while Christians condemned it as heresy. Darwin was buried in Westminster
Abbey, “next to kings and queens”, in honor of his scientific contributions.
While doing his research, he found that a species of
bird found on two different islands had 2 different sized beaks. One
island-bird grew a longer beak because flowers on that island were deep,
cup-shaped and the longer beak was needed to get the bugs that lived inside the
flower. His research was obtained during
a 5 yr trip on the ship “HMS Beagle” in the 1830s to places like the Galapagos
A variation of Darwin’s theory took hold in the
1870-1890s as “Social Darwinism”, an idea that people evolve socially and those
who survive the economic hardships are meant to while those who don’t survive
are considered the weaker strain and should die off anyway, justifying
political policies that neglected to care for the poor and those who needed
assistance. The idea of Social Darwinism gave birth to eugenics, scientific
racism, and Nazism.
Darwin came from a well-known family and a line of
scientists. His maternal grandfather was
china manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood. His
paternal grandfather was a “leading intellectual of 18th century
England” and a botanist and his father was a medical doctor. Growing up as a
child with wealth and the privilege that comes with it, gave him the
opportunity to spend time studying nature.
Darwin and his wife had ten children; two died in
infancy and one died at age ten. Darwin
was constantly worried whenever his children became ill that they may have
inherited a weakness from inbreeding due to his close relationship with his
wife, Emma Wedgwood, who was also his cousin.
His fears about such weaknesses went unfounded: three of his children grew up to be
scientists and one to be a mathematician.