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Born in Shrewsbury, England, grandson of famed pottery maker Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795), Charles Robert Darwin was educated at Cambridge, where he became interested in science in general and, more particularly, in the evolution of the natural world. Until the early nineteenth century, it was common to believe that the earth and our natural environment had been created exactly as it is reported in the Bible, and both the environment and the earth had remained roughly the same since their inception.
By Darwin's time, however, many scientists had come to believe that living things could change over time as part of an evolutionary process. People who espoused this theory were known as evolutionists. And those who believed the Bible to be the literal truth were known as creationists.
English scientist (1809-1882). It provoked controversy in the world of the time by proposing that the man the monkey descended from the same ancestor.
Creationists believe that all species - from oysters to humans, for example - had been created in exactly the same way we see them today, and have always had the same shape. Evolutionists, by contrast, maintain that one species is capable of changing from one generation to the next. And that two similar but different species, such as lions and tigers, may have the same common ancestor that lived millions of years ago. Although the idea of evolution has been discussed in Greece since the fifth century BC, Darwin was the first man to formulate a very detailed theory on this controversial subject.
After graduating from Cambridge, Darwin accepted the post of naturalist (without earning a salary) for five years on a research expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. The Beagle left England in December 1831 and returned in October 1836. During the five-year voyage, his crew explored South America, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous islands through which he passed. From results gathered from the expedition, Darwin began to synthesize his theory of evolution. He found that on remote islands, such as the Galapagos, near the western coast of South America, the species were very different from the relative species found on the continents. With this, he concluded that although they had a common ancestor, the different environment over time had led species to "evolve" differently as well.
Darwin continued to refine his theory of natural selection, which said that species evolved because nature "selected" the fittest plants and animals in specific environments. It took him twenty years to fully detail his theory, but when his book The Origin of Species was finally published in 1859, he radically influenced the theories of the biological sciences of the day, totally changing people's view of world history and of the environment in which they lived.
In 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man, in which he speculated about the evolution of humans, exposing the controversial theory that people had evolved from a nonhuman ancestor they shared with apes. He has also written lengthy scientific treatises on plant biology, as well as a variety of topics such as coral reefs, volcanic islands, and South American geology.