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course_reading_2 - Darwin and Natural Selection Most...

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Darwin and Natural Selection Most educated people in Europe and the Americas during the 19th century had their first full exposure to the concept of evolution through the writings of Charles Darwin . Clearly, he did not invent the idea. That happened long before he was born. However, he carried out the necessary research to conclusively document that evolution has occurred and then made the idea acceptable for scientists and the general public. This was not easy since the idea of evolution had been strongly associated with radical scientific and political views coming out of post-revolutionary France. These ideas were widely considered to be a threat to the established social and political order. Charles Darwin was born into a moderately wealthy family in Shrewsbury, England. His father, Robert, had the largest medical practice outside of London at the time and his mother, Susannah Wedgwood, was from a family of wealthy pottery manufacturers. She died when Charles was only 8 years old. Thereafter, he was raised mostly by his father and older sisters. Charles grew up in comparative luxury in a large house with servants. However, this was a socially very conservative time in England that set narrow limits on a young man's behavior and future possibilities. The constraints on women in Darwin's social class were even greater. Most were given only enough education to efficiently manage the homes of their future husbands and raise their children. Young men were expected to go to university in order to prepare themselves to become medical doctors, military officers, or clerics in the Church of England. Most other occupations were considered somewhat unsavory. At his father's direction, Charles Darwin started university at 16 in Edinburgh, Scotland as a medical student. He showed little academic interest in medicine and was revolted by the brutality of surgery. He dropped out after two years of study in 1827. His father then sent him to Cambridge University in 1828 to study theology. It was there that his life's direction took a radical change. He became very interested in the scientific ideas of the geologist Adam Sedgwick and especially the naturalist John Henslow with whom he spent considerable time collecting specimens from the countryside around the university. At this time in his life, Darwin apparently rejected the concept of biological evolution, just as his mentors Sedgwick and Henslow did. However, Darwin had been exposed to the ideas of Lamarck about evolution earlier while he was a student in Edinburgh. Following graduation from Cambridge in 1831 with a degree in theology, Darwin was clearly more interested in biology than he was in a clerical career. Fortunately, John Henslow was able to help him secure a berth on a British Navy mapping expedition that was going around the world on what would ultimately become a five year long voyage.
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