Richard Dawkins was born in 1941 in Kenya to parents who worked in the British colonial civil service. After returning to England, Dawkins enrolled in Oxford University. There he earned a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in zoology, the study of animals. Dawkins spent the majority of his career at Oxford, where he both lectured and wrote books on the latest discoveries in evolutionary biology. Dawkins wrote these books to help readers gain a better understanding of how evolution works and its impact on life's development. He retired from Oxford in 2008. Dawkins remains an active part of the evolutionary biology community by giving lectures and writing books.
Charles Darwin was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. In 1831 he undertook a five-year expedition on the HMS Beagle. Darwin studied thousands of species as the ship visited South America, Africa, Australia, and islands in the South Pacific. The over 700-page journal he wrote during the journey laid the scientific groundwork for On the Origin of Species. Darwin died in 1882.
Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born in 1890 in London. He became interested in evolution and genetics while studying mathematics and astronomy at Oxford University. He devised a series of experiments using plants and applied statistical analysis to the results. His later work involved his theory of runaway sexual selection. Certain animals' traits, such as a male peacock's ornate tail, evolved rapidly due to a positive feedback loop wherein the genes for larger tails in males and the genes for preferring larger tails in females developed together.
Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould earned a Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University. Along with his colleague Niles Eldredge, he developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972. The theory states that when a species faces only minor changes in its environment, it evolves very slowly. However, when members of a species relocate, they quickly evolve to survive. Such events happen when animals migrate to a new island or the other side of a mountain range. Punctuated equilibrium does not overturn or modify the standard evolutionary theory in a significant way. Gould died in 2002.
Graham Cairns-Smith was born in 1931. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1957 from the University of Edinburgh. He came up with the clay hypothesis while working at the University of Glasgow. The clay hypothesis states that, because clay crystals have a unique form of replication, they may represent the intermediate step between inorganic material and life. He proposed that clays may have used organic material to promote replication. At some point these organic materials took over, creating modern life. Cairns-Smith died in 2016.
William Paley was born in 1743 in England. He entered the Anglican priesthood at the age of 20. He spent most of his career teaching and performing research at Christ's College, Cambridge, his alma mater. His work focused on the philosophy of religion. He famously proposed that because only a highly skilled person can create an intricate watch, complex life must also have a maker, God. Paley died in 1805, and his work fell out of favor in the religious and scientific communities in the following decades.