Charles Darwin
Researched and written by:  Shayla R. Porter
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”


            Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England.  Darwin’s father was Robert Darwin, a physician; and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a famous philosopher and naturalist.  Darwin’s mother, Susannah Wedgwood, died when he was eight years old (Wyhe, 2002).  Charles showed great interest in collecting things, especially beetles.  At the age of sixteen Darwin was sent to study medicine at Edinburgh University.  Because of his repulsion of surgery without the use of anesthesia and lack of interest in medicine, Darwin earned poor grades and his father sent him to the University of Cambridge where he was to become a clergyman.  He stayed at the University of Cambridge for three years and continued to do poorly in academia.  In 1828, Darwin was introduced to John Stevens Henslow, a cleric-botanist and his biology professor.  Henslow’s mentorship led to Darwin’s interest in science.

           In 1831, Charles Darwin was invited to journey as an unpaid naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle.  The HMS Beagle was to be sent on a five year (1831-1836) scientific voyage around the world.  At first, Darwin was rejected from the HMS Beagle because, according to the captain, Robert Fitzroy, his nose resembled that of a lazy man. Darwin was eventually accepted on board because Captain Fitzroy wanted a naturalist to accompany him along the journey.  Darwin, of course, was not the right man for the job. On the voyage, Darwin served as a geologist, botanist, and zoologist (Landry, 1998).  The data that Darwin gained from his voyage allowed for three books of material on South American geology.  In 1840, Darwin published Zoology of the Beagle which was the beginning of Darwin’s work in evolution.  Darwin laid the foundations for modern theories on coral reefs which won him the Royal Medal (Scott, 1998).   

           During his voyage, Darwin read a book by Charles Lyell entitled Principle of Geology which argued that the earth had changed over a long period of time due to natural disturbances (Wyhe, 2002).  This work influenced Darwin because Lyell discussed a gradual process of natural change that was occurring through the years.  Darwin also read work by Reverend Thomas Malthus.  Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population stated that if human populations were not checked there would be an extensive diminishing of food and resources; this means that the human population could outgrow the food resources if not controlled.  During his voyage, Darwin observed that this population check was present throughout nature (Wyhe, 2002).  In 1846, he began working on monographs about marine invertebrates.  Darwin became an expert on barnacles and his work established him as a specialist in taxonomy and geology.

           His research on the Beagle was the foundation his most profound work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection which was published in 1859.  In On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin argued that species were “modified descendants of earlier forms” (Wyhe, 2002, p. 6).  His second major work was The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex which was published in 1871 and focused on the similarities between humans and animals in mental processing.  Darwin noted that there was no difference in kind between man and animal only a difference in degree (Wyhe, 2002).  This means that there were similarities in mental processing between humans and animals and that the only distinction was in the degree in which humans and animals processed information.  Charles Darwin is well-known because he proposed a practical mechanism for evolution, namely natural selection.  Darwin’s theory on natural selection raised questions amongst scholars on mental functioning between humans and other animals.  Animal psychology came into play because psychologists began to focus on mental functioning in animals due to the questions raised by Darwin.  

           The social zeitgeist at the time was being transformed by the Industrial Revolution; people were no longer looking to the Bible for answers (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).  Darwin waited for an extensive amount of time before publishing any of his ideas on evolution because he wanted strong empirical and irrefutable support for his ideas.  If it were not for a letter written to Darwin by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 describing a similar theory of evolution with little data and research, Darwin might have postponed releasing his theory even longer.  Because Darwin wanted to be fair to Wallace, he decided to have both works read at a meeting of the Linnaen Society.  In addition to his success with On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin had many accomplishments throughout his lifetime. 

           Directly after the voyage, Darwin was made a fellow of the Geological Society.  He was also elected to its governing council.  In 1838, Darwin was elected to the Athenaeum which is an exclusive club for distinguished men.  In 1839 he was elected to the Royal Society and published his Journal of Researches into the Geology of Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle (Crystal, 1995). Another of Darwin’s work, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published in 1872, explained how facial expressions used today were maintained through evolutionary means.  In the last years of his life, Darwin published The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms (1881) which described a process of gradual accumulation of mould (Wyhe, 2002).  Darwin also contributed to child psychology in 1877 with a journal article in Mind entitled “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant.”  This article expressed the point of child developmental stages that relates to human evolution (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).
           Darwin married in 1839 to Emma Wedgwood, his cousin (Wyhe, 2002).  Together they had ten children, but only seven made it to mature ages.  Darwin was frequently ill, though his symptoms were neurotic in nature and occurred when there was any disruption in his lifestyle; his ailments were a defense mechanism against the outside world allowing him to concentrate on his theory (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).  Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.  

           Charles Darwin was a great contributor to psychology and to society as a whole.  He brought about a new outlook on humans and our existence in this world. Darwin’s studies and theory broke the limit on the types of data that could be collected; he included data from all fields of study which opened psychology up to new methodology.  Darwin was also a major contributor to ecology and botany.  Darwin’s major contribution, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), has had a tremendous impact on human nature in psychology, biology, and other scientific fields of study. Darwin was the leading force in research on the advancement of humans and other species in society.





Crystal, E. (1995). Charles Darwin. E-Zine, 1-8.

Landry, P. (1998). The scientists: Charles Darwin. Biographies, 1-6.

Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. (2004). A history of modern psychology (8th ed.). Las Vegas, NV: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Scott, M. (1998). Charles Darwin. Strange Science, 1-3.

Wyhe, J. V. (2002). The writings of Charles Darwin. British Library, 1-8.



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