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Charles Darwin
A Gentle Revolutionary
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Most everyone recognizes the name of Charles Darwin. To
some he is an icon of rational thinking, to others a devil. His
near legendary status has made him seem larger than life.
Few people accurately understand the events in his life,
his motives, and his contributions to our understanding of
biology. Many modern readers wrongly consider Darwin to
be the sole developer of evolutionary theory and debunker
of religious creationism. In reality, Darwin’s work was just
one of many forms of evolutionary thinking at the time, and
it even included aspects of creationism. Some
conservative Christian groups have voiced that evolution
cannot be reconciled with their Church’s doctrine. Those
holding this stance overlook the fact that religious groups
of all faiths have long wondered how the diversity of life on
our planet arose. The real Darwin was a complex man,
very different than common perceptions of him.
Born in 1809, Charles Darwin had a family history of
interest and work in science. His grandfather, Erasmus
Darwin, had been a successful physician and naturalist,
writing his own ideas on evolution in the book Zoonomia.
His father, Robert Darwin, had also been a successful
physician. Charles remembered his father most fondly, as
his mother died when he was only eight years old.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Charles planned on
also being a physician. In 1825 he enrolled at Edinburgh
University to obtain his degree as a medical doctor.
However, much like students today, he found the lectures
boring, and he recoiled in disgust from his anatomy
classes, unable to stomach opened cadavers. He wrote:
The instruction at Edinburgh was altogether by lectures,
and these were intolerably dull, with the exception of those
on chemistry by Hope; but to my mind there are no
advantages and many disadvantages in lectures
compared with reading. Dr. Duncan’s lectures on Materia
Medica at 8 o’clock on a winter’s morning are something
fearful to remember. Dr. – made his lectures on human
anatomy as dull as he was himself, and the subject
disgusted me.
Much later when he had become a professional naturalist
and dissector of animals, he wished his anatomy professor
had forced him to practice dissection more, because of the
utility it held for his future work.
A career as a physician was not for Charles. He and his
father decided that he should pursue the life of a
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
www.storybehindthescience.org
clergyman. In 1827 Charles moved to Cambridge
University where those aspiring to be clergymen took the
same challenging classes as those studying to be
scientists. Over a hundred years before, Isaac Newton
had pursued a life in theology at Cambridge, only to turn
away when he deemed the Anglican Church to be full of
heresy. Darwin had sent himself down the same path to be
a clergyman, but would turn to a different career for a much
different reason than dissatisfaction with religious
doctrine.
The many theological works Darwin read at Cambridge
included Paley’s Natural Theology and Evidence of
Christianity. Paley argued that the supreme complexity of
life was evidence that all beings had been specifically
designed by a Creator. At this time, Darwin accepted the
divine creation of species, and found Paley’s arguments
agreeable. While at Cambridge, Darwin met the luminary
scientists William Whewell and John Herschel. Both
contributed to Darwin’s attitude and efforts toward
investigating nature. From Herschel came the balance of
observation and experiment. From Whewell came the idea
that successful scientific theories draw from many fields of
research. Thus, along with being well versed in theology,
Darwin became a keen observer and critical investigator in
the fields that we now call geology and zoology. Although
Cambridge infused Darwin with a scientific spirit, he again
found the classes boring and livened his days by gathering
and inspecting beetles he found in the courtyards:
But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so
much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as
collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for
I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external
characters with published descriptions, but got them
named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on
tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized
one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I
could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held
in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some
intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was
forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third
one.
Perhaps most important during his time in Cambridge, he
met and befriended one of the top geologists of the day,
Adam Sedgwick. President of the newly formed
Geological Society of London, Sedgwick took the young
1
Darwin on geological expeditions to Wales. At the time,
Sedgwick advocated a then popular position in geology
called ‘catastrophism,’ which argued that landscapes such
as mountains, canyons and lakes formed swiftly through
epic hurricanes, earthquakes or floods. Sedgwick
advocated this idea to Darwin on the trip to Wales. Darwin
had his reservations, but nonetheless developed a
passion for studying the natural world. His aspirations to
be a clergyman disappeared.
Upon returning from his trip to Wales, Darwin found an
irresistible job opportunity waiting for him. Captain FitzRoy
of the H.M.S. Beagle was about to set sail in order to
survey territory in South America and conduct scientific
experiments along the way. Fearing the daily drudgery of
interacting with sailors below his social status, the captain
had been looking for a scholarly gentleman to lighten the
days with intelligent conversation. Darwin accepted the
offer, and the ship set sail on December 27, 1831. Early on,
Darwin failed at his job of being a conversation piece.
While discussing theology or slave trade, both he and
FitzRoy often became enraged and unable to
communicate. They made peace as the voyage
continued, and maintained a friendship as the ship steered
along the coast of South America.
Darwin did not set out on this adventure with
the intent of undermining the view that all
species were divinely created. The situation
is better understood as that of a young man,
interested in the natural world, who was
offered an adventurous opportunity to
explore the world. Consider how you might
jump at such an opportunity! At this time,
evidence overwhelmingly supported the
idea that the Earth was very old, but just how
old was heavily debated. While ideas
regarding the evolution of species had been
proposed and discussed prior to this time,
Darwin did not appear to find them so
compelling that he would set out on this
voyage to determine how species
originated. Thus, nothing noteworthy
appears to have precipitated Darwin’s
change in thinking while at sea.
Discussions of evolution had been ongoing
for over a century by the time the Beagle
sailed. For example, the French botanist,
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, had written about
the evolution of species in the late-1700s
and early-1800s. Lamarck, like many
naturalists at that time (including Erasmus
Darwin), thought that life spontaneously
generated. This ‘natural’ creation could only
be responsible for very simple life forms. He
argued that once generated they began
2
climbing up the ‘ladder of life’ toward advanced life forms.
The most advanced forms, humans, were considered to
have made the furthest progress. Thus they were
considered the oldest beings on the ladder. Simpler
species had been more recently generated. One of
Lamarck’s more lasting contributions to the idea of
evolution was the concept of adaptability, although his
mechanism of use and disuse for how species adapt has
since been discredited. He thought that an organ or limb
would become stronger or more pronounced with more
use. For example, the more a giraffe stretched its neck for
food, the longer it would become. Disuse would result in an
organ or limb becoming smaller. He thought these sorts of
changes were passed to offspring.
Later, in 1844, Robert Chambers also put forth a popular
evolutionary idea. In his book, Vestiges of Natural
Creation, Chambers combined astronomy, geology,
theology, biology, and a lucid writing style to advocate that
life forms progressed according to a divine law. God, the
maker of the universal laws, had worked them out such
that species followed a set progression. Chambers was
not a scientist, but he read all the contemporary works on
evolution and developed a very influential argument that
many in the public took as the best explanation of
evolution.
!
Note that ideas regarding the evolution
of species did not originate with
Darwin. Moreover, people, like Darwin,
who believed in God, were often
advocating ideas regarding the
evolution of species.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Charles Lyell
Darwin would have read all of these works.
One could not be a naturalist in his day
without being familiar with Lamarck and the
Vestiges of Natural Creation (the latter he
would have read in 1844, seven years after
his return on the Beagle). However, on this
expedition, which Darwin famously
memorialized in his book Voyage of the
Beagle, he made two important
observations. The first had to do with
geology. In England, Sedgwick had trained
Darwin’s eye to see geological formations as
happening all at once. However, Darwin
couldn’t accept this view once he viewed the
rugged and varied landscapes of South
America. Before leaving England, Darwin
had acquired a copy of the geologist Charles
Lyell’s new book Principles of Geology,
which would become a classic in science.
This book essentially countered
catastrophism. Lyell argued that things like
mountains and rivers did not form all at once,
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
www.storybehindthescience.org
but gradually over time. As the Beagle passed through
Brazil, Darwin noted his approval of Lyell’s system, called
“uniformitarianism”.
Along the whole coast of Brazil, for a length of at least 2000
miles, and certainly for a considerable space inland,
wherever solid rock occurs, it belongs to a granitic
formation. The circumstance of this enormous area being
constituted of materials which most geologists believe to
have been crystallized when heated under pressure, gives
rise to many curious reflections. Was this effect produced
beneath the depths of a profound ocean? Or did a covering
of strata formerly extend over it, which has since been
removed? Can we believe that any power, acting for a time
short of infinity, could have denuded the granite over so
many thousand square leagues?
Darwin was saying that he couldn’t conceive of the granite
being produced under an ocean and then exploding up all
at once. Instead, he thought it more likely that such a vast
landscape had been slowly built up over time. He made
many more of these geological observations. They were
very important because he began to apply this
‘gradualism’ to his second important group of observations
he made on the trip: living organisms. Lyell, on the other
hand, associated his uniformitarianism principle with a
steady state viewpoint of the Earth and denied a
progressive evolution of species.
As the Beagle skirted the South American coast and pulled
in at the major ports of call, Darwin collected and
categorized insects, crustaceans, flowers, and made
observations of the larger mammals. Once collected, he
packed them up and left them at port for the next ship
bound for Cambridge. When he returned home, Darwin
practically had a library of foreign specimens to examine.
Perhaps the most famous example of his work as a
naturalist was conducted on the Galapagos Islands.
Arriving in September 1835, Darwin had by now become
very interested in the types of creatures inhabiting the
islands near the mainland. He noticed that of the birds on
the Galapagos, most of the landed birds (short fliers like
finches) were entirely unique to the islands. Other birds,
like seagulls, could fly back and forth between the islands
and the mainland.
This stirred Darwin’s imagination. If organisms were
uniquely created for their particular climate, then why
would island animals be so similar to land animals even if
they had completely different climates? In a famous
example, Darwin compared the Galapagos finches to the
mainland finches of Chile. They were pretty much the
same except for variations in their beak. The landscapes,
however, were entirely different. The Galapagos were
volcanic islands, while Chile was a mountainous region.
Darwin was puzzled. If these species were supposedly
created especially for the climate of the Galapagos, why
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
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would they be only slightly different than the mainland
birds? In his own words:
The naturalist, looking at the inhabitants of these volcanic
islands in the Pacific, distant several hundred miles from
the continent, yet feels that he is standing on American
land. Why should this be so? Why should the species which
are supposed to have been created in the Galapagos
Archipelago, and nowhere else, bear so plain a stamp of
affinity to those created in America?
Then he pushed the question one step further. Why would
two distant locales with similar environments, such as
Africa and South America, have completely different flora
and fauna? Again in Darwin’s words:
On the other hand, there is a considerable degree of
resemblance in the volcanic nature of the soil, in climate,
height, and size of the islands, between the Galapagos and
Cape de Verde Archipelagos: but what an entire and
absolute difference in their inhabitants! The inhabitants of
the Cape de Verde Islands are related to those of Africa, like
those of the Galapagos to America. I believe this grand fact
can receive no sort of explanation on the ordinary view of
independent creation; whereas on the view here
maintained, it is obvious that the Galapagos Islands would
be likely to receive colonists, whether by occasional means
of transport or by formerly continuous land, from America;
and the Cape de Verde Islands from Africa; and that such
colonists would be liable to modification; the principle of
inheritance still betraying their original birthplace.
In other words, Darwin began questioning that each
species had been uniquely created for its particular
environments. He doubted the view that every small island
in the ocean would have received a special visit from a
Creator. Rather, Darwin saw more reasonable the idea
that organisms had not been created on the islands.
Instead they were somehow transported there from the
mainland, and then began the slow changes that
developed them into different species. This change from
one species to another, often called transmutation,
became a staple of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.
1. Summarize the evidence and reasoning Darwin
uses to support the view that species change to
become adapted to their environment rather than
having been uniquely created for that
environment.
Upon returning to Cambridge in 1837 from his trip on the
Beagle, Darwin began the lengthy process of reviewing all
his specimens. In these first years back in England, he
married and had children, published his Voyage of the
Beagle, and caught up on research presented while he
was at sea. A significant influence on Darwin’s thinking
was an essay he read and incorporated into his notes in
3
1838. Roughly 40 years earlier, the clergyman Thomas
Malthus had published An Essay on the Principle of
Population. In that essay he stated that because mankind
tended to enjoy procreation, its population would, if
uninhibited, increase exponentially. Because resources
are limited, a struggle for existence would ensue. Malthus
believed this to be a simple fact of God’s law, and those
without food had a moral obligation to stop having children.
Darwin was struck by Malthus’ phrase “struggle for
existence”, and he made a creative leap in applying it to
the problem of species adaptation and divergence. When
Malthus had written the “struggle for existence”, he was
referring to wars between Asiatic tribes. Darwin
dissociated this idea from Malthus’ moral purpose and
applied it to species fighting for limited resources. Perhaps
some species might have an adaptive advantage over
others, and that would partially explain why so much
variety existed. The importance of his insight is illustrated
by his own words:
In October 1838… I happened to read for amusement
“Malthus on Population,” and being well prepared to
appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere
goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of
animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these
circumstances favourable variations would tend to be
preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The
result of this would be the formation of new species. Here
then I had at last got a theory by which to work…
After his return on the Beagle, Darwin began suffering
from a chronic stomach ailment and frayed nerves,
perhaps caused by a sickness he picked up in South
America. In 1842 he moved to the countryside for a more
quiet and calm life. That same year, Darwin wrote a sketch
of his thoughts in case he was to die. He had no intention of
publishing his thoughts at this time. He spent nearly twenty
more years analyzing his collections, conducting further
studies, and discussing ideas with others to garner what
he hoped would be overwhelming evidence for his ideas.
In 1844, the same year as the appearance of Chamber’s
Vestiges, Darwin made a first draft of his evolutionary
theory. In that essay Darwin argues that small changes in
local populations would, in time, accumulate and result in
an organism becoming incompatible with its ancestors.
This splitting, or speciation, would be gradual with no clear
cut-off point. This idea accounted for the trouble
naturalists often had determining separate species.
However, he didn’t want anybody to see the essay
because he had not figured out a mechanism responsible
for adaptation. Whereas Lamarck and Chambers thought
adaptation followed some sort of set plan, Darwin felt that
this didn’t make sense. A ladder of progression might
explain why species changed, but it couldn’t explain why
they “diverged,” or in other words, why so many varied
species existed.
4
2. Scientists are human beings and part of
society. Like all humans, their work is influenced
by the culture in which they exist.
a) What cultural factors are influencing
scientists’ thinking that adaptation must
follow some sort of plan?
b) How does Darwin’s struggles and anxiety
indicate he is wrestling with those same
cultural influences?
Darwin’s ongoing work was expansive and included, but
was not limited to, studying pigeon breeding, the
geographical distribution of organisms, and barnacles.
Darwin knew that breeders carefully paired males and
females possessing desired traits to emphasize those
traits in the offspring. Darwin knew, of course, that humans
were artificially selecting and breeding for desired traits.
But artificial breeding provided an analogy for how nature,
given far more time, might select for traits and result in
organisms adapted to their environment. Darwin reasoned
that the random or undirected variation from which
breeders select their traits must also exist in nature. This
natural selection is analogous to artificial selection, but the
former is far more pervasive and creative because it acts
continually on every feature in every generation.
As for barnacles, Darwin had collected a wide variety of
these little crustaceans, known for clinging to ship hulls. In
part, the barnacle research began because Darwin was
criticized for discussing species when he was an expert in
none. Furthermore, Darwin felt that studying variation in
the hapless crustaceans could help him understand why
all species undergo change. Prevailing ideas regarding
evolution accounted for wide variation in ‘advanced’ life
forms like birds or apes or humans, but it would not be
expected in the ‘primitive’ barnacles. Nonetheless, there
was variation and Darwin wanted to understand what
caused it. After years of study and reflection, in November,
1854 he outlined his principle of divergence. It stated that
divergence and eventual speciation would occur in
locations where competition for resources was keen. Key
to the process were the ecological pressures acting on
populations. Thus natural selection was not the sole
factor causing divergence.
Darwin had no “eureka” moment where he suddenly put all
the pieces together. Rather, his thinking continually
developed and many ideas had to be modified while others
abandoned. Around 1854, his thinking was as follows.
First, he thought that species did not ‘progress’ up a ladder,
but instead randomly ‘diverged’. What this meant was that
nature had no plan for how a species would develop, and
that species would naturally split off into different types
instead of moving toward a determined goal. Second, he
realized that the pressure causing this divergence was the
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
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competition for resources. Darwin accepted that long ago
God created one or more very primitive life forms. Those
original life forms then had the tendency to expand and
search for resources, and environmental changes drove
adaptation. One could not easily see these changes
because life forms did not continuously change. They only
changed when environmental factors, such as climate
change or access to resources, favored an adaptation.
Furthermore, many of these transition species did not
appear in the fossil record because fossilization was such
a rare occurrence in the first place.
For Darwin, another challenge loomed on the horizon –
convincing scientists that his ideas had merit. Fearing the
voracious readers of the Victorian age would ruin his life by
labeling him a ‘materialist’ or an ‘atheist,’ he had thus far
withheld publishing his ideas. However, he had long been
forging friendships with scientists dissatisfied over the
older evolutionary theories. Alfred Russel Wallace was
one of these colleagues. Unlike Darwin, Wallace’s world
travels were, at least in part, motivated by his view that the
idea of evolution was compelling.
In June 1858 while working in the Malay Archipelago,
Wallace wrote Darwin a letter presenting ideas very similar
to Darwin’s and seeking Darwin’s assessment prior to
publishing them. Until this point Darwin had never felt
rushed to present his work. Now with Wallace closing in,
he acted. Courageously, he first informed Charles Lyell
and another mutual friend, Joseph Hooker, of Wallace’s
letter. Darwin was so concerned about honesty that he
asked Lyell, “As I had not intended to publish any sketch,
can I do so honorably because Wallace has sent me an
outline of his doctrine? I would far rather burn my whole
book, than that he or any other man should think that I had
behaved in a paltry spirit.” After convening a group of
scientists to compare Darwin and Wallace’s notes, Darwin
was given his rightful priority in the matter. That August, the
Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of
London published a paper by Darwin alongside Wallace’s.
While Wallace had only recently come to his idea and had
very little support for it, Darwin raced to his pen and paper
and wrote On the Origin of Species practically from
memory. In the Origin, which Darwin once referred to as
“one long argument from the beginning to the end,” he
drew upon extensive taxonomical and geological research
he had conducted during the past twenty years. In the
closing days of November 1859, the first printing of his On
the Origin of Species appeared in London’s bookstores.
Darwin’s work was rewarded with a first-day sell-out of
1250 copies, a very large printing for the time.
!
Note that Darwin’s theory explaining the evolution of
species does not address the origin of life. The title of
his book refers to how the diversity of species arose,
not how life first arose.
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
www.storybehindthescience.org
Many scientists and public officials gradually accepted
Darwin’s ideas on evolution. However, Darwin’s primary
mechanism, natural selection, was widely rejected by
scientists for many years. Many scientists refused to
abandon the idea that evolution progressed toward some
proper end. Huxley didn’t accept gradualism, and thought
speciation could occur rapidly. Other scientists advocated
a kind of guided evolution. Even Darwin remained tied to
the past as illustrated by his admitting a role for Lamarkian
adaptation. As with most all advancement in science,
change was slow and no single piece of evidence brought
about our current understanding of evolution. Darwin’s
“one long argument” turned into a scientific debate that
continued for decades. The idea of evolutionary
“progress,” and the rejection of natural selection continued
until the synthesis with genetics early in the twentieth
century put those arguments to rest in the scientific
community.
!
Darwin’s ideas sparked debate and did not instantly
convince his scientific peers. This is typical of newly
proposed ideas in science and is not at all unique to
biological evolution.
Charles Darwin was a complex man who put a lifetime of
work into his theory of evolution. Very much a man of his
time, he infused his understanding of morality, order,
theology, economics, geology, and zoology into his theory.
Once published, it did not triumphantly storm the world. In
fact, it wouldn’t be considered a true landmark of science
until geneticists infused natural selection into their work on
heredity in the 1930s. In 1879 he published The Descent of
Man, which emphasized the importance of adapted
features in attracting sexual mates, and the application of
the theory of evolution to mankind. Contrary to popular
opinion, Darwin never claimed that man descended from
apes. Rather, he argued that man and apes descended
from a common ancestor, diverging gradually and
eventually resulting in the separate species we see today.
His work, again, was highly controversial both within and
outside the scientific community. During the past 100
years, overwhelming evidence has supported Darwin’s
most fundamental ideas regarding biological evolution.
Darwin’s theology at any given time in his work is much
debated. While he was never an atheist, Darwin’s
religiosity had faded by the time of his death, driven not by
his theory of evolution, but by his witnessing the painful
and early deaths of his daughters. His view that evolution
lacked purpose and his reservations about religion
undoubtedly caused him emotional and physical stress
that plagued him throughout his later life. To this day,
some religious groups continue to see Darwin as an
embodiment of the devil. This is far from the truth.
Believing that ultimately some power must be in charge,
5
Darwin died an agnostic. Recognizing his significant
contributions to science, the powers at that time, including
the Church, made sure that he was buried in London at
Westminster Abbey. In a service attended by England’s
dignitaries, Charles Darwin was buried next to another
icon in science, Sir Isaac Newton.
Many religious groups came to terms with evolution by the
1900s. One of Darwin’s colleagues argued that explaining
adaptation through natural selection fit with theists’ belief
that natural law is an expression of God’s will. Some
Calvinists used evolutionary thinking to argue that humans
were not a product of inevitable progress and had fallen
from grace. Today many religious groups have put forth
position statements in support of biological evolution.
However, some of the more conservative Christian and
Muslim religious groups continue to deny evolution.
Choosing to ignore that evolution has always been an idea
bigger than one man, these conservative groups
unfortunately target Darwin as a heretic.
!
Reactions toward biological evolution have varied
greatly. Many religious, science, and science
education groups have written position statements
supporting biological evolution as a sound scientific
idea (http://ncseweb.org/media/voices/religion). This
illustrates that public education controversies
regarding the teaching of biological evolution are not
simply a battle between religion and science.
3. Nobel prize winning scientist Percy Bridgeman
once stated that science is “doing one’s
damndest with one’s mind, no holds barred.” He
was expressing that doing science research
demands creativity and that scientists will use
most any method that will help them understand
the natural world. Many people wrongly think that
scientists follow a rigid step-by-step scientific
method when doing research. This
misconception wrongly leads to another
misconception that the value of a scientific claim
can only be made through a controlled
experiment. Many of the most well established
scientific ideas defy investigation by means of a
controlled experiment.
a) How might you account for the prevalence of
these two significant misconceptions
regarding how science research is done?
b) How might the public’s adherence to these
misconceptions cause them to reject
biological evolution?
4. Science’s approach to explaining events in the
universe without reference to the supernatural is
called “methodological naturalism”. Individual
scientists often have a deep personal faith in a
supernatural being, but when doing science,
researchers must provide natural rather than
supernatural explanations for phenomena. This
approach has undeniably been successful and
has provided useful scientific explanations for
phenomena that in the past were attributed solely
to supernatural intervention. How would
permitting supernatural explanations in science
interfere with the quest to develop explanations
humans can understand and use?
in
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Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary written by Blair Williams,
Michael P. Clough, Matthew Stanley, & James T. Colbert
Partial support for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation’s
Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program under
Award No. 0618446. Project Principal Investigator: Michael P. Clough. Any
opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Science Foundation.
Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary
www.storybehindthescience.org
Name _________________________________
Charles Darwin
Read the article: “Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary.” This article can be found on our D2L site OR at
http://www.storybehindthescience.org/pdf/darwin.pdf
Answer the following questions:
1. Summarize the evidence and reasoning Darwin uses to support the view that species change to become adapted to
their environment rather than having been uniquely created for that environment.
2. Scientists are human beings and part of society. Like all humans, their work is influenced by the culture in which they
exist.
a) What cultural factors are influencing scientists’ thinking that adaptation must follow some sort of plan?
b) How does Darwin’s struggles and anxiety indicate he is wrestling with those same cultural influences?
Adapted from Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary at www.storybehindthescience.org
Name _________________________________
3. Nobel prize winning scientist Percy Bridgeman once stated that science is “doing one’s damndest with one’s mind, no
holds barred.” He was expressing that doing science research demands creativity and that scientists will use most any
method that will help them understand the natural world. Many people wrongly think that scientists follow a rigid stepby-step scientific method when doing research. This misconception wrongly leads to another misconception that the
value of scientific claim can only be made through a controlled experiment. Many of the most well established scientific
ideas defy investigation by means of a controlled experiment.
a) How might you account for the prevalence of these two significant misconceptions regarding how science research is
done?
b) How might the public’s adherence to these misconceptions cause them to reject biological evolution?
4. Science’s approach to explaining events in the universe without reference to the supernatural is called
“methodological naturalism.” Individual scientists often have a deep personal faith in a supernatural being, but when
doing science, researchers must provide natural rather than supernatural explanations for phenomena. This approach
has undeniably been successful and has provided useful scientific explanations for phenomena that in the past were
attributed solely to supernatural intervention. How would permitting supernatural explanations in science interfere
with the quest to develop explanations humans can understand and use?
Adapted from Charles Darwin: A Gentle Revolutionary at www.storybehindthescience.org

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