Human Genetics

How did Darwin come up with his natural selection theory?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Charles Darwin didn't work in a lab like today's scientists and geneticists. In fact, he disappointed his father by preferring the natural sciences to medicine. It seems the young Darwin was squeamish about cutting into patients so Dr. Robert Waring Darwin sent him to Cambridge's Christ's College, hoping his son would grow up to be a religious parson. The younger Darwin never entered a religious vocation. Like many scientists in Victorian England, he never even held a paying job. Instead, he pursued his scientific passions while living on inherited money.

    In 1831, Charles Darwin was invited to accompany British aristocrat Robert Fitzroy on a government-funded voyage to chart South America's coastal waters. Darwin ended up spending most of the five-year trip exploring the wildlife of South America and its islands (including the Galápagos), compiling notes and collecting specimens. He began to think that maybe all of the variations he encountered were caused by natural selection instead of divine creation. By comparing modern specimens with fossils, he theorized that the newer species derived from similar older versions and those that didn't adapt became extinct.

    After returning from his voyage, Darwin studied, experimented and worked on a three-volume series he had tentatively titled "Natural Selection." Darwin was one of the first scientists to consider that natural selection - instead of God - had created every species. He suggested that human beings share ancestors with the rest of the animal kingdom and evolved from earlier species. Darwin was concerned about how the world would react to his theories, but he didn't want almost 30 years of research to go to waste. When he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, who had similar ideas, Darwin decided to publish his book, retitled, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life" in 1859.

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