The Influence Of Writers On Charles Darwin


The theory of Evolution as presented by Charles Darwin has had a
great impact on the world today. It has caused many debates between
religious authorities and those from the scientific community. This theory
had prompted individuals to think about themselves, their origins and it
has changed the way in which they view themselves in the environment.
However, Darwin was not the first person to write on evolution. There were
many others before him such as Lamarck, Buffon, and Darwin\'s grandfather
Erasmus Darwin. However, what distinguishes Charles Darwin from the others
is the fact that he collected and provided substantial proofs and he
related various branches of science such as geology, botany and biology
which helped validate his theories. His theory of natural selection as
stated by Nelson and Jurmain (1991, p.606) in the modern form is that "the
evolutionary factor causes changes in allele frequencies in populations due
to differential net reproductive success of individuals." His grasp of the
evolutionary process and the clarity of his work makes Charles Darwin the
most popular figure in the scientific field of Evolution (Francoeur, 1965,
p.34). Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was the fourth child of Dr. Robert
Darwin and grandson of Erasmus Darwin. Much of Charles\' childhood was
spent collecting insects, coins and reading various literature on natural
history, travel and poetry. Charles Darwin was not a scholarly student
during his years at Edinburgh Medical College. He disliked what was taught
and found most of the lectures boring, yet he developed a natural interest
in studying rocks and fossils. He convinced his father that he could not
be a doctor as his father had wished, so instead Charles Darwin studied
Theology at the University of Cambridge. After his studies he was given
the opportunity to travel on the H.M.S. Beagle as a naturalist. Darwin
took this opportunity and it is this voyage that propelled him to begin his
work on evolution. During his research, Darwin read several references
which greatly influenced his own writings. Although there were many factors
which affected Darwin\'s theories this paper will discuss how Darwin was
influenced by the beliefs of William Paley, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Malthus
and Charles Lyell.

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was a well renowned doctor, poet and
philosopher who wrote many books concerning nature. Among his works
Zoonomia, a medical textbook, has received the most attention. In this work
Erasmus Darwin expressed such ideas as "evolution by natural and sexual
selection, protective adaptation, inheritance of acquired characteristics,
and even the evolution of mankind" almost fifty years before Charles Darwin
(Nelson & Jurmain., 1991, p.32). Erasmus Darwin had said that all
different living things were produced over millions of years by one
original ancient parent, such that each offspring had a natural tendency to
improve itself (Karp, 1968, p.14). However, fossil records show that this
theory of one original parent was not probable (Karp, 1968, p.14). His
opposition toward any form of organized religion and his rejection of
Christianity was considered to be superficial and eccentric (Chancellor,
1973, p.21). His tendency to theorize and create wild speculations
without testing his theories caused his reputation as a scientist to
suffer. By the end of the 18th century all discussions of evolution were
suppressed because of the rigid creationist views held by the Church who
persecuted anyone who challenged their beliefs (Chancellor, 1973, p.41).
It was not until the publication of Charles Darwin\'s The Origin of Species
that the discussion of evolution was revived.

Being well renowned, Erasmus\' work was discussed in his family
circle thus exposing Charles to the work of his grandfather early on in his
life. Moreover, Charles Darwin having interest in poetry and philosophy
was naturally inclined to study the work of his grandfather. Although
Erasmus did not solve the problem of the process of evolution, the reading
and exposure of his work made it easier for Charles Darwin to approach the
topic and see it in a different perspective from Erasmus (Karp, 1968,
p.17).

In his early days at Cambridge University, Darwin was heavily
interested in the works of William Paley (1743-1805) a famous theologist
in his time. Paley\'s works which include Evidences of Christianity and
Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy were required reading at the
university. However, Darwin was most impressed by Natural Theology at the
time. In this paper Paley examined the mechanism of the earth, its
creatures, the complexity of their adaptations, their effective use of
natural resources and their successful defence against nature. Paley also
argued the inevitability of a Creator: "Design must have a designer. That
designer must have been a person. That person is God" (Brent, 1981,
p.274). As a