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Evolutionary Biologist

(2007-05-10 21:51:14)
Evolutionary Biologist—Charles Darwin进化论生物学家——查尔斯·达尔文

By Mike Pilewski

张永芳 译





It seems that every other day brings a “revolution in science”: a new discovery or a new product that promises to change the way we do something forever. Very few of these revolutions have been as fundamental as they claim to be, however. Perhaps only two have changed the very way mankind sees its place in the universe. The first revolution happened when Nicolaus Copernicus no longer saw the Earth as a motionless point at the centre of the universe but as moving in “revolutions”, or circles, around the sun. The second happened when Charles Darwin realized that that same Earth, along with the living creatures upon it, was always changing, or evolving, through natural means.



Born in Shrewsbury, England, in 1809, Darwin was the son of a wealthy doctor. At the age of 14, he went to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but found that surgery was too much for him. Instead, he began learning about the natural world as a pupil of Robert Grant, an expert on sponges. As they looked for sea creatures together on the Firth of Forth, Grant taught Darwin about the remarkable theories of several French scientists.



Georges Cuvier had looked at fossils in rock strata and observed how the ones that lay deeper looked less like familiar animals. But Etienne St. Hilaire observed that all living animals had similar organs and anatomies. To Jean-Baptiste Lamarck this meant that, over time, all animals were changing their form.



Darwin was fascinated. Unable to finish his medical studies, though, he was sent by his father to Cambridge to study theology. It wasn’t long before there, too, Darwin turned to biology. His hobby of collecting beetles led him to a botany professor, Reverend J. S. Henslow, who invited Darwin to join his natural history course. Darwin learned well; and when he finished his studies, Henslow arranged for him to join a two-year expedition on the HMS Beagle to South America in December 1831.

达尔文着迷了。但由于他未能完成医学学业,父亲又把他送到剑桥学习神学。到剑桥不久,达尔文再次转向生物学。收集甲虫的爱好让他结交了一位植物学教授,J. S. 亨斯洛神父。神父邀请达尔文去听自己的自然历史课。达尔文学习出色,在他完成学业后,1831年12月,亨斯洛安排他跟随英国皇家海军舰艇“比格尔号”到南美洲进行一项为期两年的科学探险活动。


The Beagle was on a mission to map the coastline for commercial and military purposes. Darwin was allowed to go on land often, where he made fascinating discoveries. He found the Brazilian rainforest a “chaos of delight”. He pulled out huge fossils of ancient animals from cliffs in Patagonia, and experienced an earthquake so powerful that it threw land up out of the sea. Crossing the Andes at an elevation of 4,000 metres, he found fossils of seashells in the rocks. Not far away was a petrified forest that had once been buried in sand.



Darwin’s enormous numbers of specimens and detailed notes on what he saw were sent back to Cambridge on other ships whenever the Beagle reached a major port. The voyage continued on to Tahiti and Australia, lasting three years longer than planned. Darwin returned to England 171 years ago, on 2 October 1836, to find that he was famous.



The leading scientists of the day were waiting to talk to him. Ornithologist John Gould told him the birds he had studied on the Galapagos Islands were perfectly adapted to the island environment. Palaeontologist Richard Owen told him the fossils he had found were of extinct relatives of South American animals living today.



In the stress of getting his journals and the reports on them ready for publication, Darwin began to suffer from an unknown illness. He went to stay with an aunt, and grew closer to her daughter, Emma Wedgwood. Darwin considered asking her to marry him. The reason for doing so, he wrote, was: “constant companion and a friend in old age... better than a dog, anyhow”. Reasons not to: “less money for books” and “terrible loss of time”. The couple were married after all, in 1839; they had ten children, three of whom died young.



Darwin was a successful geologist by day, and worked on his incomplete theory of evolution as a hobby for 20 years. He knew it would be controversial. It would, he said, be “like confessing a murder”. In 1859, he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The book immediately sold out. The scientific community was split, and Darwin was often drawn in caricatures such as the one shown here.



Illness kept Darwin from making many public appearances, but he continued to work and write at home. In his 1871 work The Descent of Man, Darwin concluded, “Man, with all his noble qualities ... with his godlike intellect, which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system ... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”



Darwin died in 1882. Decades later, his findings still so shook the world that they were the subject of legal debate, particularly in the United States. In the famous Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, a Tennessee schoolteacher defended his teaching of evolution in a courtroom, but lost the case. In 1968, the US Supreme Court decided in favour of the evolutionists. Since then, a movement driven by American Protestant churches has sought to introduce the teaching of “intelligent design” in schools in several US states.



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