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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


January 1836 (Voyage of the Beagle) (Birth of a Theory)

"An unbeliever in everything beyond his own reason might exclaim 'Surely two distinct Creators must have been [at] work.'"

Trekking into the outback west of Sydney, Australia, Darwin is struck by how different the marsupials here are to the placental mammals of Europe. He gets a close look at the anatomy of a rat kangaroo on a hunting trip with the manager of a sheep station. Why should such different animals inhabit different parts of the world?

Another shooting trip brings down one of the most bizarre creatures Darwin has ever encountered -- a web-footed, duck-billed platypus.

"I consider it a great feat, to be in at the death of so wonderful an animal."

Watching an Australian antlion assuages Darwin's religious doubts, at least for now. This insect catches its prey in the same intricate way European antlions do -- by creating a sand slide to bring prey into its mouth. "Now what would the disbeliever say to this? Would any two workmen ever hit on so beautiful, so simple & yet so artificial a contrivance? It cannot be thought so. -- The same hand has surely worked throughout the universe."

October 1836 (Voyage of the Beagle) (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

On Ascencion Island, one of the last stops of the voyage, Darwin receives a stunning letter. The prominent Cambridge geologist Adam Sedgwick has told his father that young Charles no doubt will take a place among the leading scientific men. "After reading this letter," Darwin later reports, "I clambered over the mountains of Ascension with a bounding step and made the volcanic rocks resound under my geological hammer!"

As the shores of Falmouth, England, heave in sight, Darwin (who never got over his seasickness) is thrilled to see the end of his five-year voyage. He has spent a total of 18 months on the open sea, and more than three years exploring on land.

His sisters guess that, by now, he has lost his yearning for a country parish: "Papa and we often cogitate over the fire what you will do when you return, as I fear there are but small hopes of your still going into the church."

Darwin has by no means given up his Christianity. He simply now wants to devote himself to studying nature. And his rising fame in scientific circles means that it is likely he can do so.

"The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on ... such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind."

"I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in natural science. But I was also ambitious to take a fair place among scientific men, -- whether more ambitious or less so than most of my fellow-workers I can form no opinion."

Darwin's collection from his journey contains 1,529 specimens in spirits and 3,907 labeled skins, bones, and other dried specimens. He also brings back notebooks filled with nearly 2,000 pages on geology and zoology. It will take years, and the help of many specialists, to sort through them.

Darwin's 770-page travel diary becomes the basis for the Journal of Researches. He later writes in old age, "The success of this my first literary child always tickles my vanity more than that of any of my other books."

Circa October 1836-January 1839 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

"During these two years I was led to think much about religion ... Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority ...

"By further reflecting ... that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become ... that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneous with the events, -- that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; -- by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation ...

"Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.

"But I was very unwilling to give up my belief."

The beautiful designs of nature, which Darwin before saw as evidence of God's work, he now sees as the products of natural selection. "The old argument of design in nature," he writes, "which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man ... Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws."

-> Go to 1837


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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