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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


March 1838 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith) (Birth of a Theory)

In his secret notebooks, Darwin shifts his focus to humankind as a species.

"Man -- wonderful Man, with divine face, turned towards heaven, he is not a deity, his end under present form will come ... he is no exception. -- he possesses some of the same general instincts and feelings as animals."

A visit to the zoo in Regent's Park London, where he sees an orangutan named Jenny, only confirms his conviction.

"Let man visit Ourang-outang in domestication, hear its expressive whine, see its intelligence when spoken [to]; as if it understands every word said -- see its affection. -- to those it knew. -- See its passion & rage, sulkiness, & very actions of despair ..."

Then, Darwin thinks of the people of Tierra del Fuego, and others he saw on the Beagle voyage.

"[L]et him look at the savage, roasting his parent, naked, artless, not improving yet improvable & let him dare to boast of his preeminence."

Darwin not only sees humans as a species like any other, subject to nature's laws; he also doubts that there is a divinely ordained hierarchy of species. "It is absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another," he writes. "We consider those, where the intellectual faculties most developed as highest. -- A bee doubtless would [use] ... instincts as a criterion."

October 1838 (Birth of a Theory)

Economist Thomas Malthus paints a grim picture of humanity out of control. Populations grow faster than food supplies, and, if left unchecked, rapid population growth leads to struggle and starvation. His followers argue that cutting off charity to the poor will help stop the human tide.

"[F]ifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, 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 a new species.

"Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it."

Within any population, individuals have different traits. In the struggle for existence, nature favors, or "selects," those traits that help an individual survive and reproduce. These traits are then passed on to future generations, and the population as a whole changes. This, in essence, is Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

November 1838-Spring 1839 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

Charles marries Emma Wedgwood, a devout Christian. He confides his doubts to her, yet assures her that he believes in leading a moral life. But Emma is anxious, fearing that she and her precious husband may not spend eternity in heaven together. She writes:

"Your mind and time are full of the most interesting subjects and thoughts of the most absorbing kind ... but which make it very difficult for you to avoid casting out as interruptions other sorts of thoughts ... May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing till it is proved, influence your mind too much in other things which cannot be proved in the same way, and which if true are likely to be above our comprehension ...

"I should be most unhappy if I thought we did not belong to each other forever. I am rather afraid my own dear [husband] will think I have forgotten my promise not to bother him, but I am sure he loves me, and I cannot tell him how happy he makes me and how dearly I love him and thank him for all his affection which makes the happiness of my life more and more every day."

Realizing that he can never give Emma the assurance she longs for, Charles is crushed by what he calls her "beautiful letter." He saves it for the rest of his life, and writes on it, "When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cryed [sic] over this."

In his old age, Darwin writes of Emma, "She has been my greatest blessing, and I can declare that in my whole life I have never heard her utter one word which I had rather have been unsaid ... I marvel at my good fortune that she, so infinitely my superior in every single moral quality, consented to be my wife."

-> Go to 1842-1854


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

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