Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer

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Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer

Charles Darwin, a British naturalist, revolutionized biology with his theory of evolution through the process of natural selection. Herbert Spencer was the major philosopher of biological and social evolution. Spencer's work significantly influenced 19th century developments in biology, psychology, sociology and anthropology. While Darwin was influential in the fields of natural history and geology, his theory of evolution created great controversy. He changed the way people thought about the role of humans in the natural world. Although these two men made advancement in the theory of evolution they had contrasting views regarding anthropological study.

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist who first solidly established the theory of organic evolution, in his work, The Origin of Species. Darwin was born in Shresbury, Shropshire on February 12, 1809. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a famous English scientist and poet. In 1825 the young Darwin went to Edinburgh University to become a doctor. The same year, however, he transferred to Christ's College in Cambridge in order to become a clergyman. During this time he befriended a man of science, John Steven Henslow. It was Henslow who recommended him for the unpaid position of naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle.

Darwin set sail on December 27, 1831 to study the Pacific coast of South America and the Pacific Islands. His other duty was to set up navigation stations in the area. He also studied the geology and biology of these areas. Upon his return in 1839, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, and was admitted to the Royal Society. He moved to Downe, Kent in 1842, and was plagued by ill health until his death. He apparently transmitted Trypanosomiastis from frequent bug bites in the Pacific. Darwin died on April 19, 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In The Origin of Species, Darwin presented his idea that species evolve from more primitive species through the process of natural selection, which occurs spontaneously in nature. In his theory of how natural selection occurs, known as Darwinism, he pointed out that not all individuals of a species are exactly the same. But, rather that individuals have variations and that some of these variations make their bearers better adapted to particular ecological conditions. He pointed out that most species have more chances of surviving and producing young than do less adapted, and that over the passage of time, are slowly weeded out. The accumulation of adaptations to a particular ecological system leads into the development of separate species, each adapted to its own ecolgoical area.

In 1837, Darwin began work on the concept that evolution is essentially brought about by three principles. The first being variation which is present in all life forms. However, he did not attempt to define it. The second principle is heredity, " the conservative force which transmits similar organic forms from one generation to another (2:57)." Lastly, the struggle for existence "determines which variations will survive in a given environment, thus altering life through a selective death rate (2:57-58)." He concluded that with all three factors combined that life will alter slowly and unnoticeably.

Herbert Spencer lived from 1820-1903. An English philosopher who advocated the importance of the individual over society and science over religion. He was born in Derby on April 27, 1820. He declined an offer to attend Cambridge, and his higher education was a result of reading, especially about the natural sciences. In 1848, he became subeditor of the Economist. In 1851, he published Social Statistics, in which he argues in favor of an extreme form of economic and social laissez faire and proceeded to call progress a necessity. In 1860 Spencer went to work on The Synthetic Philosophy, a combination work including psychology, biology, sociology, and morality. Spencer...
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