Charles Darwin Series

  • What's to Come?

    Future Radio and the U.E.A. are pleased to announce that we have started airing a 5 part series exploring the work of Charles Darwin which is back this Sunday 3pm. Featuring a host of contributors from the UEA and Norwich Castle Museum the programmes will be answering Future Radio listeners questions which were sent to the station . Sunday 26th July, 2nd 9th 16th 23rd August at 3pm.

  • About Darwin

    Charles Darwin: Happy 200th Birthday!

    The United Kingdom has produced many famous scientists, such as Issac Newton and Michael Faraday, but one of the most famous has to be Charles Darwin. In fact he is so well known and respected that he can still be seen today on the back of a ten pound note. Charles Darwin was born on the 12th of February 1809 in Shrewsbury, to a wealthy Doctor and his society wife. He was the 5th child in a family of 6 children and even as a young boy Charles had an interest in natural history. When he left school he chose to follow in the footsteps of his father and he moved to Scotland to study medicine at Edinburgh University. However, Charles didn’t take to medicine as he found the lectures boring and he hated surgery, and so he began to neglect his studies. It was while he was in his second year at Edinburgh that Charles turned away from medicine and found his true passion as he joined a natural history group who were studying the life of simple sea shells in the River Forth. Although Charles’ father was disappointed to see his son struggle with his medical studies he realised that Charles was never going to graduate as a Doctor. So he decided that Charles should leave Edinburgh and move to Cambridge to begin to study for a degree that would allow him to become a Pastor in the Anglican Church. But Charles didn’t take to studying at Cambridge University either, spending most of his time at university shooting and riding. It was only when Charles started to learn about the theory of ‘Natural Philosophy’ that he rediscovered his interest in studying nature. ‘Natural Philosophy’ suggested that the huge variations we see in nature are the work of God. This made perfect sense to Darwin who was determined to work hard to find the evidence that would help him to prove that God had designed nature.

    The Theory of Evolution

    Darwin spent the next years of his life designing experiments, talking to pigeon breeders and farmers (who had been using natural selection for years to grow the best and strongest crops and lifestock), studying the world around him and talking over his thoughts and ideas about how species change with his wife and fellow scientists. It was during this time that Darwin’s theory that he called Evolution began to make more and more sense in his mind. But Darwin (the would be pastor) was caught in an uncomfortable situation because the more evidence that he found that fitted with his theory of Evolution then the further away he moved from the Theory of Creation, the origin of species as described in the bible. In fact, Darwin was so disturbed by his new theory of Evolution that he didn’t publish it for ten years because he realised the huge stir that this Theory would cause in a Victorian, Christian society – especially when Darwin realised how closely related we were to apes! Darwin only published his theory when another scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace (also a naturalist working in the Forests of Borneo) wrote to him describing his own thoughts on the theory of Evolution. Darwin realised that the time had come for him to publish his work before someone else beat him to it. On the 1st of July 1858 Darwin and Wallace presented their work as a paper written by both of them at one of the most prestigious scientific meetings of the time. This joint paper was called On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection and contained an extract from the unpublished essay that Darwin had written where he had set out his Theory of Evolution. Wallace attended the meeting but Darwin was unable to go because his youngest son Charles had caught scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is a disease that is easily curable today with a short course of antibiotics but in those days there were no antibiotics and sadly his baby son died. After the meeting Darwin decided to publish his complete essay and he named it On the Origin of Species. Copies of the book went on sale in November 1859, 150 years ago, and it became an immediate best seller.

    Darwins Legacy

    Darwin’s book continues to be published and is recognised as one of the most important scientific manuscripts ever written, yet it still causes controversy and arguments to this day. There are many people who still prefer the Theory of Creation to the Theory of Evolution and scientists on both sides of the argument are still working to find the ultimate proof for each of their theories. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has become a cornerstone of modern biology, and at the University of East Anglia we have scientists who study evolution. Some of these scientists study many different species of plants and animals using similar observational methods to those used by Darwin more than 150 years ago. But there are also other scientists who work with bacteria and are able to use modern, up to date equipment that allow them to study evolution happening in test-tube over a very short period of time. Darwin’s work also led to the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ which many people feel can be seen in the way that our society seems to work today.

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