On this February 12, 2015 it would be fitting to consider the accomplishments of the great thinker, scholar and scientist who revolutionized modern biology. Today, as with every February 12th since 1809, is Charles Robert Darwin’s birthday. Best known for writing “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” Darwin describes a mechanism for evolutionary change and supports his ideas with observations of the living, extinct and biogeographical record. This much acclaimed and equally reviled text fundamentally changed the way we interpret and understand the living world today. However, Darwin was much more than a biologist and naturalist. Before he ever pondered his revolutionary idea, Darwin was a geologist.
The importance of Charles Lyell’s book “Principles of Geology,” is a well established historical footnote in the retelling of Darwin’s story, however few know that Darwin devoted much of his time and research to understanding geologic change. As a result of his five years on the H.M.S Beagle, Darwin gave lectures on the geology of the Andes, published papers about the fossil record, and authored multiple books about the geology he observed. In fact, the famed journal written during the voyage on the Beagle included 1,383 pages about geology and only 368 pages about plants and animals. Before Darwin ever published his theory of evolution by natural selection, he wrote two books on volcanology and a book on the geology of the Falkland Islands. The love affair with geology ended by 1840, but it is clear that Darwin’s immersion in the topic was fundamental to developing the biological theory which unifies the patterns we see throughout life on this planet.
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