Born in Shrewsbury, England, in 1809, Charles Darwin initially planned careers in medicine and theology before joining the crew of the HMS Beagle in 1831. Over the next five years, he explored natural ecosystems across the globe, including those of the Cape Verde Islands, much of coastal South America, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, eastern and southern Australia, several islands in the Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope and the Azores. Heavily influenced by Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, Darwin began work on his own treatise outlining his theory of natural selection and published the "abstract" as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859. Since the release of that seminal work, he has rightly been hailed as the father of evolutionary biology and has been widely criticized by religious zealots across the globe.
As one who was raised in a religious family but also received an excellent education in the sciences (including a B.S. in Biology), I have been heavily influenced by Darwin's theories throughout my life. Indeed, his work, as well as the early writings of men like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Alfred Wallace, set the stage for modern advancements in genetics, biology and natural history; at the same time, the role of mysticism in human civilization, while still potent, has gradually diminished.
Though long familiar with Darwin's theory of natural selection, I have never read The Origin of Species. That deficiency will be corrected over the next week or so as I absorb Darwin's argument in his own words. I look forward to the intellectual adventure and will dutifully report any highlights in this blog.