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Influences on Charles Darwin

Kiara Strijack

February 25, 2015

There were many people who influenced Darwin, helping form and strengthen his theories on
evolution. Some of these people were Sir Charles Lyell, various farmers, and Thomas Malthus.
Sir Charles Lyell was a British Lawyer and a very prominent geologist of his day, born in
Scotland in 1797. His well-known idea was that the earth was shaped by the same processes
that are going on today, indicating that the earth is much older than originally thought. This is the
assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have
always operated in the universe in the past; the earth is constantly changing, and has been
doing so for a very long time.
Darwin theorized that if the world was in a state of constant change, so might the plants
and animals to adapt to the constant change. And if, as Lyell noticed, the world was very old,
that would give the plants and animals a lot of time to gradually adapt to the new environments.
Lyells ideas prompted Darwin to think about slow, gradual changes and how they might be
possible in an old world that undergoes constant change.
Farmers noticed natural variation in organisms, and discovered that they could be
passed to offspring. Organisms with beneficial characteristics could be bred together to create
offspring with similar desirable characteristics. An example would be two pea plants who
produced large peas, or two pigs that were sturdy and held a lot of meat.
Darwin noticed that the farmers used variations to improve their livestock and crops, and
he proposed that something similar was happening in nature. Instead of the farmers selecting
the best organisms to reproduce, the environment was selecting organisms with the most
desirable traits and fitness who are best suited to survive; solidifying his ideas on natural
selection and natural variation. He proposed that all organisms are born with variations, that
may be beneficial or detrimental to their fitness.
Reverend Thomas Malthus was an English cleric and scholar, born in England in 1766.
He wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population, which some think was the most influential
work of that era. He theorized that if the human population were to continue to grow unchecked,
sooner or later there would not be enough living space and food for the population, and that the
human population would always live in misery because the human population would grow faster

than the food resources that could support it; more births than deaths. He said that the human
population was kept in check by war, famine, drought, and disease.
Darwin wondered what kept plant and animal populations in check, and why even if
excessive offspring were produced only a percentage of them would survive. He found that
nature had its own Malthusian principle: only so many organisms can survive, so excessive
offspring were produced so the fittest would survive. Organisms were checked by natural
pressures, such as finding food, water, mates, and escaping predators. Humans dont have
these kinds of pressures, so overpopulation was much more likely.