Charles Darwin Goes to College

How did Darwin’s student days influence his later work?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Questions and comments are invited.

Hi Ted,

Two bombshells are “Darwin’s faith” and the statement that he had not yet come to accept “evolution”. I’d say those two topics deserve extensive treatment in their own regard as I’m sure they have had in many Darwin biographies. What can be said about his faith in his early life–later years? And how extensive was the belief in common descent prior to his writings. Thanks! Doug

The best short answer to your first question (his faith journey) is this article by John Brooke:

Lots of natural philosophers and other scholars accepted common descent prior to Darwin’s work, but (obviously) the versions they accepted were non-Darwinian, that is, they weren’t driven by natural selection, though they would have involved extinction and long geological ages. The most famous example is Lamarck, but as I indicated in the first column in this series Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote about common descent in the 18th century. So did the Frenchman, Buffon, and others.

Thanks Ted, appreciate the reply!


Clearly Natural Selection is very important, even thought it has been pushed far into the background by Science today.

How did Darwin characterize Natural Selection and why was it important?


I don’t think Natural Selection has been pushed into the background. It is a definitional foundation for all Evolutionary theory. What makes you think it is being pushed into the background?

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