Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
The idea that living things evolved over time, instead of being created by a supernatural force, is an idea that was considered long before Darwin. However, it is Darwin who first understood how it happens and was able to explain the procedure with a very simple and powerful theory: Natural Selection. He was religious when young, and even planned to become a parson, but fate led him to get a job in 1831 as a companion of Captain Robert FitzRoy, touring the Southern hemisphere on board the HMS Beagle for five years. Darwin spent most of his time observing the animals found during his voyage, studying the fossils they saw, and sending back to England samples of species unknown in Europe. The trip had such an effect on him that when he returned to England, he became a scholar of nature and developed his theory during the following 20 years, which would undoubtedly move him away from religion.
It was by chance that he learned that Alfred Russel Wallace had reached an almost equivalent theory while touring Brazil and Southeast Asia. This event hastened the presentation of his theory to the Linnean Society in London in 1858 and the publication of his masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin’s theory, known as Natural Selection, is the theory that has most impacted the view man has of himself, his home and his place in the universe. Most probably, Darwin, along with Newton, is one of the greatest scientists that had ever lived.
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913)
Wallace was an English naturalist who traveled extensively, first to Brazil and then to the Indonesian archipelago, collecting and studying local specimens. He is considered the co-discoverer of natural selection together with Charles Darwin. When Wallace was ready to publish his theory, he wrote a letter to Darwin giving him the news. Darwin had spent 20 years developing his theory and had not published it yet for fear of the public reaction and especially that of his wife. Wallace’s theory was presented in London at the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, along with Darwin’s theory. In fact, the two ideas differ to some degree: Darwin went much further than Wallace. Wallace set a limit to natural selection when it came to humans.
He never conceived the human soul as a result of evolution; he claimed it had a divine origin. On the other hand, Darwin knew well that man is just another primate. All the features of our species, without any exception, must have been the result of adaptations. Besides, Wallace never supported sexual selection; he never reached an agreement with Darwin on this topic.