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Influences In Darwin’s Thinking Essay, Research Paper

Thomas Malthus and Charles Lyell were two figures who influenced Darwin’s theories.

Malthus was an influence through his book on the population principle. Darwin had a

parallel thinking in the concept of individual struggle in natural selection. Lyell’s

influence on Darwin was from his book “Principles”. Darwin agreed with Lyell’s

uniformitarian theories, and the uniformitarian understanding helped Darwin explain the

elements of natural selection.

Malthus believed that starvation would always be a part of human life because he thought

that population would increase at a greater rate than food supply. In his book, “Essay on

the Principle of Population”, he discussed eliminating help for the poor. He thought this

would be a natural way of getting rid of poverty and stopping the poor from reproducing

more poor people. Malthus also explained that competition was best for all in human

societies and man would always have to struggle to feed himself and his family. Another

way Malthus viewed the population principle was as something brought on by God as a

way to prevent man from being lazy and to make man work hard to support his family.

Darwin derived the concept of the struggle for existence in part from Malthus’s essay. He

believed that creatures less fit for their environment would tend to die off. This would be

called the struggle for existence. Some people thought that nature was a balanced system,

but Darwin saw it as a mechanism. He believed the creatures that were best adapted

would survive. Although Darwin agreed with Malthus on the struggle of individuals, he

differed in opinion on Malthus’s idea of the increase of population. Darwin (just from

observation) did not believe that population would increase at a tremendous rate from

year to year but believed it would stay somewhat constant.

Charles Lyell was a uniformitarian. He believed the earth had gone through changes by

the same causes (earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) on the same scale we see today.

While he did believe that the earth had gone through many changes, Lyell believed in a

steady-state view of the earth where there are simply fluctuations about a mean. He

thought that the climate could someday become tropical everywhere, and animals such as

reptiles would flourish.

Darwin accepted Lyell’s uniformitarian views in the book “Principles”, but he did not

agree with the steady-state view. For the earth and different species to evolve, there had

to be development and change. Darwin agreed that to understand the past, it was

necessary to observe nature as it occurs today. To see the effects of variation in life, he

described animal breeding. The breeders selected the animals that were most fit for their

purpose so they could reproduce and create more “successful” animals. He also believed

that instead of there being a “breeder” in nature, there was the struggle for existence – the

creatures who were most fit for their environment would be the individuals that would

tend to survive, while the less fit would tend to die off.

Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection were influenced in part by Thomas

Malthus and Charles Lyell. Darwin was satisfied with the idea of individual struggle, and

his reading of Malthus helped solidify his theory. Darwin was also a follower of Lyell.

The uniformitarian view influenced Darwin to see things as they happen today

(breeding), which could be seen in nature as an extremely slow natural process as natural

selection in the evolution of species.


Charles Darwin “On the Origin of Species” pg 95-96

Peter Bowler “Evolution: The History of an Idea” pg 166-167

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