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Evolution Revolution

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1850: In Memoriam
(Evolution Challenged)

In Memoriam's poetic cry for God. In one of Victorian Britain's most popular poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson envisions a world in which natural laws, rather than God, govern life on Earth. He is appalled by what scientists like Darwin are beginning to see in nature -- a relentless struggle between creatures, where individual life is of little value. In later attacks on Darwin and his theory, critics hark back to Tennyson's view of "Nature, red in tooth and claw."

1856: Neanderthal
(Rise of Evolution)

Was Neanderthal Man a son of Adam? The unearthing of a fossil skull in Germany's Neander Valley fuels a debate over whether all humans are the direct descendants of Adam and Eve. The skull looks much like a modern human, yet is distinctly different. Neanderthals were large-brained with heavy-set brows and protruding jaws. They challenge the traditional Christian picture of humankind in Eden. Some people wonder whether Neanderthal Man might have been the result of a separate act of Creation. The fossils will later fuel the debate over human evolution.

1858: Flint Tools
(Rise of Evolution)

Flint tools spark debate over human evolution. A chance discovery raises the question of whether humans existed tens of thousands or even millions of years in the past. In Brixham, England, a man drops a pick-axe into a hole in the ground and stumbles upon an underlying cave. Inside, he finds a large reindeer antler. An archeological excavation, led by William Pengelly, soon uncovers remarkable flint knives, as well as the bones of extinct mammals. Some of the bones have been split, perhaps to extract their marrow. The discovery makes the question of human antiquity -- and human evolution -- impossible to ignore.

1858: Wallace
(Rise of Evolution)

Wallace provokes Darwin to publish. Alfred Russel Wallace, a young British explorer, writes Darwin from Malaysia, seeking the older naturalist's advice. Wallace has a theory of how species might evolve. Darwin is shocked; Wallace has struck upon the theory of natural selection that Darwin has been researching for 20 years. Wallace's short sketch is far from the massive body of evidence Darwin has collected, but its core ideas are similar. Without this prompting of competition, Darwin might never have published in his lifetime. Wallace later dedicates his travelogue Malay Archipelago to Darwin, "not only as a token of personal esteem and friendship but also to express my deep admiration for his genius and his works."

1859: Origin of Species
(Rise of Evolution) (Reconciliation)

On the Origin of Species spurs a revolution. While far from the first work on evolution, Darwin's book (more fully entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection) is the most influential. It offers a wealth of evidence and proposes a coherent theory for evolution: Just as domestic animals evolve through breeding, or "artificial selection," species in the wild evolve "by means of natural selection." The first edition of the book sells out in a single day, and subsequent editions, published in various languages, reach audiences around the world. On the Origin of Species challenges biblical literalism, but Darwin stresses his work is not a denial of God's existence. He ends the book by noting, "There is grandeur in this view of life."

-> Go to 1860


Intro | 1635 | 1700 | 1800 | 1825 | 1850 | 1860 | 1875 | 1900
1910 | 1925 | 1930 | 1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000

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