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Evolution Revolution

Intro | 1635 | 1700 | 1800 | 1825 | 1850 | 1860 | 1875 | 1900
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1860: Ape Debate
(Evolution Challenged)

Darwin's foes protest ape-man connection. While On the Origin of Species does not address human evolution, critics assume (correctly) that Darwin thinks humans are no exception. At a meeting of Britain's leading scientists, critics attack Darwin's theory for bestializing humankind. Thomas Henry Huxley, known as "Darwin's bulldog," tries to rally to the defense. Huxley later depicts the exchange as a confrontation between social conservatives and advocates of scientific progress. But the issue of human evolution remains a stumbling block for Darwinism.

c. 1865: Evolution Accepted
(Rise of Evolution) (Reconciliation)

Evolution accepted. Some prominent scientists continue to reject the idea of evolution, but only a few years after On the Origin of Species is published, evolution is mainstream science. Magazines and newspapers -- even religious publications -- promote evolution. On exam papers at church-run Cambridge University, students are told to assume "the truth ... that the existing species of plants and animals have been derived by generation from others widely different." Still, Darwin's theory for how evolution happens (via the process he calls "natural selection") continues to be doubted.

1865: Mendel
(Rise of Evolution)

Mendel's breakthroughs go unnoticed. In an obscure Czech journal, Moravian monk Gregor Mendel publishes a paper detailing how traits are inherited through generations. He has conducted plant breeding experiments to decipher the nature of heredity, and he realizes that many traits, such as the seed color of peas, are passed down in pairs of discrete units; in the 20th century, Mendel's units will be called genes. But in the 1860s his paper goes unnoticed. It may have even languished, unread, in Charles Darwin's study.

c. 1870: Fabulous Fossils
(Rise of Evolution)

Fabulous fossils go on display. A furious hunt is underway in the western regions of North America, yielding spectacular fossils. With the founding of the American Museum of Natural History and other museums around 1870, these fossils reach a wide public. Stegosaurs, Triceratops, and other dinosaurs -- far more than any theory -- make evolution a popular science. Through exhibits and lectures, museums actively promote the teaching of evolution.

1871: Atheism
(Evolution Challenged) (Battle in the Schools)

Is Darwinism atheism? In his influential book What Is Darwinism?, Princeton theologian Charles Hodge answers his title question: "It is atheism." Hodge is one of few prominent theologians of the 1870s to declare Darwinism a threat. He rejects Darwin's theory that natural laws alone can create complex, well-adapted organisms, noting that "denial of [God's] design in nature is virtually the denial of God." While he does not consider all evolutionary ideas to be in conflict with a religious worldview, Hodge raises concern about teaching evolution in America, particularly in seminaries and denominational colleges.

c. 1871: Descent of Man
(Rise of Evolution)

Darwin explores The Descent of Man. Unlike in On the Origin of Species, Darwin now unabashedly takes on human evolution. His new book also stresses the importance of "sexual selection" in driving the evolution of life. To pass along traits to future generations, individuals must be not only fit to survive, but also irresistible to the opposite sex.

-> Go to 1875


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

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