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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2018 > Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts

WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO DARWIN’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION?

Considering how epochal On the Origin of Species proved to be, it had come after other works that caused arguably greater scandal. Charles Darwin waited more than 20 years following his voyage on the Beagle before publishing, in 1859, during which time The Constitution of Man 1828 and Vestige of the NaturalHistory of Creation 1844 ignited controversy. The debate amongst scientific and religious groups was, as it were, already evolving.

That is not to say his theory of evolution was unnoticed: it became a much-discussed, praised and condemned bestseller internationally. Early reviews were unfriendly, simplistically summing up the book’s conclusions as ‘humans come from apes’ (Darwin never said that). There was an inevitable backlash from some religious leaders, who decried it as heresy. The most famous debate was between Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce and biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who became known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’.

But it would be wrong to think that the reaction was neatly split, with scientific supporters on one side and religious opponents on the other. While some naturalists were reluctant to see evolution as the answer, there were many in the religious community declaring natural selection to be proof of God’s design.

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About History Revealed

At the dawn of the second century BC, two titans of the ancient world went to war: Macedon, the pre-eminent power of Ancient Greece, and Rome, then still an upstart republic. This is the complete story of a war that defined antiquity, where phalanx clashed with legion. Plus: Protest and turmoil ripples around the world in 1968; the split loyalties of Thomas More, the accident that made Frida Kahlo an artist, a glimpse inside the Titanic & more.