Reaction To Darwin's Theory

Reaction To Darwin's Theory

The immediate reaction to On the Origin of Species, the book in which Charles Darwin described evolution by natural selection, included international debate, though the heat of controversy was less than that over earlier works such as Vestiges of Creation. He monitored the debate closely, cheering on Thomas Henry Huxley's battles with Richard Owen to remove clerical domination of the scientific establishment. While Darwin's illness kept him away from the public debates, he read eagerly about them and mustered support through correspondence.

Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin's natural selection as an instrument of God's design. Religious controversy was soon diverted by the publication of Essays and Reviews and debate over the higher criticism.

The most famous confrontation took place at the public 1860 Oxford evolution debate during a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce argued against Darwin's explanation. In the ensuing debate Joseph Hooker argued strongly for Darwin and Thomas Huxley established himself as "Darwin's bulldog" – the fiercest defender of evolutionary theory on the Victorian stage. Both sides came away feeling victorious, but Huxley went on to depict the debate as pivotal in a struggle between religion and science and used Darwinism to campaign against the authority of the clergy in education, as well as daringly advocating the "Ape Origin of Man".

Read more about Reaction To Darwin's Theory:  Background, First Reviews, Widespread Interest, Darwin At Home, Continued Debate

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