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Assessment of the Ninteenth Century Debate that the Origin of Species engendered

Essay 2014 8 Pages

History - Basics

Excerpt

Assess the 19th Century debate that the Origin of Species Engendered?

The debate surrounding Darwin and the Origin of Species takes multiple contexts, firstly, the debate centralises around the nineteenth century Victorian context; how the religious were denied claim of divine supervision with the materialist response of Darwin’s natural selection claim. For example in the case of Richard Owen, the ‘most eminent man of Science in mid-Victorian Britain,’[1] as described by Dawson, he was a staunch opponent of Darwin when releasing the Origins, including Huxley. Owen was disgusted by the empirical nature of Darwin’s claims; he saw the reduction of the Human species to materialism through Darwinian concepts and believed the advocators of such a theory to be ‘supporters of Lucretian scientific views… unfruitful and with unhealthy and defective minds’[2]. The evangelical opposition to Darwinian Theory can be uncovered as an argument by this statement, firstly, that Darwinism represented the decay of society, or rather the projection of a decaying society; secondly, that Darwinism was heretical in nature and opposed to the biblical teachings of a divine plan. During the 1860s and 1870s, a fear of society decay and vanishing virtues began to fear the Anglican Church and evangelical followers. This debate will centralise how the teachings of Darwin became synonymous with the perceived ‘sexual immorality’[3] of the 1860s and 1870s Britain discussed further.

Alternatively even those advocating the theory had strong reservations or criticisms regarding Darwin’s Origins, particularly Darwin’s adoption of natural selection into his writing. Jenkins wrote a critique of the Origins which becomes a debate within itself due to the debate surrounding the effect of Jenkin’s criticisms on Darwin’s description of natural selection. As Gayon identifies citing Loren Eisley, ‘Darwin was so impressed by Jenkin’s criticisms that he virtually renounced the theory of natural selection’[4]. However, Peter Vorzimmer argues that the critique had ‘no effect’[5] on Darwin’s theory. The 19th Century debate therefore extends not just too Darwin, but his works, his life and the methodology of his Origins creation. Society experienced a metaphorical shockwave; the materialist world through Darwinism could now claim governance over any such conception of a divine plan or higher power. The notion of a ‘Darwinian Revolution’ is reductive because it explains the outcome of the 1860s and 70s debate, but misses the understanding of a huge opposition to Darwin’s theory from various groups and prominent men. As Dawson points out, ‘opposition to various aspects of evolutionary choice was often much stronger and more potent than has generally been recognised in accounts that adhere to the model of the so called Darwinian Revolution’[6]. Furthermore, Peter Bowler remarks, ‘we cannot simply assume that those who called themselves ‘Darwinians’ in the nineteenth century accepted the whole of the programme outlined in the Origin of Species[7]. Therefore in terms of the nineteenth century debate, overestimating the consensus towards the Origins arguments becomes an obstacle, and quantifying support becomes reductive in assessing the application of Darwin’s ideas from his followers. However, evolution did win the struggle over the structures of society and the opposition from the Anglican Church and critics within the scientific field of paelontology, biology and physics opposing aspects of the theory; as Peter Bowler cites, ‘Alvar Ellegard’s survey of reactions to the Origin in the British popular press reveals that by 1872 the basis fact of evolution had generally been accepted’[8]. But the debate continued with the emergence of Spencer and the 20th Century eugenics movement, and non-Darwinian theories becoming more prevalent towards the end of the nineteenth century, ‘several varieties of non-Darwinian evolutionary theory were serious contenders’[9].

One of the first major criticisms regarding Darwin’s theory came from the surprising source of Henry Jenkins, ‘professor of engineering at the University of Edinburgh’[10]. He took particular concern with Darwin’s adoption of natural selection, Darwin’s theory assumed that genetic variances within the individual were largely inherited by the two parents and thus likely to be passed on and maintained.

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[1] Gowan Dawson, Darwin literature and Victorian respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1.

[2] Gowan Dawson, Darwin literature and Victorian respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 2.

[3] Gowan Dawson, Darwin literature and Victorian respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 4.

[4] Jean Gayon, Darwinism’s struggle for survival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 85.

[5] Jean Gayon, Darwinism’s struggle for survival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 85.

[6] Gowan Dawson, Darwin literature and Victorian respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 8.

[7] Peter J. Bowler, ‘The eclipse of pseudo-Darwinism? Reflections on some recent developments in Darwin studies’, Science History publications Ltd (2009), 431.

[8] Peter J. Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) 26.

[9] Ron Amundson, ‘Review: Jean Gayon Darwinism’s struggle for survival: Hereditary and the Hypothesis of Natural Selection’, Cambridge University Press, (1999), 761.

[10] Jean Gayon, Darwinism’s struggle for survival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 85.

Details

Pages
8
Year
2014
ISBN (eBook)
9783656863892
ISBN (Book)
9783656863908
File size
373 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v286076
Institution / College
University of Lincoln – University of Lincoln
Grade
2.1.
Tags
Darwinism Charles Darwin Origin of Species Religion Scientific Method History Evolution

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Title: Assessment of the Ninteenth Century Debate that the Origin of Species engendered