Debated and deliberated upon

Charles Darwin

History is usually more complicated than it might appear, and the history of the reception of evolutionary theory is no exception. In the nineteenth century various theories of natural selection and the transformation of species competed with each other, and when it comes to the relationship of science and religion, churches and believers had varying responses, and proponents of the various scientific theories had a variety of attitudes towards the religious folk who were critiquing or praising their theories, while all of them debated and deliberated upon the consequences of these theories for wider society, and the way traditional religious views interacted with the new theories.

Jonathan Conlin’s Evolution and the Victorians looks at the competing theories, the debates about what they meant for society in respect to the role of the Church, the role of women, the fate of the poor, issues of race, etc., and what was said and written about all this in Victorian Britain. Although his initial comments come alarmingly close to confirming stereotypes of the era, in the end this is a thorough and nuanced approach (in a field where often polemic reigns). He also shows that within individuals there was much debate, and that the personalities involved were more than caricatures. Ultimately science is not done in a vacuum, and there is no greater evidence of this than the history of the varying evolutionary theories, and the way they were promoted, suppressed, and/or distorted.




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