evolution: Darwinism


Although special creation of each species was the prevalent belief even among scientists in the first half of the 19th cent., the evidence in favor of evolution had by that time been uncovered. It remained for someone to assemble and interpret the evidence and to formulate a scientifically credible theory. This was accomplished simultaneously by A. R. Wallace and Charles Robert Darwin, who set forth the concepts that came to be known as Darwinism. In 1859 appeared the first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species. The influence of this evolutionary theory upon scientific thought and experimentation cannot be overestimated. In the years following the promulgation of Darwin's theory of evolution, many accepted and many denied its validity.

The theory found an opposing force in some religious creeds that declared it incompatible with their basic tenets. For a time evolution, sometimes falsely interpreted as meaning human descent from monkeys rather than descent from an ancient and extinct ancestor, became a target for attack by both church and educational authorities. Feeling ran high even as late as the time of the Scopes trial. Nevertheless, the theory of evolution became firmly entrenched as a scientific principle, and in most creeds it has been reconciled with religious teachings. Some Christian fundamentalists, however, do not accept the theory and have striven to have biblical creationism taught in the schools as an alternative theory. (For the evolution of human beings, see human evolution.)

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