Blackwell Publishing

The rise of evolutionary biology - How were Darwin's ideas received?


Reactions to Darwin

The reactions to Darwin's two connected theories - evolution and natural selection - differed.

Popular reaction

There was a vigorous popular controversy about whether species evolved, or had separate origins, as the Bible seemed to suggest; and in Britain Thomas Henry Huxley, whom Darwin called "my general agent", particularly defended the new evolutionary view against religious attack.

The reaction of scientists

Many biologists almost immediately came to accept that evolution was true; species were not separately created and not fixed in form. The new theory could in some cases make remarkably little difference to day-to-day biological research. The kind of comparative anatomy practiced by the followers of Cuvier lent itself equally well to a post-Darwinian search for pedigrees as to the pre-Darwinian search for 'plans' of nature.

For while evolution - of a sort - was being accepted, natural selection was just as surely being rejected. People disliked the theory of natural selection for many reasons. It is not the purpose of this first tutorial to explain the arguments in any depth; what follows is only an introduction to the history of the ideas that we shall consider fully in later tutorials.

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