What is Darwin’s theory of the origin of species?
Fifty years after the publication of the Origin of Species, there was a significant rejection of the theory of evolution in the United States. Although the initial opposition began in Britain soon after the release of Darwin’s paper, it was only half a century later that large numbers of Christians in the United States found the theory of evolution to be unacceptable due to its conflict with religion.
The reason why the United States saw a more significant rejection of the theory of evolution is a combination of factors, some of which were similar to Britain’s initial rejection of Darwin’s theory. Despite these similarities between Britain and the United States at the time such as increased racism and strong religious communities, certain events and ideas during the early 1900s like the release of The Fundamentals provide explanations for why there was more significant opposition in America.
Racism is an underlying reason why many individuals may have rejected the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution conflicts with racism because it shows that, similar to what Darwin observed in animals, all humans, regardless of their race, originated from the same ancestors at a relatively recent point in Earth’s history. Since all humans are the same species, evolution invalidated any notion of hierarchically categorizing people based on arbitrary physical and social characteristics.
However, due to people getting conditioned by society to believe that certain races are inferior or superior for centuries, any discussion of evolution that alluded to denouncing racism likely instantly sparked opposition within more racist communities that had not viewed all races equally for centuries. Similar to Britain, racism had been rampant in the United States for many generations already. This provided a baseline number of individuals that might have very quickly dismissed evolution to continue taking advantage of victims of racism.
The release of The Fundamentals, which were widely distributed throughout the United States to reach as many people across the country as possible, helped add supporters to the opposition to evolution. Over three million volumes were sent out to Christian organizations in an attempt to clarify the modern fundamentals of Christianity. Within the essays, various authors defended orthodox Protestant beliefs and attacked an assortment of subjects, including the theory of evolution. For example, in an essay written by an anonymous occupant of the pew, the author argues that evolutionary theory has “so viciously assailed both the integrity and authority of the Scriptures, ” and that it is clear that evolution and the Bible cannot co-exist (Anonymous, 31).
Furthermore, they wrote that Darwin’s theory, which seemed to be accepted by many parts of the community, including theologians and Christian ministers, was being regarded as legitimate “without a single known fact to support it” (Anonymous, 27). The author quoted the “testimony of men distinguished in their respective departments of scientific research” such as Dr. Etheridge, who claimed that “there is not at this time a shadow of scientific evidence” concerning man’s origin from any other organism in nature and Professor Fleishmann, who stated that evolution was “not the result of scientific research, but purely the product of the imagination” (Anonymous, 29).
Upon reading passages such as this anonymously authored piece, many Christian ministries and congregations that previously accepted evolution without much consideration may have had second thoughts or even completely switched opinions on the matter. Since so many copies of the Fundamentals were distributed. The contents of the essays likely had effects on millions of average church-goers. Who looked to their pastor for religious guidance rather than spending time generating their interpretations of the Bible through their reading. While each individual reached different conclusions, the general effect of the papers was that most Christians began to join the large-scale rejection of evolution even though they may not have been well-read in Scripture or the scientific literature of Darwin’s theory.
Other authors from The Fundamentals, such as Reverend James Orr, also wrote essays that contrasted with the main idea of the anonymous author. Orr stated that “the incompatibility of religion and science has been so often and confidently asserted… but the whole thing is a mistake” (Orr, 91).
Physics Nobel Prize Winner MIT Prof Frank Wilczek. On String Theory. Gravitation. Newton. Big Bang. What is Darwin’s theory of the origin of species?
His paper contained plain disagreements with the anonymous author that only added to the general literature and discussion of the topic. As the topic expanded and garnered more attention, it produced more conversations that helped bring the debate into the spotlight. The by-product of all the argumentative writing and general buzz surrounding the topic of evolution, allowed it to reach many previously neutral people that may have proceeded to take sides in the argument. Even though many of these Americans, particularly the religious and scientific communities, chose opposing viewpoints, the whole discussion temporarily brought the battle between evolution and Christianity to the forefront of American discourse.
The distribution of The Fundamentals had a large impact on the American discussion of evolution and Christianity, which had led to large numbers of people rejecting the theory. The papers continued to generate interest in the rapidly developing conversation so that it would reach even more people throughout the country. In addition, the papers caused a shift from the way that a large percentage of America’s population at the time might have viewed evolution if something of that magnitude had never been released. Compared to the debates between religion and evolution in Britain, the discussion that took place in the United States created a large-scale rejection of Darwin’s work that consisted of many Christians who joined together against evolution.
With millions of Christians likely hesitant to accept the theory of evolution. Due to what their religious leaders may have preached. The opposition to evolution would only have become exacerbated. If the scientific community taught the theory of evolution as fact. The United States became founded on freedom. And, due to the many Christians that chose to dismiss evolution based on what they heard or read. It would be impossible to teach and spread evolution without lawsuits and public outcry.
For example, attempting to teach the theory of evolution to people may only have caused more pushback and radicalized those who resisted evolution, ironically working in the opposite direction of their goal. Similar to its reception in Britain. Darwin’s theory of evolution was simply too new. And strange. To become accepted by the masses. So trying to introduce and convince people of Darwin’s work in a short time only turned people away.
The theory of evolution faced opposition in both Britain and the United States. However, the scale of the rejection that it received upon entering the American mainstream. Moreover, had not become seen in Britain when Darwin’s work was first published and criticized. Even though the cultures of Britain and America were relatively similar regarding the majority of people (white, racist, and Christian), the release of The Fundamentals and the increased attention towards the debates between Christianity and evolution that came from it was a large difference between the initial rejection in Britain and the large-scale rejection in America fifty years later.
Written by Jiming Xu
What is Darwin’s theory of the origin of species?