The best-known controversies over Darwinian theory took place in public or in printed reviews. Many of these were highly polemical, presenting an over-simplified picture of the disputes. Letters, however, show that the responses to Darwin were extremely variable. Many of his strongest public supporters, such as Thomas Henry Huxley, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Asa Gray, continued to have sharp theoretical differences with him; on the other hand, a number of his public critics assisted his research privately.
Who Is Charles Darwin?
Charles R. Darwin was an English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution.
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is arguably the most important book in biology, it’s where he describes his theory of evolution by natural selection. When the book was published in 1859 it became a bestseller instantly, partly thanks to his conversational style in the book, rather than academic.
The theory of evolution by natural selection formulated in Darwin’s book is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioural traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring.
The theory has two main points:
- All life on Earth is connected and related to each other.
- The diversity of life is a product of modifications of populations by natural selection, where some traits were favored in an environment over others.
Evolution by natural selection is one of the best-substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including palaeontology, geology, genetics, and developmental biology. Nevertheless, did Darwin get everything right back in the 19th century?
On the Origin of Species
When Darwin published his book “On the Origin of Species” various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed to explain. However, earlier in the 19th century the English scientific establishment was closely tied to the Church of England, while science was part of natural theology. Ideas about the transmutation of species were controversial and not accepted by the scientific mainstream.
Within two decades after the publication of, once a controversial book, “On the Origin of Species”, Darwin’s theory was widely accepted by the scientific community. His work of scientific literature is today considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. But were Charles Darwin’s ideas immaculate?
A Shift in Paradigm
As Darwin was an eminent scientist, his findings in his book “On the Origin of Species” were taken seriously and the evidence he presented generated scientific, philosophical, and religious discussion, which helped secularize science by promoting scientific naturalism. Despite widespread scientific agreement that evolution had occurred, scientists fully recognized the significance of natural selection long after Darwin had died.
Darwin on Races, and Women
Darwin had never claimed to be able to demonstrate the inferiority of women and Africans to white men scientifically, yet he still justified his misogynist and racist views by merely stating what he considered as his “educated guesses”.
Darwin’s conclusion on the question of race and gender was that the intelligence of white women and Africans were equated to that of white male children. However, he was privately taking advice from important women in her life. Furthermore, he brought up his daughters not any less sophisticated in science and theology than his sons, he even helped his daughters advance in their careers and asked her daughter to be the editor of some of his books. Perhaps his condescending views on women and Africans covered only those he was not acquainted with.
Darwin’s on Heredity
Partly because Charles Darwin didn’t have access to the DNA, his work on the mechanism for heredity did not go any further than a hypothesis, and a false one that is. In his, now falsified, hypothesis Darwin proposed each organ and tissue of a male organism contributes to the sperm, which are collected in testicles, and this determines the “configuration” of the offspring. Darwin called his hypothesis “pangenesis”
Today we know, the egg and the sperm equal amount of genetic information. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, the first cell of the embryo with a mix of parents’ genetic information emerges.
Darwin on the Age of Earth
When Charles Darwin was born common wisdom among the general public was that the earth was six thousand years old. Most scientists of the time acknowledged that Earth was certainly older. A few years after “On the Origin of Species was published, Scottish physicist William Thomson, and subsequently Darwin’s son George, calculated the age of the earth to be one hundred million years old. Darwin agreed with this calculation and thought one hundred million years were enough for the evolution, which he described in his book to take place.
Today we know that the earth is 4.543 billion years old.
A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, – a mere heart of stone.— Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, who lived in a bubble, was a privileged white man of his time. In the 21st century, one would perhaps not want to associate themself with such a man for his, what we now consider, extreme misogynist and racist views. He was a human and just like any one of us he was prone to making mistakes.
Today, the theory of evolution is sometimes referred to as Darwin’s theory of evolution or Darwinism, not because scientists endorse his worldview or Darwin’s theory published in 1859 is seen as holy, complete, and perfect, but because he is considered to be the founder of evolution science.
A scientist’s work is never done. The Theory of Evolution in the 21st century is far more advanced and richer in supporting evidence than what it was in the 19th century. Since Darwin’s death, the theory of evolution has been polished, amended, and where necessary corrected many times. However, the foundation of the theory, which was proposed first in 1859 by Darwin, has stood the test of time intact.