November 25, 2007
“If we choose to let conjecture run wild,” Darwin wrote in his personal notebooks, “then animals …-our slaves in the most laborious works, our companions in our amusements-they may partake of our origin in one common ancestor-we may all be melted together.”
From these cautious early thoughts, Charles Darwin went on to develop the theory that most educated Western thinkers believe to explain the proliferation and variety of life on earth. Darwin published his theory in 1857. In the 150 years since then, the core ideas of Darwin’s theory has achieved acceptance as science. Sometimes I wonder how this happened. Learning about the life work of Thomas Henry Huxley, I understand this outcome a little better.
I grew up a hundred years after the emergence of evolutionary thought and have always glibly supposed that people who did not grasp Darwin’s ideas and support them immediately had small minds. However, when I read more about the times, in the words of the people who lived through them, I began to form a more generous understanding of their quandary. First, there was legitimate difference of scientific opinion as to whether enough evidence had yet been found to support the new theory. Second, from the very beginning, Mr. Darwin’s theory challenged the religious basis of personal morality, family relations, and public order. [Read more…]