What did Darwin's discoveries do?


By the 18th and 19th centuries Christian theology faced profound challenges from philosophers such as Locke, Hume, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel, and from the rise of science, from the critical study of historical documents and the scriptures, and from key developments in modern thought such as Darwin's theory of evolution, Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, and Marxism, all of which have contributed to more widespread secularism Theologians have responded in two ways: by retreating into defensive positions as in fundamentalism; or by trying to integrate new insights into Christian belief, as in the 19th-century 'liberal' theology; or in contemporary movements such as feminist and liberation theology.

The influence of Darwin's ideas. Darwin's theories of evolution through natural selection set off a bitter controversy among biologists, religious leaders, and the general public. Many people thought Darwin had implied that human beings were descended from monkeys, and they angrily criticized his revolutionary ideas. But such noted British scientists as Thomas Henry Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace supported Darwin's work, and almost all scientists eventually accepted his theories. These theories, and the facts that supported them, gave biologists new insight into the origin of living things and the relationship among various species.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection stimulated studies in biology, particularly in palaeontology and comparative anatomy. During the first half of the 1900's, discoveries in genetics and developmental biology were used as evidence for theories of evolution that regarded natural selection as unimportant. However, after World War II ended in 1945, Darwin's theories again became the dominant influence in evolutionary biology in a form often called Neo-Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism gave a fuller explanation for the genetic origin of variation within individual species and for how species are formed. Few biologists reject the basic propositions of Neo-Darwinism, and Darwin's theories continue to be the basis for many contemporary biological studies.

Darwin's work has had a tremendous impact on religious thought. Many people strongly oppose the idea of evolution--and the teaching of it--because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. For example, they claim that the theory of evolution disagrees with the Biblical account of the Creation. Some people argue against the theory of natural selection because they believe it diminishes the role of God in the universe.

Darwin avoided discussing the theological and sociological aspects of his work, but other writers used his ideas in their own theories about society. The German philosopher Karl Marx compared the struggle for survival among organisms to the struggle for power among social classes. Certain other writers referred to natural selection to justify the concept of the development of superior races of human beings. Scholars called social Darwinists used Darwin's ideas to promote the belief that people in a society--and societies themselves--must compete for survival.


agnosticism (from Greek, agnostos, 'unknown'), a term coined in 1869 by T. H. Huxley (1825-95), the British biologist and supporter of Darwin's theories of evolution, to indicate his position with regard to orthodox religious belief. Influenced by modern scientific thought, the agnostic holds that phenomena which cannot be proved or disproved by material means (such as the existence of God) cannot be the subjects of belief or disbelief. The term is also popularly used to imply scepticism about, or indifference to, religious matters, but it should not be confused with atheism, which is the denial of the existence of God or any supernatural being.