- Darwin, Charles
- ( 1809-1882 )naturalist who developed the theory of evolutionCharles Robert Darwin, whose theories concerning biological evolution sparked a revolution in Protestant thought, was born on February 12, 1809, at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, and was raised in the family's Church of England background. In 1827, his father arranged for him to attend Christ's College, Cambridge University, to prepare for the clergy. There he met Rev. John Stevens Henslow (1796-1821), who taught him botany. In 1831, he passed his final exams, and prepared for a career as a pastor.Before Darwin settled down, however, Rev. Henslow arranged for him to travel as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle on a two-year survey voyage around the coast of South America, where he collected specimens of living plants and animals and fossil forms. Back in England, his thoughts about his observations led to doubts about the commonly held idea that species were all individual miraculous creations by the deity; he also began to question popular arguments for the existence of God. He published his findings and pursued speculations through correspondence with animal breeders. Realizing the heretical nature of his speculations (in both the theological and scientific communities and in the mind of his pious wife, Emma Wedgwood), he delayed publishing for a number of years.By 1842, he had worked out the basics of evolution. By this time, Darwin had become a deist, believing that God had established the laws of nature at the time of creation, and then stepped back and allowed the world to evolve.Darwin spent the next 15 years refining his ideas with the help of a selection of trusted colleagues. Finally in 1858, at a meeting of the Lin-nean Society in London, he went public with his ideas on the evolution of species, which he recently learned had been independently arrived at by his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). His groundbreaking 1859 book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, explained how new species had evolved over time.The book created a heated controversy. Some churchmen, such as Anglican Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-73), charged that his approach led natural science away from its primary role as an investigator of God's creation. He won wide support from scientists and even some clergy Naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) began years of very effective work to defend and advance Darwinism (a term he coined). Huxley's 1863 book, Evidence on Man's Place in Nature, broached the notion that humans were related to apes.In 1871, Darwin published The Descent of Man. Though the majority of scientists and many laymen now supported the idea of evolution, in the eyes of many church leaders, especially in the United States, the new book drew a line across which they could not move.Darwin died on April 19, 1882. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.For decades after, in North American Protestant circles, evolution (even married to theism) was seen as a sign of modernism and a departure from the literal interpretation of the Bible. Heated arguments over evolution raged throughout the first decades of the 20th century, culminating in the so-called Monkey Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, where creationism clashed with popular versions of evolutionary thought. In the 1920s, American Protestantism split into two communities: the Fundamentalists (who opposed evolution) and the Modernists (who supported it). The latter gained control of most of the larger denominations and the leading seminaries. Fundamentalism evolved over the rest of the century and developed a spectrum of views on creation, including various attempts to build scientific support for a literal reading of the opening chapters of Genesis.Further reading:■ Peter J. Bowler, Charles Darwin: the Man and his Influence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)■ Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. 1809-1882. With Original Omissions Restored. Edited with Appendix and Notes by His Grand-daughter Nora Barlow (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959)■ ----, The Descent of Man (London: John Murray, 1871); , On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection (London: John Murray, 1859)■ Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1887)■ James R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)■ Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.