History of Evolutionary Theory
The setting - 18
Century Europe. Keep the context in mind, some of
these things may not seem revolutionary, but it is not too far removed from the
world being flat and the sun revolving around the earth.
People believed in stasis, that all aspects of nature are fixed and unchanging. The
bible was taken quite literally, all life on earth was created by God, and has not
fixity of species
Also, people believed that the earth was full and that nothing new could be added,
no new species have appeared or disappeared since the creation event. Change
was inconceivable, challenging it was challenging God and his master plan.
The Great Chain of Being – Life exists in a hierarchy and humans are at the top.
Archbishop James Usher in 1650 counted backwards in the bible and figured that
the earth was formed in 4004 BC. This was later made more accurate by John
Lightfoot, who said humans were created on Oct 23, 9:00 PM, 4004 BC.
It was a time of social unrest in Europe. There was a fixed class system, the
Christian upper class did not want to accept evolutionary theory; it was associated
with political subversion and anti-Christian sentiment.
Evolutionary theory had a lot to overcome.
We’ll start with
Charles Darwin (
1809-1882), who isn’t quite the beginning of
the story, but is certainly recognized as the founder, or the person who put it all
together. The earlier players will be filled in along the way as people who
Darwin came from an affluent family, his father was a physician, and his mother
came from the Wedgewood family, who owned a rich pottery firm.
Father’s father was
, who wrote about evolution, even human
evolution, in his work. It is known that Charles Darwin read and was fond of his
grandfather’s writings, but the extent of its influence on his own ideas is
unknown. At the very least, Erasmus Darwin foretold what his grandson would