23. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was accepted by most scientists
Within the scientific community at the end of the 20th century nearly all accepted Darwin’s theory of natural selection – 87%. But among the general public in the United States, 31% believed that the creation story of Genesis and correspondingly young earth explained how humanity came into being. Another 22% rejected Darwin’s explanation of natural selection and supported the idea of divinely guided evolution. In other words, 150 years after Darwin’s explanation of natural selection it was accepted by less than half of Americans.
In the state of Mississippi, nearly 44% of residents denied the existence of evolution as explained by Darwin and other scientists. Across the United States, nearly 70% of people who identified themselves as evangelical Christians believed that humans – in fact, all life present on earth – remained unchanged since creation. The United States held the highest percentage of evolution deniers in the modern industrialized world when the 21st century began.
24. Attacks on Darwin have not eased with the passage of time
Since the appearance of On the Origin of Species, and increasing with Darwin’s later work, The Descent of Man, attacks on both his science and his philosophy have been common. Most of his science has withstood the tests of time and pressure from later scientific thought, which is the reason his views are widely accepted in the scientific community. But for those who viewed Darwin through the veil of religious opposition to his work, he remained a dangerous threat to their security. Creationists continued to attack him, and denigrate his work, for over one and a half centuries.
Darwin’s work was called racist, and teaching Darwin’s evolutionary work and natural selection in schools was decried as teaching racism to children. Some creationists claimed that racism in America was the result of teaching evolution in public schools. Attacks on Darwin’s character were also common, and continue to be, with creationists claiming that it was the scientist’s bitterness towards God following the death of a young daughter which drove him to attempt to disprove the creation story of Genesis.
25. Darwin’s work became more controversial over time
When Darwin first released On the Origin of Species it was controversial among scientists and mainstream clergy. Gradually, over time and through his own continuing work, as well as that of other scientists, it gained acceptance among scientists, and the existence of scientific proof led to its acceptance by most mainstream religions. By the end of the 20th century, the only remaining controversy over his theory of natural selection was to be found among creationists who believed the only acceptable explanation for the existence of all life on earth was that to be found in Genesis. Even those who accepted the existence of evolution found ways to argue that Darwin was wrong.
The principal argument against Darwin throughout history was that the process he described was controlled by natural law. Creationists argued Darwin had eliminated a divine inspiration. But in Darwin’s whole body of work, there are references to divinity, including in his account of the voyage of the Beagle, when his discoveries first took root. Describing both Brazil and Tierra del Fuego Darwin wrote, “Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature-no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body”.
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