Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution

 Background information on Charles Darwin & 19th century Europe [1]
  • Born on 12 February 1809 into a wealthy and well-connected family
  • initially planned to follow a medical career like his father Robert Darwin
  • in Cambridge, developed interest in biology and geology
  • joined a five year scientific expedition on HMS Beagle (1831) which provided him with lots of materials for the formulation of his Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection
  • People believed in the Biblical account of how the world was created by the God in 7 days (Genesis)

Influences on Darwin
  • "Principles of Geology" by Charles Lyell - proposed that there were life forms which had existed more than thousands of millions of years ago. This challenged the prevailing Christian view that the Earth was created by God about six thousand years ago. [1] & [2] The statement that life forms existed more than thousands of millions of years ago provided the bases for Darwin's argument in "On the Origin of Species".
  • "An Essay on the Principle of Population" by Thomas Malthus - gave rise to Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection: Survival of the Fittest (Darwin put it this way, "Survival of the fit enough").
  • Science expedition on HMS Beagle - allowed him to visit the Galapagos Islands where he observed different forms of finches - This prompted him to study the origin of species.

  • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)
    • proposed the Theory of Evolution and
    • the Theory of Natural Selection (which is a mechanism for evolution of species)
  • 4 Key ideas of On the Origin
    • The living world is CHANGING, not static
    • The evolutionary process is usually GRADUAL, not a series of jumps
    • The Common Ancestor theory
      • Closely related species evolved from ONE basic ancestor
    • The theory of Natural Selection
      • the mechanism to explain evolution
      • random process

Impact of the Works of Darwin
  • Theory of Evolution & Natural Selection = threat to religions (e.g. Christianity)
  • challenged the very fundamental of  religion = origin of life  (e.g. God created Man and other life forms on Earth - Genesis)
  • challenged the prevailing orthodoxy on how the world/life was created
  • further shifted power from religion to reason (e.g. science)
  • Darwin’s ideas (not that Darwin did mean it) implied that nature is mindless, ungoverned, a free spirit = therefore life is cruel, violent and utterly meaningless
  • Theory of Evolution - fiercely contested and very controversial until now
    • still hotly debated between two camps (namely, Creationists and Evolutionists) e.g. John Scopes trial
    • The Creationists believed in the Biblical record of the origin of life (e.g. Genesis).
    • The Evolutionists believed in Darwin's Theory of Evolution for the origin of life.
    • later another camp “Intelligent Design” emerged.
    • Definition of Intelligent Design:
    • “Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”[2]
    • “The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.” [3]

[2] (A brief history of the conflict between evolution and creation science)
and school notes :)

Suggested Further reading (A brief history of the conflict between evolution and creation science) (The Evolution Controversy) (Evolution vs. Creationism: Conflict Between Science) (What is Social Darwinism?) (Is Darwinian Evolution Compatible with Religion?)

Social Darwinism

  • Basically, Social Darwinism is the application of the Theory of Evolution to issues related to society, economics and politics. 
  • Darwin himself did not extend his Theory of Evolution to Social Darwinism. The rise of Social Darwinism was due to the various interpretations of Darwin's works.
  • It is believed to have been started by a 19th century philosopher Herbert Spencer. But his claim is highly contested as the interpretation of Spencer's works vary from scholar to scholar. (Refer to this for more complete picture of the controversy). [1][2]
  • Social Darwinism states that in society, those who are fit enough will survive while those who are not will get exterminated. In other words, there are invisible socials forces and principles which result in social evolution of national or racial groups.

  • The idea of Social Darwinism has been used to justify various social, political and economic policies:
  • E.g. Holocaust - Hitler promoted the extinction of the Jewish race and based his argument on Social Darwinism. Jews were simply not fit enough to live, hence they must be drawn to extinction. His extremist and radical ideas of Social Darwinism and racial discrimination can be found in his book Mein Kampf.
  • E.g. Laissez-faire capitalism - individual capitalists compete in the market without the intervention of the state.[3]
  • Social Darwinism was used to promote eugenics, scientific racism and imperialism.
  • For example, during the colonial era (late 15th century to late 20th century), the European colonialists/imperialists discriminated against the natives of their colonies because the Europeans had superior industrial and military technology compared to the natives who lacked the intellectual resources to rival the European technology. The European colonialists believed that since they had superior technology than the natives, they were the winner of the "survival of the fittest". [1]
  • Some extremists of Social Darwinism have extended the theory to discourage humanitarian aids saying that helping the poor nations/communities is against the principles of Social Darwinism "survival of the fittest". [1]

[1] What is Social Darwinism?
[2] Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinism
[3] Laissez-faire capitalism

Suggested Further Reading
Replicators: Evolutionary Powerhouses - a Thinkquest project
Social Darwinism: The Theory of Evolution Applied to Human Society
A Darwinist Against Social Darwinism
Was Charles Darwin a Social Darwinist?

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