Revolutions are often considered progressive, as the birth of new thought and ideas moves society forward and compels citizens to be more open minded. However, some revolutions can be twisted to aid regression, and science can be used to support pseudoscientific, backwards thinking. This was one unfortunate result of the Darwinian Revolution. While Darwin’s research undoubtedly brought essential scientific knowledge to light, it also gave rise to Social Darwinism and ushered in a flawed method of scientific thought. Therefore, this revolution simultaneously propelled society forward and backward.
The Darwinian Revolution encouraged “typological thinking” in which evolution is thought of as a logical progression, moving in one direction, instead of the complex set of interrelationships that it is. This is problematic because it reduces the complexity of evolution, rendering one of the fundamental tenets of science overly simplistic. Scientific findings that build off of evolution, then, are also simplified. For example, evolution suggests that after humans evolved, they no longer mated with their chimpanzee ancestors and continued to evolve as an isolated species into modern humans. However, more recent findings suggest that early humans continued to mate with early chimpanzees for so long that a species of remarkably human-like chimpanzees actually evolved. These findings are so recent because evolution has not always been viewed as a complex, branching ancestry but a simple ladder-like progression. Other developments have also possibly been delayed due to this way of thinking.
A much more unfavorable result of Darwinism was Social Darwinism, where the concept of natural selection was applied to the human population to justify racism. While this has now been identified as pseudoscientific and been discredited, it caused immense pain as it was used to justify injustices such as eugenics and the outlawing of interracial marriage. This was only due to the unethical and incorrect appropriation of science, but shows an important aspect of revolutions. This new knowledge most directly resulted in scientific progress, but was also used to perpetuate social inequality and give it a scientific basis. This is especially dangerous because it makes these racist assumptions more credible to the public; scientific knowledge can, surprisingly, be antithetical to social progress in some cases.
However, it must not be assumed that these results of evolution were all-encompassing; not everyone even accepted the theory. This is another negative impact of the revolution because it seemed to place people in two camps, based on whether they would accept the concept and use it to their advantage or deny it altogether. Many religious groups initially decided evolution contradicted their beliefs. This even divided people who belonged to the same religion, though, because Social Darwinism was used to justify imperialism. Imperialism was also in line with religious beliefs because missionaries could christianize colonized areas. Therefore, the pseudoscientific application of the novel theory could be advantageous to some religious groups while the theory itself contradicted their beliefs. This most likely created internal strife and confusion.
While it led to future progress, it seems that Darwinism was not entirely beneficial throughout history. It inadvertently encouraged a limited way of thinking about science and a backwards view of the social realm. Religious confusion arose regarding whether acceptance of the theory would be beneficial to the spread of western religions or chafe too strongly with Christian beliefs. This side of Darwinism shows how not all revolutions transfer into uninhibited social progress.