When thinking about the Darwinian Revolution, I find myself wondering whether Charles Darwin realized the gravity of his scientific discoveries when he first published his famous tome “On the Origin of Species”. Often times, visionaries and groundbreaking thinkers like Darwin are just as likely to think that their work will change the world as they are to believe that they will have little impact at all. Thankfully for Darwin and the scientific community as a whole, his legacy is that of a true revolutionary – one who forever transformed the science of not just biology, but other fields as well. The Darwinian Revolution as it has come to be known was a groundbreaking shift in scientific thought throughout the world, but according to Janet Browne, it is much more than that.
Traditionally, the Darwinian Revolution was a revolution in scientific thought that took place in the years following the publication of Darwin’s findings on evolution. In this revolution, evolutionary concepts gradually took hold in the field of biology, challenging traditional concept on the origin of life, the very nature of life itself, and humanity’s place within nature on Earth. However, this interpretation is a very limited one according to Browne, and ignores some of the other fundamental changes that Darwinist thought brought onto the western world and the world as a whole. In England, there was relatively little noise regarding Darwin’s atheism, his theories’ implications for religious doctrine, and the social implications of his works, but in other places across the world, the opposite was true. In the United States, the much more religious populations rejected Darwin’s teachings, favoring the gospel of Christianity that espoused that the Earth and all life on it was created by God over the course of a week a few thousand years ago. In 1925, the Scopes Trial, in which a high-profile trial of a school teacher who tried to teach evolution to American children, illustrated that even decades after Darwin’s work had become widely accepted within much of the scientific community, there were still many who wholly rejected the idea of evolution in favor of traditional religious interpretations of the origin of life. Darwin’s work also led to changes in social policy, and not necessarily in good ways. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many new pseudoscientific theories regarding subjects like “biological racism” and “social Darwinism” bastardized Darwin’s work in an attempt to apply his concepts of evolution to different races and cultures in order to justify colonialism and European imperialism.
Overall, the Darwinian Revolution, like other revolutions, has a wider sphere of impact than traditionally recognized. While Darwin’s work certainly revolutionized scientific thought in the decades after his publishing, the implications of his theories inspired other schools of thought. His enlightening observations on evolution reached the entire world and are now taught in classrooms all over the planet. Perhaps the Darwinian Revolution is still not over, and will only come to an end when all believe in the scientific method over religious dogma, but until then, Darwin’s legacy will continue to inspire rationality and scientific thought all over the world.