What Was the Public Reaction to Charles Darwin’s Book “On the Origin of Species” In 1859?

Charles Darwin had formulated his theory of evolution by 1838. In 1858, he still had not written any papers or books on the theory.

Darwin was very concerned about public reaction to a theory that disputed the biblical story of creation.

He remembered clearly what had happened to Italian scientist Galileo under similar circumstances. He once said publishing his idea would be like “confessing a murder.”

When he finally published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he made a point to leave references to humans and religion out of it, but it didn’t work. The book was banned in many places.

Leaders of the Christian church were enraged and attacked the notion that man descended from monkeys, something Darwin was careful not to say in the book.

Darwin stayed out of the fight and allowed the famous zoologist Thomas Huxley to lead the debate for him.

During one debate at Oxford University, Huxley defended evolution by saying he would rather be descended from a monkey than a bishop of the Church of England. Many scientists came to Darwin’s defense, and the debate eventually subsided.

Darwin saw the controversy coming, but he was still hurt by the personal attacks.

He once said, “I have never been an atheist. This grand and wondrous universe seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.”

Astronomy had changed man’s place in the universe; now biology had changed his place on Earth.

In the 20 years Darwin delayed presenting his theory on evolution, he spent eight years studying barnacles.

After Darwin returned from his travels aboard the Beagle, he was in constant ill health.

He never traveled outside England again and seldom even left his home.

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