A concise, informative overview of how Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution shook the foundations of religious beliefs and long-held scientific views.
Making excellent use of primary sources throughout, Johnson devotes the first half of her book to discussing the intellectual, philosophical and societal changes brought by the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution that would make people receptive to Darwin's ideas. She notes the development of Georges Cuvier’s catastrophist view of Earth history, Lamarck’s theory of transmutation, Lyell’s Principles of Geology and Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population as influences on Darwin’s thinking and research. The second half chronicles how Darwin formulated his theories from the voluminous notes recorded during the voyage aboard the HMS Beagle and how the publications of On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man ignited fierce ongoing controversy. Johnson discusses the role of Thomas Henry Huxley as Darwin’s principal defender and William Paley’s alternative theory of natural theology, a precursor to intelligent design. Biographical information is included throughout in the text and sidebars, but the focus is on the development and influence of Darwin’s theories and their regrettable misappropriations to social Darwinism and eugenics.
A finely crafted introduction to Darwin’s theories and the controversies they spawned. (photographs, maps, glossary, source notes, bibliography, suggestions for further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)