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The Darwinian Theory and Its Impact
On Our Lives and Society


Francesca Tuazon

Evolution: how man became who he is today. The most famous theory of evolution is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The Darwinian theory has made an incredible impact on our present day life, society, science, and beliefs-- but how?

The Darwinian theory began as a journey on a ship the to the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin, future writer of The Origin of Species (his book that describes the theory of natural selection), began his discoveries aboard a surveying ship, the HMS Beagle. Darwin was the naturalist on this voyage so he observed an assortment of animals and geological formations on different continents and land forms("Darwin, Charles Robert"), includingSouth America and the Galapagos Islands (Rensberger 179).

Among his many observations on the Galapagos Islands, Darwin noticed similarities between the islands' fossils. He noted that certain fossils of supposedly extinct species closely resembled living species in the same geographical area. Each island had its own form of tortoise, mockingbird, and finch ("Voyage of the Beagle"). From island to island the finches had certain characteristics and habits that enabled them to acquire what they needed for survival ("Darwin's Finches"). The finches had slight adaptations in areas such as structure and eating habits, but were otherwise closely related ("Voyage of the Beagle"). These adaptations to the different environments of the islands became important evidence Darwin would need to formulate his theory of evolution ("Darwin's Finches").

However, the common belief that Darwin came up with his theory on the Beagle is not true (Rensberger 180). The Beagle voyage supplied Darwin with the information needed to form his theory of evolution, but he also used contemporary scientific work. Other scientists had begun to question the older beliefs of evolution ("Voyage on the Beagle"). Once Darwin returned to England, he discovered that scientist Russel Wallace had come to the same conclusions about evolution. This commenced the race to publish and the less- known controversy surrounding Darwin's theory of evolution: was he the first? Finally Wallace acknowledged that Darwin had thought of the theory first and had presented it more elaborately (Rensberger 182).

Charles Darwin's theory has made a tremendous impact on the world. It has aroused controversy, while at the same time creating a new form of scientific thought. Darwin was able to generate widespread support for his idea mostly based on evidence and the way it was presented (Bowler 18). The Origin of Species was a breakthrough that used his own work and the ideas of others even if they were not directly related to evolution, to pave the way for the formulation of his theory (Bowler 19).

This leads to the next controversy involving Darwinian theory----tying "the greater race" to animals ("Reactions to the Theory"). In The Origin of Species Darwin states that young with a certain favorable adaptation will pass it on to the next generation and survive or adapt even more using the first adaptation. This suggests that humans were created in the same way ("Theory of Natural Selection"). In Darwin's time, and sometimes today, this was unacceptable and prevented some from supporting his idea. Some challenged his theory because they disagreed with the association of animals and man. In addition, some did not believe that Darwin's justification of his theory and some evidence supporting it was scientific enough ("Dealing With the Media in Science").

The greatest controversy concerning the Darwinian theory involves Darwinism's clashing views with Creationism. Creationism is the broad range of beliefs involving God's intervention, which also explains the origin to the universe, life, and the different kinds of plants and animals on earth ("Creationism"). Before Darwin, most people in the West accepted creationism in some form ("Early Views of Creationism"). Then Darwin came along.

Darwin's evidence did not agree with Creationism. One of his objectives in the writing of The Origin of Species was to replace current theories of separate, divine creations with a theory of evolution and natural selection ("Darwin and Evolution"). This caused a great hullabaloo with the Christian church in his time. In the early twentieth century, the theory of evolution was gaining a greater presence in schools, but evangelic Christians continued to be skeptical of the theory (This controversy continues today) ("The Early 20th Century").

The 1925 trial in Dayton Tennessee drew the most attention to the creationist cause. A science teacher, John T. Scopes, taught the banned theory to test the constitutionality of the Tennessee anti- evolution law. He was helped by the American Civil Liberties Union. The jury convicted Scopes, but the Tennessee Supreme Court later overruled the decision. Creationists then developed theories they called "creation" science, which had biblical references. Creationists wanted equal time in the schools for "creation" science. Laws were passed mandating the teaching of "creation" science wherever evolutionary theory was taught in public schools. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled such laws to be unconstitutional intrusions of religion in the public schools ("Recent Trends"). The controversy with Creationism is an example of how the Darwinian theory has affected our current lives. Evolution challenged our beliefs.

The Darwinian theory also influenced the great Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Their philosophy of Social Darwinism was derived from Darwin's theory. They became immense philanthropists and provided many things that we need today, like libraries, through their generosity (Ritchie, 282-283).

Modern thought and science have also been affected by the Darwinian theory ("Darwin, Charles Robert"), since it gave a whole new perspective on life and scientific study. The Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection has provided us with a possible answer to where we came from. It gave new meanings to professions such as paleontology, anthropology, and genetics ("Human Evolution"). Science will continue to be affected by one man's observations.

These observations and the controversy surrounding Darwin's evolutionary theory drew me into this topic. Our moral beliefs have been challenged and I wanted to explore it. Also, it is interesting to see how an idea developed long ago can affect today and the future. The Darwinian theory has made a great impact on our society and has made its way into our minds no matter what our beliefs.


Anderson, Judith. "Dealing With the Media in the Science." [Online] Available http://www.arn.org/docs/pc1110.html

Bowler, Peter J. Charles Darwin The Man and His Influence. New York, NY: Blackwell Publishers Oxford, 1990.

"Creationism." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Darwin and Evolution." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Darwin, Charles Robert." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Darwin's Finches." [Online] Available http://www.infoplease.com/ ce6/sci/A0814705.html

"Early Views on Creation." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Human Evolution." [Online] Available http://www.infoplease.com/ ce6/society/A0824496.html

"Reactions to the Theory." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Recent Trends." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

Rensberger, Boyce. Instant Biology. New York, NY: Byron Priess Visual Publications, Inc., 1996.

Ritchie, Donald A. American History The Modern Era Since 1865. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1999.

"The Early 20th Century." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Theory of Natural Selection." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

"Voyage of the Beagle." Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1998.

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