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What was new about Darwin's theory of Human Nature - Essay Example

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However, scientific theories of evolution were not established until the 18th and 19th centuries, by scientists such as Jean-Babtiste Lamarck and…
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What was new about Darwins theory of Human Nature
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What was new about Darwins theory of Human Nature? The idea of biological evolution has existed since ancient times, notably among Greek philosopherssuch as Epicurus and Anaximander. However, scientific theories of evolution were not established until the 18th and 19th centuries, by scientists such as Jean-Babtiste Lamarck and Charles Darvin. The transmutation of species was accepted by many scientists before 1859, but the publication of Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection provided the first cogent theory for a mechanism by which evolutionary change could occur: natural selection. (Mayr)
Darwins theory, although successful in profoundly shaking scientific opinion about the development of life, could not explain the source of variation in traits within a species, and Darwins proposal of a hereditary mechanism was not compelling to biologists. Although the occurrence of evolution of some sort became a widely-accepted view among scientists, Darwins specific ideas about evolution—that it occurred gradually by natural and sexual selection—were actively attacked and rejected.
Darwins theory nearly shattered the traditional Christian notion that humanity, poised between beast and angel, was literally formed in Gods image. Darwin pointed out, long before we knew that we share 98.5 percent of our genetic material with chimpanzees, that what looks back at us in the mirror is not the face of God but is kin to the earthbound apes. As the Edinburgh Review warned at the time, "a revolution in thought is imminent, which will shake society to its very foundations by destroying the sanctity of the conscience and the religious sense." (Zimmer)
Darwins theory created a revolution in thought. It took over 100 years for the shock of our humble origins to wear off and for scientists to begin to address the serious implications that Darwinian evolution has for understanding human nature. During that time, greatly due to Darwins contribution, Western cultures faith in science grew, as faith in a Supreme Being guiding our destiny diminished.
The theory that drove Darwin himself to agnosticism has proven to be a source of extraordinary inspiration—in ways that might have surprised Darwin himself. (Williams)
Something fascinating seems to happen when human beings begin to ponder the process of evolution. Something that calls forth awe at diversity and recognizes unity in life. Even Darwin, in The Descent of Man, used his own godless logic to envision a greater human unity that borders on the spiritual: "As man advances in civilization and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races."
Works cited
Edward J. Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (Modern Library Chronicles). Modern Library (May 4, 2004).
Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books (October, 2002).
Williams, G.C. (1966). Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of some Current Evolutionary Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Zimmer, Carl. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. Perennial (October 1, 2002). Read More
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