American Thought in Transition: The Impact of Evolutionary Naturalism, 1865-1900

By Paul F. Boiler Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Scientific Reception
of Darwinism

In March, 1860, a superb review of a revolutionary new book appeared in the American Journal of Science and Arts. The book was Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, which had appeared in England the previous November, and the reviewer was Asa Gray, professor of natural history and director of the herbarium at Harvard University. Gray's review essay was thorough, informed, perceptive, lucid, sympathetic, thoughtful, suggestive, and witty; and Darwin regarded it as one of the ablest notices that his book received.In it the Harvard botanist predicted a "spirited conflict among opinions" about the book similar to the "conflict in nature among races in the struggle for life which Mr. Darwin describes." He was quite right; the controversy over Darwin's views was spirited indeed.


The Darwinian World View

In the Origin of Species, Darwin rejected the notion, commonly held when his book appeared, that species of plants and animals (including man) originated in a special act of creation which fixed their forms for all time.Evolutionary change, he insisted, not immutability, is the law of life; living organisms are the products of gradual, minute

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