Very soon will be the 150th anniversary of the first public debate on natural selection between Bishop Wilberforce, Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker.
On 30 June 1860 at the University Museum in Oxford, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the case was made for the new theory of the evolution of species by natural selection as had been announced in 1859 by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913).
Supporting the proposal were Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) and Joseph Hooker (1817-1911).
Against it was Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, representing the traditions of the church.
Hundreds of web sites discuss the importance of this debate, as for instance
http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/8920154
The 1860 debate on evolution is often portrayed as a confrontation between religion and science.
Darwin, Huxley and Hooker were professional scientists who focussed on the advance of scientific knowledge, and were resolved not to be obstructed by religious arrogance. Their approach to science was to spread and prosper, and to become largely independent of religious dogma.

How can it be that today, 150 years later, there are so many ostrich-headed obstructionists with heads buried in the sand?
How does the arrogance and disdain of the creationists manage to persist?—above all, how does this happen in the otherwise wonderfully-advanced, scientific and technological country that is America?
What more can scientists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers do to ensure that only truths are taught in schools?

Tags: Darwin, Hooker, Huxley, Wallace, creationism, darwinism, evolution, evolution in schools

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Replies to This Discussion

Beyond all the controversy this subject brings to the surface in people out of social indoctrination, I think the biggest problem evolution has of being obvious irrefutable fact to everyone, is the way you have to take so many points and view them as a whole, to really see the undeniable truth. You cannot just explain the system to someone, due to it's counter intuitive nature for one, but also due to the radical changes we see it giving rise to given sufficient time.

I have considered myself a skeptical thinker from the beginning of my life, and evolution always seemed to make the most sense to me, even when I was a religious child. There were gaps, but the idea made sense. I still saw it as a hypothesis however that could be wrong, somehow. The thing I did not realize until the past few years, was it is a fact. One of the most wonderful facts I've realized, so much more satisfying than any religious dogma. Only after studying the evidence, did it all click into place. Looking at geology, the continental drift, the spread of species in relation to drift, the many, many transitional fossils you have to view as a whole, it takes a complicated series of many elements to deduce the undeniable truth. People want to see a missing link, but you need to show them dozens and dozens to really see it.

Because of this, many intelligent people, non religious people, do not understand how much we actually know about this subject, and how indeed it is undeniably obvious. You will find a few people on this very website who do not fully see the truth of it, and find gaps they need filled in to truly appreciate the fact of it.

Once you have thirty to a hundred facts all dependent on the truth of evolution, you cannot deny it's truth. And the way we are taught this subject in public schools today is a tragedy. I am angry when I think back to the little we were told of this glorious process.

We are presented this subject as if it's another religion, with no passion or regard for the case to be made. We are simply told of this theory, and how scientists believe it. This has got to be remedied.
I think for one, series like Carl Sagan's Cosmos should be mandatory in school, and there should be a detailed course approached the same way we approach a trial of law, presenting pieces of evidence, step by step, that all corroborate the obvious once you stack them up. Just like the recent series of court cases around America did the same thing for several judges.

It takes a knowledge of the corroborating evidence, and sadly, that knowledge proves to be too complex for the average person to hold in mind without challenging their intuitive sense of things.
It might be that a lot of people are simply not emotionally mature enough entertain the possibility that there will be a permanent end to their lives. Religion provides them assurance that there will not be while rewarding them as having been good for subscribing to it.
Many religious people believe the theory of evolution to be true. I don't think we can blame religion or the idea of an afterlife completely. Science and religion can easily be married. I was raised by a Christian mother who supported the theory of evolution. It was not far of a stretch to imagine a god greater than the petty god of the bible, and the bible to be mistaken due to the ancient mind, never mind the glaring questions that raised. I entertained it myself into early puberty. My sister and brother are both some of the most intelligent people I know, both working in the field of science, and both deists of a sort. But the relation between ignorance of evolution and religion is still there, true. I think it's due to being involved with the same themes, yes.
"Science and religion can easily be married."

I disagree. Would a righteous, loving God create the processes of evolution? Is this the best of all worlds? If suffering could be reduced without changing the outcome, why has God not done so?

The only way of marrying religion with the evidence is to ignore the evidence.
You're ignoring a perspective in favor of what is real. I am not advocating that science and religion be married, I am simply pointing out that the religious can easily marry their world view with the world view that science can offer. The fact that you can see a fallacy in it does not change anything. If you don't think there are many, many religious people who also have complete confidence in science and the theory of evolution, than you're the one who is sticking your head in the sand. They may not take the scientific method all the way, but this is because they create a sort of off limits bubble for the unexplained aspects of the universe that can easily exist while they otherwise practice complete rationalism .

I am an atheist, but I know plenty of otherwise intelligent and brilliant people who consider themselves religious. People working in places like NASA, MIT, and Delft, Netherlands.

I know my mother believed there was a god, but one we did not understand. This God used evolution as a means to see what would happen to things, as I suppose she did not see him as an all knowing being, or perhaps it's all part of the plan for the lord working in mysterious ways. No matter how you try to know, you cannot understand why God does what he does in the ways that he does them. You can point out the fallacies all day long about omnipotence and omnipresence, it does not change the fact that people can create "mind games" of a sort to continue in their faith while embracing science.
This, to me, sounds like (at least) a psychological imbalance and in some cases outright mental illness.

(I have a mental illness and I take meds for it. Lots of them right now - as my condition is worsening. In many instances people are sectioned for what I have; and I'm only just hanging on to what's left of my sanity right now.)

Yet it's apparently OK, for people to walk around denying the very fabric of science (from biology to physics and beyond) almost to the point of claiming the earth is flat - and yet, we consider they are normal.

This is f***ed up and it's something we really need to address.
Eh. Mental illness to an extent, but more in the sense of a child believing in santa claus than a man believing he is hearing god in his head and being tempted to violent acts.

It's the remnant of cultural superstition, in the case of my family. Almost more tradition than philosophy. But that's just the average case of the average intelligent and reasonable religious person. There are still plenty who would cross the line I'd say of the truly mentally ill.

It's more in a trust of one's parents and loved ones, than delusion, in the case I am talking about.
Cultural superstition, perhaps.

But when we get into hard-core creationism I have to think there's something else going on here.

I've given up trying to convince my Mormon "friends" of evolution - even showing them physical evidence doesn't do it. They can't even accept they're bigots when it comes to gay folk or that book of Mormon is all made up - hell, just reading it with a skeptical eye, you can see that from the outset.

Hearing voices is a psychosis to be sure, but I think that beliving something to be true - when it patently isn't, is requires defining as mental illness - and if it were society could move in rather than tip toeing around these loons.
I don't think that this problem is with science, religion or even God. It's with the gap between what we want to happen in life, and what actually happens. We want there to be fairness (or justice with a small j) in the universe when, of course, there is no such thing.

I would argue that faith is "a defective insulator that attempts to shield the human concept of justice from the amoral universe".

This insecurity is manipulated by religion and can not be alleviated by scientific facts.
I think this is at the heart of it, yes. Wishful thinking, taken to the extreme. It's just so amazing to see how otherwise rational people will rationalize that when they die they will win the proverbial lottery. When otherwise in normal life, they would laugh at anyone who has the faith to believe they will win the lottery next week.
Why does Evolution fail to achieve an unequivocally central role in secular thought?

Because, when we tackle the greatest of all evolutionary question about human existence – how, when, and why did we emerge on the tree of life, and were we meant to arise, or are we only lucky to be here – our prejudices often overwhelm our limited information. Some of these biased descriptions are so venerable, so reflexive, so much a part of our second nature, that we never stop to recognize their status as social decisions with radical alternatives, and we view them instead as given and obvious truths.

Until Charles Darwin rolled into town in 1859 with his notion of “natural selection,” most people accepted that God made the world in six days and then “he” rested. Nineteenth-century debate was one of religion in science rather than religion versus science. When Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), the genius of the Italian Renaissance, found see fossils in the Alps and asked how they got there, the conventional wisdom simply said it was proof that a Flood once covered the earth.

When in 1859 Charles Darwin proposed that man had evolved slowly, sharing common ancestry with the apes, most of the religious world did not take kindly to this suggestion. Darwin saw evolution as the interplay of three principles: the occurrence of random variation; the mechanism of heredity, which transmits similar organic forms; and the struggle for existence, which determines which variations survive to be inherited.

The idea that blind physical forces could generate change invalidated the assumption of progress toward an ideal state of perfection. Adam Sedgwick, professor of geology at Cambridge, detested the theory (of random variation) because it “has deserted the inductive track, the only track that leads to physical truth; because it utterly repudiates final causes and thereby indicates a demoralized understanding on the part of its advocates.”

Religious traditionalists accused Darwin of “limiting God’s glory “in creation,” of “attempting to dethrone God,” of “implying that Christians for nearly 2000 years have been duped by a “monstrous lie.” Evolution theory violated traditional assumptions, and, above all, the assumed distinction between man and the animal world. “It was one thing to discover that Galileo had been right about the solar system,” as Kenneth C. Davis says. “It was another to accept that humankind was kissing cousin to the monkey.”

Darwin replied to such criticism by defining his sense of scientific method. “I am actually weary of telling that I do not pretend to adduce direct evidence of one species changing into another, but that I believe that this view is in the main correct because so many phenomena can thus be grouped together and explained.”

In 1942, a nationwide survey of secondary school teachers (in America) indicated that fewer than 50 percent of high school biology teachers were teaching anything about organic evolution in their science courses. Some avoided the subject either because of potential community opposition or their own personal beliefs.

In January 1961, a bill to repeal Tennessee’s monkey laws, still in force thirty years after the Scopes trial, met prompt and passionate rejection by people who argued that evolutionary theory “drives God out of the universe” and “leads to communism.”

By 1967, the law in Tennessee was finally repealed. The sponsor of the repeal measure D. O. Smith from Memphis, brought to the state legislature a caged monkey with the sign reading “Hello Daddy.”

In Little Rock, Arkansas, Governor Faubus defended antievolution legislation throughout the sixties by saying: “It was the will of the people.” The state supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the law forbidding the teaching of evolution, and it was not until 1968 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas antievolutionary law unconstitutional.

The present battle over evolution is more clearly defined in the question over the Divine Creation. According to a series of polls, taken over the last twenty-five years, about 50 percent of Americans believe that “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10.000 years.”

At another extreme, Pope John Paul II has recognized the validity of teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. The Pope says: “If the human body has its origin in living material which preexist it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God.”

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