This research paper discusses the reception, dissemination and teaching of the views of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in the United States since the publication of his Origin of the Species in 1859 and his The Descent of Man in 1871.
Darwinism, namely, Darwin's scientific discoveries and opinions concerning the evolution of living or organic species, including humans, and the chief natural mechanism which he said governed that evolution, natural selection, challenged traditionally held Western scientific, philosophical and theological worldviews of the origin of life and the nature of man. As such, it received a mixed reaction in the United States initially and subsequently. Modern historiography suggests that the American reception accorded to Darwinism during the late 19th century represented a much more complex reality than merely a confrontation between modern scientific truth and old time religion. In fact, some portions of Darwinism appealed more than did others to mainstream American values and attitudes, even within the American scientific and intellectual community. Darwinism was also adapted by non-scientists to bolster political, social and economic assumptions and programs the significance of which modern historiography tends to discount; however, some facets of Social Darwinism mirrored important elements of the American experience and 19th century mindset.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, scientific acceptance of Darwinism declined, only to revive later due to advances in the fields of heredity and genetics. Fierce resistance to the use of Darwinist teaching in the public schools erupted twice in this century, in the 1920s and in recent decades. The nature of that opposition reflected deeply rooted and conflicted attitudes by some elements of American society toward Darwinism.
Darwin's Views and The Challenge They Posed
Origin of the Species. Darwin reported that a number of factors accounted for th...