Deconstructing Darwin: Evolutionary theory in context

Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):137-152 (2005)
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Abstract

The topic of this paper is external versus internal explanations, first, of the genesis of evolutionary theory and, second, its reception. Victorian England was highly competitive and individualistic. So was the view of society promulgated by Malthus and the theory of evolution set out by Charles Darwin and A.R. Wallace. The fact that Darwin and Wallace independently produced a theory of evolution that was just as competitive and individualistic as the society in which they lived is taken as evidence for the impact that society has on science. The same conclusion is reached with respect to the reception of evolutionary theory. Because Darwin's contemporaries lived in such a competitive and individualistic society, they were prone to accept a theory that exhibited these same characteristics. The trouble is that Darwin and Wallace did not live in anything like the same society and did not formulate the same theory. Although the character of Victorian society may have influenced the acceptance of evolutionary theory, it was not the competitive, individualistic theory that Darwin and Wallace set out but a warmer, more comforting theory.

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