Evolution became the single new idea that permeated deeply into virtually all areas of intellectual endeavor at the turn of the twentieth century. More than any other scientific or intellectual development, evolution led to conceiving the world and human nature in terms of a process which implied that nature itself, like humankind, had a history. This chapter discusses the immense amount of confusion generated by the idea of evolution; its acceptance by large number of non-scientists; the influence of the work of geologist Charles Lyell on Darwin; and the emergence of social Darwinism among critics and commentators on society. Social Darwinism may be said to refer to a competitive version of society in which the imperative to intense competition is based on the idea that society should copy or emulate nature. If nature is characterized, as Darwin said, by a struggle for survival, then society is similarly structured. The chapter also considers the fact that the chief critic of social Darwinism was Thomas Huxley, who had done more than any other single person to foster the acceptance of evolution by the English public.
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