Thought of the Day: On Darwin’s Popularity

The standard narrative for On the Origin of Species is that it changed the way people saw the world and rocked the intellectual foundations of Christian civilization.

The truth is, it didn’t change anything. People didn’t abandon their faith and shift their paradigms because they read Darwin; they ate up Darwin as a perfect narrative to support ideas they already had. The ideas of progress and human perfection and materialism were already the ‘thing’ in those days and had been for generations. Darwin only gave them a creation myth.

Do you honestly think that a dry, pedantic work of zoology focusing on finch beaks became a best seller organically, to the point of shifting the worldviews of the public? Do you think that if such a work really did challenge the dominant paradigm of the time that anyone would have ever heard of it or read it? The vast majority of people do not latch onto boring scientific treatises in the face of genuine social opposition; the only way such a work becomes popular is if it supports the dominant paradigm.

None of this is criticism of Darwin himself or his work, by the way (that’s another conversation), just of the silly mythology that grew up around it.

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