Darwin and his Disciples

Jean-Andre Prager demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of Darwinism. This essay was the winner of the Julia Wood Prize for 2011.

By the time the acting secretary of the Committee of Clergymen, W. R. Freemantle, put his signature to the Oxford Declaration of 25 February 1864, the divisions between the defenders of the United Church of England and Ireland and the new prophets of scientific revolution were clear. No fewer than 11,000 clergymen signed the declaration, which asserted that the Bible was the indisputable word of God. Their motivation was a series of seven essays, from 1860, by liberal churchmen, dubbed the ‘Seven against Christ’, which had sought to accommodate advances in biology and geology with the prevailing theology in Essays and Reviews. The essays caused greater uproar than On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin, published four months earlier, and reflected a growing distrust in the dogmatic literalism of the Church’s orthodoxy.

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