My textbook (Freeman, S. and Herron, J.C., 2007. Evolutionary analysis p. 66) says

Before Charles Darwin published on the origin of Species in 1859, special creation was the leading explanation for where Earth's organisms came from. ... within a decade the fact of evolution had achieved general acceptance among biologists.

I find this rather surprising. I would have thought that "special creation" would remain a leading theory, even among scientists, for much longer than that.

How long did it take scientists to fully (or almost fully) accept evolution as the explanation for the origin of all species on earth?

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    Are you taking about Darwin's Theory specifically or evolutionary theories in general?
    – Steve Bird
    Apr 29, 2019 at 18:15
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    While I believe this question is on-topic here, you may not be aware that there is a separate History of Science and Math SE site.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 29, 2019 at 18:31
  • @SteveBird I'm not talking about natural selection as the driving force of evolution, but rather the fact that species can change in form drastically over generations and also split into different species. Apr 29, 2019 at 21:06
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    Darwin did not discover evolution. He described its mechanism and driving force: the natural selection. Evolutionary views were quite common among scientists before Darwin, since the beginning of the study of fossils. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_evolutionary_thought
    – Alex
    Apr 29, 2019 at 21:11
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    No. As I said, its on topic here as well, and we are always happy to have good on-topic questions. However, if you'd prefer it there, we could arrange to have it migrated.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 29, 2019 at 21:12

1 Answer 1


Charles Darwin died in 1882 but his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, actually proposed a theory of evolution in 1770. Charles was strongly influenced by his scientific grandfather.

Thomas Henry Huxley coined 'Darwinism' in 1860. A scientific definition of Darwinism is taken from 'Life' book - Nature Library - Evolution. The full title of Darwin's first book states his own definition; On The Origin Of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. His second book was, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).

But Darwin did not know about DNA and the role of genes, so evolutionary theory today has... evolved accordingly!

In 1856 Austrian monk Gregor Johann Mendel launched the first of a series of experiments that were to demonstrate that inheritance, like evolution, is not a chaos or chance, or miracle, but a matter of law. Darwin never heard of Mendel's work, and the monk's reports lay ignored by the scientific world for decades.

Others contributed to the development of evolutionary theory. Hugo de Vries (d. 1935) developed the first mutation theory through extensive studies of the evening primrose. He thought he had formed new species through mutations. (He had actually identified segregated characters, not mutations but his work provided a platform on which to build.) De Vries discovered the import of Mendel's work and, in a paper read before the German Botanical Society in 1900, he gave Mendel full credit for one of the most momentous discoveries in scientific history.

It did not take long for Darwin's take on evolutionary theory to be adopted, but it has been constantly adapted! There is not a whole lot of Darwin's original interpretation still in vogue today, due to on-going adaptations that take into consideration new discoveries. Darwinian theory started off a change in direction regarding scientific beliefs about the origins of species, which was quickly and enthusiastically accepted by many, but what we have today has evolved significantly from his (and his grandfather's) initial thinking. But given that Thomas Henry Huxley coined 'Darwinism' in 1860, your textbook quote has reason to claim general acceptance within a decade.

However, there were many who did not agree with the new 'Darwinism'. It was by no means universally accepted within a decade of Darwin's first book being published. It's likely, however, that the clamour of excitement generated by this new enthusiasm received much coverage in the media of the day, so that it would appear that virtually the whole scientific world was running after the idea.

EDIT - This compilation is partly from 'Life' series - Nature Library - 'Evolution' by Ruth Moore and The Editors of LIFE, 1964, published by Time-Life Int. It is also partly from a paper on the subject of Evolution that I put together a few years ago. I am a published author myself, but not on this subject, and my own document is just one in my own private collection.

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    Parts of this answer appear to be copied verbatim from elsewhere and posted without proper attribution. May 1, 2019 at 13:02
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    I suspect it is worth stating that you posted part of your answer here, (which was the site mentioned in the plagiarism flag) May 2, 2019 at 16:02
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    That is because I am the person on that web-site who was given Best Answer to that question, over a year ago. This means that I have not plagiarised anything because the initial answer was all my own work and I have adapted some of it to fit this new question here.
    – Anne
    May 2, 2019 at 17:07
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    Since you've been using SE for over a year, with over 100 posts to date, you'll probably be aware that plagiarism is taken seriously on SE sites. Unless you cite content you have posted elsewhere as being your own work, this kind of situation is likely to arise again - particularly if the posts were made with a different username! This is why I suggested above that you state explicitly that you were also the author of the post on Yahoo answers. May 2, 2019 at 17:35
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    You are right, we don't care who the author of the post on Yahoo is, if the answer is verbatim to that answer it, it needs cited. Do you perhaps know Yahoos legality on using the content you have provided there? For instance SE discussed self-plagiarism here, but I have no idea if Yahoo (or SE) allows content to be freely copied without proper citations to other sites.
    – justCal
    May 2, 2019 at 18:14

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