On The Reception Of The ‘Origin Of Species’ Informative Summary


In this essay, Thomas Henry Huxley, a contemporary of Darwin, recounts the reception of On the Origin of Species. He describes the initial wave of hostility and ridicule, particularly from religious circles, highlighting the infamous Quarterly Review article of 1860. Huxley then contrasts this with the later d acceptance of Darwin’s theory among the scientific community, attributing the change in attitude to the compelling evidence presented in Darwin’s work. He argues that Darwin provided a much-needed alternative to the creationist explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, offering a working hypothesis that could be tested and refined.

Huxley then tackles some of the common philosophical objections to Darwinism, such as the notion that it relies on “chance” or abolishes teleology. He counters these arguments by emphasizing the universality of natural laws and the compatibility of evolution with a wider teleological perspective. He also argues that evolution is neither anti-theistic nor theistic, but simply a scientific explanation of the natural world that does not require invoking divine intervention.

Key Findings:

  • Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection initially faced fierce opposition from both the scientific and religious communities.
  • The scientific community gradually embraced Darwinism due to the overwhelming evidence presented in On the Origin of Species.
  • Darwinism provided a more plausible alternative to creationism, offering a working hypothesis that could be tested and refined.
  • Many objections to Darwinism were rooted in philosophical and theological assumptions that were ultimately unfounded.


  • The power of evidence-based science: Huxley illustrates how scientific progress hinges on the accumulation of evidence and the development of testable hypotheses.
  • The changing nature of scientific understanding: The initial resistance to Darwinism highlights how even established scientific paradigms can be challenged and overturned by new evidence and insights.
  • The relationship between science and religion: The debates surrounding Darwinism illuminate the complex interplay between scientific inquiry and religious beliefs.

Historical Context:

This essay reflects the social and intellectual climate of the late 19th century, a time marked by both scientific advancements and religious anxieties. Darwin’s work challenged traditional views about the origins of life and the nature of God, sparking fierce debates within both scientific and religious communities. Huxley’s essay provides valuable insight into these debates and the forces that ultimately led to the widespread acceptance of Darwin’s theory.


  1. Darwin’s work was met with initial hostility and ridicule. Many critics, including those from religious circles, dismissed Darwin’s ideas as “flighty” and “utterly rotten.”
  2. The Quarterly Review article of 1860 exemplifies the vicious attacks against Darwin. The reviewer, a self-proclaimed expert on science, displayed a profound lack of understanding of Darwin’s work, resorting to insults and misrepresentations.
  3. The scientific community gradually embraced Darwinism. This shift in opinion was driven by the compelling evidence presented in On the Origin of Species and the lack of alternative explanations for the diversity of life.
  4. Darwin’s theory challenged traditional views about creation. The idea of evolution by natural selection conflicted with the biblical account of creation, leading to religious anxieties and debates.
  5. Darwin emphasized the universality of natural laws. He argued that variations in organisms arise from natural causes, not by chance, and that the fittest survive through a process of natural selection.
  6. Evolution does not disprove the existence of God. Huxley argued that evolution is a scientific explanation for the natural world that does not necessarily conflict with theological beliefs.
  7. Theological objections to Darwinism were often based on misinterpretations. Critics argued that Darwinism abolished teleology, but Huxley countered that evolution is compatible with a broader teleological perspective.
  8. The history of geology played a role in the eventual acceptance of evolution. Lyell’s work on uniformitarianism, which argued that geological processes have remained constant throughout history, paved the way for the acceptance of evolution as a natural process.
  9. Darwin was not the first to propose the idea of evolution. Earlier thinkers like Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin had proposed similar ideas, but they lacked the empirical evidence and convincing explanations that Darwin provided.
  10. The concept of “creation” has shifted over time. What was once understood as a supernatural act of God has come to be seen as a natural process, driven by the laws of nature.
  11. Darwinism has proven to be a powerful tool for scientific advancement. It has provided a framework for understanding the history of life on Earth and has opened up new areas of research in biology.
  12. Darwin’s work was groundbreaking because it provided a testable hypothesis. This enabled scientists to gather evidence and refine the theory of evolution, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the natural world.
  13. The initial resistance to Darwinism highlights the human tendency to resist new ideas. This resistance is often based on fear of the unknown or discomfort with challenges to established beliefs.
  14. The debate surrounding Darwinism continues to this day. While evolution is now widely accepted by the scientific community, there are still some who hold onto alternative explanations for the diversity of life.
  15. Huxley’s essay provides a valuable historical perspective on the reception of Darwin’s work. It illustrates the complex interplay of science, religion, and culture in shaping scientific understanding.
  16. Huxley’s arguments are still relevant today. The issues he raised about the nature of evidence, the relationship between science and religion, and the role of teleology in understanding the natural world remain central to contemporary discussions about evolution.
  17. The acceptance of Darwinism marked a turning point in scientific thought. It shifted the focus from studying the “fixity” of species to understanding the dynamic processes of evolution.
  18. Darwin’s theory of evolution has had a profound impact on our understanding of ourselves. It has helped to explain the interconnectedness of all living things and has challenged anthropocentric views of the world.
  19. Evolutionary theory continues to be refined and expanded. Scientists are constantly uncovering new evidence and developing new insights into the processes of evolution.
  20. The debate surrounding Darwinism highlights the importance of critical thinking. It encourages us to examine our assumptions, challenge established beliefs, and embrace new knowledge.


  1. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. This book revolutionized biology and sparked a fierce debate about the origins of life.
  2. The Quarterly Review article was published in July 1860. It exemplifies the hostility and misunderstanding that Darwin’s work initially encountered.
  3. Huxley’s essay was written approximately a year after the publication of On the Origin of Species. This suggests that the debate surrounding Darwin’s work was already in full swing.
  4. Darwin’s work was met with resistance from both religious and scientific circles. This resistance highlights the challenges of introducing new ideas, especially those that challenge established beliefs.
  5. The scientific community gradually shifted its views on Darwinism. This shift is evident in the increasing number of scientists who embraced evolution by natural selection over time.
  6. Huxley was one of the first prominent scientists to champion Darwin’s work. His support was crucial in furthering the acceptance of evolution within the scientific community.
  7. Darwin’s work was translated into German around 1860. However, the German scientific community was initially slow to embrace his ideas.
  8. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been a major force in advancing biological science. It has provided a framework for understanding the diversity of life and has spurred numerous research breakthroughs.
  9. The acceptance of evolution has had a profound impact on our understanding of the world. It has led to new fields of study, such as evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology.
  10. Evolutionary theory continues to be developed and refined. New discoveries and insights are constantly being made, furthering our understanding of the processes of evolution.
  11. The debate surrounding Darwinism is ongoing. This reflects the dynamism of science and the ever-evolving nature of knowledge.
  12. Darwin’s work has been the subject of countless books, articles, and documentaries. This illustrates the enduring impact of his ideas on science and culture.
  13. Huxley’s essay provides a unique window into the early days of the Darwinian revolution. It offers valuable insights into the challenges and triumphs of scientific progress.
  14. Darwin’s work continues to be a source of inspiration for scientists and thinkers alike. It challenges us to think critically, question our assumptions, and embrace the wonders of the natural world.
  15. The reception of Darwin’s work highlights the power of ideas. Even when met with resistance, groundbreaking ideas can have a lasting impact on the world.
  16. Huxley’s essay serves as a reminder of the importance of intellectual courage. He stood up for Darwin’s ideas in the face of fierce opposition, demonstrating the power of reason and evidence.
  17. The debate surrounding Darwinism is a testament to the power of science to challenge our preconceived notions. It encourages us to embrace the unknown and to be open to new perspectives.
  18. Darwin’s work has had a lasting impact on our understanding of the universe. It has shown us that the natural world is not static but constantly evolving, driven by natural forces.
  19. The acceptance of Darwinism was a significant victory for the scientific method. It demonstrated the power of evidence-based reasoning to overcome prejudice and dogma.
  20. Darwin’s work continues to inspire scientific inquiry and to challenge us to think critically about the world around us. His ideas have opened up new possibilities for understanding life and the universe.


  • Evolution: The process of gradual change in the characteristics of a species over time, driven by natural selection.
  • Natural Selection: The process by which organisms with traits better suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on those traits to their offspring.
  • Species: A group of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
  • Creationism: The belief that the universe and all living things were created by a supernatural being, often associated with the biblical account of creation.
  • Teleology: The study of purpose or design in nature, often used to argue for the existence of a creator.
  • Uniformitarianism: The principle that geological processes have remained constant throughout history, a key concept in understanding the history of life on Earth.
  • Transmutation: An early term for evolution, referring to the idea that species can change over time into other species.
  • Darwinism: The theory of evolution by natural selection, as proposed by Charles Darwin.
  • Agnosticism: The view that the existence of God is unknown or unknowable.
  • Determinism: The belief that all events, including human actions, are predetermined and unavoidable.


  1. The Quarterly Review article: This article exemplifies the misrepresentations and insults that Darwin’s work initially encountered, highlighting the prejudice and lack of understanding that often characterize the reception of new ideas.
  2. The “flighty” person” criticism: This refers to the reviewers’ dismissal of Darwin’s theory as based on speculation and guesswork, rather than rigorous scientific evidence.
  3. The “rotten fabric” accusation: This highlights the reviewers’ unwillingness to engage with Darwin’s arguments, preferring to attack him personally rather than address his scientific claims.
  4. The “turnip becoming a man” question: This absurd question highlights the reviewer’s lack of understanding of Darwin’s theory, demonstrating their inability to grapple with the complexities of natural selection.
  5. Lyell’s gradual shift from anti-transmutationist to Darwinian: This illustrates the power of evidence to change even firmly held beliefs. Lyell’s eventual acceptance of Darwinism underscores the importance of open-mindedness and intellectual honesty in scientific inquiry.
  6. The Vestiges of Creation: This book, published in 1844, proposed an evolutionary view of life but lacked the scientific rigor of Darwin’s work. It serves as an example of the need for evidence-based reasoning in science.
  7. Lamarck’s “Philosophie Zoologique”: This book, published in 1809, proposed a theory of evolution based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. While influential, it lacked the robust framework and evidence that Darwin later provided.
  8. The “vertebre pensante” anecdote: This illustrates how even seemingly minor criticisms can have a significant impact on the reception of scientific ideas.
  9. The “chance” vs. “design” debate: This ongoing debate highlights the different ways in which people view the universe and the origins of life.
  10. The evolution of a chicken from an egg: Huxley uses this simple example to demonstrate the universality of evolutionary processes, showing that even the most complex organisms arise from simple beginnings.


Thomas Henry Huxley’s essay provides a fascinating account of the tumultuous reception of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the scientific revolution that it ushered in. The initial resistance to Darwinism, fueled by religious anxieties and scientific skepticism, highlights the challenges of introducing groundbreaking ideas. However, the compelling evidence presented in Darwin’s work, coupled with the growing acceptance of uniformitarianism, ultimately led to the widespread embrace of evolutionary theory within the scientific community. Huxley’s essay not only recounts the history of this debate, but also provides valuable insights into the nature of science, the relationship between science and religion, and the importance of intellectual courage in pursuing truth. The essay serves as a reminder that scientific progress often involves questioning established beliefs, challenging dogmas, and embracing new knowledge, even when it is met with resistance. 

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