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Social responses to the idea of evolution facts for kids

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Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape (1871)
As "Darwinism" became widely accepted in the 1870s, amusing cariacatures of Charles Darwin with an ape or monkey body symbolised evolution.

The idea that all life evolved was hotly debated even before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Even today, some people still talk about the concept of evolution and what it means to them, to their philosophy and their religion. Sometimes these people also talk about the social implications of evolution. This debate is mostly about the meaning of evolution to human life, or about human nature, not about how evolution works.

Debates about the fact of evolution

Some people believe in guided evolution or theistic evolution. They say that evolution is real, but it is being guided it some way.

There are many different concepts of theistic evolution. Many creationists believe that the creation myth found in their religion goes against the idea of evolution. As Darwin found out early on, the most controversial part of the evolutionary thought is its implications for human origins.

In some countries, especially in the United States, there is tension between people who accept the idea of evolution and those who reject it. The debate is mostly about if the ideas in evolution should be taught in schools, and in what way.

Other fields, like cosmology and earth science also do not match with the original writings of many religious texts. These ideas were once also fiercely opposed. Death for heresy was threatened to those who wrote against the idea that the Earth was the centre of the universe. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Holy Inquisition for teaching that the Earth moved around the Sun (and other ideas).

Evolutionary biology is opposed much more from religious believers than other groups or organizations.

The Roman Catholic Church now has a neutral position with regards to evolution. Pope Pius XII stated in his encyclical Humani Generis published in the 1950s:

The Church does not forbid that (...) research and discussions (..) take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter.

Pope John Paul II updated this position in 1996. He said that Evolution was "more than a hypothesis":

In his encyclical Humani Generis, my predecessor Pius XII has already [said] that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation. (...) Today, more than a half-century after (..) that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines.

The Anglican Communion also does not oppose the scientific account of evolution.

Using evolution for other purposes

Many of those who accepted evolution were not much interested in biology. They were interested in using the theory to support their own ideas on society.

Social Darwinism

One example of using wrong ideas about evolution to support bad things is "Social Darwinism". Social Darwinism is a term given to the ideas of the 19th century British social philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer had ideas about "survival of the fittest", which he applied to commerce and human societies as a whole.

Other people used these ideas to claim that social differences, racism, and imperialism were justified. Today, most scientists and philosophers say that the theory of evolution should not be used to support such ideas. They also say that it is difficult to find data that can support them.

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