The Victorian era in England lasted from Queen Victoria’s 1837 coronation until her death in 1901. One notable event that spurred the conflict between religion and science within this period was the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin’s book was based on evidence that he had collected since the 1830s from many different parts of the world. His assertion that natural selection was responsible for the development of all species was greeted with horror and dismay by the religious community.
Although Darwin was not the first to develop theories of evolution, he both amassed more solid evidence than previous theorists and provided logical explanations that filled gaps in earlier formulations. The idea that human beings were not the ultimate creation of God was one assertion that greatly troubled Christian authorities. In addition, they rejected his explanation of the lengthy development of the earth, because it contradicted the Genesis creation story.
Condemnation of Darwin’s views came from both Catholic and Church of England authorities. Samuel Wilberforce, the Archbishop of Oxford, delivered a speech to a scientific association, mocking a prominent biologist by implying that his grandfather must be an ape. The Catholic cardinal Henry Manning accused Darwin of saying that there is no God and calling Adam an ape.
Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, public debate between religious and scientific viewpoints continued, but the grounds on which the authorities disagreed shifted. Church authorities gradually stopped challenging science as a whole and focused on reaffirming God’s role in all creation schemes.