John van Wyhe is a British historian of science, with a focus on Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, at the National University of Singapore. Here is the full text of his talk titled “How We Found Out Evolution is True” at TEDxNTU conference.
Hello. Today, I want to tell you a story that’s very interesting to me, which is that when Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, the world was, on average, a much more religious world than it is today – the world has become much more secular.
And, of course, his one book didn’t have that much evidence, but within 10 or 15 years, the scientific debate over evolution was over. Darwin’s book was victorious and the international scientific community accepted that evolution was a fact, by the 1870s.
Now the question is: How could that have happened in a world that was so against evolution and so religiously conservative whereas today, where the world is relatively speaking much more secular, and we have billions of times more evidence, many people seem to think that evolution is controversial?
These two things to me don’t seem to make sense, but I think the history of how evolution came to be uncovered in the first place can clear this up. So, of course, centuries ago, people believed that the Earth and the animals and plants in it had been created by a supernatural deity, rather as is depicted in this illustration from Luther’s Bible from the 1530s.