How was Charles Darwin personally

Summary of The descent of man

The dispute about the origin of man

By the mid-19th century, three things about creation were considered to have been settled. First: The animal and plant species are immutable, namely as they were created. Second, you were created by God. And third: Man has a special role assigned to him by God. Darwin shook all three certainties with his book published in 1859 The origin of the species through natural selectionin which he presented a convincing evolutionary mechanism for the first time with natural selection. The result was social and political upheaval on a considerable scale, as the Christian doctrine of creation was not only valid in Great Britain as the spiritual and moral foundation of society. In the years that followed, several other naturalists published books that dealt with the descent and development of humans and that were heavily influenced by the theory of evolution. The best known of these authors were the geologist in England Charles Lyell, one of Darwin's teachers, and the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (aka "Darwin's Bulldog"), one of the most vigorous fighters for the new doctrine. In Germany, the Jena zoologist was particularly exposed on the subject of human ancestry Ernst Haeckel and the biologist Carl Vogt. They prepared the ground for Darwin's work in German-speaking countries. However, this differs from those of the other authors in that it has its own perspective and a broader approach; this is how Darwin explains not only the physical descent, but also the evolution of behavior.


For several years, Charles Darwin had been paying more attention to the origins of humans as a sideline - and the subject literally emerged as a special aspect of his theory of evolution. But he was after the publication of his major work The Origin of Species unsettled by the public hostility in 1859, which is why he initially held back from further publications. In the introduction to TheDescent of man he confesses: “For many years I have been collecting notes on the origin or descent of man without the intention of publishing anything about it; On the contrary, I was determined not to bring any of it to the public because I was afraid that this would only increase the prejudices against my views Subject would have expedited his decision. The economic success of his debut made a continuation seem advisable. All of this led to the release of The descent of man in 1871.

Impact history

From today's perspective, it may be surprising that Darwin published his own book on the descent of humans, but where did it go? TheOrigin of species the origin of man implied - which was also understood by all over the world, just think of the countless caricatures that show Darwin himself as a monkey. In fact, however, Darwin only addresses the subject in his main work with a single laconic sentence: “Light will also fall on people and their history.” Nevertheless, the effect that TheDescent of man unfolded, cannot be separated from the ongoing dispute over the theory of evolution that has raged since 1859; Opponents and supporters were each the same. The question that moved the minds most about both books was, of course, whether the human being descended from an ape-like ancestor or not. An important point of criticism of the opponents lay in the fact that Darwin's evolution did not need a divine plan and did not see humans as the goal of a desired development, but as a more or less accidental intermediate product. As before TheOrigin of species also worked TheDescent of man heavily on some contemporary naturalists.

What the book has set standards to this day is the nuanced argument that there is no insurmountable boundary between humans and animals, but only a difference of degree. In whatever area a special role of humans was postulated - use of tools, culture, language skills, self-confidence, transcendence - it has always turned out that animals have all these abilities, at least in part. It is thanks to Darwin that we were the first to do this convincingly. He laid the intellectual, moral and argumentative foundation for animal welfare and the animal rights debate. The fact that animals are no longer viewed exclusively as a thing and that animal welfare is now even anchored in the constitution in some states can ultimately be traced back to Darwin. His theory also contains political explosives. For decades, a bitter argument has been simmering in the United States over whether or not the theory of evolution should be taught in public schools. As an alternative, conservative politicians present the - unscientific - theory of "intelligent design": a higher being (e.g. a god) created man. Darwin will polarize for a long time.