The World Before Darwin

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

Before Darwin was born, most people in England accepted certain ideas about the natural world as given. Species were not linked in a single "family tree." They were unconnected, unrelated, and unchanged since the moment of their creation. And Earth itself was thought to be so young--perhaps only 6,000 years old--that there would not have been time for species to change. In any case, people were not part of the natural world; they were above and outside it.

These attitudes reflected a broader view of the world as stable and unchanging. There was a natural order to things. Most English people lived in farming communities and did not travel far from where they were born. Their lives were much like the lives of their parents. Soon the Industrial Revolution and democratic reforms would remake society--but before Darwin, it was still possible to see the world as timeless, eternal, and unchanging.