The idea that humans could be related to ape-like ancestors and the rest of creation was considered subversive. If man was just an animal, then he doesn't live forever, he has no soul. And if men don't have a soul, then there's no afterlife. No heaven, no fiery deterrent of hell to keep people in line in this life. And if there's no fiery deterrent to keep people in line, "well then we might as well have hell on Earth!" the critics said.
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It is 1839. England is tumbling towards anarchy, with countrywide unrest and riots. The gutter presses are fizzing, fire-bombs flying. The shout on the streets is for revolution. Red evolutionists - visionaries who see life marching inexorably upward, powered from below - denounce the props of an old static society: priestly privilege, wage exploitation, and the workhouses. A million socialists are castigating marriage, capitalism, and the fat, corrupt Established Church. Radical Christians join them, hymn-singing Dissenters who condemn the 'fornicating' Church as a 'harlot, ' in bed with the State. Even science must be purged: for the gutter atheists, material atoms are all that exist, and like the 'social atoms' - people - they are self-organizing. Spirits and souls are a delusion, part of the gentry's cruel deceit to subjugate working people. The science of life - biology - lies ruined, prostituted, turned into a Creationist citadel by the clergy. Britain now stands teetering on the brink of collapse - or so it seems to the gentry, who close ranks to protect their privileges. At this moment, how could an ambitious thirty-year-old gentleman open a secret notebook and, with a devil-may-care sweep, suggest that headless hermaphrodite molluscs were the ancestors of mankind? A squire's son, moreover, Cambridge-trained and once destined for the cloth. A man whose whole family hated the 'fierce & licentious' radical hooligans. The gentleman was Charles Darwin: well heeled, imperturbably Whig, a privately financed world traveller who had spent five years aboard HMS Beagle as a dining companion to the aristocratic captain.
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