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Modern science, it has been said, has undergone three revolutions: the Copernican, the Newtonian, and the Darwinian. This oversimplification is valid if our standard of judgment is social impact. The Newtonian synthesis, which absorbed the Copernican, had convinced men that the physical universe behaved in accordance with inviolable natural laws and that these laws could be expressed mathematically. With the confidence inspired by this world picture, science sought to find those natural laws under which the animate and inanimate aspects of the world operated. Equally influential was the tradition which cherished the ideal of the conquest of nature through the utilization of scientific knowledge. The many discoveries and inventions of the eighteenth century lent assurance and optimism to the prevailing attitude. The present chapter relates some of the divergent influences which merged into the Darwinian synthesis: biological evolution. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XV: Biology and the Rise of the Social Sciences. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.