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• Most of Europe went through a period of rapid
industrialization and urbanization, and the conditions of
the poor in the cities was the cause of much concern. The
works of the novelist Charles Dickens often exposed the
wrongs of nineteenth century society.
• In response to these hardships, many charities were born
in the nineteenth century.
• But it has to be said that, in an era when most people still
professed to be Christians, they must also have been the
owners of factories, mines and land who employed
workers, amongst them women and young children, for
long hours at low wages. Most of those who exploited and
mistreated their servants, must also have been religious
• "Victorian values" were often repressive and hypocritical,
and there was much intellectual reaction against them.
• The most influential publication of the nineteenth
century was Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.
• Published in 1859, it described evolution by
natural selection over millions of years and
confirmed what many had suspected, that the
Genesis creation story was not literally true.
• Many people became agnostics when they learnt
how life on earth evolved and realized that there
was no need for a god to have created it and that
Earth and all the life forms on it were not created
in six days, though others continued to prefer the
biblical account.
• it was a period of doubt and loss of faith for
many thoughtful people.
• Humanist thinking developed rapidly in the
nineteenth century because it was closely
associated with new scientific thinking and
discoveries. Darwin's ideas, and new biblical
research and scholarship coming from Germany,
provoked a crisis of faith in many Victorian
intellectuals, movingly evoked in Matthew
Arnold's famous poem Dover Beach. Darwin's
defender T H Huxley, coined the word "agnostic"
to describe his belief that there were things that
we could not possibly know.
• The German theologian and philosopher
Feuerbach attacked conventional Christianity
in a book translated by Mary Ann Evans /
George Eliot asThe Essence of
Christianity (1854), and suggested that
religion was "the dream of the human mind",
projecting onto an illusory god our own ideals
and nature. German scholarship also
demonstrated that the books of the Bible
were fallible human constructions, not divine
• Moral philosophy became increasingly
detached from religion.
• Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
developed a "Utilitarian" definition of and
basis for goodness.
• Friedrich Nietzsche attacked Judeo-Christian
• The American psychologist William James
speculated about the roots and varieties of
religious experience.