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From mother earth to social ecology: Darwin’s legacy and the concept of environment in epidemiology
  1. Francisco I Bastos
  1. Correspondence to Dr Francisco I Bastos, Department of health information, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Av Brasil 4365, Biblioteca de Manguinhos #229, Zip Code: 21045-900, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; bastos{at}

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All of us are Darwinists: Darwinists of different “species”, perhaps, but Darwinists nonetheless. Darwin’s “dangerous idea”1 has been used to provide a basis for morality1 and to debunk religion,2 but can also be viewed as one of the rocks of ages, side by side with ethics3 or reconciled with religion in a deep sense.4 Darwin’s legacy is multifarious and fundamental to an extent that cannot be denied or ignored. Religious fundamentalists are anti-Darwinists rather than pre-Darwinists—a strictly pre-Darwin worldview no longer exists.

Modern historiography sees Darwin’s (in parallel with Alfred Russel Wallace’s) revolution as “[a] powerful force disrupting everything within its conceptual territory”5 (p 17), but at the same time as a culmination of the conceptual changes emerging from French biology (eg, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck) and German Naturphilosophie, from Gottfried Treviranus to the conceptual developments by J W Goethe and the works on physiology and naturalism by Alexander von Humbolt, whose years-long scientific expedition to the New World inspired Darwin’s own journey with HMS Beagle6

As discussed by Oelschlaeger,7 Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859),8 together with Marsh’s Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1863) imposed a definitive defeat on the prevailing worldview that humans live in perfect harmony with Mother Earth. Paleontological and geological evidence documented that Mother Earth was not only a very old lady (changing the accepted …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and Peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.