The 19th century was a time of explosive advances in material science and technology. The industrial revolution, in particular, had produced a vast expansion of mankind’s apparent power to produce and to destroy.
One of the major influences on the popular thought of this age was Charles Darwin, whom Mary Baker Eddy refers to several times in her writings. With the publication of his seminal work titled The Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin drew together a number of contemporary intellectual currents of the time. These included a confidence in human progress, a trust that material science was the path to ever greater knowledge and power, and a correspondingly growing skepticism toward traditional religious faith. Another important element pervading the mental climate was a sense that life and progress involved a competition in which some would succeed and prosper while others would inevitably go under.
Following the French Revolution, various ideologies, including monarchism, liberalism, and socialism, competed for dominance on the political stage all over the world. Early in the 19th century, economist Robert Malthus, who influenced Darwin’s thought, theorized that population growth would always tend to outstrip productive capacity, condemning the lower classes to lives of poverty and misery. One historian notes, especially after about 1850, a new “toughness of mind” reflected for example in the way in which Germany and Italy rearranged the map of Europe by a series of calculated wars, while Marxism emerged as a new form of socialism aimed at achieving human progress through the violent overthrow of existing society.