Natural theology included a range of ideas and arguments from the outset, and when Darwin's theory was published, ideas of theistic evolution were presented in which evolution is accepted as a secondary cause open to scientific investigation, while still holding belief in God as a first cause with a non-specified role in guiding evolution and creating humans.

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Since then creationists have developed more nuanced objections to evolution, alleging variously that it is unscientific, infringes on creationists' religious freedoms, or that the acceptance of evolution is a religious stance.

One of the main sources of confusion and ambiguity in the creation–evolution debate is the definition of evolution itself.

Although early objectors dismissed evolution as contradicting their interpretation of the Bible, this argument was legally invalidated when the Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v.

Arkansas in 1968 that forbidding the teaching of evolution on religious grounds violated the Establishment Clause.

In Britain, while publication of The Descent of Man by Darwin in 1871 reinvigorated debate from the previous decade, Sir Henry Chadwick notes a steady acceptance of evolution "among more educated Christians" between 18.

As a result, evolutionary theory was "both permissible and respectable" by 1876.

For decades the Roman Catholic Church avoided official refutation of evolution.

However, it would rein in Catholics who proposed that evolution could be reconciled with the Bible, as this conflicted with the First Vatican Council's (1869–70) finding that everything was created out of nothing by God, and to deny that finding could lead to excommunication.

When Charles Darwin published his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, he convinced most of the scientific community that new species arise through descent through modification in a branching pattern of divergence from common ancestors, but while most scientists accepted that natural selection is a valid and empirically testable hypothesis, Darwin's view that it is the primary mechanism of evolution was generally rejected.