DARWIN ON RELIGION
Charles Darwin was a gentleman. And one has only to read his works to be captured by his sincerity. He went out of his way to avoid offending religious sensibilities. He himself had studied for the ministry, and he was constantly aware of the scriptural implications arising from his new theories. His references to religion and the clergy show respect and deference to those of lesser scientific learning. That is not to say that he was unaware of the antipathy of the established Church toward free inquiry throughout the history of Christendom. But when he condemned superstition and falsehood, Darwin stated his case in a calm and factual way that should have caused no offense to anyone with an honest and open mind.
To illustrate his fairness and sensitivity, the following pronouncements of Darwin are extracted from his two books The Origin Of Species and The Descent Of Man. (Page numbers are from the Modern Library edition of these two works bound in one volume.)
P. 121 For myself, I venture confidently to look back thousands on thousands of generations, and I see an animal striped like a zebra, but perhaps very differently constructed, the common parent of our domestic horse...He who believes that each equine species was independently created will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary...To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmologists that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells living on the seashore.
P. 133 When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei (“The voice of the people is the voice of God”), as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.
P. 146 The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that many structures have been created for the sake of beauty, to delight man or the Creator (but this latter point is beyond the scope of scientific discussion), or for the sake of mere variety...Such doctrines, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory.
P. 361 This tendency in the large groups to go on increasing in size and diverging in character, together with the inevitable contingency of much extinction, explains the arrangement of all the forms of life in groups subordinate to groups, all within a few great classes, which has prevailed throughout all time. This grand fact of the grouping of all organic beings under what is called the Natural System is utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.
P. 362 Imperfections in Nature:...the sting of a bee, when used against an enemy, causing the bee’s own death...drones produced in great numbers...slaughtered by their sterile sisters...waste of pollen...ichneumonidæ feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars...The wonder indeed is, on the theory of natural selection, that more cases of the want of absolute perfection have not been detected.
P. 367 I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, “as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.” A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”
P. 368 It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the “plan of creation,” “unity of design,” etc.
P. 373 It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about...There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
P. 411 It is only our natural prejudice, and that arrogance which made our forefathers declare that they were descended from demigods, which leads us to demur to this conclusion.
P. 430 Our early semi-human progenitors would not have practiced infanticide or polyandry; for the instincts of the lower animals are never so perverted...
Footnote: Darwin finds himself compelled to reintroduce a new doctrine of the fall of man...and to introduce as a scientific hypothesis the doctrine that man’s gain of knowledge was the cause of a temporary but long enduring moral deterioration...
P. 484 To do good in return for evil, to love your enemy, is a height of morality to which it may be doubted whether the social instincts would, by themselves, have ever led us. It is necessary that these instincts, together with sympathy, should have been highly cultivated and extended by the aid of reason, instruction, and the love or fear of God, before any such golden rule would ever be thought of and obeyed.
P. 489 Chastity eminently required self-command; therefore it has been honoured from a very early period in the moral history of civilized man. As a consequence of this, the senseless practice of celibacy has been ranked from a remote period as a virtue.
P. 491 How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated, we do not know...but it is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life...acquire almost the nature of an instinct...
P. 508 During this same period the Holy Inquisition selected with extreme care the freest and boldest men in order to burn or imprison them...The evil which the Catholic Church has effected is incalculable.
P. 913 ...the greatest-happiness principle indirectly serves as a nearly safe standard of right and wrong.
P. 914 I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture.
A SUMMARY OF DARWIN’S RELIGIOUS VIEWS
From an analysis of biographical materials it would seem that over the years Charles Darwin became generally out of touch with the religious and æsthetic side of his nature. In modern parlance, one would label him as a “left-brain” personality. Darwin was himself aware of this deficiency, moreover, and he took pains not to offend those who had a greater capacity for spiritual things.
The following statements exhibit his open-minded tolerance for the beliefs of others:
“I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”
“It is, moreover, admirable to behold what the missionaries both here (Tahiti) and at New Zealand have effected. I firmly believe that they are good men working for the sake of a good cause.”
“I do not attack Moses, and I think Moses can take care of himself...I cannot remember that I ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy.”
“I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet, I cannot look at each separate thing as a result of Design.”
“...theology and science should each run its own course, and...in the present case I am not responsible if their meeting-point should still be far off.”
It is significant that of the ten pall-bearers at Darwin’s funeral, two were clergymen. Darwin had indeed written on one occasion that “several clergymen go far with me.” Therefore, in the light of what he wrote and said, it is a gross defamation of his character to label Charles Darwin an atheist or to insinuate that his life’s work had an atheistic motivation.
Defamation of character is a dishonorable and irrelevant argument; otherwise, much great literature must be purged from all libraries. One would have to throw away the Psalms of that adulterous murderer, King David, the lovely melodies of the alcoholic Stephen Foster, and the writings of various drug addicts, including Poe, Coleridge, and DeQuincey. This list could be extended indefinitely.
Neither should Darwin be held accountable for the atheistic applications of his discoveries that were later made by such godless evolutionists as Huxley, Spencer, Marx, and Dewey. Certainly Jesus is not to be blamed for the perversions of the Popes or the delusions of the cults that have befouled the pure stream of Christianity.
Richard L. Atkins