CHARLES DARWIN (A.D. 1809 – 1882) -The Life and Works of Darwin

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CHARLES DARWIN (A.D. 1809 – 1882) -The Life and Works of Darwin -A History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2_ Modern and Postmodern_ From Descartes to Derrida

Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, the son of a physician in 1809. He attended the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge. Near the end of his undergraduate studies, he developed a relationship with J. T. Henslow, professor of botany at Cambridge. This relationship as well as reading the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (1769—1859), German naturalist and explorer, writer of Kosmos (1845) and Herschel created in him a strong desire to contribute to the scientific study of Natural Science. To facilitate this, Henslow provided for him the post of naturalist aboard the H. M. S. Beagle.

Darwin’s Early Religious Training

Although christened an Anglican, Darwin was sent to a Unitarian school. He later entered the University of Cambridge in 1828 “where his father had decided that he should prepare for the ministry” (see The Autobiography of Charles Darwin). Even at this early date he did not believe in “all the doctrines of the Church” (ibid.). Yet he was deeply impressed with William Paley’s books, A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794), and Natural Theology (1802).

Darwin’s Original Theistic Beliefs

Even as an adult, he accepted Paley’s watchmaker design argument. But before 1835 he still clung to a deistic God who created the world but let it operate by “fixed natural laws.” While on the Beagle (1836) voyage, he spoke of “the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backward and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.” As late as 1859, he said, “when reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.” Probably the word Deist would have been more descriptive, since Darwin gave no evidence of believing in God’s continued supernatural intervention in the universe. He added that “This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually become weaker” (Autobiography, p. 92-93).

He sailed the Beagle where he observed the differences in finches. He wrote On The Origin of Species (1859) where he concluded: “whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed [by the Creator] into a few forms or into one…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” The bracketed phrase was not added until the 2nd edition and repeated in almost all editions thereafter. He later regretted “having truckeled to public opinion” by adding this phrase about a “Creator” since he eventually became an agnostic.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was a key turning point in modern thought because, in the minds of many, he had given the first plausible explanation of just how evolution could have occurred by applying the principle of natural selection to variations in populations. He argued that over long periods of time small changes added up to large ones and accounted for the origin of new species without the direct intervention of God. Later in The Descent of Man (1871) he affirmed that humans had also evolved. Charles Darwin’s evidence, though categorized as circumstantial, drew such conclusions that shortly after he wrote most scientists would become convinced that all plants and animals have a common origin. The notion of the unchangeableness of species and their immediate creation would soon be rejected. This caused a revolution in the sciences, the reverberations of which are still being felt. His theory of organic evolution revolutionized science, philosophy and Vtheology and he would be regarded as one of the greatest biologists of the nineteenth century. His teachings would reach much further than Copernicus before him, establishing for many (through his own observed circumstantial evidence) that all living things, including man, had developed from a few simple forms, even perhaps from one form.

The Evolution of Darwin’s View of God

Darwin began his life as a Christian theist, being baptized in the Church of England and later, despite his rejection of Christianity, he was buried in Westminster Abbey! Darwin’s life is a microcosm of the late 19th century.

Darwin’s Rejection of Christianity

However, Darwin had become an evolutionist sometime between 1835 and 1837 (Mayr, x). As late as 1841, Darwin reread William Paley’s Evidences and was yet impressed by his “good” arguments. But “By 1844, his views [on evolution] had reached considerable maturity, as shown by his manuscript `Essay’…” (ibid.). Charles Darwin’s son and biographer, Sir Francis Darwin, said that “Although Darwin had nearly all the key ideas of the Origin in mind as early as 1838, he deliberated for twenty years before committing himself publicly to evolution” (F. Darwin, 3.18). Only a decade later (1848), Darwin was fully convinced of evolution, defiantly declaring to J.D. Hooker: “I don’t care what you say, my species theory is all gospel” (cited by Moore, p. 211).

Darwin’s faith in the Old Testament declined first, before 1848. (Moore, 212). He said, “I had gradually come, by this time to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with its Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attribution to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindus, or the beliefs of any barbarian” (Darwin , Autobiography, p. 85).

The Acceptance of Anti-supernaturalism added to his descent. Both Benedict Spinoza in 1670 and David Hume (d. 1776) almost a century later had attacked the basis of supernatural intervention in the world. Darwin noted, “By further reflection that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in miracles by which Christianity is supported that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become, that the men of that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us, that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; by such reflections as these. . . . I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation” (Darwin, Autobiography, 86). Yet, Darwin added, “I was very unwilling to give up my belief. . . thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct” (Ibid., 87).

The “Damnable Doctrine” of Hell

Darwin had a strong aversion to the orthodox doctrine of Hell. He wrote, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine” (Ibid., 87).

The Death of Darwin’s Daughter

Darwin’s increased skepticism was culminated in the death of his beloved daughter, Anne in 1851 (Moore, 220-223). Moore notes that “Two strong emotions, anger and grief, in the Autobiography mark off the years from 1848 to 1851 as the period when Darwin finally renounced his faith” (Moore, 209). This, of course, was just after his view in evolution had solidified (1844- 1848) and before he wrote his famous Origins (1859). Connected to the doctrine of eternal punishment, Darwin could see no reconciliation between a perfect child and a vengeful God (Ibid., 220).

Twice in one month (in 1856) Darwin put himself outside the pale of Christianity. Referring to himself as a “horrid wretch” (one of the condemned), in May (1856) he warned a young entomologist: “I have heard Unitarianism called a feather-bed to catch a falling Christian; and I think you are now on just such a feather bed, but I believe you will fall much lower & lower” (cited by Moore, 221). A month later, Darwin referred to himself as “the Devil’s Chaplain,” a satirical figure of speech of a confirmed unbeliever (Moore, 222).

Darwin’s Descent to Deism

Darwin gradually discarded Theism for Deism, leaving the single act of divine intervention for the creation of the first form or forms of life. Even at the time of Origins (1859) where, in the second edition he spoke of “life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one. . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (emphasis added).

Paley’s Design Argument Rejected.

Gradually he came to reject even the cogency of Paley’s design argument. He said he was “driven” to the conclusion that “the old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered. . . There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws” (Autobiography, 87). The only design involved was that a Creator set up these fixed natural laws. Darwin wrote: “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural science than in the source which the wind blows. . . . I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance” (F. Darwin. 1.279; 2. 105).

Darwin even ventured so far as natural selection as “my deity.” For to believe in miraculous creations or in the “continued intervention of creative power,” said Darwin, “is to make `my deity “Natural Selection” superfluous’ and to hold the Deity if such there be accountable for phenomena which are rightly attribute onto to his magnificent laws” (cited by Moore, 322). Hereby Darwin not only stated his Deism but signaled his growing agnosticism by the phrase “if such there be.”

Darwin seemed in the later stages of his Deism to flirt with a Finite God that John Stuart Mill (see above) had embraced. As early as 1871 in the Descent Darwin denied a widely accepted basis for belief in an infinitely powerful God, he wrote: “Belief in God Religion . There is no evidence that man was originally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God” (Darwin, Descent, 302).

By 1879, Darwin was an agnostic, writing: “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” (cited by Moore, 204). Eventually, he wrote: “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic” (Darwin, Autobiography, 84).

Darwin denies ever being an atheist, though Karl Marx, who gave Darwin a gold embossed copy of Das Capital, affirmed that agnosticism is nothing but a “shamefaced materialism.” Darwin claimed that “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in denying the existence of God….” (cited by Moore, 204). Likewise, most reputable scholars reject the stories of Darwin’s death-bed conversion as apocryphal. Indeed, as late as 1879, many years after the Descent (1871), Darwin declared, “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist” (Letter 7 May, 1879), though Darwin himself was content to remain an agnostic.

An Evaluation of Darwin’s Views

Darwin himself offers some of the best evaluation of his views. The following admissions by Darwin are revealing:

Both Sides of the Issue should be Considered.

In the “Introduction” to Origin Darwin stated: “For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived.” He adds, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this is here impossible.” This seems to support a two-model theory which many creationists suggest for public schools but was rejected by the Supreme Court (Edwards June 19, 1987), even though it was what evolutionists pled for in the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Recognition of the Importance of “Missing Links

Darwin was well aware of the fact that the actual evidence for (or against) evolution was in the fossil record and that there were gaping holes in it. He wrote: “Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic change, and this is perhaps the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory [of evolution]” (Darwin, Origin, 152, emphasis added). In point of fact, Darwin confessed that we do not find “an infinite number of those fine transitional forms which, on our theory, have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life” (Darwin, Origin, 161).

Leaps are Evidence of Creation.

In view of the great jumps and leaps in the fossil record, Darwin’s own statements are selfincriminating. He said, “he who believes that some ancient form was transformed suddenly . . . enter[s] into the realms of miracles, and leave[s] those of science” (cited by Denton, 59). Even as a student, Darwin, commenting on Sumner’s Evidences of Christianity, said that “when one sees a religion sets up, that has no existing prototype . . . it gives great probability to its divine origin.” As Howard Gruber put it, “Nature makes no jumps, but God does. Therefore, if we want to know whether something that interests us is of natural or supernatural [origin], we must ask: Did it arise gradually out of that which came before, or suddenly without any evident natural cause?” (cited by Denton, 59). But clearly by Darwin’s own premises, then, macroevolution does not follow, for he admits that there are great jumps in the fossil record, which are a sign of creation, not evolution.

Darwin’s False Analogy

Much of the persuasiveness of Darwin’s view came from the apparently plausible argument that if artificial selection can make significant small changes in a short time, then surely natural selection can make large changes in a long period of time. But as E.S. Russell noted, “the action of man in selective breeding is not analogous to the action of “natural selection”, but almost its direct opposite. . . .” For “Man has an aim or an end in view; “natural selection” can have none. Man picks out the individuals he wishes to cross, choosing them by the characteristics he seeks to perpetuate or enhance.” Rather, “He protects them and their issue by all means in his power, guarding them thus from the operation of natural selection, which would speedily eliminate many freaks; he continues his active and purposeful selection from generation to generation until he reaches, if possible, his goal.” But “Nothing of this kind happens, or can happen, through the blind process of differential elimination and differential survival which we miscall “natural selection” (E.S. Russell, 124). Thus, a central pillar of Darwin’s theory is based on a false analogy.

Darwin Admitted “Many Serious Objections” to Evolution

He even dedicated a whole chapter to what he called “a crowd of difficulties” (Darwin Origin, 80). For example, “Can we believe that natural selection could produce . . . an organ so wonderful as the eye” (ibid.). How could organisms that need eyes to survive live without them for thousands or millions of years while they were evolving? Indeed, most complex organs and organisms must have all of their parts functioning together at once from the beginning. Any gradual acquiring of them would be fatal to their functioning. Further, “can instincts be acquired and modified through natural selection?” (ibid.). Especially those so wonderfully and mathematically complex as in a bee. Darwin admits of the difficulties with evolution that “some of them are so serious that to this day I can hardly reflect on them without being in some degree staggered” (ibid.).

Evidence Reveals Separate, not Common Ancestor

Interestingly, Darwin himself acknowledged the misleading nature of analogy which, admittedly, his view was based on. Elaborating of his oft quoted last words of the Origin that God created “one” or a “few” forms of life, Darwin admits two revealing things. First, he acknowledged some eight to ten created forms. He said, “I believe that animals are descended from at most four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number” (Darwin, Origin, 241). Beyond this, he admitted that one can only argue by analogy, adding: “Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide” (Ibid., emphasis added). This is a very revealing admission in view of the demonstrably false analogy used between artificial and natural selection.

Darwin’s Theory was not Derived from Nature

Even some evolutionists admit that Darwin did not derive his theory from the study of nature but from a naturalistic world-view. George Grinnell wrote: “I have done a great deal of work on Darwin and can say with some assurance that Darwin also did not derive his theory from nature but rather superimposed a certain philosophical world-view on nature and then spent twenty years trying to gather facts to make it stick” (Grinnell, 44).

Concluding Thoughts: No Need for God

Although Darwin, and many Darwinists, stoutly deny that Darwin’s view is in principle atheistic, the charge has been laid very seriously at his door. The Princeton scholar, Charles Hodge, in a penetrating analysis, asked and answered his own question: “What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is…tantamount to atheism” (Hodge, 177). Hodge’s logic is challenging. Evolution excludes design, and if there is no design in nature, then there is no need for a Designer of nature. So, protests to the contrary notwithstanding, evolution is in principle an atheistic theory, since it excludes the need for an intelligent Creator.


Even many evolutionists acknowledge that Darwin’s scenario of a “warm little pond” in which first life spontaneously generated excludes God entirely from the realm of biology. He wrote: “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present which could ever have been present.” Thus, spontaneous generation would be possible if “we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity present that a protein was formed ready to undergo still more complex changes…” (cited by F. Darwin, 3.18).


Francis Darwin admitted that “Darwin never claimed his theory could explain the origin of life, but the implication was there. Thus, not only was God banished from the creation of species but from the entire realm of biology” (ibid.). What, then, is the need for a Creator? All one need do is posit, what many long believed, that the material universe was eternal and there appears to be no place for a First Cause, for God. There is, of course, mounting evidence against both the creation of the universe (see Robert Jastow, God and the Astronomers) and the spontaneous generation (see Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell). Hence, there is need for God, Darwinism notwithstanding.

Sources on Darwin

Behe, Micahel J. Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution; Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin; Darwin, Charles. On The Origin of Species; Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man; Darwin, Francis. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (vol. 3); Dembski, William. The Design of Life; Denton, Michael. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; Geisler, Norman. Creation in the Courts; Gilkey, Landgon. Maker of Heaven and Earth; Gould, Stephen J.
“Evolution’s Erratic Pace” in Natural History (1972); Grinnell, George. “Reexamination of the Foundations,” an interview in Pensee (May, 1972); Hodge, Charles. What is Darwinism? Hoyle, Sir Fred et. al. Evolution from Space; Jaki, Stanley L. The Absolute Beneath the Relative; Johnson, Philip. Darwin on Trial; Johnson, Philip. Reason in the Balance. Mayr, Ernst. “Introduction” to Darwin’s Origin (1964 ed.); Meyer, Stephen. Signature in the Cell (2009); Moore, James. The Post-Darwinian Controversy; Peters, Robert. “Tautology in Evolution and Ecology” in The American Naturalist (Jan.-Feb., 1976); Russell, E. S. The Diversity of Animals (1915).

CHARLES DARWIN (A.D. 1809 – 1882) -The Life and Works of Darwin -A History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2_ Modern and Postmodern_ From Descartes to Derrida

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