Charles Darwin

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Late in Charles Darwin's life, Darwin told the Duke of Argyll that he frequently had overwhelming thoughts that the natural world was the result of design.[1] In a letter to Asa Gray, Darwin confided: "...I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science."[2] See also: Question evolution! campaign

Charles Darwin (12 February 1809 - 19 April 1882) was a famous naturalist born in England. Charles Darwin is best known for popularizing the idea of evolution by natural selection presented in his book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." The concept is that organisms are modified over vast amounts of time by naturally occurring processes, originating from common ancestors that lived tens of millions of years ago. Outside the area of evolutionary theory in particular, Charles Darwin was regarded as an expert on barnacles, as well as being credited with discovering how coral atolls were formed. Darwinism attempted to explain the origin of the various kinds of plants and animals via the process of natural selection or "survival of the fittest".

General Biography of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England in 1809 to his parents Dr. Robert Darwin and Susannah Wedgewood. Darwin's mother was a religious woman but his father was, for the most part, a weak deist. Despite his lack of theistic religious belief, the Darwin's father allowed Charles to be baptized into the Anglican Church and encouraged him to become a clergyman. Darwin's mother died in 1817. In 1825 Charles Darwin went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. There, he became horrified with the brutality of surgery before anesthesia was invented and quit his medical studies.

In 1831 Charles Darwin graduated from Christ's College at Cambridge with a BA degree in the classics and theology. On December 27 of the same year Charles Darwin departed on the HMS Beagle for a five year voyage of exploration. The Beagle returned to English shores on October 2 1836. In 1837, Charles Darwin drew his now famous depiction of common ancestry in the form of a branching tree.[3] The following year he discovered the concept of natural selection. Darwin insists that naturally occurring phenomena and factors working together in blind tandem have produced nature and eventually mankind.

However, Charles Darwin originally based the idea of human evolution on a racist assumption[4], [after God was rejected as Creator], made in the late 1830s[5], that Fuegians (natives of Tierra del Fuego) resembled primates that he had observed in the London zoo.[6] In 1842 he wrote out a sketch of his theory but did not publish it. Again, in 1844 Charles Darwin produced what is known today as an essay of the same theory more developed but he still chose not to publish.

Finally, in 1859, Charles Darwin published his famous theory about how the species may have been produced without any aid from a Divine Creator. He titled his book On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In 1871, well after his theory enjoyed widespread success, Darwin published his ideas on human evolution in a two-volume book titled The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.

Religious Views of Charles Darwin

See also: Religious views of Charles Darwin and Atheism, agnosticism and flip-flopping

Charles Darwin in 1880 at the age of 71.

Charles Darwin likely abandoned Christianity as a student when he disappointed his father by refusing to become a minister. In his autobiography Charles Darwin wrote about the diminishment of his religious faith and Darwin stated that he was an agnostic.[7] Darwin wrote the following: "The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."[8] However, Darwin stated in his private notebooks that he was a materialist, which is a type of atheist.[9] [10][11] In the 1996 British Journal for the Philosophy of Science Kim Sterelny wrote in a book review the following: "I have no doubt that Darwin was a materialist and a mechanist..."[12] Furthermore, Charles Darwin’s casual mentioning of a ‘creator’ in earlier editions of The Origin of Species appears to have been a merely a ploy to downplay the implications of his materialistic theory.[13] Creation Ministries International states the following regarding why it is maintained that Charles Darwin was privately a materialist:

Ernst Mayr’s recent book on Darwin, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Evolutionary Thought, Harvard, 1991, also acknowledges that Darwin’s references to purpose were to appease both the public and his wife. His early, private notebooks show his materialism well established. For instance, in one of them he addresses himself as, ‘O, you materialist!’ and says, ‘Why is thought, being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity as a property of matter?’ He clearly already believed that the idea of a separate realm of the spirit was nonsense, as is further shown when he warns himself not to reveal his beliefs, as follows:

‘to avoid saying how far I believe in materialism, say only that emotions, instincts, degrees of talent which are hereditary are so because brain of child resembles parent stock.’[14]

Scholars refer to the private notebook in which Charles Darwin stated he was a materialist as the "M" notebook of 1838.[15] Ernst Mayr wrote that "It is apparent that Darwin lost his faith in the years 1836-39, much of it clearly prior to the reading of Malthus. In order not to hurt the feelings of his friends and of his wife, Darwin often used deistic language in his publications, but much in his Notebooks indicates that by this time he had become a 'materialist' (more or less = atheist)". [16]

Charles Darwin’s casual mentioning of a ‘creator’ in earlier editions of The Origin of Species appears to have been a merely a ploy to downplay the implications of his materialistic theory.[17] Intelligent design advocate John Calvert declares that atheists often don't reveal their atheism and stealthily try to promote their atheism.[18] It can be argued that this was Darwin's approach.

For example, Charles Darwin wrote:

“It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science.”[19]

Given the Victorian anti-atheism sentiments of many during this period, Darwin did want to appear to be an agnostic as can be seen by this quote:

Dr. Aveling has published an account of a conversation with my father. I think that the readers of this pamphlet ('The Religious Views of Charles Darwin,' Free Thought Publishing Company, 1883) may be misled into seeing more resemblance than really existed between the positions of my father and Dr. Aveling: and I say this in spite of my conviction that Dr. Aveling gives quite fairly his impressions of my father's views. Dr. Aveling tried to show that the terms "Agnostic" and "Atheist" were practically equivalent-that an atheist is one who, without denying the existence of God, is without God, inasmuch as he is unconvinced of the existence of a Deity. My father's replies implied his preference for the unaggressive attitude of an Agnostic. Dr. Aveling seems (page 5) to regard the absence of aggressiveness in my father's views as distinguishing them in an unessential manner from his own. But, in my judgment, it is precisely differences of this kind which distinguish him so completely from the class of thinkers to which Dr. Aveling belongs.[20]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy declares:

In 1885, the Duke of Argyll recounted a conversation he had had with Charles Darwin the year before Darwin's death:

In the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the Fertilisation of Orchids, and upon The Earthworms, and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature—I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of Mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, “Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,” and he shook his head vaguely, adding, “it seems to go away.”(Argyll 1885, 244] [21]

Perhaps the best explanation of Darwin's worldview from 1836 onwards was that Darwin was a weak atheist/agnostic who often had overwhelming thoughts that nature was the product of a mind.[22] [23][24]

Scientism can also be seen in Darwin's worldview. The scientism in Darwins's worldview can be seen in the previously cited quote of Darwin:

It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which follows from the advance of science.[25]

According to Charles Darwin the "manifestly false history of the world" [26] as recorded in the Old Testament and New Testament miracles led him to reject Biblical veracity [27]. Eminent Darwin biographer, Professor Janet Browne, sums up Darwin's views concerning religion: Darwin "mapped out a comparative evolution of the religious sense, proposing that religious belief was ultimately nothing more than a primitive urge to bestow a cause on otherwise inexplicable natural events...In short, he made no secret of his view that he did not believe religion to have any rational foundation at all" [28]. When he died in 1882 at the age of seventy-three, Darwin was buried at Westminster Abbey next to Sir Isaac Newton.

There exists in hostile Darwin literature a story about a Christian called Lady Hope who visited and spoke with a dying Charles Darwin. This appears to be merely a legend, and there is no evidence that Lady Hope ever converted or even visited Darwin on his deathbed. [29][30]

Charles Darwin and eugenics

In a Creation Ministries International article entitled Darwin and eugenics: Darwin was indeed a ‘Social Darwinist’ Bill Muehlenberg writes:

‘Darwin’s work is filled with references to the work of those involved in creating a radical new “scientific” justification for labeling races, classes, and individuals as “inferior”. … Darwin writes in The Descent of Man that “a most important obstacle in civilized countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class” is the tendency of society’s “very poor and reckless”, who are “often degraded by vice”, to increase faster than “the provident and generally virtuous members”.’[31]

In addition, Dennis Sewell declared cornering the Darwin family:

[In the] years leading up to the First World War, the eugenics movement looked like a Darwin family business. … Darwin’s son Leonard replaced his cousin Galton as chairman of the national Eugenics Society in 1911. In the same year an offshoot of the society was formed in Cambridge. Among its leading members were three more of Charles Darwin’s sons, Horace, Francis and George.” [32]

Darwin's obsessive preoccupation with his public persona and reactions to criticism

In 2002, Richard Milner wrote in a Scientific American in a article entitled "Putting Darwin in his Place", that Darwin "clipped, catalogued and indexed hundreds of offprints, about 350 reviews and 1,600 articles, as well as satires, parodies and Punch caricatures, with which he filled hefty scrapbooks..." And it appears as if the criticism of his work may have troubled Darwin. Milner in the aforementioned article, wrote that after Charles Lyell published a very weak endorsement of Darwin's Antiquity of Man, "Darwin's disappointment brought on 10 days of vomiting, faintness and stomach distress". Also when anatomist St. George Mivart made a strong attack on The Descent of Man, Milner wrote it "triggered two months of "giddiness" and inability to work..."

Darwin's Sickness and Controversy Regarding His Sickness

Caricature of Charles Darwin

For more on this topic see: Charles Darwin's illness

For most of his adult life Charles Darwin suffered from very poor health.[33] The 1992 New Encyclopaedia Britannica stated that Darwin's illness was psychogenic in origin (A psychogenic illness is one that originates in the mind or in mental condition). [34] A 1997 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled "Charles Darwin and Panic Disorder" states that the "variable intensity of symptoms and chronic, prolonged course without physical deterioration also indicate that his illness was psychiatric." [35] In regards to illness associated with evolutionary ideas a journal article in the American Journal of Medicine declares that Darwin suffered from "psychoneurosis provoked and exaggerated by his evolutionary ideas".[36] The American Journal of Medicine article also declared that his Darwin's wife, Emma, greatly disapproved of his evolutionist ideas and "This, facsimile of public reaction, must have kept lively his anxiety and torment". [37] According to the abstract for a 1997 journal article in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society the psychogenic hypothesis for the origin of Darwin's illness "holds the field" but the article questions the validity of this diagnoses and mentions the work of Ralph Colp Jr. MD, a physician and psychiatrist (For details see: Darwin's Sickness). [38][39]

Given Darwin's likely psychogenic or psychobiological illness various creationists have stated that Darwin's illness was the result of guilt and/or fear. [40][41]

Charles Darwin and Pangenesis

See also: Theories of evolution

Pangenesis was an evolutionary notion that was developed by Charles Darwin. Creation scientist Dr. Jerry Bergman wrote concerning pangenesis:

Pangenesis is based on the idea that all somatic cells produce ‘gemmules’ or gene material that is ‘thrown off’ into the body’s circulatory system. These gemmules multiply by dividing, and eventually collect in the organism’s eggs and sperm (the gametes). Consequently, the experiences of their bearers are imprinted in the gemmules, and then can be passed on to the organism’s offspring. Darwin discussed his pangenesis idea in great detail, and felt confident that it would provide a feasible mechanism to produce new genetic information.[42]

Despite there being devastating experimental evidence against the notion of pangenesis provided by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin stubbornly held to the notion of pangenesis as he had no naturalistic explanation on how genetic information could be formed.[43]

Criticism of the Work of Charles Darwin by Cliff Lillo

Cliff Lillo wrote:

Darwin was wrong when he says that science has not yet proved Lamarck in error about spontaneous generation, wrong when he says that changes in habit can be inherited, and wrong when he says that use or disuse of an organ can be passed along from parent to child, etc. [2]

Contemporary evolutionary biology strongly agrees that Lamarckian inheritance and spontaneous generation never or almost never occur. The early 20th century synthesis between Mendelian genetics and natural selection provides a non-Lamarckian basis for inheritance of biological characteristics.

Family Life

Author Peter Brent wrote of Darwin's relationship with his wife Emma and stated that "Their ties to each other were linked to childhood and the very beginnings of memory. They had a common history, a joint tradition. It is hard to think their relationship a passionate one, but it was happy, and the happiness had deep roots."[44] Charles Darwin displayed a dependency on his wife that was childlike. Darwin wrote a letter to his wife in 1848 that said, "My dearest old Mammy ... Without you, when sick I feel most desolate .. Oh Mammy I do long to be with you and under your protection for then I feel safe."[45] Peter Brent states that it is hard to imagine that the letter was from thirty-nine year old man writing to his wife rather than a young child writing to its mother.[46] In their article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled Charles Darwin and Panic stated that Darwin felt "nervousness when Emma leaves me".[47] Darwin had ten children with his wife Emma, [48] who was also his cousin. [49]

Darwin's Racism

For more information please see: Social effects of the theory of evolution

Charles Darwin wrote in his work The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex:

At some future period not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes...will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest Allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla.[50][51]

Darwin's Belief in Male Superiority

Charles Darwin wrote in his work The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex:

... a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive of both composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on “Hereditary Genius” that ... the average of mental power in man must be above that of women.[52]

Charles Darwin and the Cult of Personality

There is a cult of personality and type of religiousity currently surrounding Charles Darwin. Stephen Jay Gould wrote the following in 1978: ""... all theories [of natural selection] cite God in their support, and ... Darwin comes close to this status among evolutionary biologists ...".[53] In 2002, Michael White similarly wrote: "Of course today, for biologists, Darwin is second only to God, and for many he may rank still higher."[54]

Just how intelligent was Darwin?

A look at some of Darwin's writing reveals that he sometimes did not think himself that intelligent, and that he had strong misanthropic tendencies. "‎I am very poorly today and very stupid." he wrote, "and [I] hate everybody and everything."

One of Darwin's biographers characterized him as "'nerdy [and] prone to anxiety'....He was not quick, witty, or social. He spent decades working out his ideas, slowly, mostly by himself, writing letters and tending to a weak heart and a constantly upset stomach. He was a Slow Processor, who soaked in the data, thought, stared, tried to make sense of what he was seeing, hoping for a breakthrough. All around were snappier brains, busy being dazzling, but not Darwin's, which just plodded on..." [55]

See also


  3. Charles Darwin, Transmutation Notebook B 1837:36
  4. Milton, Richard Shattering the Myths of Darwinism 1997:186,287 says "Darwin [was] openly racist"
  5. Barlow, Nora (editor) The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1958:130
  6. Larson, Edward J. Evolution: The Remarkable History Of A Scientific Theory 2004:66,67
  10. Barrett, Paul H. Darwin on Man 1974:276
  11. American Scientist May 1977:323
  12. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Volume 47, 1996, page 641
  15. Barrett, Paul H. Darwin on Man 1974:276
  16. American Scientist May 1977:323
  18. Atheism: A stealth religion
  22. Is Darwinism Atheistic? An Examination of the Beliefs and Practices of Charles Darwin
  26. ibid. Barlow 1958:85.
  27. ibid. Barlow 1958:85-87.
  28. Browne, Janet Charles Darwin The Power of Place 2002:341
  31. [ Darwin and eugenics: Darwin was indeed a ‘Social Darwinist’ by Bill Muehlenberg]
  32. Eugenics: “a Darwin family business”
  35. Charles Darwin and Panic Disorder" by Thomas J. Barloon, MD and Russel Noyes, Jr., January 8, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association
  36. "The Illness of Charles Darwin", William B. Bean, September 1978, American Journal of Medicine
  37. "The Illness of Charles Darwin", William B. Bean, September 1978, American Journal of Medicine
  44. Peter Brent, "Darwin: A Man of Enlarged Curiosity", page 316
  47. Charles Darwin and Panic Disorder" by Thomas J. Barloon, MD and Russel Noyes, Jr., January 8, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association
  49. The descent of man Mail Online, February 23, 2009
  51. The Descent of Man, chapter VI
  55. [1]

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