Thursday, February 15, 2007

Darwin on Darwin on God

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Darwin's Study (Haig)

Since I never read Darwin's autobiography (and should have!), I honestly had no idea what Darwin's specific beliefs were in relation to God and religion. Apparently, Comrade Trotsky may have misread either the words or the meaning of Darwin's account. Here are a few excerpts from his autobiography that may shed some light on the father of modern evolutionary theory.

I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard and thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of becoming a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with great care Pearson on the Creeds and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted...

Then Darwin, further on, writing of his later recantation of said beliefs:

But I had gradually come by this time (i.e. 1836 to 1839) to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rain-bow as a sign, &c., &c., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.......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 for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the 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....

Then speaking of belief in general:

At present the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomedans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God.....This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists....

It appears that Charles Darwin was, by his own admission, either a weak atheist or strong agnostic. The question of the previous post is perhaps really no question at all!

Deus sive Natura

7 comments:

Baal Habos said...

>This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case.

I don't understand that line. Is he saying that if all mankind did agree on one God, then their agreement would be meaningful?

Shlomo said...

Baal Habos,

Good question in general even without Darwin's notions here. Do we say that any proposition in the negative can always be turned around to mean the exact opposite when stated as a positive?

In context, Darwin's statement refers to a specific argument that I heard back in my frummer days regarding emunas haboreh. Since most people in the world subscribe to some sort of deity, they claim, that alone stands as proof enough that God exists. Of course, this is a proof from popular acceptance, not a proof from actual evidence. I am sure that some clergyman offered this argument to Charles Darwin at some point, and Darwin rebutted it directly.

The clergyman makes a case for an 'agreement among men-kind' that doesn't exist. Conversely, should it be shown to exist, I am sure that Mr. Darwin would show, by 1000 examples, that popularity doesn't always equal truth.

So my answer would be still be 'No'. Darwin is only rebutting a specific claim.

Shlomo said...

You got me thinking.

What if we all lived with some innate, internal agreement that there was one god? Is it physically possible to have 100% agreement on faith as it is to biologically have 100% agreement that yenne macheleh or starvation kill their victims? Is belief in a god an inescapable reality?

Are we hard wired for faith?

Baal Habos said...

> Are we hard wired for faith?

I *think* the answer is yes according to Daniel Dennet. Name of the book might have been "breaking the spell".

On the other hand, I don't understand why everyone sees it that way. Why isn't it simply that it's a valid logical assumption; the same way that it's the logical assumption that the Sun revolves around the Earth and that the Earth is flat. I don't see a need for biology in these erroneous assumptions.

Shlomo said...

Baal Habos,

I haven't thoroughly explored Dennett on that subject, or anyone else for that matter. Any help you can offer as far as references would be much appreciated.

Kol Tuv

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