Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Trotsky on Darwin

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This is an interesting quote from Leon Trotsky that I came across while browsing through some miscellaneous reference materials. It was quite an unexpected surprise!

Darwin destroyed the last of my ideological prejudices. ... The idea of evolution and determinism ... took possession of me completely. ... Darwin stood for me like a mighty doorkeeper at the entrance to the temple of the universe. ... I was the more astonished when I read in one of the books of Darwin, his autobiography, I think, that he had preserved his belief in God. I absolutely declined to understand how a theory of the origin of species by way of natural and sexual selection, and a belief in God, could find room in one and the same head.

Well, Mr. Trotsky, you and I have the same question.

Deus sive Natura!

5 comments:

Shmendrik said...

Huh? I declined to understand how a belief in the multiplication table could coexist with a belief in a God.

Seriously, it sounds like a total non sequitor to me.

Shlomo said...

You're right. A micro-biology prfessor form Brown University, feels exactly as you do, and the argument is not without merit. Most of the time anyway.

Now wishing to speak on behalf of dear Mr. Trotsky, I can only give you my take on it.

Until Darwin, there just wasn’t a good explanation for the variety in nature and human evolution that matched any of the physical evidence. It was taken for granted that “this was how the Lord did it” and further inquiry was pointless. Charles Darwin made God obsolete in that sense. Until Darwin, human superiority and difference from all other biological things, served as the two #1 defenses religion claimed as proof of God’s love, attention, and a purposeful creation with a set goal or end in mind. Humankind was alleged to have a ‘special’ relationship. God was the ‘invisible hand’ that moved all for the benefit of mankind, or so we are told.

The unseen nature of this god made it difficult to refute without any other cohesive theory to replace it. This deity was invisible and untouchable, one had to read between the lines of nature to find it or imagine it as the only explanation where no other explanation exists. Once Darwin joined observed patterns of physical evidence into a theory that was at least non-invisible, the invisible was now replaced by the observable. There was a visible (although not yet measurable) cause leading to visible effects.

Darwin somehow resolved that dichotomy in his own mind, as do many biologists today. To understand it, we would first have to know what sort of god Darwin believed in. If it was the Episcopalian/Anglican god of Victorian England, then I see no issue. I doubt Darwin subscribed to Catholicism or Judaism, and his religious views likely resembled those of the American Deists.

Perhaps, Mr. Trotsky, coming from a very superstitious and religious Orthodox Russia, didn’t grasp the nuances of English religion.

Jim Farmelant said...

As I understand it, Darwin became an agnostic in his forties, following the death of his young daughter. Before then, he was apparently a kind of deist, which would have been quite compatible with being a good Anglican. Even long after his "conversion" to agnosticism, Darwin, unlike his friend, Thomas Huxley, was most reluctant to write or speak publicly about his lapse from religious belief. Apparently, he thought that to do so, would distress his pious wife. He also seems to have been afraid of the possible political consequences that would follow if unbelief became widespread. One of the reasons that he held off for so long from publishing on evolution was that back in the 1830s and 1840s, evolutionary theories were being popularized in England and elsewhere by people who were avowed socialists. Darwin did not want any association with such extreme leftists and he did not want to be seens as providing them with any sort of aid.

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