Darwin on Religion

For our neighborhood scientist, Caroline, I append hereto the most underappreciated passage of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

“I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. . . . It is just as noble a conception of the 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.”

5 thoughts on “Darwin on Religion

  1. There is a large body of knowledge that shows living things as not designed from scratch, but insteadd are designed from a “how can we change what we already have” perspective.

    If the Deity designed an algorithm for automatically adapting to a changing environment over the span of billions of years, then that was one smart Lady. The scientists in Darwin’s day all said “Of course. Now that I see the common sense of natural selection of diverse offspring over time in an evolving physical world, it is so obvious to be the case.”

    If the Deity designed each living thing from scratch, then the terms “all knowing” and “all wise” are surely not applicable.

    Engineers and doctors would never jury rig the wiring, plumbing, and architecture of a living thing in the crazy way it has evolved. A fish has a very short nerve going over a bone in the neck that connects 2-points a fraction of an inch apart.

    The evolved fish lifeform, called a giraffe, has the same basic bone and the same basic nerve, but since the design had to incrementally use what was already there, the nerve goes up the very long neck to the that bone from the body and back down to the body for a nerve 20 feet long that connects to same 2-points that are still very close together. A “design from scratch” Deity would have been a lot more clever.

    Or possibly the Deity just used the rule “Once I make one lifeform I will not start from scratch and make the next one by kluging up the last one, just to show that I am very clever”, thus using the rules of evolution while actually designing “from scratch” living things.



  2. I’d say that for Darwin there was no contradiction between religion and evolution. “The Origin of species” is about the origin of species not about who created the species.
    In this sense, his problem wasn’t about the creator but about the circumstances that provide the conditions to shape new species. In other words, the logic behind the processes that resulted in the origin of extant and extinct species. A carpenter for instance can design a chair without having seen another similar chair or innovate based on someone else’s design. All Darwin did was trying to find out the process by which chairs are made. Whether the creator is a Deity, mother Nature or something else is another issue and that is what religion tries to explain.


  3. Thanks Wayne and Ivan.

    The amazing thing is that Darwin had the prescience in the quoted passage to anticipate those religious arguments and explain that evolution is more compatible with the idea of an all-knowing God than the fundamentalist view. (And it’s amazing that you two, and all of us, are still having the make that point for Darwin 150 years after he stated it so clearly himself.)


  4. Evolution is a requirement to explain how life sustained itself over the very long history of the earth. If life had not adapted to the changing climates, life would have perished.

    So one must accept the genetic and fossil record of the “tree of life” as the evidence for that required evolution. Or, else one must believe that the world was created only a short while ago by a “God” who put the evidence for evolution in place to for all to see, but actually created an earth that was brand new. Kind of like “faux marble”, but on a much grander scale.

    The creaton was only made to seem old and evolved to an exquisite precision. And that “deception” is done to such a degree that the “creator” has stacked the deck against the poor human who has a “God given mind” and “free will” who is fooled into false beliefs based on what he sees.

    Everything that the human mind can see shows a very old earth and the connection of all life through a genetic inheritence, as seen in the fossils and in the emergence of new species even today. Once can trace backwards in time based on current evicence.

    The true question is “Why did ‘God’ give us Holy Books that are obviously not historical and which contain too many self contradictions, and then set up a “Survivor” series on earth that judges, via eternal damnation, a person that is tricked by the trap set by the apparent age and evolution of the earth and life?

    That “God” must have a very small afterlife plot of real estate. Only those people willing to believe that which is obviously NOT true (but which actually IS true because of the trap set by the apparent age and evolution like apperance of the recent creation to fool everyone), means that most of us are going to burn in hell. What kind of “loving Father” is that ?

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  5. Pingback: A small concession on intelligent design | shakemyheadhollow

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