Darwin and the Creator

Let’s talk about Darwin and religion.

 

…Just kidding. I’m not going to step into that wasp nest.

 

Let’s talk about On the Origin of Species and “the Creator.”

 

A portion of the last paragraph of the second edition (1860) of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, reads:

 

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

 

The words I bolded were not in the first edition (1859) of On the Origin of Species.

 

Why did Darwin add that reference to the Creator? Some say he added it to please his religious wife, Emma. Others argue that it was an attempt at making peace with clerics upset at the first edition. Either way, the continuing edits to Origin indicate that Darwin’s thoughts and feelings on the book, just like his argument about species, evolved.

 

The fifth edition (1869) is the first time the phrase “survival of the fittest,” taken from Herbert Spencer, was used in the book. And the sixth edition (1872) finds the first use of the word “evolution” in the text.

 

In his writings it’s clear that he struggled to state his feelings publicly about evolution. It took him literally decades to get up the courage to publish his theory—spurred not by epiphanies or sudden resolution, but by someone else’s work: Alfred Wallace had made discoveries leading to the same conclusion.

 

In one letter Darwin says, “I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.” It’s very clear here how reticent Darwin was to go against the grain of his times, when species were widely believed to have been created all at once, unchanging, by God. It seemed to cause him almost moral pain to change the world: “It is like confessing a murder.”

 

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. vanbraman says:

    I think that many people who argue about Darwin have never even read his work. They only have read what others have twisted and turned about. I was surprised when I read On the Origin of Species a couple years ago.

    1. I agree. There’s a great new edition of Origin out called The Annotated Origin, which I highly recommend. It provides cultural/historical/scientific context for almost every paragraph in the book, while reproducing a facsimile of the first edition.

      1. Justin Goss says:

        The Moral Animal by Robert Wright compares and contrasts the theory with the man. Very illuminating.

  2. Don says:

    Like any great writer or thinker, I believe that “the idea” of Darwin and Darwinism was hated by many who never took the time to actually read his work and base their opinions on that. It’s easy to call a spider a spider and then kill it because you think it’s poisonous but if you take a second to study it and look at it, you may find it quite harmless and something that could actually work for you.

    1. Agreed–I’m always for going back to the original text.

  3. Nick-W says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize the updated editions of Origins had such significant changes!

    That final quote you have listed is so telling. It’s amazing how far we’ve come regarding freedom of religious beliefs…

    1. I love that quote. It’s so powerful to me.

  4. Stephen says:

    Clearly, Darwin struggled, much like Galileo did, with the powerful religions of the day. From all I’ve read about Darwin, that was the rub; he didn’t have difficulty reconciling a Creator with evolution. It’s sad that his theory is used to refute religion by the anti-theists.

  5. Mike C says:

    Could it be that even God follows laws, even if God makes them?

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