Charles Darwin: Non-Assertive Evolutionist

Article excerpt

With respect to immortality, nothing shows me how strong and almost instinctive a belief it is, as the consideration of the view now held by physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless some great body dashes into the sun and thus gives it fresh life. Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.

--Charles Darwin

The year 2009 should not pass without some kind of tribute to Charles Darwin. His monumental publication, "The Origin of Species," was published in 1859, and he was born in 1809.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Darwin and his publications have been the object of harsh criticism by many groups, especially conservative religious ones, which seemed to many to demonstrate that the Biblical claims of the beginning of life were not completely accurate.

In a recent essay Frederic Crews identified one group, "young-Earthers," who still vehemently disagree with Darwin's findings; their goal is to "convince students that the Bible has been proven exactly right; our planet is and its surrounding universe are just six thousand years old, every species was fashioned by God in six literal days."

The fact is, however, that Darwin did never overtly made any overt claims denying the possibility of a Divine Being. All his life he was aware of the problems that the publication of his findings would cause, and he spent many years attempting to lessen the impact of his research. When he finally did publish the Origin in 1859 he did it with a heavy heart, considering it as possibly contributing to the "death" of God.

Darwin's religious views have always remained unclear to many, especially those who have read only the Origin and some of his other works. His actions and thoughts throughout his life reveal an unorthodox but high regard for man's spiritual nature. Although he came from what has been called a "non-conformist" Unitarian family, he was baptized in the Anglican Church and as a child attended an Anglican school.

In 1825 he attended the University of Edinburgh with the goal of becoming a doctor, but he soon lost interest in that profession. He then, at his father's urging, attended Christ's College, Cambridge, with the aim of getting a Bachelor of Arts degree and eventually becoming an Anglican Minister. He graduated in January 1831, according to the records being the tenth highest of a class of 178.

His thoughts and beliefs during this time are revealed in his autobiography: "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." These are hardly the words of one who seeks to destroy belief.

It was during his years at Cambridge that Darwin met some of the leading naturalists of the day and took a great interest in science and natural history. In was at Cambridge, too, that he read William Paley's Natural Theology, a work whose thesis that there was a divine design in nature and that the laws of nature were the work of God. In short, up to this time there is nothing to suggest that Darwin was anything but a firm believer in God and the Bible.

The major events in Darwin's life that changed his views on both religion and science were his voyage on the Beagle (1831-1836), his marriage to Emma, and the death of his daughter Annie.

The first, the voyage, shook the foundations of his orthodox belief. He considered the voyage to be "the most important event in my life. …