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Lecture 15: Darwin & Religion
Terms in this set (17)
Some people think of Darwin as a sort of saintly figure. Pope Darwin. As the pope of science. Whereas others see him very differently. As Hitler.•
• Darwin was born in a middle class English family.
• Mother - sincere devout Christian a sort. But from a Unitarian church, more concerned about personal beliefs and feelings rather than the details.
• Interesting thing - his father is a free thinker, quite unusual those days.
• Grandfather is free thinker too, may be even atheist.
• Darwin was baptized. A proper member of a church of England.
• The Unitarian Chapel, Shrewsbury. Darwin was taken to church here by his mother until her death in 1817.
• Darwin went to Christ's college with intention to become clergyman in church of England. His destiny. In fact even his father's idea.
• Respectable profession
The Beagle voyage
• Never took the divinity route.
• During his voyage, he was perfectly orthodox in his Christian beliefs
• At the end of his life, he is not conventional religious believer.
• What made him change his mind? What has it changed to? This are what is being debated.
Anne Elizabeth 'Annie' Darwin
• For many years this is held up as the explanation. The death of his favorite Child, Anne. She died when she was ten.
• This led to the theory that her death killed Darwin's faith.
• She suffered a lot and finally died. Darwin and his wife very devastated.
• The explanation of his daughter's death - doesn't appear anywhere for a century. Should make us suspicious of this explanation.
• -first suggestion that Annie's death did it: a 1982 remark of historian James Moore, apparently conjecture:
• "Perhaps it was the "bitter and cruel" death in 1851 of ten-year-old Annie, his favourite child, just a month after he had read the moral challenge to that doctrine in Francis Newman's "excellent" spiritual autobiography, Phases of Faith, that prompted Darwin, as he later said, to give up Christianity once and for all."
• Where do this view come from?
• The word 'perhaps'
• Darwin did read that book.
-A full statement of this Annie theory came in 1989, in a Moore book chapter: Of love and death: Why Darwin 'gave up Christianity'.
• Annie's death was the key to Darwin's apostasy:
• proximity of Annie and religion in the Autobiography
• Darwin was still reading books on religion in the 1840s and 1850s
• Now it's not a suggestion. But presented as a fact.
• He points out how close discussion of Annie and religion in Darwin's autobiography
• He argues that Darwin couldn't be irreligious if he is still reading books on religion till Anne's death
The 1991 biography by Desmond and Moore
• Full mature of this view is in this book.
• A large burden of conjecture rests on questionable interpretations of so few facts... In the years since no fresh evidence has emerged...
• Nowhere in the millions of written words by Darwin that survive did he ever indicate that Annie's death had anything to do with his loss of faith...
When did Darwin begin to have doubts about Christianity?
• Darwin was never very religious in the first place even though he wants to be a clergyman.
• 'I do not think that the religious sentiment strongly developed in me' - using phrenologist language
• He did write in his autobiography that after the voyage he began to think deeply about religion.
• James Moore dismissed these statements.
• The standard version of his autobiography, the dates don't appear.
• In his Autobiography, Darwin reported that it was in 1836-9, after his return from the Beagle that he began to think deeply about religion:
• "During these two years I was led to think much about religion."
In 1838, he wrote in his Journal: "All September read a good deal on many subject: thought much upon religion. Beginning of October ditto."
• Darwin's son Frances Darwin wrote that these 2 years were 1836 to 1839
The fact that Darwin's views had shifted from "orthodox" to "doubts" by 1838 is clear from a conversation with his father:
• He obviously has some serious doubts that his father tells him to conceal it
• Cos his father had seen how a disbeliever husband and believing wife cause a lot of problems
• Darwin did tell Emma his doubts. He was very open and transparent.
• We have her letters to him. But not his letters to her. She refers to Darwin's 'honest and conscientious' doubts
• A big clue 'danger in giving up revelation'. Revelation means the bible, believing that the bible is the message revealed by God for humanity.
• People like Darwin, learned that what these scholars said is true.
• They were not saying the bible is disproved but the message is that intellectuals were saying "its all more complicated than we thought"
• Darwin is in the more skeptical side.
• most of the reasons Darwin gave in his Autobiography for his loss of faith were comparative anthropology:
• his awareness of the wide variety of religious beliefs both spatially around the globe and chronologically across human history. He thus took a universal and general, as opposed to local or Eurocentric, view towards religious beliefs.
• This is consistent with his study of species across space and time and his frequent remarks in his private notes of humans being just another species.
• Comparative anthropology
• Darwin was well read and well-travelled
• His view of species influenced. Everyone think the same way about religion, my religion is the true one. Why should my religion be special? Why should man be special species?
The reasons Darwin listed:
• "The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me.
• By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,
• that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become, - influence of the tradition of natural laws.
• that the men at that time (time of new testament) were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,
• that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, (views of the biblical scholarship)
• that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses;
• 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."
• One of the harshest things Darwin write.
• "by such reflections as these ... I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation."
• "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 even for a single second that my conclusion was correct."
• What is this 'conclusion'?
• What does he believe is not stated.
• Chambers, Herschel, etc are all into this new religion - the law of nature
• The wife did not like Darwin's harsh view to be publicly published.
Randal Keynes, Annie's box (2001)
• Randal is a great great grandson of Darwin.
• He found a box kept by the family. Which inspired him to do his research.
• He introduced a new part of the story. After Anne's death, Darwin stopped attending church. Popular view.
• Sounds plausible but a problem. There is only 1 piece of evidence. Yes, his family continue to go to church but to say it's after Annie's death is saying something more.
• The only source is a recollection from a village constable.
• The man didn't come to the village until 20 years after Anne's death.
Darwin saw his own loss of faith as part of a social context in which:
• "Nothing is more remarkable than the spread of scepticism or rationalism during the latter half of my life."
- his loss of faith was similar to friends and family in late Victorian Britain
• Typical amongst men that there is some crisis of faith.
• No sudden crisis of faith for Darwin
• -According to Darwin it was his gradual appreciation that his former beliefs were not supported by sufficient evidence and indeed that the available evidence of many kinds allowed for the belief in a creator as first cause but that as far as could be demonstrated by science, "Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws."
• Darwin's experience is not unique or special.
In a letter in 1879 to John Fordyce, an author of works on skepticism, Darwin wrote:
• "[My] judgment often fluctuates.... Whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term ... In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. — I think that generally (and more and more so as I grow older), but not always, — that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."
• Fordyce tried to make Darwin say he is an atheist.
• But what is agnostic?
• His view of God - deistic. Deism - there was a supernatural being who might have created universe and the laws. Nothing he said is original that has not been said by others.
• Darwin does not believe in God (in terms of Christianity), but he believed in a supernatural being who created nature and the Laws of nature
• Darwin believed in the form of intelligent design.
• Darwin is comparing belief in god to an inherent instinct. By inculcating children to believe in God, it becomes an instinct.
• 2nd time Darwin called himself an agnostic.
• Theist or agnostic? Are they the same thing?
'Agnostic' a term coined in 1869 by Huxley
• 'Agnostic' a term coined in 1869 by Huxley, One feels one cannot know one way or the other.
• Huxley is fiery argumentative intellectual
• But he is a freethinker/skeptic
• Mid Victorian period - the word atheist is the most negative word to attribute to a person. No one called themselves an atheist. They use other words like free thinker, disbeliever, skeptic etc...
• Not respectable title. Most respected title is orthodox belief.
• Huxley was on the most skeptical side of the spectrum.
• He wants to think of a new name that is respectable. Means I wash my hands from this debate. I stand above it. Very clever move. Caught on with people of similar persuasion. But over years the meaning changes.
• Another aspect of Darwin's belief is a philosophical issue. The existence of pain in nature. How do you reconcile pain and disease in nature with .....
The Edward Aveling interview
• Whether Darwin is agnostic or atheist
• 1880, 2 years more to live. Very unlikely lunch guests. Include 2 atheists. Darwin 1 generation older than them.
• These men were pushing atheistic agenda.
• Aveling tell Darwin say an agnostic is a respectable way of saying atheist
• Darwin's view of religion is private. He never make public comment. In SPECIES, he mentioned the creator many times. He really believes it.
• Aveling was delighted and relieved that Darwin said he gave up Christianity.
• Darwin's son said Aveling's record of Darwin was accurate.
• Aveling was not a respectable person. The word atheist was disrespectable.
• Aveling was a forger. Good at mimicking handwriting. Aveling married daughter of Karl Marx. After Marx death, he forged a few things to make money.
• For many years, it is believed Marx sent his book to Darwin to be dedicated to him. But it was Aveling he wrote it. But Darwin declined.
• Marx did send his book to Darwin.
• Darwin's copy of Marx book not cut (not read), he was not interested.
• It was clear from the evidence that Darwin gave up on faith before Annie died, even before Annie was born. When he said 'I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age", he meant when he stopped going to church.
Old philosophical issue - the cruelty of nature, existence of pain and suffering in nature.
• Darwin - his whole theory is about struggle, pain, conflict and suffering.
• Darwin very aware of this. The entire natural world, every single day is full of blood
• Darwin find it impossible to reconcile it with the belief of a well-meaning God
• Darwin found it some consolation to regard the staggering amount of pain and suffering in the world as the result of laws of nature rather than the direct will of God.
• Darwin did have a kind of faith that in spite of all these, the outcomes of law of nature is on the whole finally good.
• His ultimate faith on nature, despite of the deaths and pains, is on the whole, good. Because the diseased, weak preys are captured filtering out pains and sufferings
Burial in Westminster Abbey, 1882
• Buried in Westminster Abbey. Head church of national church.
• A state funeral.
Common viewpoints by the 1870s-1890s
• God or a creator made the universe and the laws of nature which are so perfect that they need no further interference.
• Darwin's theory showed that biology too, like astronomy, chemistry, geology etc., was under the control of natural laws.
• Humans were descended from earlier forms like all other animals and plants.
But perhaps God or a creator had then given humans something special?
• But evolution, like gravity or the roundness of the earth, was established in science.
• Darwin accepted the first two points.
• Third point: Society accepted the first part.
• Evolution is now an accepted thing, just like gravity.
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