Darwin confirms his nonbelief in a letter up for auction

September 10, 2015 • 1:45 pm

There are two scientific figures who are repeatedly accused by theists of being covert believers. One is Albert Einstein, who was clearly someone who didn’t believe in a personal God, said so repeatedly, and was at best a pantheist who saw the laws of nature and the universe as a kind of Ultimate Truth—but not a theistic one.  The other was Charles Darwin, who from time to time is accused of having accepted God on his deathbed. Well, that’s been dispelled as arrant nonsense, but Darwin usually did keep his religious views to himself. That’s probably because he thought that being a public nonbeliever would impede the acceptance of his theory (an early form of accommodationism), but also because his wife Emma was a devout churchgoer, and he didn’t want to make familial waves. (Darwin didn’t go to church.)

But it seems clear to me that Darwin didn’t really believe in the god of his day. He certainly never said he did, except perhaps in one statement in The Origin where his words can be construed as implying that the first form of life was “created.”  Now, however, we get a more open statement of Darwin’s views on religion. From NBC News (thanks to reader David), we have notice of a Darwin letter to be auctioned by Bonhams:

One particularly pointed 1880 letter, soon to be auctioned by Bonhams, was written in response to a Reverend Francis McDermott, whose message asked point blank, “Do you believe in the New Testament?” [JAC: A fuller excerpt from McDermott’s letter is given below.]

“Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully, Ch. Darwin.”

You can’t get more terse than that! Now of course he didn’t say he doesn’t believe in God, but that’s not what he was asked.

Here’s a bit of that straightforward letter:

darwin2_a6d550e6efa2716ecddc188c07a8917e.nbcnews-ux-600-480

That letter is estimated by the house to be worth $70,000-$90,000. I think Richard Dawkins should buy it, and have informed him!

Bonhams gives a bit more explanation:

Darwin’s letter is a reply to a young barrister named Francis McDermott who wrote on November 23, 1880 with a very unusual request: “…If I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament. My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament….” McDermott continues by promising not to publicize Darwin’s reply in the “theological papers”.

McDermott was true to his word and this letter was unknown to scholars for over 100 years. The subject of Darwin’s religiosity had long been a cause of vehement debate. Darwin himself largely refrained from public comment, probably to respect the feelings of his friends and family. Just a month before penning this note, Darwin wrote to the prominent atheist Edward Aveling, “It has … been always my object to avoid writing on religion, and I have confined myself to science.”

Clearly, Darwin was the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his day! (To be fair, Tyson does occasionally criticize religion.)

Darwin studied theology at Christ’s College, Cambridge at the suggestion of his father but preferred to spend his time collecting specimens with a select circle of naturalists. It was Darwin’s mentor John Henslow, a clergyman and a professor of Mineralogy at Cambridge, who nominated the 22-year old Darwin for the history-making voyage on the Beagle. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859 and it was then that Darwin’s faith in religion or lack thereof became the subject of public controversy. Darwin died in 1882, the greatest naturalist of his age. Rumors of a deathbed conversion were widely believed but firmly denied by his daughter.

52 thoughts on “Darwin confirms his nonbelief in a letter up for auction

      1. I suspect you will find that in Chaucer, along with such solecisms as ‘and’ in place of the indefinite article ‘an’, and ‘axe’ for ‘ask’. English has been decaying ever since it was *PIE.

  1. Where is any evidence for any deathbed conversions.
    It seems to be more disingenuousness from believers who simply cannot comprehend that people really don’t believe. Also, they are all so petrified of dying that they cannot comprehend someone being at peace with the notion.
    Or, it is a simple lie to disparage atheists and their integrity.
    They a wrong, as usual.

    1. The claim comes from Lady Hope (Elizabeth Cotton) who was an evangelist active in the temperance movement. It is denied by Darwin’s children who said that she never visited Darwin.

      Even if Darwin did a deathbed conversion, his theory is still true. Creationists love to tell this conversion story as if it somehow “proves” they are right.

    2. The story of his death bed conversion was started by an evangelical named Lady Hope, who claimed I think in a newspaper article that she visited Darwin during his last days. What she claimed that Darwin said to her sounds nothing like the Darwin I know, but more like a gobsmacked holy roller. Her claim of the conversion, and that she even visited, was publicly rebuked by Darwin’s children. The story is briefly summarized here.
      Still, prurient stories have a tendency to never die. I have had students claim to me that the story must be true (they hold it in almost breathless reverence), and I have never been able to dissuade them otherwise.

    3. In later editions, he also backed off somewhat from his theory that inheritance of acquired traits played no part in evolution in the first edition.

  2. Weirdly, Darwin speaks of a Creator in the later 1866 edition of “Origin of Species” but not in the original 1859 edition. There were 2 intermediate versions which don’t have the “Creator” line either.

    I reproduce the final paragraphs of both ’59 and ’66 below with my own highlighting

    1859
    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling 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.”

    1866
    “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 cycling 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."

    =-=-=

    Tyson's POV seems to be ultimately that he is not himself an atheist activist, but that he respects those who are, in spite of his discomfort with what he calls "one-word labels". He both says he is agnostic, but he also says "When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence." (He has also occasionally described himself as "spiritual").

    Einstein specifically said he believed in "Spinoza's God" which is not a personal one, certainly not one who metes out reward and punishment. He seems similar to Tyson in stating "You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist".

    1. “Spinoza’s God” can be taken two different ways. 1. God is the universe, 2. The universe is God. The first expands a belief in a “God” being who is considered the universe and everything. The second, works the other way and just calls the universe “God”, making the two words interchangeable. “Spinoza’s God”, therefore, by some interpretations, is compatible with non-belief, as it adds no god-like attributes to the universe. Some argue Spinoza wasn’t a true pantheist. And, others consider some forms of pantheism just to be “sexed up atheism”.

      That second interpretation would be compatible with Einstein also calling himself an agnostic regarding a “God” being, if he didn’t believe a being was the universe. Or, like Darwin, Einstein’s beliefs may have been evolving. His Spinoza comments are in the late 20s and early 30s, from what I can tell, and his agnostic comments are from the 40s and 50s.

  3. “…If I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament.

    Dear sir;

    Be not afraid. You will not lose your faith. You instead pick it up, examine it carefully, consider it thoughtfully, and then deliberately place it outside with the rest of the rubbish.

    Cheers,
    Charles Darwin

    1. Indeed. McDermott’s jaw-dropping hubris deserves a similarly sarcastic response. Though Darwin’s Spartan original could be construed as just that.

  4. McDermott was true to his word and this letter was unknown to scholars for over 100 years.

    So it got found in the 1980s or 1990s? Where’s it been hiding for the last 20 years? I’m amazed this letter hasn’t made the news earlier (or maybe it did, and I completely missed it).

  5. Darwin says in the letter that he does “not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.

    Which is not the same thing as not believing in God.

    There was nothing “covert” about Darwin’s beliefs.

    “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist… In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.”
    Charles Darwin, in a letter dated May 7th 1879 to Mr. J. Fordyce, published by Fordyce in his ‘Aspects of Scepticism,’ 1883.

    “…probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”
    The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859

    “Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings … follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe … as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”
    Charles Darwin, Autobiography, 1876
    (1958 edition, with original omissions restored)

    “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”
    Charles Darwin, Autobiography, 1876
    (1958 edition, with original omissions restored)

    Darwin stated in his autobiography that throughout his life he had fluctuated between agnosticism and theism.

    .

    1. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

      When quoting that sentence it would be fair to also include the one immediately following it:

      “This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the ‘Origin of Species;’ and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker.”

      Darwin seems to have regarded himself, in the later parts of his life, as an agnostic. But then so are most atheists. He rejected any certainty of the non-existence of gods, but that doesn’t mean he was a believer.

      1. Darwin would have been using the word in the same way his friend Huxley meant it.

        At a time when the narrow definition of atheist was, by far, the common usage, people were looking for words to describe non-belief. People were calling themselves “freethinkers”, “religious skeptics”, and such, but none caught on, in a really big way.

        Huxley came up with agnostic, and it did catch on, in a huge way. There were agnostic societies, agnostic magazines, and some writers describe the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th as an “age of agnosticism”.

        “Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.”

        “That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions.”

        Huxley, like many of these other men mentioned, was a scientist, above all else. His agnosticism amounted to a form of demarcation. No evidence = untestable = unobjective/unscientific…results: inconclusive. No belief, either way.

    2. Darwin’s own words call him agnostic. Your excerpt from his letter to John Fordyce omits his specific reference to his agnosticism and the reference to “never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God” is almost the dictionary definition of “agnostic”

      Letter 12041 Charles Darwin to John Fordyce, 7 May 1879

      “Dear Sir

      “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. 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 (& 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.

      Dear Sir
      Yours faithfully
      Ch. Darwin”

      The two excerpts from his autobiography are actually from adjacent paragraphs and the section omitted explains his change of view from theist to agnostic:

      “… and I deserve to be called a theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species, and it is since that time this is has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt — can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?

      “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

          1. Are you obtuse? In the two specific ways described in the responses!

            I am weary of religious cherry picking. If Daarwin started out by thinking of studying as priest, and then “fluctuated”, he was migrating away from the cultural preconceptions of the day. This has been described so many times.

            It is even more interesting to see where he ended up. Apparently as an heretic, at the very least. [Letter.]

            More likely as an agnostic: “I think that generally (& 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.” Which is the same as “not believing in [magic]”.

            1. I have simply shown that Darwin made it clear that:

              a) he had at times held the view that there is no contradiction between being a theist and an evolutionist

              b) he says he was never an atheist

              b) he says he has never denied the existence of a God

              c) he callsidentifies as an agnostic

              So again I ask: in what way have I misrepresented Darwin’s views?

      1. “Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the ‘Origin of Species;’ and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt;– can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for the monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.

        I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

        Note that this passage was published in 1859, and this to James Fordyce was written 20 years later:

        “What my own (religious) views may be is a question of no consequence to any one but myself. But, as you asked, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. . . . 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 as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

  6. Well, as Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey near Newton, I suggest that Her Majesty, as Head of the Church, buy it on behalf of the nation, with ownership rights going to the government. And to display the letter in a glass-case above the tomb.

    An answer from beyond the grave to the Bishop of Carlisle, who eulogized at the burial, “I think that the interment of the remains of Mr Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen…It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God…”.

    The Origin of the Specious. x

  7. I would love to know more about why Darwin was able to recognize the New Testament as bullshit. I mean, it clearly is, but I’m not aware that serious academic exploration of the bullshit-to-fact ratio (which, of course, results in a divide by zero error) was widely known at the time. Might he have picked up on it in seminary?

    b&

    1. Darwin was a methodological naturalist.

      Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge which confines itself to natural explanations without assuming the existence (or non-existence) of the supernatural.

      That is, methodological naturalism is the ground rule that requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.

      1. Yes, but, at the time — and, to be sure, for many to this day — the Bible was considered a straight-up history text that simply reported observed facts as recorded by witnesses. Its wholly mythical nature is obvious today, but, a century and an half ago, it wouldn’t even occur to most people that the Bible was any less trustworthy than any other history book.

        Dermot suggested Darwin could plausibly have read some of the earliest academic inquiries into the historicity of Jesus or otherwise heard some of the first rumblings to that effect. I suspect that, once somebody mentioned to him that maybe Jesus was no more real than any of the Olympian gods, he was plenty bright enough to recognize the Bible for what it is — as evidenced by this letter — but I would not expect him to independently come to that conclusion without such prompting.

        b&

        1. I see no reason to suspect that Darwin thought “Jesus was no more real than any of the Olympian gods”. or that anybody “mentioned” it to him.

          All I see is that he didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God (and therefore, presumably, he also didn’t believe in the miracles Jesus is said to have performed, or at least, not in supernatural explanations from him).

          Of course any methodological naturalist would reject the notion that the Bible was a history book – without being told.

          People had been doubting the historical accuracy of the Bible for centuries before Darwin’s day.

        2. “I would not expect him to independently come to that conclusion”
          I don’t know why you say that. I’m sure there was some skeptical writers around at the time, which certainly could have influenced Darwin. On the other hand, I think his own theory of evolution was a blink, neon arrow pointing in that direction. He would not have had to think independently very hard to at least conceptualize a Godless universe.

          1. The Genesis account Darwin would have had to have been an idiot to still believe in after he figured out Evolution. But the Gospels are at the other end of the book, and set during the reign of Augustus. If everybody your whole life has treated the Gospels as straight-up history and you don’t have the academic history scholar chops to recognize them as being radically different from actual history (and perfectly congruent with ancient religious myth), just the suggestion that the Gospels aren’t straight-up history is going to strike you as bizarre.

            But for the brand-new Biblical history analysis (that others have brought to my attention here) to have made its way to and resonated with Darwin…that’s very easy to swallow.

            Put it this way…had Darwin made as much of a study of theology as he did of biology, I’d fully expect him to have reached that conclusion, and to have presented it overwhelmingly emphatically and indisputably — just as he did with Evolution. But that he wasn’t known for studying theology and, especially, never made a big deal of his rejection of the Gospels…that tells me that it wasn’t an original thesis of his and not his own area of academic interest.

            b&

        3. I rather suspect Darwin had other reasons for thinking that the Bible was flawed. Darwin estimated that the age of the Earth was several hundred million years old and that natural selection explained his observations of the variety of species (extinct and existing).

          Darwin saw that at least part of the Bible was wrong and therefore couldn’t be relied on as the Word Of God.

        4. The 19th century (and late 18th) was an era of great historical research in general. Darwin contributed to this; it seems that some manage to not compartmentalize and transfer critical thinking skills, too.

          In that light it is interesting to see his monument next to that of Newton, who was *also* a heretic.

    2. George Eliot translated Friedrich Strauss’s ‘The Life of Christ, Critically Examined’ in 1846: an early look at historicity of the Jesus figure. All connected to the high-water mark of the Tubingen School when historical biblical studies really got going in Germany. Darwin could have read it: those ideas were in the air. x

      1. Thanks…that would seem plausible, and was the sort of thing I had in mind. I wouldn’t have expected Darwin to have come to such conclusions by himself; his academic career was obviously devoted to biology, not theology, and questioning Jesus’s historicity would have been radical cutting-edge theology for the day, if I’ve got my mental timeline straight. But for him to be aware of and inspired by cutting-edge (a)theology…that I could believe. And I could also believe him keeping a low profile about it, considering how much concern he showed for avoiding displays of godlessness.

        b&

        1. I read Darwin’s autobiography years ago. He said that he began by deciding that the Old testament was false (because it contradicted scientific evidence) but continued for a while to accept the New Testament. He then realized that the New Testament is a continuation of the Old, and if the Old is fiction, then the New must be as well. He said something to the effect of “If God wanted to send a messenger to India today, would He connect the message to the myths of Krishna, Shiva, etc.?”

    3. The criticism was there and in 1860 Essays and Reviews edited by John William Parker was published and made the general English population aware of the controversies (much of the literature was in German). The contributors most of whom were churchmen faced a storm of criticism from the more conservative believers (two of the contributors were charged and convicted of heresy though the conviction was overturn on appeal).

      Darwin himself did not come from an orthodox family as far as religion. His mother’s and wife’s family was heavily Unitarian nor was his father and paternal grandfather known for their conformity (his father having Charles study for the clergy was probably because it was a respectable position for someone who didn’t seem cut out for other positions). His wife was a church goer but not exactly orthodox; she was known to not say the Nicene Creed in church services.

      1. His wife was a church goer but not exactly orthodox; she was known to not say the Nicene Creed in church services.

        Most interesting — that’s a side of her I completely didn’t expect — very much a contrast to the picture of her as a devoted Christian whom Charles didn’t want to upset unduly as is often painted.

        b&

        1. Darwin loved his wife very much. He shed a lot of tears over a letter he sent to him, expressing her deep grief about the thought never meeting him in heaven.

          BTW, Darwin went with his wife to the church but did not enter. But he was a kind of treasurer for the local church.

          If you want to read just one book about Darwin and belief, (it’s not good, but short and quite complete)

          Blume, M. (2013) ‘Evolution und die Gottesfrage. Charles Darwin als Theologe’ Freiburg, Herder

          It’s a kind of ‘combat organ’ against people (ab)using Darwin as atheistic hero, Blume isn’t an expert, but he uses the common sources about Darwin’s vita quite competent, so he gets the fracts straight, but his conclusions are a bit problematic.

    4. Darwin said, if the christian doctrine would be correct, many of the persons he loved and respected would be in hell forever.

      You can find this in his autobiography. Interestingly these passages were deleted by his family (Darwin wanted his family to edit his autobiography) and are missing in many editions.

  8. The lack of Christian theism, however, does not imply atheism. Judaism has never stressed a personal God or salvation enough to see Einstein as being unique. As for Darwin, he did say he didn’t believe in God, merely that he did not believe in Jesus. We must learn to think outside just Occidental thought if we are ever to have intelligent conversations about God and science.

    1. We can be very confident, I should think, that Darwin didn’t believe in any gods of the Jewish pantheon. In making plain that he rejected the Christian addenda to the Jewish pantheon, his curt silence on the Jewish pantheon makes pretty clear that he rejected that as well.

      Whether he held out thought of a Jeffersonian Deism-style creator god or adopted a Spinozan pantheistic outlook remains unclear…but I think we can safely assume that, if he did have any thoughts of the divine, that was the direction they lay in.

      b&

  9. Bonhams gives a bit more explanation:

    Darwin’s letter is a reply to a young barrister named Francis McDermott who wrote on November 23, 1880 with a very unusual [request]

    I tried finding contemporary Darwin letters to do a handwriting comparison, but I was hunting around 1850, not 1880, whic would probably explain my failure (IANA-historian).
    The use of a “stamp” for the “Down etc” part of the letterhead is a dating artefact. But in a historical documents argument, I’m not going to fight with Bonhams.

  10. To my mind it would be quite lovely if Dawkins acquired the letter at this forthcoming auction. It seems a certain “closing of a chain” when Darwin’s own comments on non-belief become the possession of our own eras most “strident” non believers and Darwinist – Richard Dawkins.

    Without a doubt there must be some basic natural desire to actually own something that we ourselves particularly admire and which holds some historic significance in our field of study. Two of my own most valued possessions are very early editions of Darwin’s Origin and Descent. I also try to acquire early significant publications on my own discipline – Computer Science – and have managed to snag just a few of these (eg Boole’s “Laws of Thought”). Others, are way beyond my financial reach – Shannon’s IEEE article relating Boolean logic to digital circuitry approaches $50,000.
    I do hope that Dawkins has both the desire and the FUNDS to achieve this little dream acquisition.

  11. Jerry, you criticize creationist for propagating bullshit such as claims that Darwin had a death bed conversion, but you are propagating a lot of myths about Darwin yourself.

    You wrote, “it seems clear to me that Darwin didn’t really believe in the god of his day. He certainly never said he did, except perhaps in one statement in The Origin where his words can be construed as implying that the first form of life was ‘created.’”

    Your claims that Darwin “didn’t really believe in the god of his day” and that he “certainly never said that he did” are just utterly and completely false. As darryl1234500 states above, Darwin’s section “Religious Belief” in his autobiography is short but very informative. Darwin is very explicit that for much of his early life he was a staunch Christian. He wrote, “Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality.” He goes on to explain, in some detail, how he lost his faith in Christianity. It was a gradual process: over time he no longer saw the Old Testament as reliable, and then he subsequently lost faith in the New Testament as well.

    Even worse is your claim that there is only “one statement in The Origin where his words can be construed as implying that the first form of life was ‘created.’” The MAIN POINT of The Origin of Species is to say that creation of life was not “independent” or “special” for each species (he uses those two terms many times). He makes 7 references to the “Creator” (in the 1st edition), saying that the physical laws were “impressed on matter by the Creator”. And, as darryl1234500 also states, Darwin was a theist at that point in his life and used the Biblical language of life being “breathed” into the first form(s).

    On second thought, Darwin describes The Origin of Species as “one long argument”. So, I guess you’re right, that there is only “one statement in The Origin where his words can be construed as implying that the first form of life was ‘created’”, if you count the WHOLE book as one statement. So, maybe you are right after all.

    Jerry, I’m imploring you, please, please, please, please report Darwin’s writings honestly. This is part of a much bigger problem of liberal atheists distorting Darwin in the most egregious way. For instance, the Wikipedia page on The Descent of Man is so dishonest on Darwin’s actual views of human evolution. You can agree or not agree with what Darwin wrote, that is fine. As Darwin wrote, “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness” (Descent of Man). And if you are not interested in reporting them accurately, then please stop criticizing creationists for spinning their tales.

    In any case, there is a fascinating parallel here to how creation myths get started. Esteemed people, community leaders, say things that don’t map onto reality. Some of their followers recognize that the claims are false, but are too hesitant to call it out. Pretty soon you have a whole group of people not calling a spade a spade.

    1. I suggest that you read this article, written by a historian with expertise in Darwin and his views. I’ll give just one exerpt:

      By the time Darwin wrote Descent of Man in 1871, he had clearly abandoned belief in God. He even provided a completely naturalistic explanation for the origin of religion. He claimed that religion arose because people feared unknown natural forces and wrongly ascribed life to them. Darwin thought religion was a psychological mistake [7].

      . . . So, what lessons can we draw about the relationship between religion and evolutionary theory from Darwin’s own trajectory? First, as he developed his evolutionary theory, he moved from Christian belief in a personal God to a deistic position to agnosticism. It is not clear to what extent his religious views shaped his evolutionary theory, or vice-versa. It seems reasonable to think they developed in tandem. Second, he rejected any divine intervention or even divine purpose in his evolutionary scheme. Third, he rejected the religious basis for morality. None of these points is good news for those trying to refashion Darwin into a religious believer whose evolutionary theory is no threat to religion, especially to traditional forms of Christianity.

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