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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin 1868

Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) attended medical school for two years at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he is currently buried and in 2002 he was honored with a memorial plaque by Edinburgh University [1]. While in school he joined the Plinian Society and attended their scientific debates, which frequently centered upon the merits of scientific investigation stemming from natural causes rather than divine intervention. After dropping out of medical school Darwin turned towards the clergy, and began studying theology. During this time he retained a fascination with nature and spent considerable time collecting species of beetles.[2] Together with Alfred Russel Wallace he was one of the original co-discoverers of Evolution.

Contents

Christian beliefs

Charles Darwin was a devout Christian early in his life who was baptized as an Anglican, and spent three years in theological studies at Christ's College, Cambridge. Arguably, it was his thinking on evolution and natural selection that caused him to renounce the Bible and his Christian faith.[3]

Darwin read books on divinity such as John Pearson's An Exposition of the Creed, about which he wrote:

I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care 'Pearson on the Creed' 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.[4]

In addition, he was impressed by William Paley's Evidences of Christianity, and also Natural Theology which offered arguments for the existence of God from design.

Regarding Paley Darwin wrote:

I could have written out the whole of the 'Evidences' with perfect correctness, but not of course in the clear language of Paley.[5] I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley's Natural Theology. I could almost formerly have said it by heart.[6]

When concluding "On the Origin of Species", Darwin interestingly did not reject the idea of a Creator.

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual.[7]

A discredited notion is that Charles Darwin converted on his deathbed, but is in fact completely false, however remains in some circles even to this day. In Darwin's later years he described himself as an agnostic toward religion, and at times even claimed that religions were a psychological mistake of ascribing divine forces to natural causes in the history of man.[8]

Former Creationist

Darwin admits in "On the Origin of Species" that he too once believed what at the time he called the common or ordinary view,[9] that species were independently created.

Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained—namely, that each species has been independently created—is erroneous.[10]

On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin (1854) 5 years before he published The Origin of Species.

"On the Origin of Species" is the book Charles Darwin is best known for, his crowning masterpiece as perceived by science. Darwin was prompted to publish it earlier when his friend Alfred Russel Wallace contacted him. Darwin was shocked to see Wallace's thinking on Natural Selection mirrored his own, and at the urging of Darwin's friend, Charles Lyell, he published "On the Origin of Species" sooner, in 1859, so he wouldn't be beaten to the punch. Darwin, however, tried to help his friend, Wallace, who was lesser-known to the scientific community, by arranging for both their works to be jointly presented.[11]

Weaknesses

Darwin in "On the Origin of Species" openly admitted that his theory had four major weaknesses, but expressed confidence that they would not prove fatal to his theory. These weaknesses were (1) the lack of transitional forms seen from the fossil record, (2) organs of unusual complexity, (3) refined instinct in nature, and (4) sterile offspring resulting from interspeciary breeding. A large portion of the book is actually devoted to addressing these problems. Chapter 6, Difficulties on Theory, addresses the 2nd problem. Chapter 7, Instinct, deals with the 3rd problem. Chapter 8, Hybridism, deals with the 4th problem (probably the least-known and least-addressed of the four after nearly a century and a half). Chapter 9, On the Imperfection of the Geological Record, deals with the 1st problem. As such, 4 of the 14 chapters were actually aimed at confronting what Darwin acknowledged were serious weaknesses in his theory.

"In the four succeeding chapters, the most apparent and gravest difficulties on the theory will be given: namely, first, the difficulties of transitions, or in understanding how a simple being or a simple organ can be changed and perfected into a highly developed being or elaborately constructed organ; secondly, the subject of Instinct, or the mental powers of animals; thirdly, Hybridism, or the infertility of species and the fertility of varieties when intercrossed; and fourthly, the imperfection of the Geological Record." (p. 6)[12]
"Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.

These difficulties and objections may be classed under the following heads:—

Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?

Secondly, is it possible that an animal having, for instance, the structure and habits of a bat, could have been formed by the modification of some animal with wholly different habits? Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, organs of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe, which serves as a fly-flapper, and, on the other hand, organs of such wonderful structure, as the eye, of which we hardly as yet fully understand the inimitable perfection?

Thirdly, can instincts be acquired and modified through natural selection? What shall we say to so marvellous an instinct as that which leads the bee to make cells, which have practically anticipated the discoveries of profound mathematicians?

Fourthly, how can we account for species, when crossed, being sterile and producing sterile offspring, whereas, when varieties are crossed, their fertility is unimpaired?"(pp. 171-172)[13]

Expedition and observations

Following graduation Darwin was invited to be a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle on its two year expedition to South America.

On this voyage he made several important observations. In South America Darwin found fossils of extinct animals that were similar to modern species. On the Galapagos Islands he noticed many variations of plants and animals that were of the same general type as those in South America. In addition to this, some of his contemporary influences were Charles Lyell and Edward Blyth. Darwin reportedly took Lyell's book "Principles of Geology" [1] on board the Beagle, in which Lyell advocates the idea of geologic uniformitarianism and vast Earth ages.

These observations and ideas coupled with a naturalistic approach led Darwin to draw several conclusions, which form the basis of the theory of evolution. He concluded, although not the only one as Edward Blyth 24 years earlier had proposed the same basic tenets of evolution, that species are mutable or changed over time. However Blyth and Darwin differed in that Darwin saw this change as gradual, requiring thousands or even millions of years with no supernatural cause of their existence.

Even on his 5 year voyage on the HMS Beagle Voyage which began in 1831 Darwin appealed to biblical authority on points of morality. No doubt this is why Richard Millner wrote,

Darwin dreamt of being beheaded or hanged; he thought a belief that went so contrary to Biblical authority was `like confessing a murder (Encyclopedia of Evolution, 1990, p. 113)
Charles Darwin's notebook showing sketch of phylogenetic tree. Note the words I think at the top of the notebook.

Darwin also postulated that the many millions of species alive today arose from a single common ancestor and lastly that the mechanism responsible for this evolution was natural selection. He furthermore theorized that variation could increase an organism's complexity by slow accumulative changes. He took the position that variations, although random, conferred a survival advantage no matter how small, which increased the chances of an organism reproducing.

Neodarwinism

Main Article: Neodarwinism

The later discovery of genetics and inheritable mutations by Gregor Mendel provided the mechanism Darwin postulated but was unaware of at the time. Darwinian theory has been refined with this new knowledge into neo-Darwinism. Darwin eventually published his theories in the books "The Origin of Species" (1859) and "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1871).

Publications

  • The Origin of Species (Full title - On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life). The first edition of this work was published on November 24th, 1859, and the second edition on January 7th, 1860.
  • The Descent of Man (Full title - The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex). First published in 1871.

Where Charles Darwin Went Wrong (video)

Where Charles Darwin Went Wrong - Steve Austin discusses several flood geology formations which were misinterpreted by Charles Darwin as evidence for an old Earth.

References

  1. Darwin to receive Scots honour. BBC News. October, 14 2002
  2. Charles Darwin Wikipedia
  3. Darwin's slippery slide into unbelief by John M. Brentnall and Russell M. Grigg. Creation 18(1):34–37. December 1995
  4. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1911, Vol. 1, p. 39.
  5. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1911, Vol. 1, p. 41.
  6. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1911, Vol. 2, p. 15.
  7. Darwin, C.R. On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. London 1859, p. 488.
  8. Did Darwin Believe in God? By Richard Weikart. September 18, 2011
  9. Darwin, C.R. On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. London 1859, pp. 138, 139, 155, 159, 394, 398, 406, 435, 437, 472, 473.
  10. Darwin, C.R. On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. London 1859, p. 6.
  11. "Natural Selection: Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace." Understanding Evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology. 15 April 2012.
  12. Darwin, C.R. On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. London 1859, p. 6.
  13. Darwin, C.R. On the Origin of Species, 1st ed. London 1859, pp. 171-172.

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