Did Charles Darwin believe in God?


(Henry Stoddard) #1

Have a Happy New Year!


#2

Charles Darwin is best described as an agnostic. At the end of his life, he just didn’t know whether or not God existed, although he did reject Christianity. I’ve read the book you mention and it’s very good. There is some good material on Lamoureux’s web page. He is a professor of science and theology at St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta.


(Henry Stoddard) #3

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#4

Thank you!


#5

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(Henry Stoddard) #6

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(Patrick ) #7

But he was one of the world’s greatest scientist. Perhaps someday soon we will commemorate his birthday as a natural holiday.


#8

He was also a good father and wonderful husband. He had a warm relationship with his children, which was unusual in Victorian times. He and his wife (and the whole Darwin/Wedgewood clan for that matter) were staunchly abolitionist. Did you happen to see the Traveling Darwin Exhibition when it was making the rounds about 10 years ago?


(Henry Stoddard) #9

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(Henry Stoddard) #10

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#11

I will find out for you. Don’t let me forget.


#12

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(Nuno) #13

@Henry

@Eddie is right - very easy to find using gookgle. Here’s the link to Religious Belief in his autobiography: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?pageseq=103&itemID=CUL-DAR26.1-121&viewtype=side

Arguably a better example of the dangers of Intelligent Design will be hard to find… In Darwin’s own words:

Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings & in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.

It’s not the only reason that weighed on his mind but it was definitely something he felt was “conclusive” and whose removal deeply affected his faith.


(Henry Stoddard) #14

Have a Happy New Year!


#15

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#16

@Henry,
These essays by Denis Lamoureux might give you some insights into Darwin’s beliefs:

Darwinian Theological Insights: Toward an Intellectually Fulfilled Christian Theism—Part I

Darwinian Theological Insights: Toward an Intellectually Fulfilled Christian Theism—Part II.


(Nuno) #17

@Henry

My apologies if my post felt condescending in any way, shape or form - I was just sharing the information as I found it and where I found it. I thought we had enough rapport where it was ok to write a simpler email but maybe I was mistaken.


(Nuno) #18

@Eddie

Thank you for your response. As usual, I agree with most of what you write.

What I read in Darwin’s thoughts and find worrisome in ID is the underlying assumption that knowledge of God and knowledge of nature are somehow at the same level and, even worse, that they are somehow conflicting explanations for the same observations. It is this false equivalency that I find dangerous in ID because it claims to be a scientific field of study and claims to be able to scientifically show that certain observable events can only be the result of intelligent agency. I don’t think ID would face nearly as much resistance (nor be anywhere near as prominent) if not for this claim to be a scientific field of study.

I fully agree with you that falsifiable propositions are dangerous all around, regardless of who claims them. We are told many times in the Bible that we are to have faith and I believe that’s exactly how God wants it to be - personal transformations based on faith in our salvation through Jesus Christ, not on proofs of His existence. Of course, I know you know this, and when it comes to arguments for God, I also agree with what you wrote on a separate thread that there is no point in “taking things away from people” when they’re just a personal way to adore God (better to switch the conversation to weather or sports, as you well mentioned). That said, the main difference I see between ID and arguments on fine-tuning, moral law, religious experience (and other similar arguments) is that the latter do not claim to scientifically show the existence of intelligent agency. So yes, I also find those other types or arguments worrisome (because they might “fall”) and distracting (because evidence of His existence is not what God is about) but they’re not as dangerous in that their claims are not at the same level as ID claims.

All in all, I would worry about any faith that is based on the existence of “demonstrable evidence” for God’s existence. It would seem to me that if someone’s observance is contingent on such “demonstrable evidence” then there is still some deep-rooted resistance to the core message of the Gospel that we are fallen and that salvation can come through Jesus Christ alone. But that’s veering off-topic so maybe we’ll have that conversation some other time.


#19

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(Nuno) #20

@Eddie

A pleasure to read as always. Even if for no other reason, just the fact that you present your views in such a clear manner would be enough to justify having the conversation. And again it makes me wish there was a mechanism here for some posts to be recommended to a Hall of Fame of posts that clarify points of view and facilitate discussion.

I will readily agree with you that reason and rational thought cannot be defined by what is and is not scientific. As such, I too would reject fideism if defined as excluding all reason from theology or other matters of faith - there is much that can be deduced about the will of God by interpreting the Bible in a logical manner and reasoning about what is and is not compatible with its teachings. As has also been mentioned in other threads, all the better if this interpretation of the Bible and discussion about our place in Creation can be informed by knowledge derived from history, philosophy, sociology and yes, also science.

In my personal view, the primary reasons why I would separate theology from science are relatively simple: a) I don’t think science can contribute substantially to the discussion of the core concepts in theology and b) bringing in science can actually be more distracting than productive (as is easily shown by all the science-centric disputes between Christians). So, to me at least, this separation is more an acknowledgement of the limitations of science than it is in any way a claim that other forms of reason are not “up to par” or “should not aim to the higher standards” of scientific models. I agree with you that the latter are nonsensical claims.

When it comes to intelligent design, I would honestly like to see a formulation that could be used to show evidence of design and of intelligent agency. I really mean it - it’s not just argument meant to “annoy”, disarm or “make a point”. I enjoy considering formal representations of information/knowledge and would love to explore a mathematical paradigm that would allow for such high levels of formal abstract reasoning. As it is, I don’t think I have found one yet but maybe one will become available at some point.

There is, however, an overarching aspect of this that I’d like to hear your approach to: science requires that its models be a) predictive, b) reproducible and c) falsifiable, so it seems to me that any scientific model that could demonstrate the presence or absence of intelligent design would necessarily be used as a test of God’s existence and intervention. Of course, I understand that ID only claims intelligent agency (not God in general, nor the Christian God in particular) but we know that such is the inference that would be made, as this is likely the underlying motivation driving the overwhelming majority of ID proponents. However, I think we will probably also agree that if God wanted His existence to be known for a fact (and consequently leave no room for faith) then He would not be hiding that proof so deeply into the details of complicated mathematical models that it could only be unveiled thousands of years after Christ told us to focus on completely different aspects of Revelation. So my naive question is this: is it futile to pursue a formalism whose existence would seem to counter God’s plan for humanity by “proving” His existence and consequently removing the fundamental pillar of faith?