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“”An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
|—Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker|
Charles Darwin (1809–1882) was a scientist who studied marine invertebrates, coral reefs and, most famously, was the man behind that dreadful, godless nonsense known as evolution by natural selection.
Historians credit Darwin, along with Alfred Wallace, as the co-discoverer of the now-accepted theory of evolution by natural selection, the precursor to what became known (post-genetics) as the modern evolutionary synthesis. Darwin is best known for writing On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Origin of Species is arguably one of the few books to bridge the gap between technical science and popular science, being useful both to practising scientists (to understand both evidence and theory), and to the general public. It became a best-seller that fascinated the Victorian culture of its day, following the gradual discovery of the concept of deep time, which allowed natural selection to work. Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus, was an early evolutionary thinker who wrote and helped develop the concept of "transmutation of species", which demonstrated the variation that life exhibited in the real world and how such features could be inherited. Charles's extension of this was to apply natural selection to this process, whereby successful variations lived to reproduce and unsuccessful variations perished - leading to evolution. This led to him becoming one of the most influential scientists of the modern era.
Because of his association with evolution, Darwin often becomes a victim of the phenomenon known as quote mining. Confused by the completely different concepts of personality cult and scientific theory, modern creationists will turn to Darwin's works and derisively take his comments, out of context, as overall proof that evolution must be "wrong".
Darwin initially studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but having lost interest in becoming a doctor, he later enrolled in an Arts degree at Cambridge University, where his father hoped he might study towards a place in the Anglican clergy. In both settings, he gave more attention to his interests in geology, botany and zoology than to his academic studies.
Following his graduation in 1831, and thanks to his reputation as a keen amateur naturalist, he was offered a place on the HMS Beagle, a survey ship charting the coasts of South America. The voyage lasted five years and also took in the Cape of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Darwin spent as much time as possible ashore at these locations during the voyage, studying the local wildlife while other members of the expedition concentrated on charting the coastlines.
It was during this voyage that Darwin began to develop his theory of natural selection, and over the following decades, he honed the theory, conducting further research and seeking evidence for common descent. Being meticulous in every detail (as evidenced by his earlier work as a botanist and marine researcher), Darwin took a considerable amount of time to write Origin, and actually planned it to be a significantly longer, multi-volume book covering every piece of evidence and each facet of his theory in full detail. He eventually settled on publishing only one volume on evolution in general, saving his work on applying it to human evolution until later.
As a scientific background, much was already known and theorised about evolution when Darwin was collecting data and writing. The ability of animals to alter or mutate over time was well-established - much of this was evident in pre-industrialised agriculture in the form of selective breeding and indeed Darwin's first thought for explaining natural selection was to put it in terms of artificial selection and selective breeding first. This explanatory tactic was repeated a century and a half later by biologist Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show On Earth; replacing the selection used by humans to create better crops or new breeds of dog with undirected, but equally powerful, natural selection pressures produces the same result. The amount of time required for species to diversify so dramatically was also dawning on the scientific establishment. Victorian England played host to the first serious scientific studies of dinosaur fossils and the birth of modern palaeontology, and the exhibits of dinosaur reconstructions at the Crystal Palace pre-dated Darwin's publication of Origin by six years.
On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, prompted by Alfred Wallace's essay showing that he had hit on the same idea and might steal Darwin's thunder, although of course Darwin had been planning to publish his theory for some years (yes, he really took his time on this). While Darwin's initial papers on the subject of natural selection were only lukewarmly received by the scientific community initially, the book sold tremendously. Though it met with some criticism and scepticism both from within and outside the scientific community, it eventually became accepted as the definitive work of Darwinian evolution, the founding text on evolutionary biology, and something that stood the test of time against countless new discoveries in evolution; from genetics to punctuated equilibrium.
His later publication of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) proved much more controversial, since it explicitly placed humans within the evolutionary schema and presented extensive evidence for our animal ancestry. This provoked severe criticism, not least from the Church and its supporters, and ridicule, such as all those caricatures of Darwin as a monkey. This line of criticism remains popular with modern creationists to this day. Many tentatively accept evolution as described, but outright reject a relationship of humans to other animals; from the display in the Noah's Ark Zoo Farm listing reasons that humans and apes cannot be related, to the oft-asked how come there are still monkeys? This has most formally been described as a battle between macroevolution and microevolution — even though Darwin's theory, and its modern formulations, have no room (neither theoretically nor empirically) for such a distinction.
Darwin was married and had ten children, though three died during childhood. He avoided discussing his views on religion publicly, but his private writings (from the Beagle era onwards) show that he was increasingly critical of theology and Biblical literalism, and had many doubts about God, including concerns about the problem of evil. In a letter of 1879, he described himself as an agnostic rather than an atheist, but stated that belief in evolution is not incompatible with theism.
False controversies against Darwin
Darwin and racism
Many anti-evolutionists during Darwin's lifetime and to this day have done all they could to project Darwin in as bad a light as possible. One of the most prominent lie about Darwin is labeling him and his theory as "racist."
Darwin was born to a wealthy family in England, surrounded by British Imperialism and the most ethnocentric society in the world. Almost all of scientific authorities, anthropomorphic colleagues, and religious figures all around him trumpeted that whites were the superior race and blacks being the lowest, a racist ideology that goes way back to Plato and Aristotle. That was the environment Darwin was born into, BUT Darwin did not share those views. In fact, Darwin was the most egalitarian and progressive man in the 19th century. He challenged the anthropological and social statues quo and rejected the prevailing prejudices of his time. Darwin often praised those he met from so-called primitive cultures, and said that the nicest man he had ever met was a free colored military man stationed in South Africa. He was not afraid to criticize people of his own ethnicity and frequently criticized the bigotry of his peers against subjugated people. He found every aspect of slavery abominable and wrote extensively against it. He opposed the genocide of indigenous natives and opposed the favoritism of Caucasian invaders. He defined “savages” by their actions, not by their color or race.
In his last book Descent of Man it starts out sounding like typical English thinking towards different races, but Darwin is merely repeating what he was told about other races, and the further one reads into the book we can see an evolution in his thinking and Darwin constantly criticizes those racist tendencies and begins to question the idea of multiple races. He said that the label “race” was inadequately defined and not of any actual value regarding people. He said that humans were not sufficiently distinct to be considered separate species. While racists today try to claim that there is some kind of division between races (which there are none), Darwin said that our biased judgments against other people were superficial and erroneous, and that no matter how distinguished other people may appear to European eyes, there is no consistent distinction because some Africans shared traits in common with some Caucasians and the same is true of every other group too. Basically, every race blends into every other race at some point that it is impossible to determine any real division. Darwin even pointed out that noted experts in could not agree how many "races" there were or how to categorize people. Before Darwin was born, scientist Charles Linnaeus (creator of Linnaean taxonomy) categorized humans into 6 different “races,” but Darwin criticized that too. He pointed out that not even the best authorities on the subject could agree on the number of races there were, and he pointed out by their broad definitions that he and many other whites would fit into two or more races... even as high as 63 races! Darwin also discarded the idea of a “pure” or “superior” race, Darwin argued that “racial purity” would lead to defects and “superiority” was a variable and determined by the environment (not by some act of will of purity), and since ecosystems frequently change it will therefore drive more variations with populations.
Bottom line, Darwin was not a racist.
False deathbed conversion
Elizabeth Reid Cotton, a.k.a. Lady Hope, a British evangelist claimed that she met Darwin on his deathbed and that he had a deathbed conversion to Christianity. The story was not reported until three decades after Darwin's death in an US Baptist newspaper, the Watchman-Examiner, on 15 August 1915.See the Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Cotton, Lady Hope. The story has been promoted by some modern-day evangelicals, but it has been debunked by both Darwin's family and James Moore; it is even denied by Answers in Genesis.
2009: Darwin Year
The year 2009 was the bicentennial of Darwin's birthday, and heretics everywhere gathered to celebrate. Darwin Day (February 12) joins Evolution Day (November 24) as another pain in the ass for creationism. 2009 was also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his best-seller, Origin of Species.
Happy birthday man.
In popular culture
Darwin is also the name of a character in the Cartoon Network show The Amazing World of Gumball, who is Gumball's pet goldfish that went through what the average person believes to be evolution and became his brother.
He also appears in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and is met by the protagonists, like every other well known historical person in the series. Ironically enough, Humans in the AC lore are the result of intelligent design; Not by God, mind you, but by beings comparable to ancient astronauts, who were seemingly born on earth. Where they came from is a mystery, though. Charles Darwin is also present in the backstory of the X-Men villain Mr. Sinister who inspires him with the theory of evolution into becoming obsessed with inducing mutation, he than pursues a lengthy life of mad science and cartoon villainy, going by Mr. despite being a doctor.
Perhaps most significantly, the creatures from the Alien film series are partially inspired by his writings on the ichneumonids wasp, whose parasitic reproductive cycle troubled philosophers, naturalists, and theologians in the 19th century, who found the insect inconsistent with the notion of a world created by a loving and benevolent God.
Charles Darwin found the example of the Ichneumonidae so troubling that it contributed to his increasing doubts about the nature and existence of a creator. In an 1860 letter to the American naturalist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:
|I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.|
- Alfred Russel Wallace
- Francis Galton
- Herbert Spencer
- Social Darwinism
- Darwin Awards
- Darwin's Predictions
- Darwin's complete works online. Even the stuff about barnacles.
- About Darwin
- Ash Ketchum vs Charles Darwin
- Richard Dawkins (b 1941), page 6 of the book.
- Letter to John Fordyce, 7 May 1879, transcribed at the Darwin Correspondence Project
- Darwin, Charles The Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 4: Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca
- Darwin, Charles The Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 21: Mauritius to England
- Darwin, Charles The Voyage of the Beagle Chapter 5: Bahia Blanca
- Darwin, Charles Descent of Man Chapter 21 General Summary and Conclusion
- Darwin, Charles Descent of Man page 225
- "Even the most distinct races of man are much more like each other in form than would at first be supposed; certain negro tribes must be excepted, whilst others, as Dr. Rohlfs writes to me, and as I have myself seen, have Caucasian features. This general similarity is well shewn by the French photographs in the Collection Anthropologique du Museum de Paris of the men belonging to various races, the greater number of which might pass for Europeans, as many persons to whom I have shewn them have remarked. Nevertheless, these men, if seen alive, would undoubtedly appear very distinct, so that we are clearly much influenced in our judgment by the mere colour of the skin and hair, by slight differences in the features, and by expression." -Charles Darwin http://infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/chapter_07.html
- "But the most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other, independently in many cases, as far as we can judge, of their having intercrossed. Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory de St-Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke." - Darwin, Descent of Man Chapter 7
- The Darwin Legend by James R. Moore (1994) ISBN 0801063183.
- Darwin’s Deathbed Conversion—a Legend? by Tommy Mitchell (March 31, 2009; last featured August 17, 2010) Answers in Genesis.
- Darwin Watterson - The Amazing World of Gumball Wiki
- "Nonmoral Nature". http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_nonmoral.html. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
- "Letter 2814 — Darwin, C. R. to Gray, Asa, 22 May [1860"]. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2814. Retrieved 2011-04-05.