Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Gospel According to Darwin II

On this, the holiest of days, the birthday of our prophet Charles Darwin, we celebrate with a reading from the divine scriptures. In today's Gospel reading it is revealed how the tool of natural selection was patiently wielded by the almighty Creator to sculpt the perfect structures of life.

"It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? If we must compare the eye to an optical instrument, we ought in imagination to take a thick layer of transparent tissue, with spaces filled with fluid, and with a nerve sensitive to light beneath, and then suppose every part of this layer to be continually changing slowly in density, so as to separate into layers of different densities and thicknesses, placed at different distances from each other, and with the surfaces of each layer slowly changing in form. Further we must suppose that there is a power, represented by natural selection or the survival of the fittest, always intently watching each slight alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully preserving each which, under varied circumstances, in any way or in any degree, tends to produce a distincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; each to be preserved until a better one is produced, and then the old ones to be all destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions of years; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?"

- Charles Darwin,
The Origin of Species. Chapter VI - Difficulties of the Theory. Organs of extreme Perfection and Complication.

Happy Birthday Charles.


5 comments:

Anonymous Coward said...

I think Darwin is just being sensitive to the perception of his time. I've heard historians suggest that he was an atheist, or at least not a deist, but that he wrote this way out of respect to his religious wife.

In any case, the way he refers to God here is akin to the metaphors Einstein uses.

Bayman said...

In any case, the way he refers to God here is akin to the metaphors Einstein uses.

I find this an extremely bizarre way to interpret this passage. Do you then also not take his evolutionary theories and talk of biology as metaphorical nonsense? Is this also not to be taken seriously? Or are you simply attributing the ideas you agree with to the "real" Darwin and ignoring the inconvenient ones as it suits you? Is this the biologist's equivalent of the Christian who believes God is being serious when He speaks of the golden rule but not when He encourages human sacrifice?

've heard historians suggest that he was an atheist, or at least not a deist...
I would like to see the evidence that shows Darwin was secretly an atheist despite the fact the he chose to incorporate the notion of Deistic creation into his most important life's work on evolution.

Anonymous said...

I would not find it surprising at all that Darwin believed in God. What's the big deal? He suggests in the quote, as I understand it, that the Creator works through evolution and not design. While a superstitious idea to many now, I'm sure that the quoted opinion when written was extreme enough without having to discount the existence of God.

Anonymous Coward said...

Nice troll Bayman. I don't care if he beleived in tooth fairies it doesn't change is work but since you ask... I was saying he was deistic not theistic, just like einstein...

"The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which seemed 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 a man" (Darwin 1958, p.87)

I think it's our friend Larry Moran over at sandwalk who said:

"There seems to be general agreement that Darwin did not subscribe to the tenets of any organized religion. There is debate over whether he believed in supernatural beings. His Grandfather, father, and brother were non-believers so it's reasonable to suppose that Darwin was too.

He may have been comfortable with agnostic, a term that was invented by his friend Thomas Huxley. This would have been far more acceptable to Emma than atheist. I suspect that if Darwin were alive today he would be an atheist ... unless Emma were also alive."

Activist scientist said...

That is a childish notion. They want you to think Darwin was godless so they can sell more coca cola and deny you tenure. Don't let them control your mind. DArwin was the exception to the rule. Everyone agrees with me in obscure books, if only you had read them instead of pubmed...