Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Darwin and God as shown in his writings

Darwin’s belief in God was something I initially inferred from the last sentence in The Origin of Species.  It was “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.”

The accusations that he became an atheist were somewhat supported by the fact that after attacks by some religious leaders and enthusiastic support of his work by atheist friends he deleted three words from the sentence in later editions of The Origin of Species.  The three words were “by the Creator”, and in the paragraph above, I underlined them.  From his autobiography and letters [the Darwin Compendium, 2005, Barnes and Noble, 1874, including an excellent introduction by Brian Regal] we see the atheist allegation in unjustified.

In an 1876 portion of his autobiography [intended for his children] his writing is informative, for example.  “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.”

Regarding religion, Darwin wrote in a 1879 letter, that he had never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God, but that his judgment fluctuated, and more and more as he grew older (but not always) had an Agnostic state of mind.  His son said Darwin “felt strongly that a man’s religion is an essentially private matter, and one concerning himself alone.” 

Darwin, the person

To get a sense of Darwin as a real person with a passionate concern for other, and not a scientist remote from others, a starting point might be to read the last few pages of his Voyage of the Beagle, beginning with his remarks about his August departure from Brazil.  From another angle, his children’s perceptions of him as a father, incorporated in his Autobiography show another personable side of him.

Joseph G. Engemann       June 12, 2013

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