[asa] Historian John Brooke on Charles Darwin

From: Jack Haas <haas.john@comcast.net>
Date: Tue Mar 03 2009 - 07:07:08 EST

I encourage the group to read this short essay found at http://issr.org.uk/darwin-religion.asp

Perhaps you might be tempted by these closing comments.

A further legacy?

"Darwin’s legacy is far from exhausted in the sciences. It is rightly celebrated in 2009. In the religious sphere it has proved more equivocal. The oppositional stance of fundamentalist groups and the equally aggressive rejoinders from exasperated atheists has contributed to a polarization that the membership of ISSR deeply regrets. There is another legacy from Darwin, which, if appropriated, could only be beneficial in contexts where dogmatism on either side prevails. The manner in which Darwin conducted himself in his dealings with friends and critics alike might still be held up as an example. There was an attractive humility in the self-deprecating way in which he declined to dogmatise on intractable questions such as the existence of God or the existence of transcendent purposes in the universe.

Darwin also displayed an impressive honesty in his rhetoric, conceding the difficulties surrounding his theory as well as underlining its strengths. One of his grievances against the evolutionary biologist St George Mivart was that, in a severe critique of Darwin’s dependence on natural selection, Mivart dwelled only on the difficulties, disregarding the strengths. Mivart was a convert both to evolutionary thought and to Roman Catholicism, making it easy for Darwin and Huxley to impute a religious motivation to his critique. There were other qualities in Darwin that are often lacking among contemporary antagonists. He knew where to draw the lines on the limitations of his science, recognising that the future would bring fresh insights and a deeper understanding of the processes he sought to understand. Two presuppositions characterise much of his thinking on questions of science and religion. One was that it would be sacrilegious to suggest that the deity was incapable of achieving its creative purposes through natural causes. The other, associated with his agnosticism, was an attitude of tolerance to those whose intimate beliefs he did not share. In so far as he had a creed at the end of his life, it was that each man should hope and believe what he can."


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