[asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

From: Jon Tandy <tandyland@earthlink.net>
Date: Thu Jun 18 2009 - 13:10:37 EDT


You have repeatedly made the case that "Darwinism" is not simply a natural
methodology for explaining natural events in the world, but it is (with
heavy reliance on "Darwin's own views of what his theory entailed") a
complete metaphysical program that excludes design by definition. At least
I believe this is a fair summary of your representation of Darwin's and
Darwinism's position.

I find from the recent ASA newsletter a quotation from Darwin as follows:
Darwin told the author William Graham in one of his last letters, "You have
expressed my inward conviction that the Universe is not the result of
chance." And from Darwin's letter in 1879 to John Fordyce: "It seems to me
absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist . In
my most extreme fluctuations, I have never been an atheist in the sense of
denying the existence of a God."

In addition to these quotations is the article at
http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/3Darwin.htm, which gives a history of some
of Darwin's theological beliefs. This article contains the following
quotations, among others:

From 1860 letter to Asa Gray. "I grieve to say that I cannot honestly go as
far as you do about Design. I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless
muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of
chance; and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of
Design. . . . Again, I say I am, and shall ever remain, in a hopeless
muddle". That he "cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result
of chance."

From 1870 letter to J. D. Hooker: "My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot
look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no
evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the
details. As for each variation that has ever occurred having been
preordained for a special end, I can no more believe in it than that the
spot on which each drop of rain falls has been specially ordained."

From his Autobiography: "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 wondrous universe, including
man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a
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."

I trust that you have seen this information. With this in mind, how can you
justify the sweeping statement about what is Darwinism (in the mind of its
author), that you have repeatedly made here? It seems that Darwin's view,
confused though it was, was to disbelieve in the possibility of "blind
chance", to allow for the possibility that there was some higher form of
design in nature, and yet he held that design on a "detail" level
(individual raindrops, individual mutations, etc.) does not appear
convincing. Theistic Evolutionists would agree, as probably even yourself
would agree that God doesn't decree the exact trajectory of every single
raindrop. With this admittedly very simplified view of Darwin's belief, I
don't find much significant difference in the way Theistic Evolutionists and
Darwin seem to have viewed nature. The most significant difference is not
natural, but metaphysical, in that TEs clearly hold that there is a Theos
who is directly responsible for all of nature, where Darwin was agnostic
about this religious belief, but not atheistic (or anti-theistic, as your
words seem to imply). At the very least, how can you say that Darwinism is
anti-design, when Darwin was at the worst personally confused about what to
think about design?

Jon Tandy

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Received on Thu, 18 Jun 2009 12:10:37 -0500

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