Daily Archives: March 5, 2010

Darwin and Theology

Time to expand your thinking. Philosopher Chris Cosans asks a radical question: Was Darwin a Creationist? Let me share a rather interesting excerpt from Cosans’ paper (Cosans C. 2005. Was Darwin a creationist? Perspect Biol Med. 48(3):362-71):

Darwin’s assertion in the Origin that all the living things we observe descended from one organism can be traced back to speculations he had made on theology during the 1830s.When considering the transmutation of species in his notebook from 1837 and 1838, Darwin considered the theological meaning of whether or not transmutation follows from a fixed natural law. He remarks at one point in his private notebook that:

“Astronomers might formely [sic] have said that God ordered each planet to move in its particular destiny.””In same manner God orders each animal created with certain form in certain country, but how much more simple, & sublime power let attraction act according to certain law such are inevitable consequences let animal be created, then by the fixed laws of generation, such will be their successors.” (Darwin 1838, p. 185)

Just as Newton showed the greatness of God in his Principia by explaining how the one law of gravity governs the motion of all the planets, Darwin is interested in showing that God did not make each species but created one organic being from which different species could be generated by fixed laws.

Although his beliefs about God developed over the ensuing 20 years, Darwin framed his biological Principia in a theological context. He opens the Origin with two epigraphs on natural theology. The first, by Whewell, refers to the British theological reconciliation of science and religion by holding that the laws discovered by science are secondary causes, while God, as the Creator of these laws, is the primary cause:”events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws.” A second quote, from Bacon, states no man can “be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works,” implying the need to study both scripture and science to understand the world in which we live. Almost 500 pages later, Darwin brings the Origin to a conclusion with a reference to Genesis that echoes his 1838 remarks about science and religion:”There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed 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” (Darwin 1859, p. 490). In a single sentence Darwin interweaves the metaphysical breath of Genesis with the physical gravity of Newton’s Principia.

Cosans also notes:

Continue reading