Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Born:  12 February 1809, Shropshire, England
Died:  19 April 1882, Kent, England
Education:  University of Edinburgh
University of Cambridge
Occupation:  Biologist, naturalist
Religion:  Agnostic
Affiliations:  Geological Society of London

For more information, see the TalkOrigins Archive article:
For more information, see the TalkOrigins Archive article:
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Charles Darwin was one of the early founders of evolutionary theory. His book On the Origin of Species introduced natural selection as the primary mechanism of adaptive evolution, forming the foundation of modern biology.


Religious views

Initially convinced by Paley's watchmaker argument, his studies in biology led him to later reject it. Likewise his views on Christian morality were positive but after much thought he rejected Christianity as well. Here are some quotes from Darwin's autobiography:

"Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the noveltry of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow at sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian."
"By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, -- that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become, -- that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us, -- that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneous with the events, -- that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; -- by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least noveltry or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation."
"But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlasting punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."
"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

Racism and social implications of evolution

While Darwinism is often misused, Chris Hedges accuses Darwin of dabbling in Social Darwinism in that he thought it was largely inevitable:

"Darwin was a disciple of Thomas Malthus, whose theories about food and population helped formulate laissez-faire capitalism and Social Darwinism. And Darwin ranks human races (like the "Aryan" and the "Asiatic") in a hierarchy by their proximity to the apes. He wrote in his notebooks that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were all natural outcomes in a developed human society. Darwin included Galton’s eugenic theories and Herbert Spencer’s theory about the “survival of he fittest” in the 1874 second edition of The Descent of Man. He called Hereditary Genius, Galton’s treatise on the biological nature of intelligence and moral character, "remarkable," and Spencer "our great philosopher". But Darwin, unlike Spencer, was not a teleological utopian. There was, for Darwin, no final goal.[1]"

In the Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla."

It is also worth considering that Darwin was socially forward thinking for his time, particularly in his opposition to slavery.[2]

On apologetics

On the subject of whether apologetics is effective:

"Moreover though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. [3]"

Death bed conversion?

For more information, see the TalkOrigins Archive article:

Various rumours and anonymous claims have been circulated but there is no reliable evidence of a death bed conversion by Darwin. [4] [5]


  1. Chris Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists
  2. [1]
  3. Darwin, C. R. to Aveling, E. B., 13 Oct 1880
  4. [2]
  5. Darwin recanted on his deathbed, TalkOrigins archive.

External links

v · d Science
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Scientific method   Scientific theory · Hypothesis · Evidence · Examining claims · Skepticism
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v · d Biology
Evolution   Natural selection
Abiogenesis   The Urey-Miller experiment
Evolutionary straw men   Life just exploded from nothing · So you think we came from monkeys · How did the first dog find a mate · Crocoducks · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Irreducible complexity · Chuck Missler's jar of peanut butter · What good is half a wing?
Notable Biologists   Charles Darwin · Richard Dawkins · PZ Myers
Notable quacks   William Dembski · Michael Behe · Geoffrey Simmons · Ken Ham · Michael Cremo

v · d Physics
Concepts   Cosmology · Big bang · Relativity theory · Black holes · Quantum mechanics
Physics straw men   Fine-tuning argument · Anthropic principle
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v · d Mathematics
Statistics   Sample size · Selection bias · Standard deviation · Statistical significance · Statistical probability · Meta probability · Gambler's fallacy
Mathematics and religion   Biblical value of pi

v · d Atheism
Terminology   Etymology of the word atheist · Weak atheism · Strong atheism · Agnosticism · Atheist vs. agnostic · Tenets and dogma
Contemporary literature   The End of Faith · The God Delusion · God: The Failed Hypothesis · Letter to a Christian Nation · God Is Not Great · Irreligion · 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
Classic literature   Why I Am Not a Christian
Atheist and secular groups   Atheist groups · Secular charities · How American Non-Atheists view Atheists
Contemporary authors   Richard Dawkins · Daniel Dennett · A. C. Grayling · Sam Harris · Guy P. Harrison · John Allen Paulos · James Randi · Victor Stenger
Internet non-believers   Reginald Vaughn Finley · PZ Myers
Writers and philosophers   David Hume · Robert Ingersoll · Friedrich Nietzsche · Bertrand Russell · Carl Sagan · Voltaire · Jean-Paul Sartre · John Stuart Mill · Karl Marx · Heraclitus
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