A practicing marine biologist for many years, now gracefully retired, Dr. Murchison was drawn back to his first love: the History of Science. One of his literary time-trips put him in the company of many of Darwin's friends and colleagues and resulted a publication about the founders of modern geology, War Before Science (2014, Academica Press). Having spent enjoyable and informative time with those 19th century British scientists (they called themselves "Natural Philosophers" in the day), Arthur now takes us on another journey to the life and world of Charles Darwin. To talk of it or debate it, contact him at <arthurmurchison1210 (at) comcast (dot) net>.
Exercpt from his autobiography
Mark Twain on Religion
Some selected quotes
In Charles Darwin's time it was necessary to sign a pledge of acceptance and obedience to christianity to become a student at Cambridge University and young Charles Darwin signed that pledge; he liked the idea of becoming an Anglican parish priest with a nice house and plenty of time to pursue his nature hobbies. Although he did complete his Bachelor's Degree at Cambridge, the opportunity to study nature as a passenger aboard the Royal Navy sailing ship, H.M.S. Beagle interrupted his ordination studies. The insights about nature that he gained during that five year voyage of discovery changed him profoundly; his view of nature and human's part of it eventually led to his theory of evolution which required no micromanaging, miracle-performing god. Although he never declared himself an atheist, he did accept 'agnostic' as an accurate description of his attitude. The following is excerpted from his 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 novelty 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 as a 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. Is it credible that if God were now to make a revelation to the Hindoos, would he permit it to be connected with the belief in Vishnu, Siva, &c., as Christianity is connected with the Old Testament. This appeared to me utterly incredible.
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 simultaneously 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 eye-witnesses;—by such reflections … I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.
Disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate. 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 my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.
Every one who believes, as I do, that all the corporeal and mental organs (excepting those which are neither advantageous or disadvantageous to the possessor) of all beings have been developed through natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, will admit that these organs have been formed so that their possessors may compete successfully with other beings, and thus increase in number.
That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement.
In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, 'it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.' I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists. The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, and which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music.
This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."
Excerpted from The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, edited by his son, Francis Darwin and published in 1887, five years after Charles Darwin's death. Abnormal spellings from the original.