This article is from
Creation 32(1):38–39, January 2010

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Darwin and divine design


Image Wikipedia.com Darwin

While Charles Darwin, in his writing,1 made it very clear that he did not accept the Genesis account of creation,2 the picture we have of Darwin’s views about the existence of a Creator is, at best, confusing. In the 1st edition of his Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, in his Conclusion:

“ … I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”3 [emphasis added]

That almost sounds like biblical language (Genesis 2:7). However, Darwin cannot be referring to the God of the Bible, as the biblical Creator breathed life into the first human directly—Adam was not “descended from some one primordial form” along with “all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth”. Nevertheless, it does seem that Darwin was leaving the reader with the impression that he believed in some kind of a creator. In fact, in the 2nd edition, Darwin added “by the Creator” to the end of the sentence.4

Why the addition?

Perhaps science historian James Strick’s observations about Darwin are pertinent here.5 He writes that Darwin’s public writing was framed so as to not alienate people who, while taking a liberal view of the Bible,6 nevertheless believed in a Creator:

“Darwin went out of his way, even misrepresenting his own views on life’s origin, to use language that gave these readers some breathing room.”5

If so, given the controversy that erupted with the publication of the 1st edition of Origin, Darwin might well have considered that adding “by the Creator” would be strategically prudent.

Public vs private

Darwin’s private dealings present a different picture. His famous advocate Thomas Huxley, often dubbed “Darwin’s bulldog”,7 was a man “anxious to banish from science all supernatural explanations for the origin of life”.5 According to Strick:

“Judging by his private correspondence, Darwin seems largely to have concurred with Huxley’s version of a naturalistic origin of life. … But Darwin never aired his thoughts on the subject in public.”5,8

Perhaps some of today’s evolution-accepting church leaders would be well-advised to read some of that private correspondence. For example, in a letter to the American biologist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:

“Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced.”9

In light of that, the polite concession made sometimes by creationists today that, “If Darwin had known what we know today about biology and genetics,10 he might not have become a Darwinist”, appears overly generous.11

In contrast, Romans 1:20 is unquestionably hard-hitting: anyone who denies the existence of God, given the evidence of what has been made, is “without excuse”. And that applied just as much in Darwin’s time as it does today.

Posted on homepage: 14 February 2011

References and notes

  1. The contents of various editions of Darwin’s Origin, (refs 3,4) along with much of his other writing (e.g. refs 8,9), can be viewed at: The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, darwin-online.org.uk. Return to text.
  2. Grigg, R., Darwin’s arguments against God: How Darwin rejected the doctrines of Christianity, creation.com/darwinvgod, 13 June 2008. Return to text.
  3. Darwin, C., On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, 1st edition, John Murray, London, 1859, p. 484. Return to text.
  4. Darwin, C., On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, 2nd edition, John Murray, London, 1860, p. 484. Return to text.
  5. Roth, N., Review of Strick, J., Darwin and the origin of life: A historical perspective, American Association for the Advancement of Science—Origin of Life Workshop, 21–23 February, 2003; www.aaas.org. Return to text.
  6. In Roth’s words (Ref. 5), “Darwin himself wanted not to alienate liberal Christians, noted Strick.” Return to text.
  7. Grigg, R., Darwin’s bulldog—Thomas H. Huxley, Creation 31(3):39–41, 2009. Return to text.
  8. In Origin of Species, Darwin actually devoted very little space to the issue of the origin of life. In an 1871 letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin wrote: “It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.” The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, edited by his son Francis Darwin, John Murray, London, 1887, Vol. 3, p. 18. Evolutionists still largely skirt around the origin-of-life issue (with some even disingenuously claiming that “evolution” has nothing to do with the origin of life despite the accepted term “chemical evolution”). Hardly surprising, given that there is no known non-intelligent cause that has ever been observed to generate even a small portion of the literally encyclopedic information required for life. Return to text.
  9. Darwin, F., (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, John Murray, London, 1887, Vol. 2, p. 377. Return to text.
  10. Darwin erred in thinking that variety in offspring meant new features arising spontaneously, whereas we now know, following the pioneering work of the famous creationist scientist, Gregor Mendel, that the variety is due to the recombination of existing genes, not the creation of new ones. See Lester, L., Genetics: no friend of evolution, Creation 20(2):20–22, 1998. Return to text.
  11. For more on this topic, see Batten, D., Would Darwin be a Darwinist today? Creation 31(4):48–51, 2009. Return to text.

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