Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Charles Darwin on the Creator

Occasionally in Origin of Species Darwin mentions God, in ways that seem in some sense to defend his character. For instance, there's this quote from Chapter V:
He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary, both under nature an under domestication, in this particular manner, so as often to become striped like the other species of the genus; and that each has been created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus. To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or least for an unknown, cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe, with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells living on the seashore.
And then there's this (rather lengthy) quote from Chatper VI, which comes in the middle of explaining how the eye may be the product of incremental changes:
It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? If we must compare the eye to an optical instrument, we ought in imagination to take a thick layer of transparent tissue, with spaces filled with fluid, and with a nerve sensitive to light beneath, and then suppose every part of this layer to be continually changing slowly in density, so as to separate into layers of different distances from each other, and with the surfaces of each layer slowly changing in form. Further we must suppose that there is a power, represented by natural selection of the survival of the fittest, always intently watching each slight alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully preserving each which, under varied circumstances, in any way or in any degree, tends to produce a dinstincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; each to be preserved until a better one is produced, and then the old ones to be all destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?
Adam Smith showed how the market may be the product of human action, but not of human design. Darwin showed how biological evolution may be the product of divine action, but not of divine design.

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