Charles Darwin was an atheist

Not an atheist: How Darwin felt about religion and belief in creation

by Hans Kessler

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was fascinated by the diversity of living things on our earth. And he was a great naturalist who collected a huge amount of observation material and wrote many books on it. He became world famous for the theory he wrote in the book About the origin of the species (1859) explains and justifies: The Descendancy theory or theory of descent (Darwin did not speak of evolution, but of transmutation, modification, descent, and the like). The Core idea this theory can be summarized as follows:

All living beings have gradually developed from common archetypes over long periods of time. The different types of living beings do not come ready-made from the Creator's drawing board, they were not each created in a separate act of creation. Rather, they have evolved, arose through mutation and selection, i. H. through random small changes (mutations) to what was already there, to the living beings that were already there, so that there was variation in their offspring and then only the more viable ones reproduced in the struggle for food and sexual partners, while the less viable ones died out: natural selection (selection). These two factors, mutation and selection (modification and selection) were sufficient to explain the gradual emergence of the diversity of living beings. Darwin has thus provided the foundation of a biology, that of religious convictions free is.

He has done nothing other than what the important medieval theologian and natural scientist Albertus Magnus (1200-1280) propagated: “In natural research we do not have to investigate how God the Creator ... uses his creatures to to manifest his omnipotence through miracles. Rather, we have to research what is naturally possible in the realm of nature through nature's own forces. "

How did Darwin feel about religion, about belief in a Creator? Was he an opponent or even an enemy of religion and belief in creation?

1) Darwin never represented an ideological-atheistic Darwinism, not even in its agnostic final phase. He grew up in a decadent form of Christianity, which operated on the one hand with morality, sin and fear of eternal (hell) punishments, whose rationalistic theology of physics prevailing at the time, on the other hand, saw a direction of purpose related to the benefit of man everywhere in nature, from which the god read common reason and God wanted to prove the alleged gaps in the scientific explanation of the world (as the ID lobby is doing again today).

In the years between his circumnavigation on the research ship Beagle (1832-1837) and the publication of About the origin of the species through natural selection (1859) Darwin turned, as he explains in the "Religious Belief" chapter of his autobiography, from the faith in which he had been brought up and from the point of view of physical theology - for example of William Paley (1745-1805, then much cited in Cambridge) ) - gradually from and to a cautious deism.

He rejected the individual creation of the individual species through countless separate acts of creation, as well as miracles, insofar as they were understood as a breach of the laws of nature, and he was against the "heinous doctrine" of eternal punishments for moral reasons. The cruel agonizing suffering in nature, which he had seen so often, was for him incompatible with a work of creation of God, but it was with natural selection. For him, the conviction of evolution was a liberation from oppressive religious ideas.

In the very last sentence of his work On the Origin of Species (1859) he then briefly indicates a different conception of God and creation: “There is something really sublime in the conception that the Creator breathed the germ of all life that surrounds us into only a few or even only one form and that while our earth moves in circles according to the laws of gravity, from such a simple beginning an infinite number of the most beautiful and wonderful forms arose and continues to arise. ”It is remarkable that 1500 years before Darwin a Greek Christian theologian , Gregor von Nyssa (335-394), took a very similar view, and extended it to the cosmic evolution.

Darwin assumed a general providence in planning the laws that make evolution possible in the first place. A world that is so “wonderfully organized” cannot, as a whole, be the result of sheer coincidence, even though the details are less than perfect and coincidental. In a letter from 1870 to his friend, the biologist Joseph D. Hooker, whom he often mentions in “Origin of Species”, he wrote: “I cannot see the universe as the result of blind chance. However, I cannot find any detailed evidence of a beneficial plan (design) see, or any plan of any kind at all. ”(F. Darwin & Seward 1903, I, 321) And in another letter to the scientist Asa Gray at Harvard, he wrote:“ I tend to look at everything as follows it is up to the laws of the plan of creation, while the details are left to what we call accident. ”(F. Darwin 1887, II, 105)

2) Three years before his death, Darwin wrote (1879):

» In my most extreme thoughts, I was never an atheist in the sense that I denied the existence of God. I mostly, but not always (but the older I get, the more often) that 'agnostic' is more likely to apply to me. ”(E Darwin 1887, I, 274) Agnostic is someone who thinks that we are what is about the sensory perception goes beyond, cannot recognize, but also cannot deny it.

He explains in his autobiography (1879):

“This arises from the extreme difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of seeing that this immense and wonderful universe, which embraces man with his ability to look far back into the past and far into the future, is the result of blind chance or necessity should be. If I think about it, then I feel compelled to look around for a first cause that possesses an intellect that is to a certain extent analogous to that of humans, and I deserve to be called theist ... But then the doubt arises again: Can one can rely on the spirit of man, who, I believe, has developed from such a lower spirit as that of the lowest animals, when he draws such grand conclusions? "(F. Darwin 1887, I, 282 f)

So Darwin asks very seriously and honestly. He also laments the loss of his earlier enjoyment of nature experiences, poetry and literature, and says that he has become “a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of a large collection of facts”. Formerly a lover of music, now “my soul is too parched to appreciate it as it was in days gone by. I'm a withered leaf in every way - except in science. Sometimes I hate her because of that. ”(F. Darwin 1887, II, 273)

Bitter words. Obviously one can, passionately moved by a single big question and fascinated by the discoveries made, sink so deeply into a one-dimensional perspective that other sides of reality no longer come into play and human existence becomes impoverished. Isn't one of the great natural scientists saying something about the limits of natural science at the same time: that man, according to his deepest disposition, does not deal with natural science alone he himself and can really be a person?

3) Darwins Basic idea (Creation of the diversity of life through modifying variation and through efficiency in the subsequent selection) has proven to be correct, although it needs to be supplemented (e.g. through mechanisms such as symbiosis). The implementation of his approach, however, is not free from questionable admixtures: For example, after initially working with the economist Thomas Malthus from struggle for existence had spoken since 1869 by the sociologist Herbert Spencer the problematic formula survival of the fittest on. And beyond the stipulations of the naturally innate, he underestimated the openness of every newborn person and their malleability through human affection, social interaction, upbringing, intellectual education, etc. He misunderstood power cultural evolution with their (medical, technical, socio-cooperative, educational, etc.) possibilities, which can rise above biological evolution and selection, what his competitor Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), who independently of Darwin shared the same ideas of evolution through modification and Selection developed, rather saw.

Above all, however, Darwin must be clear differentiated are from Darwinism as a worldview, who turns Darwin's idea into an ideology, and from Social darwinism, who propagates the right of the fittest in cutthroat competition. In Germany, the zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in particular did both. He declared competition and selection to be the basis of social progress and provided the basis for racial ideologies. In his popular bestseller The world riddles (Bonn 1899) he elevated Darwinism, interpreted materialistically, to a “monistic” materialistic total interpretation of the world, a substitute for religion: a world creator is incompatible with eternal matter and the iron, mechanical laws of nature. Haeckel mockingly dismissed God as a “gaseous vertebrate” and was crowned materialistic antipope in Rome without him and his followers becoming aware of the unscientific and ridiculous nature of this approach.

From: Hans Kessler, Evolution and Creation in a New View (c) 2009 Butzon & Bercker GmbH, Kevelaer, 2nd edition 2009,