‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007


Monday, 22 September 2008

Ten more Darwin Quotes

Nick Spencer of Theos has an article in the Times Online ‘God, Evolution and Charles Darwin’ (17 Sept 08) in which he offers ten quotes from Darwin's life. [1]

Spencer thinks Darwin was one of the most brilliant scientists in history and ‘thoroughly decent, honourable and likeable.’ Whether Darwin was such a brilliant scientist is open to debate with persistent claims that his work was not all his own, (i.e. Roy Davies, The Darwin Conspiracy, 2008) but Darwin also got caught up in the racist zeitgeist thinking of the late nineteenth century that some of his free thinking friends were engaged in. Darwin was indeed a complex person with friends and acquaintances with various beliefs and worldviews. Darwin was perhaps agnostic, and was influenced by the progressive scientism of Comte.

Theos and Faraday are engaged in a research report to ‘Rescue Darwin,’ thinking he has been misunderstood. So in response to Spencer’s Darwin quotes, here are a few more that he might like to add to his report.

(1) When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed …nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.
Letter to G. Bentham May 22, 1863

(2) With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.
The Descent of Man (1871) pp. 168-169

(3) 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, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, 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.
The Descent of Man (1871) p.201

(4) Last night Dicey and Litchfield were talking about J. Stuart Mill's never expressing his religious convictions, as he was urged to do so by his father. Both agreed strongly that if he had done so, he would never have influenced the present age in the manner in which he has done. His books would not have been text books at Oxford. - To take a weaker instance Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise.
Letter to George Darwin, October 21/22, (1873)

(5) P.S. Oct 22nd …I have lately read Morley's Life of Voltaire and he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force and vigour of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow the slow and silent side attacks.
Letter to George Darwin October 21/22, (1873)

(6) I should prefer the part or volume not to be dedicated to me (although I thank you for the intended honour), as that would, in a certain extent, suggest my approval of the whole work, with which I am not acquainted. Although I am a keen advocate of freedom of opinion in all questions, it seems to me (rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and Theism hardly have any effect on the public; and that freedom of thought will best be promoted by that gradual enlightening of human understanding which follows the progress of science. I have therefore always avoided writing about religion and have confined myself to science. Possibly I have been too strongly influenced by the thought of the concern it might cause some members of my family, if in any way I lent my support to direct attacks on religion.
Letter to Edward Aveling (Son-in-Law of Karl Marx) 13th October, (1880)

(7) I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.
Letter to W. Graham, 3rd July, (1881)

(8) It has often been said, as Mr. Macnamara remarks, that man can resist with impunity the greatest diversities of climate and other changes; but this is true only of the civilised races. Man in his wild condition seems to be in this respect almost as susceptible as his nearest allies, the anthropoid apes, which have never yet survived long, when removed from their native country.
The Descent of Man (1882) p. 188

(9) On his standard of proof, NATURAL science would never progress, for without the making of theories I am convinced there would be no observation.
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (Vol. II) p. 108

(10) ‘Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ Full title of Darwin’s book first published in 1859

Sourced through Steve Jones’ website http://bevets.com/equotesd.htm with some corrections made after checking the Darwin Correspondence Project http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/

[1] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4772296.ece
Andrew S

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