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Darwin’s Doubts Redux

A few days ago Sal posted the following quote from Darwin:

From Letter 3154 — Darwin, C. R. to Herschel, J. F. W., 23 May [1861]

One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions & man without believing that all has been intelligently designed

As Jack Krebs pointed out (and Sal freely admited, which was why he posted under “humor”), this was a quote mine, and Saint Charles went on to distance himself from this view. 

 Nevertheless, as Darwin’s son Francis made clear in his book, Darwin was haunted by thoughts of design to the end of his life.  In a July 3, 1881 letter to W. Grahm Darwin wrote:  “Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.”  Francis connects a footnote to this passage in which he recounts the Duke of Argyll’s recollection of a conversatino he had with Darwin.  The text of the footnote is:

The Duke of Argyll (‘Good Words,’ A 1885, page 244) has recorded a few words on this subject, spoken by my father in the last year of his life.  ‘. . .in the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the ‘Fertilization of Orchids,’ and upon ‘The Earthworms,’ and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature – I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of mind.  I shall never forget Mr. Darwin’s answer.  He looked at me very hard and said, ‘Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,’ and he shook his head vaguely, adding, ‘it seems to go away.’

Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1905), 1:285

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15 Responses to Darwin’s Doubts Redux

  1. I actually contend that Sal’s statements were on the mark. If you look at what Darwin was saying, I think he was trying to make two _separate_ points:

    1) The universe, as a holistic system, appears designed
    2) It does not appear that this design goes down to the individual details of individual species or organisms.

    So (a) there is likely a plan, but (b) the plan is not likely all-inclusive of all details.

    That’s what the letter says to me. Perhaps I am misinterpreting, but this really isn’t too far afield of what many ID’ers today believe.

  2. [...] Darwin doubts redux So what if Darwin was haunted by design? The classic instance is Kant’s explicit statement that the design argument deserved his respect, and yet… He proceeded to see the problems in drawing any conclusions from that. From Letter 3154 — Darwin, C. R. to Herschel, J. F. W., 23 May [1861] [...]

  3. ‘Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force;

    And that explains why atheist Francis Crick sugested that scientists/(biologists?) kept reminding themselves that what they are studing was not created but evolved.
    And why do they have to constantly remind themselves of that? Why, because nature displays properties of real design and engineering (i.e., it apears to have been created).

    I don’t think that there is any more revealing sentence than the one Crick said.

  4. I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin’s answer. He looked at me very hard and said, ‘Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,’ and he shook his head vaguely, adding, ‘it seems to go away.’

    Superb find, Barry A. How do you dig up these gems!

  5. For, I am not prepared to admit that God designed the feathers in the tail of the rock-pigeon to vary in a highly peculiar manner in order that man might select such variations & make a Fan-tail;
    Charles Darwin to Herschel

    Actually Darwin echoes an age old enigma: “do we have to know the purpose of a design to believe it was designed?”
    To echo Weinburg, after realizing the universe must inevitably die, “the more we know about the universe, the more pointless it seems”. Weinburg echoes the enigma of why there should be fine tuning to bring to life something that will eventually die. How can there be purpose in that?
    Some will not accept that something is designed until they have a convincing explanation what end the design has and how that design has it’s role in a larger plan.
    But one can infer design without knowing the purpose or manufacturing process. A good example is Hieroglyphics, pyramids, etc.
    Of course the larger philosophical issue is perhaps the most important question, but having the philosophical question unanswered should not hinder the empirical inference to design.

  6. I’ve got a feeling that to many Victorians, Natural Selection actually didn’t invalidate design at all, but actually demonstrated it.

    Michael Ruse, in his book Mystery of Mysteries quotes the Reverend Baden-Powell, the Savillian Professor of Geometry at Oxford as stating in 1855 that

    ‘Precisely in proportion as a fabric manufactured by machinery affords a higher proof of intellect than one produced by hand; so a world evolved by a long train of orderly disposed physical causes is a higher proof of Supreme intelligence than one in whose structure we can trace no indications of such progressive action. And in proportion as we might be able to follow out more and more details of that succession of causes, should we derive increasing evidence of the great truth’ (p. 45).

    Now Baden-Powell was writing four years before The Origin of Species, yet I have a feeling it was sentiments like these that made evolution acceptable to the Victorians. Ruse notes that Charles Babbage also saw his Difference Engine as having theological implications, in that it showed that God could also have created the universe through an unbroken succession of natural law programmed into the process like an algorhythm. Ruse states that although Babbage’s ideas were extreme, they weren’t anomalous but exemplified contemporary early Victorian, pre-Darwinian attitudes to evolution.

    I think there is a parallel here to contemporary discussions of the wonderfully intricate mechanisms in biological cells and the emerging science of nanotechnology. Clearly the Victorians looked at the evolutionary process, and saw design, just as ID looks at the incredible nanomachines in living cells and sees evidence of design, though one based on irreducible complexity rather than evolution from unbroken processes.

    Now either familiarity with contemporary industrial techniques leads people to see intelligent ordering where there is only order, or the cosmos and the world is genuinely intelligently ordered in a manner similar to the step-by-step approach of a human craftsman, and that human development of industrial processes has allowed people to discover and appreciate this. My guess is it’s the latter.

  7. I think Francisco Ayala’s recent book does pretty good justice to Darwin’s understanding of both the impression of design and the troubling theological implications if one follows the design argument too far. I have a post on my blog where I compare Ayala and Behe’s recent books in relation to this subject at http://exploringourmatrix.blog.....od-do.html

  8. ReligionProf,

    You seemed to completely overlook the fact that Behe’s new book is a slam dunk against evolution. Far from a case of “looking for something for God to do,” as you call it, it shows that Darwinism can only explain trivial details of life. In other words, life is all design except a few minor details.

    The fact that the opponents of Behe’s book find the need to repeatedly lie and misreperesent the book (Carroll and Miller) or avoid the subject matter altogether (Dawkins) shows exactly how good Behe’s book is.

    I have yet to hear a single good argument against the Edge of Evolution. The last time I debated the it, I quite when Nick Matzke from the NCSE made the bizarre claim that malaria could not reproduce below 68 degrees farenheit because mosquitos (and all other flying insects) die when the temperature hits freezing. Think about it. Malaria cannot reproduce below 68 degrees farenheit. Water freezes at 32 degrees fareneheit.

    I don’t have all day to debate morons.

  9. I don’t understand Matzke’s point. Some of the worst mosquitos in the world are in the sub-arctic tundra in places like Alaska. What am I missing?

  10. One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions & man without believing that all has been intelligently designed

    BarryA,

    You are exactly right to highlight this as “Darwin’s Doubt”, that was a very sincere expression of what he perceived.

    Your other research confirms this.

    Darwin tried to explain away the appearance of design like one tries to explain a mirage as being a mirage, when in fact it is no mirage at all, but rather the REAL thing, a lake of water.

    I think the ID movement has a good theme it can use to promote the design argument, namely, Charles Darwin’s very own words.

  11. tdean

    I followed the link – but Nick Matzke doesn’t mention “68 degress” – he actually said: “…but that in cold regions all the mosquitos (and all other flying insects) die when the temperature hits freezing,…

    Maybe I didn’t explain the conversation well but you have to look at the context to understand the lameness of Matzke’s comment. We were discussing the edge of evolution. I had previously pointed out that in spite of having more reproductive events every year than mammals have had in their entire existence, malaria has not evolved the ability to reproduce below 68 degrees. Matzke’s explanation for this was that “in cold regions all the mosquitos (and all other flying insects) die when the temperature hits freezing”

    Hello? Water freezes at 32 degrees, malaria stops reproducing at 68 degrees.

  12. I don’t understand Matzke’s point. Some of the worst mosquitos in the world are in the sub-arctic tundra in places like Alaska. What am I missing?

    Beats me. Malaria’s reproducitve cycle stops well above freezing anyway.

  13. Barry A,

    Those mosquitos in the tundra- well they commute. ;)

  14. This just in:

    CSI for Dummies

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