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Charles Darwin Portrait

Charles Darwin: the long-beardy chap who created the theory of evolution by natural selection. Remarkably, his younger and equally full-bearded counterpart, Alfred Russel Wallace, came up with a strikingly similar idea independently. Together, they presented their theory in 1858 and Darwin expanded on it the following year in his sell-out text, The Origin of Species. Here’s what Darwin had to say about his theory, as well as his philosophical views of life, religion and science.

“Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.”
The Origin of Species

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”
The Descent of Man

“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts.”
The Descent of Man

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
The Origin of Species

“My success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been – the love of science – unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject – industry in observing and collecting facts – and a fair share of invention as well as of common sense.”
The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
The Descent of Man

“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”
The Voyage of The Beagle: Charles Darwin’s Journal of Researches

“Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers… for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality… But I had gradually come by this time, i.e., 1836 to 1839, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow at sign, etc, etc, and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian. …By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, (and that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become), that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost uncomprehensible by us, that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, that they differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me, to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can be hardly denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories. But I was very unwilling to give up my belief… Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.”
The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.”
Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844: Geology, Transmutation of Species, Metaphysical Enquiries

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”
The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

“I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”
Letter, October 1880

Darwin Misquotes

While we’re at it, here are two quotes which Darwin never said, but are often mis-attributed to him:

“We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realised that they were inside us.”
– Jordyn Berner (poet)

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
– Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

Life is Better with a Good Book

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