A dozen reasons to celebrate Darwin

By Deborah Heiligmanauthor This is Darwin’s year. We celebrated his 200th birthday in February and this month is the 150th … Continued

By Deborah Heiligman

This is Darwin’s year. We celebrated his 200th birthday in February and this month is the 150th anniversary of publication of “The Origin of the Species”. Sadly there are still misconceptions about Charles Darwin and his science, falsehoods that are spread, making people scared to teach children about him. But we most certainly should teach our children about Darwin. Here is a primer I hope will convince:

1. Charles Darwin was not an atheist. He struggled with his faith for most of his life, as do many of us. He respected faith, and people of faith. In fact, his wife Emma was deeply religious, and talked with him throughout their marriage about God.

2. You can find God in “The Origin of the Species.” Darwin put God into his great book, not in the first edition, but in the second and every one thereafter. The last sentence reads, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one….”

3. Charles Darwin was a loving, caring father and a very kind man. Not a meanie, as someone one said to me (“survival of the fittest and all that.”), but a softie. His children ran in and out of his study looking for rulers and scissors and tape. He hugged his children, bathed them when they were babies, and let them jump on the sofa, even though it was against the rules.

4. Charles Darwin was a genius. He had a great idea–evolution by natural selection– that has withstood the test of time. He did not get that idea in a Eureka moment in the Galapagos. It was only after he left, on his way home that he started to think about the finches and mockingbirds and their beaks.

5. Charles Darwin was a hard worker. When he was interested in something he gave it his all (as a child he wasn’t that interested in school). He was extremely organized and methodical. He took years and years to perfect his theory so that it would be as airtight as possible. He anticipated the objections and addressed them in his book in a chapter called “Difficulties with the Theory.”

6. The word THEORY in science does not mean “just a theory.” It means the analysis of a set of facts.

7. Darwin hated to offend and he hated controversy. In “The Origin of the Species” you will see that in his voice. It pained him to think that he might cause anyone discomfort or hurt. That’s why he sat on his theory for decades.

8. Darwin never said that humans evolved from apes. This is a basic misunderstanding of evolution. Humans and apes have a common ancestor. Recently scientists found an early human ancestor. In the tradition of Darwin they worked for years to put together the pieces.

9. Charles and Emma Darwin had a long and close marriage even though they disagreed about religion. The marriage survived the deaths of three children. When their 10-year-old daughter Annie died, in 1851, their hearts broke, but not their marriage. Why? They talked to each other, working hard to see each other’s point of view.

10. Charles Darwin had champions among his religious colleagues and friends. Here in America Asa Gray, the botanist, championed Darwin’s theory, leaving room for God in the process. And at home Emma was his first reader and best editor. She did not seek to dilute his argument in The Origin. In fact, she cleaned up his language (and his spelling and punctuation) to make the prose stronger.

11. Charles Darwin was one of the real Good Guys in history. It’s true that he published the Origin after he found out that Alfred Russell Wallace also had the same idea. It was the thing that pushed him to finally publish, after decades of sitting on his work (because he did not want to rock the boat). But first he had his paper and Wallace’s published together. Then he wrote his book.

12. Charles Darwin is a great role model. He was a genius who worked hard. He was a loving father and husband. His kids adored him. So did his friends. He was honored by his country when he died.

We should teach our children about Charles Darwin.

Deborah Heiligman is author of the new book, “Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith,” a 2009 National Book Award finalist.

Written by

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Dear PamSM, Walter in Falls Church, and Peter Huff,What better place to discuss Darwin and–much more important–I will lead by saying that propagating a worldview based upon the mechanical elimination of the weak led to great wrongs, mass suffering, and much,much worse.Best,

  • Mary_Cunningham

    PS Herbert Spencer coined the “survival of the fittest” phrase and he was one of Darwin’s closest associates and

  • ravitchn

    There is only one reason to celebrate Darwin: he found the truth! The rest is blather.

  • WmarkW

    The only people who don’t admire Darwin are those so scientifically ignorant that they think magic seems more likely that the workings of nature.

  • blasmaic

    This is not the place to discuss science. This is the On Faith section of the web site. If you want to talk about science, go somewhere else, anywhere else.

  • kwires

    Most people do not understand the term “survival of the fittest”. It does not mean that the most aggressive or strongest will win out. It means that the organism whose abilities and behavior favor the current environment survive. Then by surviving modify the future course of development. What is strenght in one period can be the cause of demise in the next. Organisims that have a certain flexibility to adapt have the best chance of surviving. The practice of animal husbandry shows the ability of selective breeding to move a breed to acquire and enhance certain charateristics. This is a practice that is proven over and over again on any farm or nursery. Belief in God and the power he exerts has more to do with the why of how this works. It has no relation to the fact that it does.

  • floydboyd

    MC,While we are at it, let’s throw Newton in the mix and blame him for everyone that ever jumped to their deaths. Afterall, he “propagated” his findings on gravity. Seriously, MC, the horrible issues you described in your message were around long before Darwin was ever a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

  • edbyronadams

    The phrase “survival of the fittest” also gives rise to other misunderstandings of natural selection since survival, at least to the age of reproduction, is only part of the selection equation. Differential reproduction is also a necessary component for selection.For example, the elephant seals whose reproduction rites have been filmed so often. It is now, from tagging studies, known that males that are successful beachmasters almost always disappear from the population. The effort to maintain the harem drains them. They don’t survive but leave many offspring from their successful defense of a harem. That’s selection.Instead of “survival of the fittest”, natural selection should be known by some phrase like “leave more genes”.

  • tojby_2000

    1. The correct title of Mr. Darwin’s book is: On the Origin of Species, not The Origin of the Species.

  • gamiller1

    MC”that propagating a worldview based upon the mechanical elimination of the weak led to great wrongs, mass suffering, and much,much worse”.Ah yes, blame ALL of the social ills on anybody who ever believed in anything but evolution or who would ever actually question it. Naturally, starvation on a global level is the fault of anybody who diagrees or in the least questions Darwin the Deity. After all, how can we question such a “good guy”, golly gee, the above 12 points really paint Darwin to be a really family guy, better than Al Bundy. Let’s look for his writings on fatherhood and elevate them to Holy Writ as well, since almost word that falls from his pen is elevated to that lofty position by those of you who are so enlightened. Someday, the rest of us who employ faith (of course it takes a HUGE leap of faith to truly swallow all of the claims that substantiate Darwinism, evolution, etc.) may attain the level enlitghtenment that you obviously have reached. Forgive us for our unevolved ignorance.Until then, I trust that my God is smarter than man’s attempt to explain the unexplainable.

  • khote14

    gamiller1 you really do misunderstand how theories work, don’t you?Let’s see how your religion stands up to that kind of scrutiny.Your hatred for Darwin shows us all that you fear what he has done, fear the consequences of his theory – in fact, you fear it to be true, far more than you fear your religion to be false.As usual, the only word to describe such fearfulness is pa-thetic.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Gamilla1:You are incoherent. I am not blaming

  • Mary_Cunningham

    FloydBoydNovember 24, 2009 8:56 AMYou are being flippant. What we are looking at is the behaviour of Darwin’s followers in the public square. Adherents to Newton’s theory confined themselves to physics, not social policy. They were not responsible for the mass sterilization of tens of thousands in the US and Britain and the outright ‘elimination’ (don’t you love Darwin’s phraseology?) of the handicapped in Nazi Germany. I am gone for a while, I hope there will be others to query the value of Darwinism in the public arena as well as the fairly suspect evidence of Darwin’s adherence to Christianity. (Well, at least,

  • CellBioProf

    A response to GAMiller’s comments that “since almost word that falls from his pen is elevated to that lofty position by those of you who are so enlightened…. (of course it takes a HUGE leap of faith to truly swallow all of the claims that substantiate Darwinism, evolution, etc.)” —Did you notice the contradiction in your statement regarding “swallowing the claims that substantiate evolution”? No leap of faith required, just deciding to accept rather than deny the overwhelming evidence that has accumulated showing that evolution does indeed occur. I’m not sure what you mean by “Darwinism”. That seems to be a term used only by those who have virtually no real understanding of biology. Our understanding of evolution has changed tremendously since 1859, including major revolutions from our growing knowledge of genetics (leading to the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the first half of the 20th century) and the contemporary “second revolution” of evo-devo, from our growing knowledge of how genes regulate development. What remains is Darwin’s theory of natural selection – still the only means we know by which adaptive evolution occurs – and Darwin’s brilliance, hard work, kindness to his family and others, and great illumination of our very real and very awe-inspiring relationship to every living thing.

  • khote14

    There’s no such thing as Darwin-ism. This is a suffix appended by followers of various “isms” of their own, unable to perceive anything in the human experience which doesn’t fit some kind of ism somewhere.In the quote from Darwin below there is nothing even remotely resembling promotion of the ideas which later people accuse him of promoting. Evil people can find evil ways to use anything … just as simple people can blame the author for the evil done to his work.

  • Chagasman

    All those posters who think Darwin is somehow responsible for genocide, mass suffering, etc. are wrong. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not responsible for the actions of human beings. People kill and cause suffering because they are evil. They are not evil because they believe that the species of the world evolved through natural selection. Your attempts to discredit Darwin’s theories are fruitless. Natural selection is real, it occurs constantly in nature. Science has already proven Darwin to be correct. Darwin also pointed out that humans prevent natural selection from occuring in our species because we are compassionate and loving of our fellow man. Those who are not, who practice survival of the fittest doctrines, are properly labeled as Republicans and conservatives.Sorry guys and gals, the earth was not created 6000 years ago. Humans did not appear spontaneously, as if popped out of mushrooms or seed pods, and we didn’t walk with the dinosaurs. Someday, if we don’t find a way to travel to and populate other planets orbiting other stars, we too will just be fossils in the ground, waiting for some other intelligent being to wonder about.

  • jromaniello

    Thank you for this!

  • acebojangles

    Mary,Where did you mine that quote from? Surely you didn’t get it from reading the book or you would know that the next passage reads:“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.”

  • acebojangles

    I don’t see why it’s necessary to try to show that Darwin wasn’t an atheist to make people feel that it’s OK to celebrate his work.

  • CellBioProf

    MARY_CUNNINGHAM, what is your point re: Darwin’s writing about artificial selection and humans in The Descent of Man? It is a simple statement of fact that humans support and keep alive humans that would otherwise have been eliminated by natural selection (including myself: I’d have died at age 9 of pneumonia without penicillin). Charles Darwin didn’t create the gas chambers of Auschwitz, or sterilize Native American children so they wouldn’t breed, or sterilize criminals during the Showa era in Japan. Those were political decisions to remake humanity by coercion, made by people who took upon themselves the responsibility of integrating the knowledge of genetics and natural selection with ethical choices about humanity – and who so often failed miserably. All knowledge is for good. Only the way we use it is for good or evil.

  • Garak

    12 reasons to celebrate Darwin:1. He upset Catholics.

  • Fairfaxreader3

    Why does the writer mention God at all and that Darwin was not an atheist in the context of evolution? is she apologizing to some secret audience for even mentioning or supporting evolution? Evolution does not celebrate survival of the fittest, or smartest or strongest but of the most adaptable. the rest is blather.

  • edbyronadams

    Half the population of Russia carries genes from the Mongol invasions, well before Darwin ever published.

  • LeeH1

    Darwin has always made himself available for the application of “Social Darwinism” to his theories. The evolution textbook taught from during the Scopes trial was filled with assurances that whites have evolved higher than blacks have. Scopes should have lost the case according to modern Evolutionists, because the Theory of Evolution has evolved away from that cant. Almost.William Shockley, the Nobel Prize winner, was considered by many a racist because he held Darwin’s view of inheritance in racial intelligence, but he was one of the first to break the taboo of discussing evolution in racial differences. Racial characteristics are the result of natural selection and adaptability, but these differences are not discussed by Darwin’s students today.Besides, according to atheists, it doesn’t matter what you think of Darwin as a person. He’s dead, and it doesn’t matter anymore to him or to his spirit. To evolutionists, it doesn’t matter what kind of person Darwin was, whether saint or sinner, because what is important is his idea, not his person. If Adolph Hitler had come up with the idea of Natural Selection, it would still be OK. Science is morally neutral.He is buried in Westminster Church, and his wife is not buried with him, which may say much or nothing about his relationship with his wife and/or God or his belief in the afterlife.Did he believe in his daughter’s ghost? The evidence is unclear, but he had some sort of faith in supernatural spirits, even in those who did not win the adaptability contest of life.

  • willowglen


  • ThomasBaum

    blasmaic You wrote, “This is not the place to discuss science. This is the On Faith section of the web site. If you want to talk about science, go somewhere else, anywhere else.”Why, science is the study of God’s Creation.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Buddydog

    This is a great forum to discuss Darwin, as his theories are often set in the context of opposition to religious theories of creation. The author is pointing out that this is an incorrect framework to discuss Darwin the man, and many misunderstandings have resulted from this debate. Having said that, Mary Cunningham, you must be blind if you are trying to attribute the racist offenses of eugenics and the Nazis to Darwin or even “Darwinism.” Long before Darwin was born, different social orders had set against each other with the aim of exterminating the “other” that they found to be savage or unenlightened. Surely you are not denying that many historical wars and assaults used a religious justification as their pretext? Sometimes with the explicit blessing of the church, to boot. And christian religions are not the only ones to blame; it seems that all religions have had a rather bloody and inhumane history. Surely you’ve read the Bible’s account of the siege of Ai and Jericho? Such bloodshed is rightfully abhorrent to us today, but it occurred long before Darwin posited any theories.

  • Fate1

    You celebrate Darwin every time you go to a hospital (instead of a church), eat agricultural products (enhanced through artificial selection), or benefit in any way from medical research (as opposed to interpretations of scripture). At almost every turn Darwin’s analysis and development of his theory to explain the facts of evolution has had ripple effects in all areas of biological science and medicine. But what is really amazing is he and his contemporaries had no idea how the passage of traits from parent to child worked. That would await a later time. But for Darwin to formulate such a detailed explanation of evolution without a known underlying mechanism shows him to be what today we would call a great CSI, someone who let the evidence speak for itself without interjecting his own bias or magical methods, for that is the method of religion, and thus Origin of Species nicely shows the difference between the two methods, and which produces truth.

  • greyhound1

    MC wrote:

  • ThomasBaum

    gamiller1 You wrote, “Until then, I trust that my God is smarter than man’s attempt to explain the unexplainable.”Man’s quest for knowledge is not trying to “explain the unexplainable”, it is trying to “explain the explainable”.Do you think that God gave us the ability to “reason” and to think about how God’s physical creation “works” and not use this extraordinary “gift”?Knowledge is not “evil”, it is neutral. What one does with knowledge can be for the good or for the bad, this is each and every person’s choice.”Free will”, another “gift” from God, is for us to live our life, not to try to live other people’s lives.By the way, God is God of All, all of creation which includes all of humanity. We are all brothers and sisters and it does not matter if one believes in God or not.It is really sad that it seems to be quite a few that do not believe that their fellow human beings are their brothers and sisters unless their fellow human beings believe EXACTLY what they believe.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Denswei

    (1) Anyone blaming Charles Darwin for the Holocaust has about 1500 years of European church history contradicting them. Lots of horrific things were done to the Jews in the name of Christianity, and Hitler’s main contribution was to do it on an industrial scale.

  • greyhound1


  • Fate1

    “Eugenics & ‘survival of the fittest’ traces it’s origins back to people like Herbert Spencer, who (mis)interpreted Darwins work in support of their own biases.And its not based on evolution since evolution does not necessarily lead to an animal which is more powerful, has more abilities, etc. A good example is the cave fish, which is born with eyes but they are absorbed and disappear shortly after birth. The eye in a cave is useless and a tender tissue that risks fatal damage, so evolution removed the useless eyes of that species. But improving humans through eugenics is not evolution but artificial selection, making stronger humans in the same way one makes a stronger horse. Artificial selection goes back centuries and is well known among the agricultural sector of society. Blaming Darwin for eugenics is silly considering artificial selection is ancient. And yes, the term “fittest” was misinterpreted. That cave fish is more fit than a human in a cave since it evolved in the cave and humans did not. However the artificially selected work horse is not as fit as a wild horse. The evolutionary theory would predict eugenics would produce unfit people that could only be maintained in an artificial environment. Evolution predicts domesticated dogs would disappear in about 5 generations without human care and protection, and so would eugenically produced (artificially selected) people.That Origin was misinterpreted and used as a reason for mass slaughter puts it up there with the bible, which has been used by mass murderers for centuries as justification. That should not reflect on either book, just the twisted minds of those who made the connection, and, more importantly, on those who accepted the connection and tacitly supported the slaughter, as the Catholic church did in Germany.

  • Athena4

    The idea of eugenics long predates Darwin. Human beings have tried to “improve our species” through artificial means for millennia. The Israelites forbade intermarrying with the other Canaanite tribes in the OT in order to keep their genetic purity. A primitive form of eugenics were practiced in ancient Greece by the Spartans. They tossed any baby that wasn’t deemed to be “perfect” over a cliff. Similar practices were done by the Athenians and Romans. Unfortunately, when one limits the gene pool to those that they consider to be “pure”, you get a lot of inbreeding. Any dog breeder will tell you that. Coincidentally, eugenics programs in the U.S. prior to WWII were supported by a large number of people, including Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and Linus Pauling. It was because the lower classes, namely immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe, were supposedly outbreeding “pure” Americans. Eugenics were also responsible for the anti-miscengenation (sp?) laws against marrying someone from another race. Although we claim not to believe in this pseudo-science anymore, it lives on. Just ask that mixed-race couple in Louisiana that was denied a marriage license because the judge was worried about their future children.

  • blasmaic

    This is not the place to discuss science. This is the On Faith section of the web site. If you want to talk about science, go somewhere else, anywhere else. No one is disputing your right to practice your free speech. This just isn’t the place for it.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    A bo Jangles:I most certainly And you made no comment about Darwin’s dislike of vaccination: all those weak, unfit poor not eliminated but Anyway, even if Darwin was a little squeamish about doing away with the unfit (or at least sterilizing them), his followers certainly were not: to wit Oliver Wendell Holmes when he directed the sterilization of one Carrie Bucks (who btw was Like I wrote earlier, Darwin’s theory of evolution might be (is?)true, but as played out in the social arena it has been disastrous! You folks are in denial.PS This will be all from me…Wish there was someone else who could take up the ethical side of Darwinism.

  • Denswei

    In my role of philosopher-dad, I once asked one of my daughters: “Which aphorism will motivate better behavior: ‘But for the grace of God, these go I’ or ‘But for random accident, there go I’ “

  • kjohnson3

    “Naturally, starvation on a global level is the fault of anybody who diagrees or in the least questions Darwin the Deity.”gamiller1,No, global famine is the result of the greed of industrialized nations.Take, for instance, Americans and their stubborn insistence that they should eat whatever they want and drive whatever they want. Americans want to eat lots of meat, so we feed our grain crops to cows. (It takes 16 pounds of feed grain to produce every one pound of steak.) Americans want to drive big, fat-a$$ cars, so we start wars to ensure a supply of fuel.But that is a different discussion entirely.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    JC2:Most religious contest the ethical side of survival of the fittest, or best adapted, or whatever you want to call it. Whilst the bulk accept the definition of evolution as the process of biological change, they challenge the idea of natural selection as tautological.And they are loathe to forget Darwinism’s disgusting history. Daniel Dennett wrote a book called “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”…Oh yes! It was dangerous to a lot of people:Physically handicapped&tc…Earth sciences have nothing to say on this matter IMHO (in my humble opinion).

  • jacquescustodian2

    Mary Cunningham wrote: I will lead by saying that propagating a worldview based upon the mechanical elimination of the weak led to great wrongs, mass suffering, and much,much worse.I, too, am appalled that men use different facts and philosophies to justify their inhumanity toward man. But since Biblical days, before any such high-minded philosophies were invented, men exterminated entire civilizations, wiped out whole tribes where they could, from simple expedience or revenge. The Carthaginians disappeared utterly after the Romans savagely killed as many of them as they could, then broke all their walls, destroyed their irrigation systems, and salted their fields so they could not settle on their ground again. Men are savages. They do not need Darwin to instruct them in cruelty. Men even use the name of The Prince of Peace to foment killing. I dare say there are Americans today who want to use Jesus’ name to wage an unnecessary war against the Muslims. It is all evil, and it has nothing to do with Darwin.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    K Johnson:Darwin was greatly influenced by one Thomas Malthus. Malthusian thinking coloured the British responce to the 1845-50 Irish Famine, where roughly one million (out of 8.5) died whilst the British gov’t did, well, not very much.They were afraid if they gave the starving Irish too much aid, they would just reproduce.Darwin and Spencer also opposed the Poor Laws, btw. These were Victorian support of the Poor involving the workhouse, separation of families &tc. But even All from me.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    JC2:These eugenicists Must go.

  • Denswei

    If Mary Cunningham had read Daniel Dunnett’s book, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, she would have found that it was dangerous to overreaching religous establishments.

  • jacquescustodian2

    I still don’t understand the correlation between natural selection and mass killing. Killers use any justification they can find. Sense or science is irrelevant in their choices. After all, religion justifies mass killing all the time. Pope Innocent III killed a million French Christians because they wouldn’t tithe to Rome. Innocent (nice name for a mass murderer, huh?) said it was God’s will. Is that Jesus’ fault? Using science to falsely justify murder is the same thing. An abberation. Your arguments against Darwin on this basis are historically absurd. Darwin never said one word about operating human society on the basis of natural selection. The same way, Jesus never told Innocent III to murder in His Name. If murder has been done in the name of Darwin, or Malthus, Jesus or whomever, is has been done by evil people with evil intent, not by Darwin.

  • Fate1

    These eugenicists directly cited Darwin’s findings as the rationale for their cruel acts. Many of the most prominent were related to him, among them his son. The notorious eugenicist in Germany, Dr Haekel, corresponded warmly with CD, who in his turn, supported much of which Haekel proposed.Since both were contemporaries in the study of biology it is not unusual they would correspond, but Darwin rejected Haekel’s evolutionary polygenism of man, that the human races were the result of parallel evolution of man, with language defining one human “species” from another. Darwin’s position has been verified, than all humans are one species that evolved in Africa and migrated, the language changing as they went. I don’t see any support by Darwin for Haekel’s contention of human races, but Haekel’s work was mainly in embryology, pointing out how human embryos were virtually indistinguishable from a dog embryo early on, and the closer the species in morphology the longer the embryos looked the same. Haekel’s work is taught today and still relevant. What I think you are finding difficult Mary is a person getting some things right and other things terribly wrong, but the wrongs should not send those things that were correct into the garbage bin. The world is not black and white. Haekel was right about ontology. He was wrong about human evolution. Darwin agreed when he was right and disagreed when he was wrong. What more can you ask of the man?

  • Nymous

    It’s an interpretation that “fittest” means the greatest predatory aggressor. Co-operative behavior can create fitter groups than any single individual.All sorts of good human characteristics are part of our evolutionary success.

  • ebleas

    “Darwinists are in a state of denial about the social and political influences of evolution theory.”I really don’t think so. Most of us “Darwinists” are well aware that many deranged people have taken the science of Darwin and twisted it to fit their evil and warped views through “social Darwinism”. But let me ask you a question: should the validity of a scientific theory rest on what some people may interpret the social consequences of said theory to be? I mean, either a scientific theory is correct or incorrect, and it makes absolutely no difference what you, I or anyone else think the social implications of that theory are.Let’s assume, for arguments sake, that even Darwin himself misinterpreted the social ramifications of his own theory and meant that the weak should be systematically eliminated. Now surely that would make him one SOB, but would it change the validity of his *scientific* hypotheses? Not in the slightest. The last time I checked, a scientific theory is supported by the evidence supporting it, and nothing else. And the scientific side of Darwin’s theory has mountains of data to back it up.I don’t really understand where you are trying to go with such logic. Do you suggest that the scientific theory of Darwin should not be supported because of the negative consequences of social Darwinism? If you answer yes, should we do the same regarding the Bible?

  • ebleas

    “These eugenicists directly cited Darwin’s findings as the rationale for their cruel acts.”So what? Do you now blame Darwin and the scientific theory of evolution for these cruel acts? Should we now discredit all the scientific backings of said theory?Let me give you an example. Many people misinterpret quantum indeterminacy to suggest that humans have no choice about what actions they perform. Therefore, anything goes, so to speak. Now certainly one could misconstrue this to justify all sorts of bad behavior. So if someone performed a mass killing similar to the extermination of the Jews in WWII based on this twisted interpretation of the theory of quantum indeterminacy, should we now consider all quantum mechanics to be invalid?

  • jacquescustodian2

    Televison has been a terrible influence on society. Therefore, I do not believe in televison. It is a false theory.

  • presto668

    Mary_Cunningham:Atomic theory led to the vaporization of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore, atoms are a bad idea.

  • JonRicht

    I’m sorry, but “not being an atheist” is a reason to celebrate? Since when has bigotry become an acceptable form of journalism?The atheist bit might have been more appropriate in an article titled “A Dozen Things to Know About Darwin”, but it’s certainly not appropriate as a reason for celebration.

  • eneasz

    “He’s not an atheist” is a reason to celebrate? It’s an interesting fact, but saying that someone is not part of a minority and calling that a reason to celebrate is denigrating to that minority and blatant bigotry. Let’s also celebrate that he wasn’t gay! Hooray! And that he wasn’t black! Woo!

  • ChrisRay6000

    “1. Charles Darwin was not an atheist.”Boy, bigotry much? We should celebrate Hitler: he wasn’t an atheist. Let’s celebrate the Manson family: none of them were atheists. And we should have utter contempt for Lance Armstrong, Richard Branson, and Pat Tillman, those dirty atheists!Fifty years ago, newspapers like the Washington Post talked about Jews the way they talk about atheists today. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Ms. Heiligman.

  • eramesan

    “Charles Darwin was not an atheist” – he wasn’t a hindu or a jew either… what a relief

  • daniel12

    Part two.Science which grew out of religion (like the more advanced parts of the brain are founded on primitive systems) and needs faith for its continued advancement (we need faith that the universe is full of secrets waiting to be discovered and is not fundamentally meaningless as atheists assert) is used for the opposite end–to destroy faith. Science twisted to serve a metaphysical view–that there is nothing behind existence.And then we have Richard Dawkins, a mere bulldog in defense of Darwin and nothing more. A bulldog in much safer times to be in defense of Darwin. No original thought of his own. A mere bulldog of Darwin. And like the first two men mentioned, more concerned with the metaphysical view atheism than actual science, or philosophy for that matter.The best of the bunch is Christopher Hitchens. He more than the others grasps that his atheism is a metaphysical view. He is not as engaged as the others in using science to further his metaphysical view. He is actually charming. But not profound. He is flawed in that sense. But still, he is excusable. This means out of the four mentioned that only one is passable. Not a very good defense of atheism in modern times. Not that religion has any better defenders. Most of the religious use every means necessary to further religion, twisting everything to their use. Both the religious and the atheists are essentially victims of their own metaphysical views. I suppose we should excuse them though that they are only human.

  • daniel12

    Part one and a half.But what really can we expect from Dennett? I read a book of his in which on virtually every other page he would flatter himself that he is controversial. He would state something then write in parentheses “stop that crow!”, meaning of course that he wrote something controversial. Also an allusion to Shakespeare who was supposedly called an upstart crow. The truth is Dennett is not controversial at all. What he is is merely an old fuddy-duddy. Each of the big four modern atheists are seriously flawed as human beings. I just mentioned Dennett. Now for Sam Harris. Here we have a man engaged in the scientific enterprise to primarily debunk religion. Instead of using science to fulfill our hopes he uses science to destroy faith. Last I heard he was studying the human brain to demonstrate the material basis of consciousness and more importantly, to demonstrate that religious belief is based on the working of brain processes. The man is essentially no different than a priest molesting boys. Both destroy faith in life, that life is essentially good. And like Dennett, here we have a man attempting to use science to demonstrate there is no God (and people say atheists are not trying to prove the non-existence of God! That the burden is on the believers to prove there is a God!).

  • daniel12

    Part one.I remember reading a piece by Daniel Dennett, philosopher, atheist, in which he said Darwin demonstrated that life does not need an intelligent designer behind it, that life can well up from the bottom, self-organize, that no “top down” organization is necessary. I could hardly believe the man’s words. He essentially took a scientific theory which is about a process in macro–slow changes over time (theory of evolution by natural selection of course) to mean that no God is necessary at all.In other words, he took Darwin’s theory to be a roundabout way of proving there is no God. In other words, if life can organize without God then why God at all? Again, I could hardly believe his words. Darwin demonstrated no such thing. He described a process that has a completely mysterious origin. He never even knew about DNA, did not have any view in micro. Essentially Dennett was more concerned about his own atheism than what Darwin actually accomplished. Dennett twisted Darwin to serve his own metaphysical view.Darwin’s theory neither proves God created life nor disproves such. His theory hangs in the space between the beginning and end of things. It makes no metaphysical pronouncement as to whether or not there is a God. And that Dennett cannot even grasp what is so obvious means he is stupid and/or dishonest. I do not say ignorant because the man is old, has experience. Ignorance cannot be his excuse.Again, Darwin does not at all demonstrate that life can be what it is without God. Darwin never demonstrated a clue to life without God. He did not demonstrate that life can self-organize from the bottom up. Yes, he demonstrated that more complex organisms have come from primitive, less complex, forebears, but this is not saying that life self-organizes from the bottom up without a designer. No one knows what is at the top or bottom of things. Some philosopher Dennett.

  • colinnicholas

    Actually Darwin was an atheist, but he thought that word was a bit offensive and preferred the word agnostic. which his friend Huxley had just ‘invented’.His work taught him that the bible was wrong about most everything, and that nature was cruel and savage, and was clearly not created by a god. And the loss of so many family members especially his ten years old daughter told him that the idea of a loving god watching over us was just a pipe dream. see “The Reluctant Mr Darwin” by David Quammen, now on paperback. A delightful read.

  • khote14

    Interesting that you find Dennett the most objectionable, and Hitchens the least. See these two videos of these “four horsemen” together, look for yourself.hour 1:hour 2:Dennett and Dawkins actually disagree about how to handle the religious types, Dennett is far more friendly towards the disease of religion and faith than Dawkins.Perhaps his arguments are the most persuasive, even to you, and this is the reason you despise him so much.

  • ancientmariner

    #1 Darwin was not an atheistWhy on earth would these be considered the top 2 reasons to celebrate Darwin??Darwin was one of the greatest thinkers and scientists that has ever lived. Through painstaking reasearch and analysis he discovered one of the most profound scientific concepts of all time and you want to say that the number one reason to celebrate him is he was not an atheist and number 2 is you can find god in the origin??What are you thinking? Those statements are not even accurate, Darwin did not mention god in his book until after the first edition, you even mention this so you realize it and still feel the need to put it on your list. Stating he was not an atheist as some kind of great virtue about his character is offensive, why would you say such an ignorant and bigotted thing? Is there a problem with someone being an atheist?

  • ccnl1

    Apparently Darwin’s religion also involved an evolutionary process. To wit:”Darwin’s family tradition was nonconformist Unitarianism, while his father and grandfather were freethinkers, and his baptism and boarding school were Church of England.[15] When going to Cambridge to become an Anglican clergyman, he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible.[20] He learnt John Herschel’s science which, like William Paley’s natural theology, sought explanations in laws of nature rather than miracles and saw adaptation of species as evidence of design.[22][23] On board the Beagle, Darwin was quite orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority on morality.[145] He looked for “centres of creation” to explain distribution,[43] and related the antlion found near kangaroos to distinct “periods of Creation”.[45]By his return he was critical of the Bible as history, and wondered why all religions should not be equally valid.[145] In the next few years, while intensively speculating on geology and transmutation of species, he gave much thought to religion and openly discussed this with Emma, whose beliefs also came from intensive study and questioning.[78] The theodicy of Paley and Thomas Malthus vindicated evils such as starvation as a result of a benevolent creator’s laws which had an overall good effect. To Darwin, natural selection produced the good of adaptation but removed the need for design,[146] and he could not see the work of an omnipotent deity in all the pain and suffering such as the ichneumon wasp paralysing caterpillars as live food for its eggs.[122] He still viewed organisms as perfectly adapted, and On the Origin of Species reflects theological views. Though he thought of religion as a tribal survival strategy, Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver.[147][148]continued below:

  • daniel12

    Khote14, are you referring to me? If so I am not particularly religious and it matters little to me how aggressive Hitchens is. At least he is not a sophister like Dennett. To use a word of yours, interesting how you think I despise Dennett because he makes the most sense–especially interesting after I clearly laid out the weakness of his thinking. Let me lay it out for you again. If there is a problem with logic let me know.Dennett says Darwin literally turned things upside down, that for thousands of years it was believed that everything had to come from some sort of designer, but that Darwin demonstrated that life can come from “the bottom up”–Darwin was a bottom up thinker in a world which thought things come from the top down, again, from a designer.True Darwin demonstrated that more complex life develops from more primitive forms, there is a bottom up reasoning there, but one cannot arrive from that that life needs no designer behind it. Dennett simply goes too far and makes a spurious claim. He is so consumed with his atheism he is incapable of evaluating the very science he holds so highly.The theory of Darwin is like all scientific theories: highly probable but not even capable of being demonstrated absolutely true let alone capable of demonstrating the existence or non-existence of God. Science deals with partial aspects of reality and is more open to having theories able to be proven false in the future than proven absolutely true. See Karl Popper. Darwin’s theory hangs in space and time, describing a process but not even getting close to the origin of the process, how it has come about. Darwin did not even know about DNA. So obviously it is quite ridiculous to state that he demonstrated that life can come about without a creator. And if Dennett really believes this I would have Dennett explain how life has come about.Dennett is just a poor philosopher. In fact I believe he knows the nonsense he says and says it anyway he is so atheistic. Essentially he forces things to support his position and is obvious about it. No I do not despise Dennett because he is so persuasive. I despise him for precisely being not persuasive, wasting my time when I could be reading a much better and more important writer.

  • cascom

    Glad to know that Newsweek dislikes its atheistic and agnostic readers and in fact “celebrates” those who are not. Shame.

  • ThomasBaum

    daniel12You wrote concerning Daniel Dennett, ” I do not say ignorant because the man is old, has experience. Ignorance cannot be his excuse.”I do not know Daniel Dennett, just how “old” is he and just how “old” is “old”?I am not sure but didn’t Darwin speak about “life” evolving rather than how life actually “began”, this is what you are getting at, aren’t you?You also wrote, “Each of the big four modern atheists are seriously flawed as human beings.”Aren’t we all flawed?You then wrote, ” Last I heard he was studying the human brain to demonstrate the material basis of consciousness and more importantly, to demonstrate that religious belief is based on the working of brain processes.”Considering that God made all of the “material”, what is the big deal if God “materially” put it is us to “look beyond ourselves”?Could be “one” of God’s Ways of having those that do not believe in Him pointing to some of God’s “mysterious ways”.You then wrote, “(and people say atheists are not trying to prove the non-existence of God! That the burden is on the believers to prove there is a God!).”The thing is: Either God Is or isn’t and God Will present the “proof” in due time, God’s Time.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Denswei

    So, 1st you say Dennett said “Darwin demonstrated that life DOES NOT NEED an intelligent designer behind it”, then you spin paragraphs accusing Dennett of taking Darwin’s theory as proof there is no God?

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Denswei I most certainly No it was dangerous alright, to the mentally illThe first two, if they were lucky, were ‘only’ sterilized; if unlucky institutionalized for years,

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Mary_Cunningham: presto668 | November 24, 2009 7:09 P replied: What a stupid comment. Atoms are different from atomic theory which is different from atomic bombs. And atom bombs Darwinists OTOH burst into society, forming eugenics societies, classifying races (naturally their’s was the top one) and urging the sterlization of the unfit.

  • ccnl1

    And we are still waiting for the founder of Baumianity aka Thomas, self-professed “talker/seer” to/of god and Moses of the NT” to share with us the intimate secrets god has given to him in his weekly seance with said “triune” god. One also wonders who sits at the head of the table during these seances.

  • Denswei

    MC, you’re still missing the mark.

  • pieroforno

    Blaming Darwing for natural selection and the survival of the fittest is like blaming Newton for gravity (and hence for your grandmother’s falling down the stairs and breaking her hip). Darwin did not propose a political system: he identified a natural mechanism. Is this too hard to understand, or are some skulls thicker than I expected?

  • Denswei

    pieroforno, sad to say, but it would seem the latter–your expectations are a little lofty…. I should also revise when I wrote “…christians like yourself…” to “…christians not much different than yourself…” or “…christians who viewed themselves just as devout as yourself…”, etc.

  • Denswei

    pieroforno: “Darwin did not propose a political system: he identified a natural mechanism.” Good point…

  • Denswei

    NB: I should add to: “…but lots of people still justify their racism by blaming God or blaming Natural selection. “, that also lots of other people blame Darwin for racism, to let their God and their religion off the hook (ignoring 1000’s of years of recorded history B.D. [Before Darwin])

  • PickwicktheSecond

    “Darwinists OTOH burst into society, forming eugenics societies, classifying races (naturally their’s was the top one) and urging the sterlization of the unfit.”Mary_Cunningham, your statement is either false or perhaps merely irrelevant to your point that Darwin supported eugenics. But it does touch on another more interesting, and more true, point.Darwin, as has been pointed out already, was not making policy prescriptions, only (largely) true observations about the way the natural world works.Many people around the world, it is true, latched on to a superficial understanding of Darwin’s work and theories as support for their own racism and bigotry. Darwin himself did not use the phrase “survival of the fittest,” nor did he promote the idea, which predated his publication. Nor yet does his work, for all the ease of quote-mining, provide support for eugenic practices, which also predated him, as others have pointed out and you’ve ignored.Eugenicists were no more “Darwinists” than Deepak Chopra and all the thousands of “New Age” fraudsters are quantum physicists, their ubiquitous abuse of sciencey-sounding words to the contrary.However, there is a much larger and more interesting point to be made here; Daniel Dennett in particular makes it well, though I can’t remember where; it might be in “Freedom Evolves.” He urges scientists to consider the “environmental impact” of their ideas, by which he means the probable effect on human behaviour of their distribution and discussion by the media. If a good idea (such as a new drug that cures AIDS) is likely to have bad effects (i.e., people in high-risk groups will hear about the cure, but won’t hear that it must be taken regularly and under strict conditions for a year to work, and so they’ll engage in riskier behaviour,) then groundwork for greater understanding ought to be laid before the idea is released into the wild. Otherwise, the scientists are worsening the very problem they’re trying to solve.That said, I doubt that anything Darwin could have said or done, be it howsoever clear or direct, could have stopped the misuse of his ideas. Although a person with Darwin’s views on race today would be thought a racist, there are some people in Congress today who merit far harsher judgment, and anyway he was fairly liberal for his time. Another commenter pointed out, though again you ignored it, that his opposition to the Poor Laws is a sign of respect for the rights of the poor. (The fact that you brought them up to show the opposite means you don’t know the subject; read some Dickens or Palliser for treatment of the Poor Laws in fiction, or find some proper histories if you prefer.) The amazingly close relationship of all humans to each other wasn’t known in his time, and I doubt any other argument he could have forwarded would have made a bit of difference to those who were determined to misunderstand.Finally, to Ms. Heiligman, I’ll just say this: You have strange priorities.

  • Denswei

    Well put, Pickwick… and an excellent segue: regarding the cultural impact of Darwin’s work.It is quite a contrast to examine the cultural impacts around the world.

  • Denswei

    The essays in Nature magazine are open access and are at: