Charles Darwin on Evolution and Religion

In the Times of London we read God, Evolution and Charles Darwin, subtitled: “Ten surprising things Darwin said about religious faith.”

Upon observing that the article contained what purports to be a list of Darwin quotes, we were immediately on guard, due to the odious practice of creationists known as quote mining, which we ourselves have vigorously condemned, for example: WorldNetDaily — Worthless Creationist Rag!

All of Darwin’s writings can be found online here: The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, and that site is searchable, so it’s a great resource to use when creationists try to quote Darwin as if he were anti-Darwin.

We are going to copy only a few of the quotes appearing in the Times article — those which we found to be the most interesting — and we’ve taken the time to verify their accuracy. We shall also provide you with a link to each at the “Complete Works” site, you can see the quotes in their full context; but if you click on the links we provide, you’ll then have to search for the exact text. We haven’t verified the rest of the article’s quotes, but having checked three, we’re reasonably confident about the rest. (We couldn’t verify a fourth quote.)

At the article’s beginning, the author reminds us that 2009 is “… the big Darwin anniversary. Two hundred years after his birth and 150 after the publication of On the Origin of the Species …” Then he says:

Unfortunately, he [Darwin] has become caught up in the crossfire of a battle in which Darwin exhibited little personal interest. On one side of this cartoonish debate are the creationists.


In the other trench lie the militant Godless who – bizarrely – wholly agree with the creationists. Darwinism, they proclaim, does indeed undermine religious belief and a good thing too.


So, in the interests, of rescuing him from the no-man’s-land in which he has become trapped, here are 10 Darwin quotations, from his later years, which you are unlikely to hear from the mouths of either creationists or atheists in 2009.

Okay, here are the quotes:

1. “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.” (Autobiography)

That can be found here, and in the text that follows it he discusses morality with such an outlook — something the creationists claim is impossible.

On to the next quote:

4. “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” (Letter to John Fordyce, May 7 1879)

That can be found here (chapter VIII, Religion). On to the next:

10. “I can never make up my mind how far an inward conviction that there must be some Creator or First Cause is really trustworthy evidence.” (Letter to Francis Abbot, September 6 1871)

We can’t locate that one, so it’s not verified. On to the next:

9. “My theology is a simple muddle: I cannot look at the Universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent Design.” (Letter to Joseph Hooker, July 12 1870)

That can be found here. This is the full paragraph from which it was taken, which is better than the tiny quote given in the Times:

Your conclusion that all speculation about preordination is idle waste of time is the only wise one; but how difficult it is not to speculate! My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design or indeed of design of any kind, in the details. As for each variation that has ever occurred having been preordained for a special end, I can no more believe in it than that the spot on which each drop of rain falls has been specially ordained.

We were able to verify three of the four quotes we looked at. The one we couldn’t find doesn’t seem to be a fabrication, so it may very well exist, but it’s not at the site we’re using.

Perhaps you’re starting to realize that Darwin was far more complicated than you might have thought.

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2 responses to “Charles Darwin on Evolution and Religion

  1. “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.” — C. Darwin

    It would seem that being an Agnostic is the most logical, rational position for a true scientist to take. There is no more evidence supporting Atheism than there is supporting Theism.

  2. I saw Dawkins speaking on TV in front of a group of students, and he acknowledged (this is from memory) that some kind of Deism is — perhaps — philosophically respectable, or at least not laughable, although he doesn’t accept it. Maybe he was talking about some cosmological version of the anthropic principle.

    Anyway, I always avoid such debates. They never accomplish much.