Sunday, November 8, 2009

Was Darwin a Creationist?

Was Darwin a creationist? A simple answer is that at the vast majority of those in the 19th century concerned with describing the natural world prior to the development of evolutionary theory were implicitly or explicitly creationists. After finding medical school quite distasteful, even Darwin contemplated joining the ranks of the clergy. For someone of the social status that the Darwins enjoyed, becoming a vicar was a profession that was befitting his social rank. But it would have also afforded him with the time to be a naturalist. In fact most naturalists were at the time clergymen. There was no biology then, there was only Natural Theology. Natural theologians attempted to define and characterize nature as a result of divine creation. Before Darwin solidified his career goals, he went on a six year circumnavigation of the globe on the HMS. He collected many specimens of plants and animals that he sent to academics back in England. It wasn’t until after Darwin returned from his voyage in 1836 that he began to develop a theory that attempted to explain the distribution of species that he found along his travels. But Darwin was never a foe of religion. His wife Emma Wedgewood (of the Wedgewood pottery fame) was deeply religious. Darwin quietly developed the theory of evolution with an incredible sensitivity to what implication his ideas might have even in his own home. Darwin never proclaimed himself to be an atheist, but simply developed a theory that attempted to explain the history of life based upon natural causes. He saw that the distribution of species that he found on his voyage and those described by his contemporaries were best explained by the Transmutation of species, one of the theoretical components of evolutionary theory. Species were thought to be fixed creations at the time, but Darwin eventually realized that one species gave rise to the next. He saw that the diversity of life could be explained by speciation events. Personally he probably thought of himself as an agnostic that had no need of supernatural explanations to explain natural history.

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