Fixing America In 500 Words Or Less


Chapter 33

CAN CHARLES DARWIN BE TRUSTED?


       Historical people, like the rest of us, sometimes contradict themselves and often change their minds over time.  It is generally fair to conclude what scientists say in their older age represents their true lifetime professional opinion, rather than what they might have said when they were younger.

       Human language definition often changes over historical time and words sometimes develop multiple meanings.  To be fair and accurate, one must consider how words were defined when they were spoken, rather than how those same words might be defined today.  Careful historians apply a discipline called “philology” to help understand human language in historical context. ²

       For example, broad-brushing the American founders as “deists”, a consistent bad habit of modern educators, is a historical lie.  The majority ascribed to some form of Christianity and, the very few who claimed to be deists apparently believed God hears prayers and interacts with human affairs. There is no evidence any American founder was a deist as the term is normally defined today. ²

       Charles Darwin, in the opening sentences of his final revision of “On The Origin of Species”, is humble enough to credit our Creator for being behind whatever universal processes and reality there may be.  This edition was published about five years prior to Darwin's death and thus, it represents a lifetime conclusion. ³

       Some 'scholars' today, pretending they can somehow know Darwin's intentions, claim that he only mentioned God to make his wife and family happy and to otherwise appease the religious leaders of his day.  Because Darwin throughout his lifetime consistently openly debated with religious leaders and others concerning his ideas, such a claim has no historical merit.  One might fairly ask, if we can't trust Darwin regarding this most fundamental of human beliefs, how can we trust anything else he said?

       Perhaps Darwin made no mention of our Creator in his first edition because the overwhelming evidence for creation was agreed to by the vast majority of scholars of his time.  Maybe only after the publishing of his theories had caused considerable controversy, did Darwin then find it necessary to place our Creator where he, like Einstein and Jefferson apparently believed God belongs, far above all human science, reason and understanding.

       In a letter published two years before his death, Darwin strongly denies being an atheist, saying his mind was “mainly agnostic but not entirely”. Because agnostic at that time sometimes referred to distrust in religion and human claims about God, rather than questioning God's existence, Darwin could attest to our Creator and still remain agnostic but not entirely without contradiction.
4

       Is it fair to pretend one of history's most famous scientists can't be trusted to be honest regarding what he fundamentally believed?  Is it fair to just arbitrarily ignore various words ascribed to Jefferson, Einstein and Darwin because modern liars don't like what they actually said?  Is it fair to speak for historical people, rather than allowing their own words to speak for them?

       Can Charles Darwin be trusted?  You decide.


{ See Does Science Really Know What is True? for related information. }



NOTES:

1. Several perceived 'inaccuracies' in the Bible are due to arbitrary translation judgment calls regarding words with multiple meanings.  For example, the same exact Hebrew word translated as referring to a global flood in the story of Noah, is translated in the same book of Genesis as referring to the general region of Ur in the story of Abraham.  In modern English, one of the best known examples is the word "cool", which over time has morphed into often referring to meaning something quite different than the opposite of warm.  In order to be historically accurate, it is of supreme importance to attempt to understand what the meanings of words meant when they were actually spoken or otherwise written down, rather than how the same words might be defined today.

Human language is not a science but rather, language is an inadequate tool of communication containing pliable often multiple meanings changing over time.  When attempting to correctly interpret the beliefs, words and writings of historical people, the intentions behind language are a far more important consideration than technical definitions of words.  As a good example, the word "salt" in the society of Jesus referred to a much different substance than the typical iodized salt found on American store shelves today; what was commonly called "salt" in his society contained impurities that caused it to lose it's flavor over time.  Human language is only as good as the intentions of those speaking and the understanding of those hearing and, to treat language in some other way is a great historical error.

2. By typing the word "deism" into Google's search engine, one can find a definition of "deism" as commonly understood today, as follows:  "Belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.  The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind."  The problem with this definition is, it was true of some 17th-18th Century deists but by no means all of them, many of who were Christians and others who did believe God interacts with human affairs.  A larger problem with this definition is that as far as history knows, every American founder without exception believed God interacts with human affairs, as clearly presented in the Declaration of Independence.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, many European deists believed in God and some were atheistic or agnostic, while about 40% were Christians.  Also according to the Britannica, at least three of the American founders were Catholic, while the overwhelming majority ascribed to some form of Protestant Christianity, sometimes in combination with deism as defined in the 18th Century, which included many who believed in a God who does interact with human affairs and nature as well.  Christianity in 18th Century America should not be confused with the conservative or fundamentalist Christianity of today, nor should deism as commonly defined today (as noted above) be confused with the true beliefs of the American founders.  Only three American founders, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, claimed to be deists.  There is no evidence that either these three or any of the other American founders believed God doesn't interact with creation or with human affairs.  It is grossly misleading for modern educators to broad-brush the American founders as "deists", without clarifying that the majority were Protestant Christians, some with deist leanings and, that many 18th Century deists believed God interacts with nature and human affairs, unlike deism is commonly understood today.

Thomas Jefferson's family belonged to the Church of England, which is the religion he was raised in.  Jefferson wrote about deism but did not claim to be a deist, while he did say that the teachings of Jesus represent "the highest religion".  James Madison specifically claimed to be a Christian, as did John Adams and George Washington; all three apparently had some deist leanings but all three also apparently believed God does interact with human affairs. Benjamin Franklin, who did claim to be a deist, openly complained that the founders weren't seeking God's guidance enough when drafting the Constitution, a most decided non-deist view based on the modern definition noted above.  The Declaration of Independence very clearly and deliberately presents a view of God as Creator of the universe, Designer of the human conscience, Author of human rights and Supreme Judge and, it closes asking for God's blessing on the revolutionary cause.  This is fairly both a Christian and deist view as understood in the 18th Century, while it is not a deist view as the term is normally defined today.

European deism gradually arose in the 17th Century (possibly earlier) as an attempt to remove God out of the realm of orthodox religion and instead, place discussion and ideas about God under philosophy, science, reason and education.  As such, 17th-18th Century deists stood for the exact opposite of what the ACLU, AUSCS and various other historically contradicting modern Americans pretend they stood for.  In particular, it is very historically fair to say that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, Washington and probably every other American founder including Thomas Paine, believed in free and open discussion of God in public science, history and other classrooms and, everywhere else from sea to once shining sea.  There is however, significant evidence that both Jefferson and Madison very strongly disagreed with the modern very bad habit of granting tax exemptions to religious organizations, which is what both the ACLU and AUSCS should be strongly campaigning against, that is, if they really wish to support the First Amendment.  For a more detailed discussion on deism and separation of church and state, please see Does the ACLU Really Support the First Amendment? Note 1.

3. "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one" - Charles Darwin; "The Origin of Species" 1876 edition; this was the sixth and final edition by Darwin, published about 5 years before his death and as such, it represents Darwin's scientific lifetime conclusion; every edition from the 2nd thru the 6th credits our Creator with being behind the universal reality and processes of life.

4. Charles Darwin in an 1879 letter shortly before his death writes:"I have never been an atheist" and also writes "one can be an ardent Theist and evolutionist".  Later in this same letter Darwin says that his mind may best be described as "agnostic, but not entirely".  As noted above, the word "agnostic" in the time of Darwin sometimes referred to skepticism about religion, human ideas and human understanding of God, rather than doubt in God's existence.  Thus, Darwin could credit our Creator with being behind the universal reality and yet describe his mind as "agnostic, but not entirely", without contradiction.  There are other writings of Darwin that seem to contradict a conclusion that he believed in God.

The following is quoted from the Darwin Correspondence Project; What Did Darwin Believe? "In this letter, Darwin is quite clear that he has never been an atheist.  Does he believe in a Creator?  Is he a theist?  Such terms, he suggests, are so vague and variable that they might mean almost anything.  Is he then an agnostic?  Yes, but not all of the time.  His judgment, he says, is often in a state of flux.  What did Darwin mean by the term agnostic?  The word does not suggest disbelief so much as a fundamental uncertainty about questions such as the existence and nature of God.  For Darwin, it also seems to imply that there are limits to scientific knowledge, that there are certain questions that can be answered by science, and other questions that can not." -- from Darwin Correspondence Project; What Did Darwin Believe?.

Other writings of Charles Darwin found in his autobiography seem to contradict some of what is contained in this note, while some historians take the view that what is found in Darwin's correspondence is more important in regards to determining what he personally believed.  As already stated above, historical people, like the rest of us, sometimes contradict themselves and like the rest of us, often change their minds over time.  Perhaps it is fair to conclude that what Darwin personally believed remains uncertain and ambiguous and as such, this is what legitimate scholars should be teaching.  Regardless of what is ultimately true about the beliefs of Charles Darwin, what historians, scientists, educators and other human beings do not know should always be presented as such, rather than for any of us to be pretending to know what in fact, we do not know or are uncertain of or, as is far too often the case, have no way of knowing.  If modern science doesn't know how life came to be, as many modern scientists freely admit, then it is irrational for any scientist, educator or other human being to use phrases like "random unguided processes" in relation to the origins of life.




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Copyright © August 20th, 2003 by Richard Aberdeen.
Copyright © Jaunary 7th, 2014 by Richard Aberdeen.
Copyright © February 1st, 2014 by Freedom Tracks Records.

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