The World of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, the Man
Darwinian Evolution: Hypothesis or Theory?
Evolution or Intelligent Design: Which is Correct? Part 2
The World of Charles Darwin, the Father of Evolution
Charles Darwin was baptized into the Anglican Church, although both the Darwins and their cousins the Wedgewoods (makers of the famous pottery) were actually Dissenters.
The Wedgewoods were Evangelicals. The Darwins were Unitarians, with considerable enthusiasm for the scientific position of the Enlightenment.
Charles was the son of a squire, although he was the “spare” and would not inherit the estate. So, he lived the life of gentry but needed to find a way to support himself financially.
There were three acceptable professions: lawyer, physician, and clergyman. Charles’ father did not consider the first. Perhaps his father noted Charles’s lack of logic. Charles became sick at the sight of blood so he couldn’t be a physician. He was finally settled in at the Anglican university of Cambridge, Christ’s College, studying to be a priest.
While this didn’t thrill Charles, he noted that his father could afford to buy and influence a clerical post with a generous stipend in an Anglican country parish. Thus, Charles could be free to engage in his favorite subject: natural history.
After graduation, Charles boarded the ship named the Beagle. He served as naturalist for five years.
When he returned to Britain, he decided that he would make a living with natural history. His would develop his grandfather’s scientific philosophy. This would become evolution.
Charles was in the last generation of “gentlemen scientists.” These were wealthy men who could devote immense amounts of time to their hobby: collecting and curating natural history collections.
They spent additional time at their clubs “philosophizing” about their findings.
To philosophize is to make a proposition as a basis for reasoning (presenting arguments) without any assumption of its truth. In other words, they were just “spit balling.”
This is what Charles’s grandfather had done. Charles determined to go further.
During his lifetime, Enlightenment extremists shouted louder than anyone else and often resorted to violence. Revolutions were toppling monarchies and the churches bound to them.
Charles was afraid his work on evolution would be appropriated by the extremists to overthrow his life of privilege. He was right on the first part. The leftists appropriated his work as supporting their belief in reason alone: no state, no church, no privilege.
However, Charles lived out his life in comfort.
Charles Darwin, the Man
Darwin’s autobiography is fascinating. It was written for his children and seems to be his true recollection and opinion of himself.
As the authority on evolution, his character and skills are important to assess. Let me share what I discovered.
- Darwin trained himself to be a meticulous observer.
- He was a terrible student. Charles reports that as a child, his family considered him “slow.” I wonder whether he had an undiagnosed learning disability.
- He associated with professors who used anecdotal and observational sciences, not controlled experiments.
- Darwin seems to have been a hands-on learner. He said that education that isn’t “practical” (functional) is useless and boring.
- He could not think abstractly, such as in doing any math with ease and competence except counting.
- Charles had a prodigious memory especially for dates. He crammed for his examinations and his memory often carried him through “without cribs” (cheat sheets), he boasted.
- He was addicted to excitement and receiving adulation even as a child.
- He had an estranged relationship with his father, which he duplicated with his own family.
- “Science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.” Wrong. Science consists of looking at all of the data and observing naturally occurring groupings. Then one draws conclusions.
- Darwin was unable to transfer knowledge from one subject to another. He did well on Euclidian proofs but the logic they supposedly taught (according to my geometry teacher) did not make the jump to natural science.
- Charles did not have skills in logic. Regardless of topic, he makes leaps of logic.
One example is that he continuously extols barnyard animals as examples of evolution. Wrong. The selective breeding is purposeful (Intelligent Design) by the farmer and has nothing to do with the survival of the animal.
- He also had poor skill in dissection because he didn’t attend dissection class while in medical education.
- He expressed unmerited pride in his thinking ability.
- He had a fertile imagination.
- Even in his books, he still entangles belief and logic. If you are truly using the Enlightenment model, you cannot use words such as “I believe” or “I feel that….”
- Darwin was incredibly self-centered. Here are some examples:
- He attended lectures he preferred and skipped others to go hunting or foraging.
- He expected his wife’s undivided attention especially during his frequent bouts of stomach illness.
(As an RN who taught Psychiatric Nursing, his ailment sounds to me like a psychosomatic illness stemming from conflict between the church and his work.)
His wife also had to care for their 10 children and manage the house!
- His compliment to the children to whom he wrote the autobiography: “You never caused me a moment’s trouble.” (The emphasis is mine.)
- Eleven of the 79 pages in his autobiography are filled with name-dropping.
- He says that one day he decided to become a theorist.
- Excuse me, but to be a scientific theorist, you need skills in math and logic!
- This is not a decision to be made alone.
As a graduate student, I developed a model of nursing and defended it before my professors. My thesis was experimental in nature, demonstrating the understanding and proper application of statistics.
It was my professors who noted that I had the skills to progress to becoming a theorist, and who submitted my name to Who’s Who in Nursing as “future nurse theorist.”
- Darwin is a very poor writer both in organization and content.
- He had all of the biases of a Victorian gentleman and total ignorance that he possessed them.
- When he wasn’t ill, Charles was a hard worker. He wrote several books and curated his massive collection of natural history.
Desmond and Moore describe Darwin’s performance in his final examinations like this:
When Taken (3 hours each)Content of examination Performance
Day 1 morningEssays on Homer in Greekmediocre
Day 1 afternoonEssays on Virgil in Latinmediocre
Day 2 morningEssays on Paley’s theologyexcellent
Day 2 afternoonEssays on Philosophyexcellent
Day 3 morningMathematics
Day 3 afternoonPhysicsbarely passed
In short, there was no hope for an honors degree, but his overall performance was tenth in his class of ordinary baccalaureate candidates.
He was just relieved to have passed.
Darwinian Evolution: Hypothesis or Theory?
We are talking strictly about Charles Darwin’s work now. Was it a theory? Or was it a hypothesis?
Actually, since he often used words such as “I feel” and “I believe” it could be left as a philosophy, except that he was not just spit balling. He was searching for truth.
Proposed explanationA system of ideas to explain something
Based on limited evidenceBased on principles unrelated to explanation
One of the things that is fascinating about Darwin is that he doesn’t fit into any of the boxes. He is a hybrid.
Philosophy: He continues to use the vocabulary of philosophy so it is likely he actually thought and worked within the Traditional Model of science, regardless of how enlightened he tried to be.
Hypothesis: Darwin did make a proposed explanation.
Together with other naturalists, he developed a great volume of observational data and one experimental study.
His knowledge was limited to British and French science. For instance, he did not know Gregor Mendel’s Theory of Heredity.
Also, his extensive work was all in a few select portions of his proposal, leaving great holes unexplored.
Altogether, the evidence is significant in depth, but limited in variety.
Theory: Darwin developed his explanation into a set of hypotheses that he organized into a loose system of ideas.
I will leave you with a reading list in chronological order and continue with the story of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design next time.
Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man
Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin
Desmond, Adrian and James Moore. Darwin: the Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (This is considered the foremost biography on Darwin)