By Ajit Krishna Dasa
Darwin – an objective scientist?
Darwin is often portrayed as a sort of textbook example of a perfect scientist who after objectively observing and studying the diversity of life came to conclude that the most logical explanation for this diversity is that life must have evolved over time from a common ancestor through natural selection.
A few weeks ago I saw a video where a person defended Charles Darwin and portrayed him as an honest scientist who simply objectively observed the diversity of life, tried to make sense out of what he saw and then came to accept evolution by natural selection as the most plausible and scientific explanation.
How objective was Darwin?
Most people are under the wrong impression that Darwin was the father of evolution theory. That’s not true. The idea that life arose from matter and evolved from it had existed for thousands of years. It is found in the writings of materialist philosophers from India, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Egypt and later Greece. Even though these materialist philosophers did not agree on everything we find in their writings ideas of how life arose from matter in water, that humans evolved from fish, that species evolved from one another, that there was a struggle for survival among the living beings and that there was a hierarchy of life from the most simple to the most complex. The writings of these philosophers were well-known to many western thinkers and scientists like Benoit de Maillet, Pierre de Maupertuis, Comte de Buffon and Jean Baptiste Lamarck and others who all embraced and propagated the idea. Charles Darwin was greatly influenced by these thinkers.
Not only was Darwin influenced by earlier and contemporary thinkers, he was influenced by materialistic ideas from his very childhood. Both his father, Robert Darwin, and grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, were Freethinkers and members of the Mason order. Erasmus Darwin, who was a physicist and one of the highest ranking members of the Masonic organization, was himself influenced by and played an important role in the formation of the evolution theory. In the 1780’s and 1790’s he wrote two books, “Temple of Nature” and “Zoomania”, where he argued that all life came from a common ancestor and developed through the laws of nature alone. Later the founded the “Philosophical Society” to help him spread his ideas. So Darwin wasn’t acting alone. There was a whole anti-religious movement centered around so-called Enlightenment ideas to help propagate a materialistic world view. Darwin’s important contribution in this connection was that he was the first to offer a usable “scientific” justification for the idea.
While the above does not in disprove evolution by natural selection it does show us that Darwin is often misportrayed. The fact is, however, that he did not coin the idea of evolution by natural selection by observing nature objectively. He already had the idea in mind from his very childhood and from earlier and contemporary Enlightenment thinkers. He was not as objective as many would like him to appear.
It is also crucial to keep in mind that at Darwin’s time (like today) there really was no evidence to justify evolution. Darwin did some observations, but he admitted that there was a lot of problems with his theory. He dedicated a whole chapter in his book “The Origin og Species”, which he called “Difficulties on Theory”, to a discussion of the many problems with his ideas. He hoped that in the future they would be solved. In spite of the lack of evidence Darwin nonetheless believed in his own theory. The nature of his belief was thus unscientific; a mere philosophical speculation.