Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dawkins misrepresents Darwin and Evolution

Title Page of 2nd Edition of Origin
Merry Christmas!
One of my presents was A Devil's Chaplain - a book of selected essays by Richard Dawkins. I have very little time for the man, and finding holes in his "arguments" is like shooting fish in a barrel.  The title essay (presumably written in 2002, it hadn't been previously published and the book is 2003) demonstrates his characteristic inability to understand Evolution: he sees it as 100% competition whereas it's clearly a mixture of competition and cooperation with sexual selection being very important in the higher animals - and somewhere in the middle.

However in addition to his almost laughable scientific and philosophical confusion, what's really striking is his final quote from Origin.

This contains the celebrated sentence: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed* into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Dawkins adds, as a footnote:
* In the Second Edition, and all subsequent edition of the Origin the three words 'by the Creator' were interpolated at this point, presumably as a sop to religious sensibilities.

This is hilarious. Note that Dawkins can't bring himself to say "added by Darwin" leaving open the idea that they may have been "interpolated" by someone else. Darwin made many many improvements between the first and sixth edition and was a very careful writer.   Interestingly the second of the three facing title quotations was also added for the 2nd Edition. These are:
  • "But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this-- we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."--Whewell: "Bridgewater Treatise". 
  • "The only distinct meaning of the word 'natural' is stated, fixed or settled since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once."--Butler: "Analogy of Revealed Religion". 
  • "To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both."--Bacon: "Advancement of Learning".
I've tried to find out what we know about the circumstances of Darwin adding "by the Creator". The Darwin Correspondence Project has only 8 uses of the term Creator in Darwin's letters. These are:
  1. An 1843 letter to Waterhouse "Most authors say it is an endeavour to discover the laws according to which the Creator has willed to produce organized beings— But what empty high-sounding sentences these are— it does not mean order in time of creation, nor propinquity to any one type, as man.— in fact it means just nothing"
  2. An 1849 letter ordering a book by H Miller called "Footprints of a Creator"
  3. An 1857? letter to Huxley about the purpose of classification: "I knew, of course, of the Cuvierian view of Classification, but I think that most naturalists look for something further, and search for “the natural system”,—“for the plan on which the Creator has worked” etc etc."
  4.  A Feb 1860 letter to Asa Gray thanking him for his review of the Origin which Darwin thinks "is by far the most able which has appeared".  Darwin says "I have been interested by your theological remarks in the Review, but I must reconsider them. It has always seemed to me that for an Omnipotent and omniscient Creator to foresee is the same as to preordain; but then when I come to think over this I get into an uncomfortable puzzle something analogous with "necessity and Free-will'' or the "Origin of evil'', or other such subject quite beyond the scope of the human intellect. I was interested the other day in reading the Life of Newton by Brewster to find that Leibnitz actually attacked the Law of Gravity as ``subversive of all Natural Religion'!!"
  5.  A May 1860 letter to Asa Gray concluding: "I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope and believe what he can.—
    Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws,—a child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by action of even more complex laws,—and I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter."
  6.  A June 1860 letter to Lyell on the "Deification" of Natural Selection. "No astronomer in showing how movements of Planets are due to gravity, thinks it necessary to say that the law of gravity was designed that the planets shd. pursue the courses which they pursue.— I cannot believe that there is a bit more interference by the Creator in the construction of each species, than in the course of the planets.— It is only owing to Paley and Co, as I believe, that this more special interference is thought necessary with living bodies.— But we shall never agree, so do not trouble yourself to answer.
  7.  A Mar 1867 letter to William Darwin about the Duke of Argyll's book Reign of Law. "I have not yet read the Duke and Heaven knows when I shall get the time, but I am inclined to agree with you from all that I have heard.Mamma has several times declared that the Duke did not understand the Origin, but I pooh-poohed her, and as it seems very unjustly. We have been amused at how a Duke, as you say, looks at the Creator. I must try and read the book before long."
  8.  An Oct 1880 letter to GE Mengozzi.  Mengozzi specifically asked Darwin whether he thinks his theories imply Atheism or Materialism, and Darwin replied "even if no organism can exhibit design, this does not in any way exclude the belief in a divine Creator of all things."
It is perfectly clear from this correspondence alone that Darwin did not consider that his views implied Atheism. Far from "a sop to religious sensibilities" these are issues Darwin grappled with all his life. And he emphatically rejected the simplistic inferences that Dawkins peddles.

PS Warm thanks to Rosemary Clarkson for providing the link to the letter which is not yet online in the Darwin Correspondence Project.

No comments: