Darwin on Free Thought

Happy Darwin Day to ye! Over at Rosetta Stones, I have a juicy selection of quotes from Charles Darwin on that most beautiful of sciences, geology, which he loved. There’s cake and dinosaurs, too!

Whilst I was searching for some more quotations, I came across several of Darwin’s thoughts on social issues. He talks about free thought, and I thought, what better quote for Freethought Blogs, then, eh? Here is a small selection of Darwin’s quotes on freethought, religion, and abolition.

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I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.
Letter to E.B. Aveling, 1880

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Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

The Descent of Man

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One more word on “designed laws” and “undesigned results.” – I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun and kill it, I do this designedly.—An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe (& I really should like to hear) that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this; I can’t and don’t.—If you believe so, do you believe that when a swallow snaps up a gnat that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant? I believe that the man and the gnat are in the same predicament. If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed. Yet, as I said before, I cannot persuade myself that electricity acts, that the tree grows, that man aspires to loftiest conceptions all from blind, brute force.

Letter to Asa Gray, 1860

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Some few, & I am one, even wish to God, though at the loss of millions of lives, that the North would proclaim a crusade against Slavery. In the long run, a million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity. … Great God how I shd like to see that greatest curse on Earth Slavery abolished.

Letter to Asa Gray, 1861

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We can allow <<satellites>>, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe <of man> to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act, provided with its instincts its place in nature, its range, its – &c &c…

Notebook N

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The Captain does every thing in his power to assist me, & we get on very well.—but I thank my better fortune he has not made me a renegade to Whig principles: I would not be a Tory, if it was merely on account of their cold hearts about that scandal to Christian Nations, Slavery.

Letter to J.S. Henslow, 1832

Image shows a white-bearded Darwin wrapped in a black cape, leaning against a vine-twined post.
Charles Darwin, circa 1881. Photograph by Messers. Elliot and Fry. Via Wikimedia Commons.
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Darwin on Free Thought
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4 thoughts on “Darwin on Free Thought

  1. rq
    1

    And people say that others are products of their times, as an excuse for racism, misogyny, and other ills. Well, so is Darwin, and I see he gets it (maybe not everything, but a whole lot that some people don’t seem to get). So really, there’s no excuse for being an asshole.

  2. 3

    Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

    Beat Dunning and Kruger to it by 120 years or so right there.

    Meanwhile, on the geology side, I had to go look up the Shrewsbury Bellstone. It’s surprisingly small.

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