GOD, MAN and CHARLES DARWIN

I was very unwilling to give up my belief…. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. —Charles Darwin

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I have on occasion speculated that if I weren’t a deist, I would without doubt (or more accurately, with doubt) be an agnostic. For me, atheism is a non-starter; I cannot rule out possibilities beyond the point where mere mortals have the capability to ascertain. For me, the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is humility: we’re limited humans. Even if you and I don’t believe in the ‘revealed’ God, why fall into the trap of conflating man’s invented God (religion) with the fact of creation and thus the plausibility of a creator, divorced and absent though He (It) may be from what He (It) hath wrought?

These thoughts were in the back (but not too far back) of my mind as I was reading CHARLES DARWIN – A SCIENTIFIC BIOGRAPHY by the late Sir Gavin de Beer, a British scientist and author of many books on zoology, embryology, genetics, etc. I’d come upon this old book while library-browsing, and realized that, while we all know what Darwin was famous for, do we really know Charles Darwin, the man? What was he like, and what did he believe at various points in his life as his thinking evolved (pun intended)?

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in getting to know Darwin is that he was “The man who struggled with his own ideas” (BBC website), keeping silent for 20 years before going public with his painstaking research, and describing his writing On the Origin of Species as “like confessing a murder.” Its publication in 1859 represents “one man’s struggle with the most radical idea of all time — the idea that humans shared a common ancestor with apes.”

Darwin was born of Christian parents in 1809 at Shrewsbury, England, the son of a successful physician and a mother who died when Charles was eight years old, after which (quoting de Beer) “his home upbringing devolved largely on his elder sisters to whom, in spite of their persistent fault-finding, he was ever grateful for instilling in him the spirit of humanity.” Additionally, his grandfathers were important Enlightenment figures: Josiah Wedgewood, anti-slavery campaigner, and Erasmus Darwin, a doctor who ‘wrote the book’ (ZOONOMIA) on the radical idea that one species could transmute into another.

Darwin’s father wished him to become a doctor, but after realizing that his son had an aversion to practicing medicine, he (quoting de Beer) “proposed that he [Charles] take holy orders in the Church of England. Indeed, at this time in his life, he felt so convinced of the truth of his religion” that he accepted. But after three years of studies at Christ’s College, he considered the time “wasted. His greatest pleasure was collecting beetles for the sheer joy of collecting.” After meeting men of distinction in botany and other fields, he studied geology and read books “from which he derived a zeal to travel and study natural history.”

A set of fortuitous happenings led to a position as a neophyte naturalist on the HMS Beagle, which set sail from England in Dec. 1831, not to return until October 1836….five years of meticulous observations, collecting specimens and exhaustive exploration too lengthy to detail here, but which began a new chapter in the history of science.

Years later, “The result of his experiences was that (says de Beer quoting Darwin) My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details….the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wonderful universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know from whence it came. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. The safest conclusion seems to me that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect.”

“Darwin never felt any but the most friendly and charitable feelings for those who differed from him in matters of religion, provided that they were honest. This is amply confirmed from both sides. Rev. J. Brodie Innis wrote to Darwin, We often differed, but you are one of those rare mortals from whom one can differ and yet feel no shade of animosity, and that is a thing of which I should feel very proud if anyone could say it of me. Darwin’s description of their relations was equally generous: Innis and I have been fast friends for thirty years, and we never thoroughly agreed on any subject but once, and then we stared hard at each other, and thought one of us must be very ill.”

And now I feel I know Charles Darwin, the man.

P.S. My thanks to Richard Cahill, whose July 23rd post “God, Man and Donald Trump” inadvertently suggested my title for this post after I thought better of my original (or more accurately, less original) title.

 

 

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MORE ABOUT THE BEGINNING

I hadn’t intended to write a follow-up — much less a serious one — to ABOUT THE BEGINNING (my last post), but after thought-provoking comments by Don Frankel and Michaeline, I had to face the soul-searching question, “Am I a muse or a mouse?” The answer is a squeaker, but I decided to face the muse-ic and go where mice-men fear to tread. So let’s go back to, oh, About The Beginning.

That title, of course, referred to the coming into existence of the universe. In that post, the words after WHAT ATHEISTS BELIEVE proclaimed the nonexistence of a creator, i.e. the “Nothing” that “makes sense”….as opposed to the revealed creator, the biblical God of believers. For me, neither scenario passes the smell test. Here’s why:

It is said that man cannot live without his illusions. Perhaps that is not entirely a bad thing….if the alternative is unbearable. If you don’t know what you don’t know, perhaps illusion is the saving compensation. That, to me, largely explains  the “revealed” God of religion. But if that need for “faith in a power stronger than ourselves” (to quote Michaeline) is as subject to perversion as any other human want, is it not also a force for good? In any case, that’s a proposition that is beside the question here; a fairy tale is still a fairy tale no matter how benevolent. The greatest saint in history has either gone on to eternal life or not, irrespective of his or her faith. We cannot believe our way into what may not exist.

The atheist’s position is a different kind of challenge….not in an adversarial sense, because this isn’t a debating contest, but a reality search, no matter where the search leads….even if the reality turns out to be beyond human reach. Certitude, in such a case, is for dogmatists….which atheists are not above, in my view. Barring absolute proof, how is certainty that there is no god any less dogmatic than certainty that there is?

Don refers to “idea[s] in Physics” (such as the search for a theoretical “God particle,” which is beyond my pay grade and perhaps beyond finding). A less pie-in-the-sky idea in Physics is the Big Bang Theory, which (to my unscientific mind) is entirely plausible, but which addresses only the means (how the universe was created), not what was behind the means….or behind the scenes, for the more theatrical-minded among you.

As a creative writer, I can’t get my head around creation without a creator. This post didn’t write itself, and I can’t see a universe creating itself, no matter how miniscule the brain behind these words or the particle that exploded into a universe. But then there’s always the question, who created the creator? Whence cometh God? Ah. That calls for another theory. Here’s mine (it’s probably not original, but what do you want for nothing, as an atheist might say):

There is no such thing as time outside of creation. The creator has always existed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean human beings have souls which will pass into that timeless realm after death. Then why did the creator bother? What’s the point? As the late vocalist Peggy Lee asked, Is that all there is? We may never know.

Presumably, a creator who created and sanctions such misery and suffering as is our lot on earth would be the same “person” our souls would be at the whim of in an afterlife. Of course, many of us are fortunate enough in this life to experience more than enough love and empathy to offset the madness. Based on this mixed bag of a creation, can it’s creator be other than a mixed bag?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough….or not.

 

 

“BECAUSE I COULD”

I don’t remember who and where it was (not that it really matters — they’re everywhere and nowhere), but I saw a news report recently of a computer hacker who, when caught and asked why he did it,  answered “Because I could.”

How ignorant is that? I mean, if I were to do likewise unto him, impersonally drive him crazy and arbitrarily make his life miserable, would he let it pass if I told him I did it “Because I could?” I’m not God, after all….if I were, there would be no question of letting the victim figure it out for himself. I wouldn’t have to tell him anything.

Except if I were such a God, how I could live with myself….which, it seems to me, is why man had to invent a god in his own image — a God who works in mysterious ways, a God who at least professes to care, at least pays lip service to empathy; and, to go man one better, promises eternal bliss in a next life for those who love, honor and obey Him. Above all, man cannot have a Creator whose mixed bag includes God-caused suffering for which He is morally responsible. Man brings more than enough grief on himself in this life  — he needs all the help he can get to get through it without losing it.

But, assuming there is a non-invented Creator (which I assume is a non-starter for atheists), what are we to make of created reality?  Wouldn’t a realistic relational afterlife (if there be such) demand that a Creator apologize to us as much, if not more, than we apologize to Him for wronging others? And if that is the best we can hope for, how surreal is that? How could there be a moral Creator who supposedly would have been cognizant of all this from all eternity? Can you say “premeditated?”

And that, my friends, is why it is much easier to be either an atheist or a believer in the God of religion — any religion. No muss, no fuss, no getting all bent out of shape (except with each other). Whatever you do, don’t be a deist, or even an agnostic. Why risk torturing your brain with conundrums that tie up your mind in knots?

Because you could.

 

 

 

SERIOUS PAINE

These are the times that try men’s souls.  –Thomas Paine, December 19, 1776

God knows I have a sense of humor, even as I raised the question (in my last post) as to whether God has a sense of humor. So, researching Thomas Paine quotes (as a follow-up to Paine comments on my Sept. 2 post TO DEist OR NOT TO DEist), I hoped to find a few witticisms among the sober words of his Common Sense and other writings. No such luck — these were indeed “the times [the American and French Revolutions] that try men’s souls.” There’s not much to laugh about when the fates of lives and countries hang in the balance.

Paine (1737-1809), born in England into a poor family, was still poor in 1774 when he gained the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who was then in London and advised him to go to America. Armed with letters of recommendation from Franklin, he soon became contributing editor to PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE and began pressing for American independence.

In 1776 he served as a soldier and published his famous pamphlet Common Sense in support of the colonies, which Washington, Jefferson and other leaders read with approval. This was followed by a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis, the first of which began with this post’s opening quote.

Paine subsequently supported the French Revolution — at least, initially — and was made a French citizen by the National Assembly of France in August 1792 and then a member of the National Convention, until his outspoken opposition to the revolution’s excessive bloodshed and violence got him expelled, deprived of French citizenship, and imprisoned.

While in prison, Paine worked on The Age of Reason, which advocated freedom from oppressive and organized religions. Although it began “I believe in one God, and no more,” it was called “the atheist’s bible” by those who couldn’t abide deviance from religious orthodoxy. By proclaiming deism, Paine became “one of the most hated men of his time” (source: The World Book Encyclopedia).

After James Monroe, American Minister to France, claimed Paine as an American citizen and obtained his release, President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 arranged for Paine’s return to the U.S.  But Paine found that people remembered him more for his opinions on religion than for his Revolutionary War service, and he died poor, ill and a social outcast.

How far America and the world have come since those centuries-old days of religious intolerance (to use the kindest possible euphemism), I leave for you to consider. It’s time for me to get to a few of those understandably serious Paine quotes :

The World is my country, all mankind are my brethern, and to do good is my religion.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power…. I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself.

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

TO DEist OR NOT TO DEist

….that is the question. And the only reason I ask it is because I came across this believable deist T-shirt website (notice I didn’t say unbelievable, because deists do believe in a creator of the universe — they just don’t believe he has been seen since setting it in motion….or Day One, if you prefer).

Now, whatever hidden agenda the creator may have, I have none here. Far deist from me to try to convert anyone. If you got religion, God bless you, and happy praying (you can even include me in your prayers if you think it enhances your and/or my chances of eternal bliss or whatever, but I don’t buy it).

What I do buy — or rather, being a cheapskate, what I’ll ask someone else to buy me for a Deistmas present — is one of these:

http://www.zazzle.com/deist+tshirts

My problem is choosing one from among these three favorites:

FEEL the PAINE
I’M TOO OLD FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS
You Say “Heretic” Like It Was a BAD Thing

What do you think? (Deists do believe in thinking before deciding.)

 

KNOWS JOBS

WE LIVE IN IGNORANCE

Who knows why?

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FOR ALL WE KNOW

When one’s faith is fetter
And hope faces test,
Faith knows no better
Than hope for the best.

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The above pretty much encapsulates religion for me as a natural antiphon to the question of human existence. It is only logical to assume that there is not only a reason for life, but a creator of it. From those conclusions, lacking direct knowledge — possibilities become suppositions, suppositions become mantras, mantras become answers, answers become beliefs, and beliefs become truth: religions, collectively speaking.

I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist.  –J. K. Rowling

Well, life does exist….unless you and I and J. K. Rowling and billions  of other passers-through are figments of some creator’s imagination — which, I suppose, is a possibility. As for the rest, revelations are a dime a dozen, and, bargains though they be, I’m buying none of them.

And that, my friends, is why I’m a deist (just in case anyone’s curious).

GOD’S QUESTIONNAIRE REVISITED – THE END IS NEAR

From 1977 to 1984, God, in the guise of George Burns, starred as Himself in three OH GOD! movies, the last two of which (by earthly standards) stank to high heaven — indicating that even God can overdo a god thing. With Car Talk’s Nine-Question God Questionnaire, I have a good script to work with, but at the rate of one question per post, it would take six more sequels after this one to finish the job. From both an overkill and a don’t try to out-do the Deity standpoint, it doesn’t seem prudent to do more than three posts….especially if the Trinity Pak turns out to be the One True God. Consolidation is in order, or I be in trouble.

Question #3 asked, Did your God come to you undamaged, with all parts in good working order and no missing attributes, and if not, what was the problem? Choices included:

__Not omniscient
__Not omnipotent
__Permits sex outside of marriage
__Prohibits sex outside of marriage
__Requires virgin sacrifices
__Makes mistakes (Geraldo Rivera & Jesse Helms given as examples)
__Makes or permits bad things to happen to good people
__When beseeched, doesn’t stay beseeched
__Plays dice with the universe

Other than updating early 1990s’ mistake examples (to Rush Limbaugh & Ann Coulter, for example), no quibbles here.

Question #4 dealt with relevant factors in your decision to acquire a Deity, such as

__Hate to think for myself
__Need to feel morally superior
__Indoctrinated by parents/society.
__Needed focus on whom to despise.
__Graduated from the tooth fairy.
__Wanted to meet girls/boys
__Like organ music
__Desperate need for certainty

No updating necessary.

Question #5 wondered which false gods were you fooled by in the past:

__Mick Jagger
__The almighty dollar
__Left-wing liberalism
__The radical right
__Beelzebub
__Barney the Dinosaur
__Elvis
__The Great Pumpkin

Update false gods to include Fox News, Chicago Cubs, New York Jets ( to Don) & SWI (to mistermuse)

Question #6: Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in addition to God?

__Astrology
__Fortune cookies
__Playboy and/or Playgirl
__Self-help books
__Sex
__Drugs, alcohol
__Bill Clinton
__Tea leaves
__Human sacrifice
__Ann Landers

Now that you’ve got the idea, you can do your own #6 updating.

Question #7: Divine intervention-wise, would you prefer:

__More
__Less
__Current level just right
__Don’t know … what’s divine intervention?

Just for the hell of it, I’d add __A helluva lot better choices

Question #8 wants you to rate God’s handling of disasters (such as plague, pestilence and spam) and miracles (such as rescues, spontaneous remissions, crying statues and walking on water).

Who are we to judge?

Question #9: Last but not deist, Do you have any suggestions for improving the quality of God’s services?

Deists don’t believe this is a relevant question. Unluckily, it would appear that
God has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten we exist. –Jane Wagner