James Moore — Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin
February 5, 2009

We'll take a fresh and thought-provoking look at Darwin's life and ideas. He did not argue against God but against a simple understanding of the world — its beauty, its brutality, and its unfolding creation.

(Reprinted with permission of Syndics of Cambridge University Library, DAR 44:24)

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Selections from the Unedited Interviews

We isolated audio clips in which Moore talks about evolution versus intelligent design, shared Evangelical backgrounds, and even Malthus and population theory. And we bring you a background interview with geneticist Lindon Eaves, as well as a live discussion about Darwin from the American Museum of Natural History.

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The Hand of Darwin

On Being has worked with Cambridge University Library to present a narrated tour of Darwin's private notebooks and hand sketches with one of the few scholars who knows it best, David Kohn. You can zoom in tight on high-resolution images, listen to a scholar tell you more about why Darwin was writing the selected passages, and read the transcript of Darwin's cryptic handwriting!

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

An enigmatic history flow diagram tracking the editing path of the term "evolution."

A found image adds a layer to the relationship between Darwin's theory and religion.

About the Image

This elevation map of a coral reef island is a hand-drawn water-color sketch by Charles Darwin, date unknown.

(Reprinted with permission of Syndics of Cambridge University Library, DAR 44:24)

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Comments

Absence of Faith (February 8, 2009)
It was extremely disturbing to hear Ms. Tippett falling all over herself to repeatedly reasure her listeners that Darwin really believed in God. It echoes the contentions of the Evangelicals that all our founding fathers believed in God. The truth in both cases is that Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — and Darwin — did not believe in the God of the Bible, nor the God of the Christians, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews.

Attempting to support the contention that Darwin, Galileo, and others believed in God by quoting their statements or writings ignores the reality that statements to the contrary would have subjected them to extreme sanctions. Had Galileo added to his statement that the Earth revolved around the Sun, "and thus the Bible is not accurate," he surely would have been burned at the stake.

All through Darwin's life, blasphemy — which included any matter that tended to impeach the evidence of the Christian faith — was a crime in England. (In 1834, the Royal Commission on Criminal Law issued a report re-affirming the necessity of retaining the crime of blasphemy.) In 1883, three men responsible for publishing a satire suggesting that the story of Jesus was itself blasphemy were convicted of the crime of blasphemy and sent to prison, the actual author for a year.

Use of the word "God" does not indicate the speaker's belief in a Supreme Being who created and monitors mankind. Even I, an atheist, have been heard to say, "God damn it!" after hitting my thumb with a hammer.

The facts are that Galileo, Darwin, and most of our founding fathers rejected faith as a method of determining the ultimate truth. It's time you publicly admitted that, when speaking of such persons, you are not "speaking of faith", but the absence of it.

Are you a professional Darwin biographer whose spent their entire life looking through his works? because if not, I'm going to defer to James Moore, who has spent his life studying Darwin's life and works. James Moore seems to understand that Darwin was a man of faith, and that the works of Darwin were not an attack on the church. So... Unless you have evidence otherwise, or a Ph.D, your assault makes neither impact more sense. A random online blogger is not a more trustworthy source than a studied biographer.

During the otherwise excellent program this morning, Krista mentioned the controversy over "the idea that we (humans) are descended from monkeys" and then said that her guest was giving her a new perspective on that issue.

Darwin said no such thing and some of those who are most offended by Darwin's theory criticize it by asking why, if we are "descended from monkeys," are they (the monkeys) still here? The theory of evolution says that both humans and monkeys are descended from a common ancestor.

It is important that this distinction be made and (repeatedly) clarified if we are to avoid the conflict over this theory.

Not a Vegetarian? (February 8, 2009)
One of your guests, when discussing Darwin's views of animals, stated that Darwin was not a vegetarian. I'm not clear on what he bases that opinion on. There is evidence in Darwin's own writings that eating meat was not a natural diet for humans. In both The Origin of Species and the The Descent of Man he makes statements in support of a plant-based, vegetarian diet. Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:

"The grading of forms, organic functions, customs and diets showed in an evident way that the normal food of man is vegetable like the anthropoids and apes and that our canine teeth are less developed than theirs and that we are not destined to compete with wild beasts or carnivorous animals."

In his book The Descent of Man he tells us:

"Although we know nothing for certain about the time or place that man shed the thick hair that covered him, with much probability of being right we could say that he must have lived in a warm country where conditions were favourable to the frugivorous way of life which, to judge from analogies, must have been the way man lived."

The Role of Unitarian-Universalism in Darwin's Thought (September 28, 2007)
In listening to your discussion of the theological views of Charles Darwin, I am appalled that you and your guest do not discuss the influence of his strong "dissenting" Unitarian heritage in his thinking. Although modern North American Unitarian Universalism poses as a theology-free social organization, in Darwin's day the ministers were well-trained in scriptural interpretation. In fact, as self-conscious heirs of the Reformation, they were proud of their training and education in scriptural interpretation through each individual mind. While it is appropriate to speak of "the church," it is wrong to overlook the existence of minority religions and the role that classical Unitarianism played in the ideas you are discussing.

A Multifaceted Being (September 23, 2007)
Thank you so much for exposing other aspects of Charles Darwin. Before listening to the Evolution and Wonder program, I thought of Darwin as little more than an intelligent atheist. Hearing Darwin's actual words spoken by James Moore gave me a new perspective on Darwin, the man and the naturalist. Although he is known for reporting insights that fall outside of religious boundaries, Darwin did not oppose the idea of God as the original author of creation. To my mind, Darwin's complex description of the entire process of creation illustrates God in an even more magnificent and compassionate light. The concept of "wonderful adaptations" is far more amazing to me than the idea of simple creation. I think Darwin himself is a superb example of a multifaceted being.

Darwin Studies (September 23, 2007)
I am so delighted to have you back on WAMU, especially with your wonderful program on Darwin. Very Christmas in September. My husband has given much thought to a School of Darwin Studies that would encompass the many disciplines and controversies that have formed around Darwin's ideas. Darwinian processes are everywhere, but as you ably point out, Darwin's name provokes much anger among some people you would expect to understand his vision of the beauty of the natural world (Hosanna!). Then there are people like Richard Dawkins who invoke Darwinian science to justify their similar hostility to the products of human evolution known as religions. How to reconcile these opposed views of creation (E.O. Wilson's term)? You and your excellent guest James Moore, and the profusion of resources compiled on your Web site, may have found the solution.

Further Thoughts (September 22, 2007)
Perhaps one way to conceptualize the apparent conflict is to pose that the creator established the rules of the game, as it were, but that each being was free to act within those rules.

Knowing Who He Was (January 26, 2007)
I appreciated your commentary about Darwin and his findings, and your interview with the writer of his biography, and sharings from Darwin's diary. To understand who Darwin was, from the beginning, and the family he came from, his particular educational background, is so significant to perceiving what he was trying to tell us about the ways of nature and the development of species.

I have felt this strongly ever since reading some of his book, many years ago; and I am so glad to hear it being discussed openly now, in an effort to understand his respect and awe of the natural world, and its Creator. I really appreciated your way of emphasizing that it was never his intention to say that God was not a part of creation, but just to observe and record what he saw in his observations.

What Kind of God? (July 26, 2006)
I enjoyed your reflections on Darwin, but I resist seeing the author of The Origin of Species as another "natural theologian." Natural theology was, indeed, the context that informed Victorian sensibilities about God and nature. Clearly, many skeptical Englishmen and women found God in nature long after they had rejected both church doctrine and a literal interpretation of Scripture, especially where the natural world was concerned.

Still, Darwin was and is the destroyer of natural theology, not its preserver. He was certain that the central tenets of natural theology — a benevolent, intelligently-designed (if you will pardon the anachronism), man-centered universe — were false. More importantly, what kind of God does Darwin leave us? An absentee landlord in a universe governed by chance. What kind of faith is this?

Incorrect Attribution (July 26, 2006)
I very much enjoyed the program with James Moore discussing Charles Darwin's struggle with faith in light of his seemingly contradictory and compelling findings in the natural world. Mr. Moore was introduced as the author of Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. There was no attribution given to Adrian Desmond, the co-author of the book. I read the book (well, most of it) last winter, and I have the book in front of me on my desk. Mr. Desmond's name is first on the cover and on page 809, "About the Authors," receives a lengthier bio. Why was he given no attribution on On Being?

A Line Beyond Intellect (July 23, 2006)
Thanks for your wonderful program on Darwin. This is a subject that has fascinated me from the time I read a biography of Clarence Darrow in junior high more than 40 years ago and which I have pursued through much intervening reading; a visit to Dayton, Tennessee with one of my sons a few years ago; the Dover decision; and the current show at the Museum of Natural History.

Of course, the nature of my fascination has changed, but the one constant is my feeling that if there were a God with the consciousness imputed to it by the devout, it would be deeply disappointed by the use to which its unique gift to man — the ability to think and reason — has been put. Namely, to draw a line beyond which intellect may not venture. The way you described Darwin's role in separating God from responsibility for every little act of God was inspired.

I enjoy your program in general. Although I am a semi-observant Jewish atheist, I appreciate the way you honor the impulse towards belief without leaving the rest of us out. Unlike the power-mad exhibitionism that currently dominates the public square, yours is an approach to faith that doesn't lend credence to Jesse Ventura's comment that religion is a crutch for weak minds, or words to that effect. There is frequent expression of awe before nature in terms that can be shared without a belief in the divine. The Darwin show was the most inspired instance yet. Once again, well done.

Voices on the Radio

has co-authored several books about Charles Darwin, including Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. He's been researching and teaching Darwin for more than 30 years in Cambridge, England.

is Oxnam Professor Emeritus of Science and Society at Drew University and editor of the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History Library.

is a geneticist at Virginia Commonwealth University and an Anglican priest.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Managing Producer: Kate Moos

Senior Producer: Mitch Hanley

Producer: Colleen Scheck

Associate Producer: Shiraz Janjua

Associate Producer: Rob McGinley Myers

Production Assistant: Nancy Rosenbaum

Online Editor/Web Producer: Trent Gilliss

Associate Web Producer: Andrew Dayton

Production Intern: Amara Hark-Weber

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Funding provided in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities

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