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Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) was the English naturalist credited with the theory of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution of living forms. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Charles Robert Darwin

Charles Darwin as a young man painted by G. Richmond

Charles Darwin 1854

Charles Darwin in 1854, when he received Wallace’s letter from Sarawak

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, a Natural Philosopher

Sources for quotes: WikiQuotes, GoodReads,


Quotations from Charles Darwin

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

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.

Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.

The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient. [compared to the term natural-selection.]

I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master’s eye. … And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbors as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty… .

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.

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.

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but 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 lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never better exhibited than by young animals, such as puppies, kittens, lambs, &c., when playing together, like our own children.

The enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.

As before remarked with respect to bodily strength, although men do not now fight for the sake of obtaining wives, and this form of selection has passed away, yet they generally have to undergo, during manhood, a severe struggle in order to maintain themselves and their families; and this will tend to keep up or even increase their mental powers, and, as a consequence, the present inequality between the sexes.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.

The moral faculties are generally esteemed, and with justice, as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should always bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This fact affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.

The moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense, may be safely attributed.

It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous 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.

Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.

I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. 11 January 1844

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.

The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.

A mans friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.

I think it inevitably follows, that as new species in the course of time are formed through natural selection, others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct. The forms which stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement will naturally suffer most.

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

When we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent species had been exposed under nature. There is, also, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to new conditions to cause any great amount of variation; and that, when the organisation has once begun to vary, it generally continues varying for many generations. No case is on record of a variable organism ceasing to vary under cultivation. Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still yield new varieties: our oldest domesticated animals are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.

How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!

But a plant on the edge of a deserts is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent upon the moisture.

One may say there is a force like a hundred thousand wedges…

I had also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely that whenever published fact, a new observation of thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones.


COMMENTS on Charles Darwin quotes

Charles Darwin is greatly to be admired for his invaluable contributions to science and our understanding of the world, and yet his most famous theory was based wholly on the work of Alfred Russel Wallace. By wholly I mean the idea that Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species; that is from Wallace’s 1854 Letter from Sarawak, five years before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin didn’t understand the implications of that letter until four years later when Wallace sent a second letter and spelled out in detail the theory of Natural Selection in his letter from Ternate known as, On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type (S43: 1858).
I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. 11 January 1844. This is earlier than the two letters I am referring to, but it shows Darwin’s hesitancy to even consider the possibility of evolution. It is clear that Darwin isn’t even considering an operational theory of the how and why evolution would take place.

Darwin admits that he didn’t begin writing the Origin of Species until he read this second letter sent to him personally by Wallace. See the more detailed argument in A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace by Arnold C. Brackman, which  proves that Darwin, although he had collected massive amounts of data, did not understand the mechanism of evolution until after he read Wallace’s letter.

Darwin didn’t want his years of research to be upstaged so he gathered together his materials and quickly filtered it through Wallace’s theory, before Wallace could sail back to England. Shortly after receiving the Letter from Ternate Wallace’s essay was read to the prestigious Linnean Society. It was sent by Wallace, and in the public mail, on February 1858, from Indonesia, to Darwin, and read to the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858, and so Wallace does have priority for publishing the theory, because On the Origin of Species, wasn’t published until 24 November 1859, a year and a half later. If Wallace had sent his letter to Charles Lyell, or Thomas Huxley, or directly to Linnean Society of London  he would have received 100% of the credit for the theory of evolution. The wealthy Charles Darwin got all the credit and Alfred Wallace, when he returned to England, continued to live in near poverty for a decade until he got a small government pension. Communication with Wallace in far-off Malay was impossible without months of delay, so he was not part of the rapid publication of his idea. Fortunately, Wallace accepted the arrangement after the fact, happy that he had been included at all, and never expressed public or private bitterness.

Many, perhaps most, of the people on my list of Philosophers Squared have been extremely rich, and it makes me wonder how many of them were able to take advantage of other people’s ideas, simply because they had the money to publish, and had social connections to take the credit.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened. This is a philosophical-type statement, such as Francis Bacon might well have made and predates Karl Popper‘s similar contributions to the abstract science of the progress of knowledge.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. Thus Darwin must conclude as Jean-Paul Sartre did that we must create our own personal meaning for our continued existence.

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but 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. This problem has finally been given a reasonable answer, a hundred and fifty years later, and it is that we humans have been the beneficiaries of artificial selection, defined by Darwin as practiced on domestic species, and practiced upon ourselves for a hundred thousand years, it’s called Eveish Selection. Darwin approaches this thought, but it doesn’t click.

The moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense, may be safely attributed. Darwin doesn’t realize his own theory would have covered the source of these qualities if he had considered women as the sentient moral environment responsible for the selection process.