Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 eBook

John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 372 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14.

It is well known that Darwin was extremely reticent with regard to his religious views.  He believed that a man’s religion was essentially a private matter.  Repeated attempts were made to draw him out upon the subject, and some of these were partially successful.  Writing to a Dutch student in 1873, he said:  “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.  I am aware that if we admit a First Cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose.  Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world.  I am also induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is.  The safest conclusion seems to me that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.”  To questions put by a German student in 1879, he replied:  “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except in so far as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence.  For myself I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation.  As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.”  In the same year he told another correspondent:  “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.  I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”  His latest view is indicated in a letter dated July 3, 1881.  Here he expressed the “inward conviction that the universe is not the result of chance.”  He adds, however:  “But, then, with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value, or at all trustworthy.  Would any one trust the convictions in a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” The Duke of Argyll has recorded the few words on the subject spoken by Darwin in the last year of his life.  The Duke said that it was impossible to look at the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature, and fail to recognize that they were the effect and the expression of mind.  Darwin looked at the Duke very hard, and said, “Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times”—­here he shook his head vaguely—­“it seems to go away.”


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Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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