Charles Darwin and Atheism
Charles Darwin was not an atheist in the conventional sense. He believed that God was responsible for the First Cause. And yet, he is a poster boy for atheists nowadays. As such many non-atheistic skeptics and rationalists of the past are championed by present-day atheists.
We run into these situations again and again - Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of United States of America, wrote at lengths on freedom, equality and liberty and yet he had slaves in his household. Abraham Lincoln, who waged war against the Confederates, thus abolishing slavery in the South, was still not ready to concede Blacks were equal to Whites. Isaac Newton, who discovered Universal Law of Gravitation, thus setting the trend for removing God from affairs of the Universe and Man, was a firm believer in God.
Liberalism or Atheism or any such progressive idea has been changing, increasing in its extent and vigor, being different in different times. Thomas Jefferson may be a liberal thinker for his times but when we look into the past and measure his liberalism from our yardstick he fails the test. Charles Darwin or Einstein may not qualify as atheists from our standpoint and yet they were atheists of their times. When Judaism came on board, atheists were not non-believers of God but non-believers of God of Moses, the pagans, the worshippers of animals. When Islam came into existence, atheists were believers of other established religions. During Spanish Inquisition, the Protestants, the Jews, and skeptics of God were all put in the same league as atheists.
Charles Darwin is not an atheist according to the current definition, because he believed in a Creator. He may not have expressed enthusiasm later on in his life for Christianity, but he still believed that a Divine Creator existed who have might have started it all, set the laws in motion and let the Universe take care of itself without intervening further. Darwin's God was similar to Einstein God, making them Deists, who were closer to the atheists of those times.
Discovery bigger than discoverer
The way Theory of Gravitation had an effect on the course of history of man much beyond what Newton comprehended or imagined, Origin of Species has an effect much beyond what Darwin stands for in his personal life. Many such great scientists are still human, mortal, time-bound, looking at the world from their narrow window of their time on earth, influenced by the cultural ethos of their times. Like other human beings, some of them displayed idiosyncrasies which are completely irrelevant to their contribution to the Science.
Many a times, their discoveries of the workings of the Nature were far more important than the discoverers. Newton refused to admit certain results his own theories predicted, even Albert Einstein turned out to be smaller than his own theory. Einstein's theory proved right in the end, not his own objections to predictions and conclusions from his theories. What became important was what they have contributed to in unraveling Nature, giving us a tool to understand the laws of Nature and how it worked, without resorting to miracles, divine intervention and omnipotence of God.
Would Darwin be an atheist if he was alive now? Can't say! May be, may not be. Would he have come up with Theory of Evolution if he was born elsewhere, in another time, as someone else? Can't say! Such speculations are irrelevant. His being an atheist or theist has no impact on what he discovered. If it was not Charles Darwin, some other scientist or a series of scientists would have come up with that theory in the next few decades. If any of these scientists happens to be gay, atheist, murderer, communist, woman, it doesn't make much difference to the overall contribution to Science.
What is important is how that theory fits into grand scheme of things in understanding the Universe. What is important is whether his theory has pushed God away from the realm of man, his daily life? Did it make our Universe more atheistic?
Yes it did. Darwin's theory supports an atheistic argument much more than a theistic one. He is a poster boy for many atheists for the obvious reason that his theory transcends the personal belief system of Charles Darwin and paves for a Universe which can be explained without intervention of a God. Charles Darwin's theory on evolution of life on our planet makes existence of God less probable.
Though his theory is one of the greatest achievements of man on this planet, many people on this planet do not understand Evolution. Like most discoveries, the workings of the Nature are counter-intuitive. It is easier for most people to believe that the world is flat, that a comet is messenger of doom, that a supreme intelligence created man in the image of himself. It takes a counter-intuitive theory to explain planetary system and theory of evolution.
One reader writes to TOI, 21 February 2009:
Theory of evolution isn't all that logical
It has been a much-debated topic between the theists and atheists/rationalists. Darwinism has many missing links in it, for example, the theory says man evolved from monkeys but it does not answer the question as to why monkeys still exist on earth while intermediate forms like Australopithecus (primitive form of man) do not exist. As far as Hinduism is concerned, the Bhagavad Gita mentions the creation of 84,00,000 species by Lord Krishna. While atheists/rationalists boast they are logical, it is evident that there is nothing logical in Darwin's theory.
It's sad that TIMES OF INDIA decided to publish such gross lies. For a half-baked literate, the above argument sounds scientific and therefore quite credible. There are many people out there whose only source on Darwin's theory is some popular magazine. They make silly arguments which sound scientific but are in fact sheer bullshit. Such arguments use scientific words but are based in shallow arguments, wrong assumptions and clever-talk.
Theory of Evolution does not suggest that man evolved from monkeys. That is patently wrong. Instead it observes that the ancestors for the current generation of chimpanzees and humans are the same. The species which gave rise to humans and chimpanzees does not exist. It has gone extinct. We got separated from ancestors of Chimpanzees around 5 to 7 Million years ago. Primates went on a different path of evolution while we took a different path. The way our ancestors (Homo erectus, Homo habilis) are extinct, the preceding ancestors of chimpanzees are also extinct.
Time and again, the detractors of Darwin's theories use observations and conclusions which are patently wrong to discredit theory of evolution. Even the astronomer Fred Hoyle's objection is based in wrong understating of Theory of evolution. He said:
A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing-747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there?
Someone who understands the theory of evolution will not come up with such a hypothetical situation to question the theory. There are many assumptions which are patently wrong here.
1. Natural Selection involves small changes accumulated over millions of years, where each change withstood onslaught of nature, proving itself a contender for a long term survival. It is not an event that happens all of a sudden in gusto like a hurricane.
2. Natural Selection doesn't create a completely new model of aircraft all of sudden, assuming aircraft is an animal or a plant. First there is a version A, which is quite rudimentary, something like a paper that is floating in the air, then there is a version B, which is not completely different from version A but a little 'improvement' over version A, like a paper glider, and so on. Say, we have reached a level Z 1000, after thousands of improvements between A and Z 1000, and then we have a Boeing-747. Note that there is a version before Boeing 747 which actually flies and takes people from Paris to London, and one version before that and so on. According to Natural Selection, Boeing 747 doesn't come into existence all of a sudden - there are many versions before it which all fly quite successfully and have survived.
3. Randomness which is suggested in evolution is not the same randomness of a hurricane sweeping through your backyard or the randomness that is innate in throwing dice. Here the randomness is unpredictability in where the mutations occur and what they would be. Nobody has a control on these mutations - but they continue to happen - some survive and most others perish. Those which survive will now become part of the aircraft which will continue to stay with it, even in the most advanced version. Boeing 747 has exact parts from many of the versions before it. No such a thing happens when an intelligent designer constructs Boeing-747 all from new parts. There is a good chance that there is not a single part from the previous versions and designs - that is not how evolution works.
It is very easy to make gobbledygook which sounds really authentic. Here is my objection to Helio-centric model of Solar System (Sun is center, not Earth).
Copernicus model of Solar System, called Helio-centric theory, is flawed. Everyone, including scientists, agree that it is just a theory, not a fact, whose explanation is based on another theory, called Theory of Universal Gravitation. One should understand that scientists themselves call these models theories, not facts. If it was a fact they would have called Fact of Universal Gravitation.
No scientist can explain how planets move in the thin vacuum. Even great scientists like Maxwell said that we need ether in the space so that Gravitation can work. Albert Einstein himself used cosmological constant in his equations to explain ether, but later was pressurized by other atheist scientists to remove it because it indicated presence of God. This missing information on how planets move in vacuum and how Gravitation works in space is still unclear to even great scientists and they disagree with each other. It is pretty evident that this whole helio-centric theory is not logical. Actually, according to Rig Veda, first there was nothing, then there was everything, which is how Western Scientists got the idea of Big Bang.