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Darwin    
   
Darwin's Diary
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Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

       
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April 1881 (Darwin's Struggle with Faith)

Darwin finishes his Autobiography. It is a private memoir, a record for his family. It is not meant to be published -- at least in his lifetime. In it, Darwin struggles with his religious beliefs.

"[A] source of conviction in the existence of God ... follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capability of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting ... I deserve to be called a theist."

It is this conviction that underlies the last passage of On the Origin of Species. And yet, Darwin is not certain it is truly his own.

"[C]an the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such a grand conclusion? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.

"I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

Emma is extremely troubled by one line of this passage, and has it struck from the Autobiography when it is published after her husband's death in 1882. She writes her son, Francis, the editor:

"My dear Frank,
There is one sentence ... which I very much wish to omit, no doubt partly because your father's opinion that all morality has grown up by evolution is painful to me; but also because where this sentence comes in, it gives one a sort of chock [sic] -- and would give an opening to say, however unjustly, that he considered all spiritual beliefs no higher than hereditary aversions or likings, such as the fear of monkeys towards snakes ... I should wish if possible to avoid giving pain to your father's religious friends who are deeply attached to him, and I picture to myself the way that sentence would strike them."

To the end of his life, Darwin chose to keep his religious views private. He knew that his personal beliefs wavered, and maintained they were of "no consequence to any one but myself."

-> Go to 1882

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Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

       
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