Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802):
Would it be too bold to imagine that, in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, … that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which the great First Cause endued
and thus possessing the faculty
- with animality,
- with the power of acquiring new parts,
- attended with new propensities,
- directed by irritations, sensations, volitions and associations,
world without end!
- of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and
- of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity,
(Zoönomia, Vol 1, 1794)
Aristotle (384–322 BCE):
[Empedocles (493–433 BCE) surmised that certain] animals survived [because] their chance constitution made them suitable for survival.
[Whereas, other animals] were differently constituted and so were destroyed …
(Physics, Book II: 8)
William R Greg (1809–81), Essayist:
The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits …
[Whereas:] the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him.
Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts — and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained.
In the eternal 'struggle for existence,' it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed — and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.
(Quoted in The Descent of Man, Chapter 5, 1871)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902):
The real difficulty in woman's case is that the whole foundation of the Christian religion rests on her temptation and man's fall, hence the necessity of a Redeemer and a plan of salvation.
As the chief cause of this dire calamity, woman's degradation and subordination were made a necessity.
If, however, we accept the Darwinian theory, that the race has been a gradual growth from the lower to a higher form of life, and that the story of the fall is a myth, we can exonerate the snake, emancipate the woman, and reconstruct a more rational religion for the nineteenth century, and thus escape all the perplexities of the Jewish mythology as of no more importance than those of the Greek, Persian and Egyptian.
(The Woman's Bible, Part II, Comments on the Old and New Testaments from Joshua to Revelation, New York, 1898)
Blanche Z de Baralt:
Women must consider themselves the main agents for the continuity and evolution of the race towards a higher physical, intellectual and spiritual level. …
Education of girls and young women must prepare them for this great mission.
Upon reaching marital age they must have such an elevated and clear notion about it that they should refuse to wed men with inferior physical, intellectual and moral conditions.
(24 December 1911)
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910):
[My children, the] views you have acquired about Darwinism, evolution and the struggle for existence won't explain to you the meaning of your life and won't give you guidance in your actions, and a life without an explanation of its meaning and importance, and without the unfailing guidance that stems from it is a pitiful existence.
(1 November 1910)
Tom DeLay [Republican House Majority Leader, 2003–5]:
[The Columbine High School massacre occurred] because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionised out of some primordial mud.
(Quoted by Peter Singer, The President of Good and Evil, 2004, p 131)
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945):
He who wants to live, should fight.
And he who does not want to fight, in this world of eternal struggle, does not deserve to live.
(Mein Kampf, 1925)
As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.
This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
(The Descent of Man, 1871)
Journal of Researches (1835)
Considering the small size of [the Galapagos] islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range.
Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava-streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period, geologically recent, the unbroken ocean was here spread out.
Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact — that mystery of mysteries — the first appearance of new beings on this earth.
The Descent of Man (1871)
[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.
During [the Dark Ages] the Holy Inquisition selected with extreme care the freest and boldest men in order to burn or imprison them.
In Spain alone some of the best men — those who doubted and questioned, and without doubting there can be no progress — were eliminated during three centuries at the rate of a thousand a year.
The evil which the Catholic Church has thus effected, though no doubt counterbalanced to a certain, perhaps large extent in other ways, is incalculable …
Recollections of the Development of My Mind and Character (1876)
[Between 1836 to 1839 I gradually came] to see that the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign &c &c, & from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.
By further reflecting
- that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,
- that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,
- that the men at that time were ignorant & credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,
- that the Gospels can not be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,
- that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses
[I was at first] very unwilling to give up my belief.
But I found it more & more difficult … to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me.
Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.
The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, & have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was Correct.
I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, & this would include my Father, Brother & almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
And this is a damnable doctrine.
The old argument from design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. …
There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings & in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.
Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.
That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes.
Some have attempted to explain this … by imagining that it serves for … moral improvement.
But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, & these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement.
[What] advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? …
At the present day the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction & feelings which are experienced by most persons. …
This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very far from being the case.
Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions & feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.
A man who has no assured & ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution & reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses & instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones. …
[And, if] he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow-men & gain the love of those with whom he lives; & this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure this earth. …
As for myself I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following & devoting my life to science.
(Charles Darwin: Evolutionary Writings, OUP, 2008)
On the Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
Recollections of the Development of My Mind and Character
CHARLES DARWIN (1809–1882)
- Charles Darwin: Evolutionary Writings, James Secord, Editor, OUP, 2008.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)
[According to] the doctrine of Malthus … 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. …
No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations of all the beings which live around us. …
Yet these relations are of the highest importance, for they determine the present welfare, and [the future success,] of every inhabitant of this world. …
[Natural Selection] is daily and hourly
- scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest;
- rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good;
- silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its … conditions of life.
[Anyone] whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory. …
[It is probable that] all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form …
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed
- with many plants of many kinds,
- with birds singing on the bushes,
- with various insects flitting about, and
- with worms crawling through the damp earth,
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.
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)
Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals
The question is [as to] whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe … has been answered in the affirmative by the highest intellects that have ever lived.
As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become partially developed, man would naturally have craved to understand what was passing around him, and have vaguely speculated on his own existence. …
It is probable … that dreams may have first given rise to the notion of spirits …
The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one, consisting of love, complete submission to an exalted and mysterious superior, a strong sense of dependence, fear, reverence, gratitude, hope for the future, and perhaps other elements.
No being could experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level.
Nevertheless we see some distant approach to this state of mind, in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear, and perhaps other feelings. …
The same high mental faculties which first led man to believe in unseen spiritual agencies, then in fetishism, polytheism, and ultimately in monotheism, would infallibly lead him, as long as his reasoning powers remained poorly developed, to various strange superstitions and customs.
Many of these are terrible to think of — such as
- the sacrifice of human beings to a blood-loving god;
- the trial of innocent persons by the ordeal of poison or fire;
- witchcraft …
These miserable and indirect consequences of our highest faculties may be compared with the incidental and occasional mistakes of the instincts of the lower animals. …
[It is highly probable] that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.
For … the social instincts lead an animal
- to take pleasure in the society of its fellows,
- to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and
- to perform various services for them.
[Furthermore,] after the power of language had been acquired and the wishes of the members of the same community could be distinctly expressed, the common opinion how each member ought to act for the public good, would naturally become to a large extent the guide to action. …
[Nonetheless,] I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours.
In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct.
The term, general good, may be defined as the means by which the greatest possible number of individuals can be reared in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are exposed.
[It] would be advisable, if found practicable … to take as the test of morality, the general good or welfare of the community, rather than the general happiness …
The judgment of the community will generally be guided by some rude experience of what is best in the long run for all the members; but this judgment will not rarely err from ignorance and from weak powers of reasoning.
Hence the strangest customs and superstitions, in complete opposition to the true welfare and happiness of mankind, have become all-powerful throughout the world.
How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated we do not know; nor how it is that they have become, in all quarters of the world, so deeply impressed on the mind of men; but it is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independent of reason. …
Knowing how firmly fixed many strange-customs and superstitions have become, we need feel no surprise that the self-regarding virtues should now appear to us so natural, supported as they are by reason, as to be thought innate, although they were not valued by man in his early condition. …
As … small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.
This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. …
Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions.
Whatever makes any bad action familiar to the mind, renders its performance by so much the easier.
Looking to future generations … we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, becoming perhaps fixed by inheritance.
In this case the struggle between our higher and lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant. …
[The] difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree and not of kind.
We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, &c, of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals.
On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilised Times
There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes … and as morality is one element in their success, the standard of morality … will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase.
The advantage which disciplined soldiers have over undisciplined hordes follows chiefly from the confidence which each man feels in his comrades.
Obedience … is of the highest value, for any form of government is better than none.
Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected.
The love of approbation and the dread of infamy, as well as the bestowal of praise or blame, are primarily due … to the instinct of sympathy …
[And] this instinct no doubt was originally acquired, like all the other social instincts, through natural selection.
It is obvious, that the members of the same tribe would approve of conduct which appeared to them to be for the general good, and would reprobate that which appeared evil.
To do good unto others — to do unto others as ye would they should do unto you — is the foundation-stone of morality. …
A man who was not impelled by any deep, instinctive feeling, to sacrifice his life for the good of others, yet was roused to such actions by a sense of glory, would by his example excite the same wish for glory in other men, and would strengthen by exercise the noble feeling of admiration. …
Ultimately a highly complex sentiment, having its first origin in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, confirmed by instruction and habit, all combined, constitute our moral sense or conscience.
Most of my remarks [regarding the agency of natural selection on civilised nations] are taken from [William R Greg (1809–81), Alfred R Wallace (1823–1913) and Frances Galton (1822–1911).]
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated …
We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination …
Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind.
No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. …
[However,] if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.
Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind …
[There] appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound …
In all civilised countries man accumulates property and bequeaths it to his children.
So that the children in the same country do not by any means start fair in the race for success. …
[On the other hand, the] presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labour for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be over-estimated …
Nor does the moderate accumulation of wealth interfere with the process of selection. …
No doubt wealth when very great tends to convert men into useless drones, but their number is never large …
[It is clear that any] nation which produced during a lengthened period the greatest number of highly intellectual, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent men, would generally prevail over less favoured nations.
Many existing superstitions are the remnants of former false religious beliefs.
The highest form of religion — the grand idea of God hating sin and loving righteousness — was unknown during primeval times.
Unless we wilfully close our eyes, we may, with our present knowledge, approximately recognise our parentage; nor need we feel ashamed of it.
The most humble organism is something much higher than the inorganic dust under our feet; and no one with an unbiased mind can study any living creature, however humble, without being struck with enthusiasm at its marvellous structure and properties.
On the Races of Man
The [marked] variability of all the characteristic differences between the races [of man] indicates that these differences cannot be of much importance …
[For,] had they been important, they would long ago have been either:
- fixed and preserved, or
Principles of Sexual Selection
When we behold two males fighting for the possession of the female, or several [males] performing the strangest antics before an assembled body of females, we cannot doubt that, though led by instinct, they know what they are about, and consciously exert their mental and bodily powers. …
It is certain that with almost all animals there is a struggle between the males for the possession of the female.
Man is more courageous, pugnacious, and energetic than woman, and has a more inventive genius.
Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness …
Woman, owing to her maternal instincts, displays these qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree; therefore it is likely that she should often extend them towards her fellow-creatures.
Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness. …
It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation.
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.
If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music — comprising composition and performance, history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison.
We may also infer, from the law of the deviation of averages … that if men are capable of decided eminence over women in many subjects, the average standard of mental power in man must be above that of woman.