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