Darwin en Spinoza (2)

In mijn log van gisteren, waarin ik een aantal vergelijkingen maakte tussen Darwin en Spinoza, speurde ik o.a. ernaar of Darwin ooit van iemand als Spinoza had gehoord. Dat mag dan, zoals Wim Klever op dat stukje reageerde, minder belangrijk zijn dan de vraag of zijn 'wereldbeschouwing' in de buurt kwam van die van Spinoza, maar waarom ik dat eerste ook belangrijk vind heeft te maken met het volgende.  

Het is wel fraai hoe van de 17e eeuwse filosofen Descartes, Spinoza en Leibniz wordt gezegd dat zij met het veranderen van de antieke en Middeleeuwse filosofie de weg bereidden voor de zich in hun tijd ontwikkelende empirische wetenschappen. Maar als je dan vervolgens bij een van de grootste wetenschappers van de 19e eeuw niets daarvan terugziet, mag je enige twijfel krijgen over de gestelde betekenis van de nieuwe filosofie voor de wetenschap.

In 1876 schreef Charles Darwin, in eerste instantie voor zijn kinderen en hun nazaten, zijn autobiografie. De zes daarop volgende jaren tot aan zijn dood is hij er aantekeningen bij blijven schrijven. Vijf jaar na zijn dood, in 1887, verscheen het voor het eerst (met enige weglatingen). Op darwin-online.uk is de weer volledig gemaakte uitgave van 1958 te zien.

Daaruit neem ik hierna enige pagina's over, waarin Darwin schrijft over zijn godsgeloof en zijn twijfels. Ik neem de tekst ruim om tevens de context mee te nemen, waarin hij over zijn 'theïsme' en vervolgens agnosticisme spreekt.  
En dan valt op, dat het dus kennelijk mogelijk is een wetenschapper te zijn die met uiterst nieuwe en zeer 'gevaarlijke' ideeën wist te komen, terwijl hij weinig bagage leek te hebben op filosofisch terrein, geen inzicht leek te hebben bijvoorbeeld "om beweging te erkennen als het wezen van de materie" (Klever) - en nog zo met een scheppende en voorzienige god te worstelen.
Ik geef kleur aan een aantal passages waar ik de aandacht op wil vestigen en geef verder geen commentaar.

Voor wat betreft de status van Darwins evolutie-theorie verwijs ik naar het NOS-Journaal van gisteren...  [inmiddels niet meer te zien]

en naar dit interview met David Attenborough over Darwin


Darwin, C. R. 1958. The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With the original omissions restored. Edited and with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow. London: Collins. [op darwin-online.uk

 [p. 88…] But passing over the endless beautiful adaptations which we everywhere meet with, it may be asked how can the generally beneficent arrangement of the world be accounted for? Some writers indeed are so much impressed with the amount of suffering in the world, that they doubt if we look to all sentient beings, whether there is more of misery or of happiness;—whether the world as a whole is a good or a bad one. According to my judgment happiness decidedly prevails, though this would be very difficult to prove. If the truth of this conclusion be granted, it harmonises well with the effects which we might expect from natural selection. If all the individuals of any species were habitually to suffer to an extreme degree they would neglect to propagate their kind; but we have no reason to believe that this has ever or at least often occurred. Some other considerations, moreover, lead to the belief that all sentient beings have been formed so as to enjoy, as a general rule, happiness.

Every one who believes, as I do, that all the corporeal [p. 89] and mental organs (excepting those which are neither advantageous or disadvantageous to the possessor) of all beings have been developed through natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, together with use or habit,[1] will admit that these organs have been formed so that their possessors may compete successfully with other beings, and thus increase in number. Now an animal may be led to pursue that course of action which is the most beneficial to the species by suffering, such as pain, hunger, thirst, and fear,—or by pleasure, as in eating and drinking and in the propagation of the species, &c. or by both means combined, as in the search for food. But pain or suffering of any kind, if long continued, causes depression and lessens the power of action; yet is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil. Pleasurable sensations, on the other hand, may be long continued without any depressing effect; on the contrary they stimulate the whole system to increased action. Hence it has come to pass that most or all sentient beings have been developed in such a manner through natural selection, that pleasurable sensations serve as their habitual guides. We see this in the pleasure from exertion, even occasionally from great exertion of the body or mind,—in the pleasure of our daily meals, and especially in the pleasure derived from sociability and from loving our families. The sum of such pleasures as these, which are habitual or frequently recurrent, give, as I can hardly doubt, to [p. 90] most sentient beings an excess of happiness over misery, although many occasionally suffer much. Such suffering, is quite compatible with the belief in Natural Selection, which is not perfect in its action, but tends only to render each species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species, in wonderfully complex and changing circumstances.

That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.

At the present day the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, [p. 91] Mahomadans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddists of no God. There are also many barbarian tribes who cannot be said with any truth to believe in what we call God: they believe indeed in spirits or ghosts, and it can be explained, as Tyler and Herbert Spencer have shown, how such a belief would be likely to arise.

Formerly I was led by feelings such as those just referred to, (although I do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me), to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, 'it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.' I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour-blind, and the universal belief by men of the existence of redness makes my present loss of perception of not the least value as evidence. 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 and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists. The state of mind which grand scenes formerly [p. 92] excited in me, and which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music.

With respect to immortality,[2] nothing shows me how strong and almost instinctive a belief it is, as the consideration of the view now held by most physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless indeed some great body dashes into the sun and thus gives it fresh life.—Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some [p. 93] degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

This conclusion[3] was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can 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 grand conclusions? 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.[4]

[p.94] I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones. A dog acts in this manner, but he does so blindly. A man, on the other hand, looks forwards and backwards, and compares his various feelings, desires and recollections. He then finds, in accordance with the verdict of all the wisest men that the highest satisfaction is derived from following certain impulses, namely the social instincts. If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives; and this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth. By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may be almost called instincts. His reason may occasionally tell him to act in opposition to the opinion of others, whose approbation

[1] "together with use or habit" added later. The many corrections and alterations in this sentence show his increasing preoccupation with the possibility of other forces at work besides Natural Selection. See P. 15—N. B.

[2]  Addendum added later to end of paragraph—N. B.

[3] Addendum of four lines added later. In Charles's MS. copy the interleaved addition is in his eldest son's hand. In Francis's copy it is in Charles's own hand.—N. B.

[4]  Added later. Emma Darwin wrote and asked Frank to omit this sentence when he was editing the Autobiography in 1885. The letter is as follows:—

"Emma Darwin to her son Francis. 1885.

My dear Frank,

There is one sentence in the Autobiography 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 shock—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 think the disrespectful aspect would disappear if the first part of the conjecture was left without the illustration of the instance of monkeys and snakes. I don't think you need consult William about this omission, as it would not change the whole gist of the Autobiography. 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, even those so liberal as Ellen Tollett and Laura, much more Admiral Sullivan, Aunt Caroline, &c., and even the old servants.

Yours, dear Frank,

E. D."

This letter appeared in Emma Darwin by Henrietta Litchfield in the privately printed edition from the Cambridge University Press in 1904. In John Murray's public edition of 1915 it was omitted.—N. B.