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Thread: Quote from Darwin

  1. #1 Quote from Darwin 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    The following quote is from Charles Darwin in his book : The Descent of Man. I have modified it a titch to remove sexist language, but otherwise left it untouched. The word 'reason' in the first line, of course, means thoughtfulness and intelligence.

    Quote :

    "As humanity advances into civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he or she ought to extend those social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him or her. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent those sympathies extending to all people of all nations and races."

    I see this as a very advanced view for Darwin's time and place in history. Would you agree with me that this illustrates the greatness of the man?


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  3. #2  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    The following quote is from Charles Darwin in his book : The Descent of Man. I have modified it a titch to remove sexist language, but otherwise left it untouched. The word 'reason' in the first line, of course, means thoughtfulness and intelligence.

    Quote :

    "As humanity advances into civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he or she ought to extend those social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him or her. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent those sympathies extending to all people of all nations and races."

    I see this as a very advanced view for Darwin's time and place in history. Would you agree with me that this illustrates the greatness of the man?
    Not really. This had been the message of Christianity for almost 2 millennia by Darwin's time, dim though it may have been at many periods of history. Darwin indicates how the idea of respect for all of humankind can be justified scientifically, if you like, which is interesting, but probably a product of his liberal Christian background. After all, he could instead equally have chosen to stress the competition of species, had he wished, and come up with Nazi type conclusions about the fight for dominance.


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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    Darwin indicates how the idea of respect for all of humankind can be justified scientifically
    But he doesn't. He just claims it as self-evident. That suggests to me he didn't really understand what he was talking about.

    People can sometimes have right and good sentiments without the backing of coherent theories.
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    Ethics are not based on coherent scientific theories, and especially not in Darwin's time. Nor do they have to be. But ethics are still vital to human welfare.

    Nor do these sentiments reflect Christianity. The church has instigated numerous crimes against humanity. The wars between protestants and catholics in Europe represent the highest number of battle deaths as a percentage of the total population in any time in Europe's written history. More than World War II. (From the research work of Prof. Steven Pinker.) Darwin rejected religion after the death of his wife.
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    Forum Masters Degree Implicate Order's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    I see this as a very advanced view for Darwin's time and place in history. Would you agree with me that this illustrates the greatness of the man?
    It certainly suggests that his scientific mind was in solid working order not taking anything for granted such as compromising his unbiased scientific enquiries with notions of patriotism, nationalism or religious doctrine. He also had the benefit of being widely travelled hence his open-minded viewpoint with regards to other nations and races. Being 'ahead' of his time in these notions paved a foundation I suspect for his viewpoints on evolution and his subtle deathblow move against doctrine of the day.

    With travel comes cross-cultural confidence where travellers learn to live with the locals as opposed to simply travelling in cultural bubbles (eg. air-conditioned Greyhound buses of one culture) where they simply observe and rubber-neck rather than participate in local conditions.

    It is noticeable in Australia the emerging confidence of the Japanese tourist for example who are now being seen in backpacker & B&B circles, once the secret privvy of the UK and Scandinavian confident traveller. Actually I am being a bit kind here to the UK given we are one of their colonies and many of us were sent here for stealing a loaf of bread. Plus the Brits, like us seem to be more interested in the lager routes as opposed to the experiential pathways....not that I am making any sweeping generalisations *looks around nervously*.

    If Australians travelled more, then maybe they would be far more tolerant of our 'boat people'' who are treated in such an appalling fashion. We can still enjoy the fruits of cultural diversity without being so hung up about the borders. They seem to be the cause of so many problems on this planet.


    .....anyway I digress and back to Darwin. :-((
    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 7th, 2014 at 03:44 AM.
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  7. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    Darwin indicates how the idea of respect for all of humankind can be justified scientifically
    But he doesn't. He just claims it as self-evident. That suggests to me he didn't really understand what he was talking about.

    People can sometimes have right and good sentiments without the backing of coherent theories.
    I suppose you are right. However I did not mean to suggest he shows that respect for all humankind can be somehow deduced from science. I agree it can't. All I meant was he indicated that one can, if so inclined, argue for it on the basis of science, rather than explicitly appealing to religious morality.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Ethics are not based on coherent scientific theories, and especially not in Darwin's time. Nor do they have to be.
    I basically agree. Still you're proposing that those words evince a view "very advanced"... like maybe Darwin had a clear vision as he wrote them. Idealistic though it may be, the excerpt rather demonstrates a vague understanding. He offers no basis for his prediction (scientific, logical, or otherwise), but rather bluffs/bullies the point across by saying even people of "the simplest reason" "ought to" embrace his vision. Neither is he handicapped here by the times, since Darwin would have had ample opportunity to read philosophers of his century and before, who presented their thoughts methodically and articulately.

    Now when someone comes on the forum and says "here's my unsupported claim and even a simpleton must see it my way" do you call the poster great and advanced or something else?
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Ethics are not based on coherent scientific theories, and especially not in Darwin's time. Nor do they have to be. But ethics are still vital to human welfare.

    Nor do these sentiments reflect Christianity. The church has instigated numerous crimes against humanity. The wars between protestants and catholics in Europe represent the highest number of battle deaths as a percentage of the total population in any time in Europe's written history. More than World War II. (From the research work of Prof. Steven Pinker.) Darwin rejected religion after the death of his wife.
    These sentiments most certainly do reflect Christian teaching, although as I acknowledged in my earlier post, the practice of Christianity has often forgotten it, to an egregious degree at times.

    I would contend that Darwin's sentiments were quite normal for Christian, educated people of the time (think of the movement to abolish the slave trade and its foundation in Christian ethics, for example). I do not see in these ideas a basis for describing Darwin's thinking in this areas as specially advanced. He was a well educated, liberal, Victorian gentleman with the accompanying ethical mindset. And perhaps too, he was conscious that it would be all too easy to interpret his theory in the Nazi manner and justify all sort of horrible Ayn Rand type "nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw" practices towards fellow men on the back of it, and wanted to head off any accusations that he might advocate such ideas. But here I'm speculating.
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    Christianity is not a monolithic entity. It changes and evolves. Darwin's views were consistent with abolitionist Christian sects of the time such as the Quakers. It was an advanced view in that is similar to what most people believe today. I don't think you can say it is advanced in any scientific sense. The possibility exists that it will be viewed as archaic at some time in the future.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Darwin rejected religion after the death of his wife.
    Nonsense. Darwin had abandoned his conventional religious upbringing and beliefs by the time he returned from the Beagle voyage. As he worked on his theory of natural selection he came increasingly to question the existence of a God and clearly rejected a Christian God. By the late 1840s he had stopped attending church. Since he died before his wife it is difficult to see how her death could have influenced his thinking!
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    It is often said that the death of his daughter may have contributed to his loss of faith. However, as he didn't turn to his faith in that moment of crisis then maybe he would have lost his faith eventually anyway.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    The following quote is from Charles Darwin in his book : The Descent of Man. I have modified it a titch to remove sexist language, but otherwise left it untouched. The word 'reason' in the first line, of course, means thoughtfulness and intelligence.

    Quote :

    "As humanity advances into civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he or she ought to extend those social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him or her. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent those sympathies extending to all people of all nations and races."

    I see this as a very advanced view for Darwin's time and place in history. Would you agree with me that this illustrates the greatness of the man?
    Brilliant summation and it challenges the reader to define 'barriers'. exceptional
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Christianity is not a monolithic entity. It changes and evolves. Darwin's views were consistent with abolitionist Christian sects of the time such as the Quakers. It was an advanced view in that is similar to what most people believe today. I don't think you can say it is advanced in any scientific sense. The possibility exists that it will be viewed as archaic at some time in the future.
    True. Though in fact The Catholic Church had been intermittently calling for abolition of slavery from the mid 1500s or so and were doing so again fairly strongly by the early 1800s. So it was not just a Quaker thing by any means.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    It is often said that the death of his daughter may have contributed to his loss of faith. However, as he didn't turn to his faith in that moment of crisis then maybe he would have lost his faith eventually anyway.
    Perhaps this is what skeptic was thinking of. My impression, based upon reading a number of Darwin biographies, is that his daughter's death was a point when he took stock of his beliefs and recognised his drift towards agnosticism was substantial.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ollerymemu View Post
    Brilliant summation and it challenges the reader to define 'barriers'. exceptional
    Why does the reader have to define barriers. Wolves, lions and other territorial animals manage to do it without defining it. (Well, this is the biology sub-forum, isn't it)
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  17. #16  
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    To John

    My statement about the move away from Christianity was from John Gribbin's book on the history of science. Not guaranteed to be correct, of course, but Gribbon is generally reliable.

    Incidentally, I do not believe Christianity is terribly flexible, for the simple reason it is based on a set of writings considered to be sacred and unchangeable. For example : In the book of Matthew, Judas death is described as suicide by hanging, and in the book of Acts, it is an accident involving a fall, and the 'dashing out of his guts'. Obviously one, at least, is in error, yet both remain in modern publications of the New Testament unchanged. Many other contradictions are there, and remain there after 2,000 years of biblical scholars studying and commenting. This is not flexibility.

    Darwin's comments, against the background of his time, are extraordinary. He was English, and the English of his time regarded the "Anglo-Saxon race" to be God's greatest creation, and superior to all other peoples. The idea of accepting all peoples as brothers was well ahead of his time.
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    To John

    My statement about the move away from Christianity was from John Gribbin's book on the history of science. Not guaranteed to be correct, of course, but Gribbon is generally reliable.

    Incidentally, I do not believe Christianity is terribly flexible, for the simple reason it is based on a set of writings considered to be sacred and unchangeable. For example : In the book of Matthew, Judas death is described as suicide by hanging, and in the book of Acts, it is an accident involving a fall, and the 'dashing out of his guts'. Obviously one, at least, is in error, yet both remain in modern publications of the New Testament unchanged. Many other contradictions are there, and remain there after 2,000 years of biblical scholars studying and commenting. This is not flexibility.

    Darwin's comments, against the background of his time, are extraordinary. He was English, and the English of his time regarded the "Anglo-Saxon race" to be God's greatest creation, and superior to all other peoples. The idea of accepting all peoples as brothers was well ahead of his time.
    I'm sorry but this is all rather ill informed and poorly argued. Discrepancies between the various books of the bible are not evidence of inflexibility in teaching. In fact the church has for centuries pondered and interpreted the various conflicting accounts and taught a variety of these interpretations accordingly. And flexibility, or otherwise, in teaching has little to do with whether or not Darwin's attitude to humanity was or wasn't influenced by his Christian upbringing. And the notion of Anglo-Saxon superiority, while it was widespread in the Victorian culture that justified colonialism, was by no means a monopoly view in British society, nor did it necessarily exclude feelings of common humanity and respect for other cultures and "races".

    Peoples attitudes at that at that time were just as pluralistic and just as nuanced as they are today. And those, like Darwin, with a good liberal education would have been exposed to a wide variety of opinions.
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    Exchemist

    Teaching different interpretations of biblical contradictions is not flexibility. It is just an attempt to rationalise away an embarassing problem.

    Darwins views, as I quoted, are still extraordinary for his time. Today we would see it as simply common decency. In Victorian England, though, it would be most unusual.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Exchemist

    Teaching different interpretations of biblical contradictions is not flexibility. It is just an attempt to rationalise away an embarassing problem.

    Darwins views, as I quoted, are still extraordinary for his time. Today we would see it as simply common decency. In Victorian England, though, it would be most unusual.
    However you want to spin it, flexibility or rationalization, the fact remains that you would be hard pressed to find any Christian today who would support slavery or the Spanish Inquisition.
    The idea of a world government predates Darwin by quite some time. What makes you think his views were unusual?
    World government - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Francisco de Vitoria[edit]
    Main article: Francisco de Vitoria
    Early father of international law, Francisco de Vitoria (c. 1483 1546) is considered the "founder of global political philosophy." De Vitoria conceived of the res publica totius orbis, or the "republic of the whole world." This came at a time when the University of Salamanca was engaged in unprecedented thought concerning human rights, international law, an early economics based on the experiences of the Spanish Empire.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Exchemist

    Teaching different interpretations of biblical contradictions is not flexibility. It is just an attempt to rationalise away an embarassing problem.

    Darwins views, as I quoted, are still extraordinary for his time. Today we would see it as simply common decency. In Victorian England, though, it would be most unusual.
    Well, I can see you have an unshakeable conviction that Darwin was not just a great scientists but a great social visionary as well. I think it's over-egging the pudding to make such claims, but evidently I can't persuade you, so good luck.
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    Harold

    We are not talking of Christians today. Through most of the 2,000 year history of Christianity, the church failed to oppose slavery. In fact, the bible supports the keeping of slaves. Christians today, even those who claim the bible is literally true, quietly overlook the pro-slavery sections. But the bible is full of stories, commandments, and statements of support for actions we today regard as pure evil. The New Testament is, of course, head and shoulder above the old. But even the new fails to oppose slavery, or bigamy, or a range of other harms.

    Darwin's views were obviously not unique. But they were, along with an enlightened minority of his time, advanced over most of his peers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Harold

    We are not talking of Christians today.
    So you agree that Christians change. Before, you said their beliefs were fixed because of the Bible.
    Through most of the 2,000 year history of Christianity, the church failed to oppose slavery. In fact, the bible supports the keeping of slaves. Christians today, even those who claim the bible is literally true, quietly overlook the pro-slavery sections. But the bible is full of stories, commandments, and statements of support for actions we today regard as pure evil. The New Testament is, of course, head and shoulder above the old. But even the new fails to oppose slavery, or bigamy, or a range of other harms.
    We aren't talking about the Bible, or 2000 years ago. We're talking about Darwin's views and how they weren't terribly different than the Christians of his day.
    Darwin's views were obviously not unique. But they were, along with an enlightened minority of his time, advanced over most of his peers.
    Like which of his peers?
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    Nice debate going on in this thread.

    Interesting article here which discusses both sides of this debate. Obviously Darwin had many years (supposedly 12 years) to consider his findings before publication of the Descent of Man. I note the comment from William Provine regarding Wallace versus Darwin in being able to overcome prevailing dogma of the day. :-))

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/science/10evolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


    Last edited by Implicate Order; January 7th, 2014 at 05:55 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    So you agree that Christians change. Before, you said their beliefs were fixed because of the Bible.
    [/QUOTE]

    I agree that Christians change, just as all peoples everywhere change. But the basic teaching does not, since it is nailed down in the bible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    I agree that Christians change, just as all peoples everywhere change. But the basic teaching does not, since it is nailed down in the bible.
    There's a lot of things in the Bible. Some seem to be "nailed down" (for now at least) but others don't.
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    not much biology content in this thread - moved to Scientific Study of Religion
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    the English of his time regarded the "Anglo-Saxon race" to be God's greatest creation, and superior to all other peoples. The idea of accepting all peoples as brothers was well ahead of his time.
    Yet in the quote his united humanity includes people wielding the "simplest reason". Perhaps this was a subtle concession to those who would read it that way.
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    The Darwin quote is not actually inconsistent with regarding the "Anglo-Saxon race" as being God's greatest creation. You can accept someone as your brother, even if they are a bit slow, after all. This was engrained in the colonial attitude which was rather paternalistic (see Kipling's White Man's Burden).
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    Darwin's attitudes in this matter are skillfully explored in the following work:

    Adrian Desmond, James Moore 'Darwin's Sacred Cause' Penguin Books Ltd 2009 ISBN:978-1-846-14035-8
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    The Darwin quote is not actually inconsistent with regarding the "Anglo-Saxon race" as being God's greatest creation. You can accept someone as your brother, even if they are a bit slow, after all. This was engrained in the colonial attitude which was rather paternalistic (see Kipling's White Man's Burden).
    Remember most people of the time had the idea that even their near neighbours - the poor in the village of a manorial estate or the impoverished flower sellers near the theatres attended only by the rich - were of inferior "blood".

    It wasn't much of a stretch to extend the same idea to the indigenous peoples of Africa/ India/ Australia who they also regarded as being of inferior "blood" as well as strange to look at.

    Queen Victoria herself was adamant that the indigenous people of Australia were as much Her subjects as anyone else in Her empire and should be treated accordingly. The fact that many colonists on the ground treated them very differently was down to them personally, not to a policy or attitude of their queen/ empress.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Ethics are not based on coherent scientific theories, and especially not in Darwin's time. Nor do they have to be. But ethics are still vital to human welfare.

    Nor do these sentiments reflect Christianity. The church has instigated numerous crimes against humanity. The wars between protestants and catholics in Europe represent the highest number of battle deaths as a percentage of the total population in any time in Europe's written history. More than World War II. (From the research work of Prof. Steven Pinker.) Darwin rejected religion after the death of his wife.
    I take issue with this, social Darwinism flourished at this time as a result of gross misreadings of Herbet Spencer (very popular writer)
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    Perhaps that should read: Humane ethics are not based on coherent scientific theories. See the scientific arguments for fascism for example.

    Anyway Darwin himself lived prior the welfare state, with its inherent problems social Darwinism attempted to solve. It's fair to say Darwin was more on the modern wavelength regarding "humanity" than those cynical intellectuals who came after.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    I see this as a very advanced view for Darwin's time and place in history. Would you agree with me that this illustrates the greatness of the man?
    Returning to the original point.

    The Darwin quote is in line with his powerfully held anti-slavery views. Where did these views come from? We need look no further than his two grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, both of whom were staunch anti-slavery campaigners. Are you really arguing that following the family traditions and those of the circle of people he moved among marks his greatness? I think not. A great man, but this is not the advanced view that makes him such.
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