Darwin and Evolution Part 3

Man as part of nature

Published in GralsWelt special issue 21/2008

On November 30, 1864, the elite of British naturalists gathered at Somerset House in London to honor one of England's greatest naturalists:

Charles Darwin is awarded the Copley Medal, the highest distinction that can be awarded. The Copley Medal was almost as prestigious then as the Nobel Prize is today.

The honored one does not take part in this glamorous meeting, because he suspects the scandal that is bound to come: As the President of the Society expressly emphasizes, Darwin is honored for his services to natural history, but expressly not for his book, published in November 1859, “ About the Origin of Species ”. Five years after it was first published, this work is still a nuisance for many.

"Oh my goodness! Are we supposed to descend from the monkey ?! We want to hope that this is not true - but if it is true, then we want to hope that it will not be known. "
The wife of the Bishop of Worcester.

"The question of all questions for mankind, the problem that underlies all others and that interests more than any other, is the determination of the position that man occupies in nature and his relationship to the totality of things."
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895).

Darwin doesn't mind the fact that he is scolded in this way even by experts who might know better. He has long been working on a follow-up volume, which will not appear until February 1871 and which will further fuel the discussion: "From the descent of man".

The evolution of life
When Darwin published his work on the origin of species, the theory of evolution was already in the air; because Darwin also had forerunners that go back to antiquity:

Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) put forward the first serious theory of evolution in 1809, in which he described the change of organisms over time from the smallest living things to the most complex plants and animals.

Even Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) - Charles Darwin's grandfather - was already on the right track. He wondered if natural selection was the driving force behind evolution.

Charles Darwins Merit is a meticulous collection of facts that speak for evolution, and above all the formulation of his selection theory. (Part 2 "The dynamic world of nature").

In the controversy of the century about the "monkey ancestry", the main issues were the following assumptions, which heated people's minds:

1. The world is not in a static state, but is changing and developing continuously. Geologists like Charles Lyell (1797-1875). His theory of actualism assumes that the same geological forces were and are at work in the past and now. Accordingly, geological changes usually take a long time.

2. The evolution goes on step by step. It never ends.

3. All living beings - including humans - descend from a common ancestor and have developed in small steps over a long period of time.

4. The driving force of the evolution of life is natural selection, which takes place in two phases: First, (as many as possible) offspring with different characteristics are created. Then follows in the "struggle for existence" the selection (selection) of the best adapted living beings.

Accordingly, the world and life did not come into being through a single act of creation. Nothing in the world is static, everything is subject to change: mountains, rivers, lakes, seas, plants, animals, people.

All life is a product of evolution. Even Homo sapiens - as one living being among many - did not emerge directly from the hand of God and has no prominent biological position in nature.

Darwin's most famous comrade, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) very quickly recognized a consequence that Darwin had still avoided in "The Origin of Species":

“Darwin's theory puts the personal creator and his temporary interventions in the transformation of creation and in the creation of species at the door without further ado, by not leaving the slightest room for the work of such a being. As soon as the first starting point, the first organism, is given, then through natural selection the creation develops continuously through all geological ages of our planet ... " (6, p. 36).

Darwin knew, of course, that his theses correspond to the Christian worldview (Part 2 "Man as part of nature") contradict creationism with his biblical doctrine of creation. However, he only referred to in "The origin of man" careful position:

“I know that some will describe the conclusions reached by this work as highly irreligious; but whoever does this must show why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinctive species by the descent from a lower form, by means of the laws of variation and natural selection, than it is to explain the origin of the Individual explained by the laws of ordinary reproduction. The genesis of the species as well as the individual are both equal parts of that great series of events which our minds cannot possibly regard as the result of mere chance - whether we are able or not to grasp that every slight variation in structure is the union of everyone Couple in marriage, the dissemination of each seed, and other such events all serve a specific purpose. " (2, p. 272).

Believing Christians were shocked by this "destruction of the divine plan". Natural philosophy and religion were at war. What should a person orient himself towards? According to the “Holy Scriptures”, or according to the “Law of the Jungle”, the “Fight in Nature”? 

The monkey lineage
In the "Origin of Species" Darwin indicates with only one sentence that humans should also be regarded as part of nature:

"New light will fall on the origins of mankind and its history." (3, p. 570). 

About the descent of man:
“The most significant result of this book, that man is descended from a lowly organized form, will be a great nuisance to many. I regret that. But there can hardly be any doubt that we are descended from barbarians. I will never forget my astonishment at the first sight of a herd of Tierra del Fuego on a wild and rugged coast; because all of a sudden it crossed my mind: that's how our ancestors were. These people were absolutely naked and smeared with paint, their long hair tangled, their mouth foaming with excitement, and their expressions wild, frightened and suspicious. They hardly knew any art, and like wild animals they lived on what they could get at the moment. They had no government and were ruthless towards anyone outside their own little tribe. Anyone who has seen a savage in his homeland will no longer be ashamed to acknowledge that the blood of even lower creatures flows in his veins. For my part, I would rather be descended from that heroic little ape who attacked its terrible enemy to save the life of its keeper, or from that old baboon who, descending from the heights, triumphed among its young comrades from the midst of a pack of dogs carried away when a savage who feasts on the torments of his enemies makes bloody sacrifices, kills his children without a trace of conscience, treats his wife as slaves, knows no decency and is hunted by the most hideous superstitions. "
From the final chapter of “The Descent of Man” (2).

But the debate about Darwin's selection theory sparked - years before the "descent of man" was published - most intensely around the question: do humans descend from apes?

In September 1863 - eight years before Darwin made a detailed statement on the matter - asserted Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), the notorious Jena "monkey professor", at a lecture to the gathering of German naturalists and doctors:

"As far as we humans are concerned, we would consequently have, as the highly organized vertebrates, our ancient common ancestors in ape-like mammals, still in kangaroo-like marsupials, even further up in the so-called secondary period in lizard-like reptiles, and finally in an even earlier time the primary period to look in low-organized fish. " (8, p. 98).

The “monkey question” is therefore wrongly posed. Nobody claims that humans descended from apes, but Darwin and his biologically educated contemporaries assumed that humans and apes had common ancestors. But the monkey ancestry was and remained for a long time the stimulus word in many, often poorly founded, debates.

Most affected were priests and sectarian people. For them it was in no way acceptable that the "truths of the Holy Scriptures" were questioned by natural scientists, and the primacy of religion over science was questioned.

Weaknesses of selection theory
Many questions about evolution were - and in some cases are still today - unanswered. Darwin critics could point out gaps in the hypotheses.

At that time nobody knew how the many variations that were indispensable for evolution should come about; From today's point of view, nothing was known about the mutations. The “inheritance of acquired traits” was an almost self-evident prerequisite for the functioning of the selection.

Darwin himself was aware that much was still open, but could hope that other researchers would be able to gradually fill in the gaps.
He himself already mentioned a problem that is still discussed today:

“If any composite organ could be demonstrated, the completion of which could not have been achieved by numerous small successive modifications, my theory would inevitably collapse. However, I am unable to find such a case. " (3, p. 229).

Representatives of "Intelligent Design" ("A Constructed Universe", under "Science") to refute the selection theory with Darwin's own thoughts.

The Oxford Debate on June 30, 1860
In this well-known discussion, the points of view of science and religion clashed violently:
The much-cited climax was a question from the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873), at Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), the articulate, quick-witted defender of selection theory: Stamme he (Huxley) "Prefer to leave the monkey on the grandfather's side or on the grandmother's side"? Huxley replied, "He would prefer to be descended from an ape than from a man who uses power, skill and influence only to ridicule a serious scientific discussion."
A lady passed out. Faithful to the Bible Fitz-Roy, once Darwin's captain on the Beagle, waved a bible over their heads in disbelief and implored those present to believe God more than people.
Huxley had won.

Science, religion and ethics
Darwin was a religious, God-believing, kind person by nature. However, he disagreed with the statements of the Bible and the teachings of his church (Part 1 "Darwin's Journey to Knowledge").

His evolutionary theory changed the religious consciousness of many people in the 19th century, but it was hardly in his sense that the selection theory was taken up by anti-religious circles - such as materialists and communists - and interpreted in an atheistic, anti-religious and inhuman way. In doing so, conclusions that were decidedly too far-reaching were drawn from the observations of nature and extended to human society and its social coexistence.

Not all Darwin critics were narrow-minded, religious fundamentalists who basically demonized everything new if it contradicted their religious convictions. Some saw the possibility of an erosion of moral values, the feared decline of Christian ethics, if the "law of the jungle" were carried over to human society.

As we have to show (part 4 "The Law of the Jungle"), such fears were not unfounded.

Could Darwin foresee the excesses of "social Darwinism"? Can one hold him responsible for the unfortunate developments of the 20th century? 

Continued Part 4.

(1) Clark Ronald W., Charles Darwin, Fischer, Frankfurt 1984.
(2) Darwin Charles, The Descent of Humans, Kröner, Stuttgart, 1966.
(3) Darwin Charles, The Origin of Species, Swiss Beard, Stuttgart, 1867.
(4) Darwin Charles, Die Fahrt der Beagle, marebuch, Hamburg, 2006.
(5) Grün Johannes, The creation a divine plan, Verax, CH-7537 Müstair / GR, 2000
(6) Huxley, Thomas Henry, Evidence for the Position of Man in Nature “, Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, 1963.
(7) Schmitz Siegfried, Charles Darwin - a life, dtv, Munich, 1982.
(8) Schmitz Siegfried, Charles Darwin, Hermes Handlexikon, ECON, Düsseldorf, 1983.