A Creationist’s Influence on Darwin

A Creationist’s Influence on Darwin

MAY 23, 2014

George Johnson

In my last column, about the eerie machine-like nature of the AIDS virus, I mentioned William Paley, the 19th-century theologian best known today for his argument supporting creationism: Something as complex as a mechanical watch clearly would not exist without a creator. Thus we can infer that the intricacy of our bodies — and those of all creatures — is the work of God.

I was surprised to find how close Paley came to anticipating Darwin. Here again is the passage I quoted from Paley’s “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity”:

As he contemplated the miracle of life, Paley proposed and then rejected the possibility that living organisms “are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being, which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relict of that variety: millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitution incapable of preservation, or of continuance by generation.”

Just as I was finishing the column, I learned that Darwin, as a student at Cambridge, was required to read Paley and expressed his own admiration for the man’s clear thinking. Here is what Darwin wrote in his autobiography:

“Again in my last year I worked with some earnestness for my final degree of B.A., and brushed up my classics together with a little algebra and Euclid, which latter gave me much pleasure, as it did whilst at school. In order to pass the B.A. examination, it was, also, necessary to get up Paley’s ‘Evidences of Christianity,’ and his ‘Moral Philosophy.’ … The logic of this book and as I may add of his ‘Natural Theology’ gave me as much delight as did Euclid. … I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley’s premises; and taking these on trust I was charmed and convinced by the long line of argumentation.”

Darwin later found a more pleasing explanation for the tension between diversity and order that generates life:

“The old argument of 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. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”

Faced with the evidence Darwin later gathered for his “On the Origin of Species,” I can’t help but wonder whether Paley would have reluctantly accepted evolution and natural selection. But I also wonder now whether Darwin himself was subtly, unconsciously influenced by Paley’s near miss.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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