Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

The fleeting desires and efforts of Man

Posted by Chris on March 29, 2010

This is a continuation of this post in my blog series on reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.


The most spiritual of Darwin’s criticisms of Man: Short-sighted desires

How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man!  how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be… ~ Charles Darwin

I am tempted to check if Darwin plagiarized one of the great puritan theologians.  I mean, seriously.  This is an eloquent, passionate statement about… oh wait– “…compared with those accumluated by nature during whole geological periods.”  That’s the rest of that sentence.  Well, still– take Darwin’s statement out of contrast and you could sneak it into a sermon.

As I said in this post, I am intentionally avoiding biographical information about Darwin.  However, I am becoming convinced even just 20% of the way through the book that he was not someone who was oblivious, indifferent, or dismissing of philosophical/theological issues.  Perhaps he read the following scriptures at some point?

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Ps 39:4

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Rom 3:20

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  Matt 6:19-20

According to Darwin, Man’s efforts and desires concerning the selection of animals are towards things that are temporary.  There are much better things after which to attain.  But our efforts are slaves of our desires.  Christian theology teaches that our efforts to pile up stuff on earth is in vain; and our efforts to seek our own salvation so that we can have eternal treasures is not only in vain but condemns us.

Darwin saw that Nature, on the other hand, could work through many generations and geological eras in forming its selection of species.  Similarly, Christians believe that God’s working is much larger than the scope of any individual’s life.

I guess that some people rejoice in the vision of Nature as an inevitable force of evolutionary progress.  A return to existence-less dust isn’t very exciting, but I can see how this is encouraging: We suck.  A book about breeding animals and survival of the fittest has a digression about the fallibility of man.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s a reminder that we are not good.

But, if we are merely cogs in the impersonal gears of the evolutionary machine of Nature, there will be no consequences.  A lack of eternal life doesn’t sound fun, but it’s very non-threatening!

All joking aside, it really caught me off guard to read this in Origin.  I was expecting to try and draw out theological issues but in this case it required no extra effort.  This is obviously not the crux nor even a main point of Darwin’s tome, but I wanted to highlight it.  I’ve arrived at the end of the section on Man’s selection and next is a section on Sexual Selection.  Will it be full of spice or dullness?  We’ll see…


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