Sunday, May 20, 2007

Great Minds Really Do Think Alike

In the op-ed section of today's Times, there's an amusing selection of hitherto unpublished letters by Charles Darwin. I was especially pleased to read the following:
[American botanist Asa] Gray supported Darwin on evolution but believed also in a guiding design. Darwin would have none of it, and suggested in an 1861 letter that his own large nose, of which he was not fond, was something no designer could have created:

Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, & I was convinced, from others seeing him, that I was not mad, I shd. believe in design.--If I could be convinced thoroughily that life & mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable forces, I shd. be convinced. --If man was made of brass or iron & no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I shd perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.--

I have lately been corresponding with Lyell, who, I think, adopts your idea of the stream of variation having been led or designed. I have asked him (& he says he will herafter reflect & answer me) whether he believes that the shape of my nose was designed. If he does, I have nothing more to say.
This is precisely the argument against intelligent design that I have been using--discovered quite independently, I might add--only using my teeth rather than Darwin's nose as the pivotal example. You're free to use the argument yourself, substituting your own least-favorite body part. I suspect that even David Beckham and Charlize Theron have one.

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