Darwin Goes Online
A website featuring the complete published works of Charles Darwin went public today at Darwin-Online.org. This adds to an earlier site featuring all of Darwin’s correspondence, at Cambridge. Access is free to the public. Students and researchers will be able to search, compare and cross-check different versions of The Origin of Species and other things. Nature1 noted that Darwin’s first use of the phrase “survival of the fittest” was in 1868, nine years after the first edition of the Origin, and that was in the first edition of another book, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. A year later the phrase showed up in the 5th edition of the Origin.
Henry Nicholls quoted John van Whye (historian, U of Cambridge) with an admonition to creationists:
The creationist faithful would do well to take a look, says van Wyhe. “If people feel so strongly about Darwin, they should actually take the time to read his own words rather than relying only on the interpretations of others.” Even if this doesn’t convert them to evolution by natural selection, it should expose the popular misconception that Darwin had an anti-Christian agenda, he says. “This was not what he was about,” says van Wyhe. “He was simply a scientist trying to explain how the world works.”
Nicholls contrasted Darwin’s attitude with the ”defiantly irreligious Francis Crick who, enraged by the decision of Churchill College, Cambridge, to build a chapel, wrote a letter to the college’s namesake Winston enclosing £10 towards the building of a brothel to go with it.”
Other scientists and prominent personages have their own online archives, too, including Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and Albert Einstein. Sponsors of the site will be interested not only in providing Darwin’s works for easy access, but also in monitoring how visitors use it. See also the announcement on the BBC News.
1Henry Nicholls, “A life online,” Nature 443, 746-747 (19 October 2006) | doi:10.1038/443746a; Published online 18 October 2006.
It’s a fair request that creationists consult the actual words of Darwin instead of relying on the interpretations of others, as long as that same request cuts both ways. Darwinists routinely misquote and misunderstand the points of creationists and those in the intelligent design movement. Many Darwinists don’t understand Charlie, either—including Mr. van Wyhe who thinks Darwin had no anti-Christian agenda and “was simply a scientist trying to explain how the world works.” Read Janet Browne’s biography of Darwin for some disturbing details that provide more finesse than a quick either-or judgment on Darwin’s motivation.
Critics of Darwin should welcome this site. Now it will be possible to trace the evolution of Darwin’s own ideas, including his loss of faith in the Bible. For instance, early editions of Voyage of the Beagle are said to indicate he still believed the Bible and creation, and supported Christian missionaries for some time after his voyage, till gradually his faith wore away under the influence of ideas from Lyell and others who cast doubt on the historicity of Scripture. His mind began to interpret what he had seen in terms of slow, gradual change over long periods of time. Now that the uniformitarian foundation that caused this slide into apostasy has been undermined, it is well to consider the lesson of building a world view on fallible ideas.
A digital archive is not the same as a book. With the advantages come some disadvantages. One can only hope the administrators of both websites will have high standards of integrity, and will not surreptitiously expunge politically incorrect words or passages from the documents. Van Wyhe need not fear creationist faithful will avoid taking a look. When some uncomfortable details come out, the question will become, will the Darwinist faithful take a look?