Sunday, 24 January 2016

Why Darwin and David Attenborough have doubts about God

Charles Darwin doubted God made the ichneumon wasps

Naturalist Charles Darwin, who became a famous historical figure because of his Theory of Evolution and his book On The Origin of Species, came to think of himself as an agnostic, when it came to his religious views.

Female Ichneumon xanthorius (PhotoMartin Cooper

Darwin's studies and great knowledge of the natural world had made him question how a supposedly "loving God." could have made all the parasites, with their complex but, to our minds, horrific life-cycles. In particular, he made mention of the ichneumon wasps as an example of what he meant, and what caused his doubts.

Darwin said"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice."

Ichneumon (Photo:Public Domain)

Ichneumons are parasitic wasps, the females of which, lay their eggs on or inside the bodies of caterpillars of moths and butterflies. The ichneumon grubs live inside the body of their host gradually eating away at the living caterpillar, and leaving the vital organs till the last. When the ichneumon larva has completed its stage as a grub it kills the caterpillar host and emerges to pupate. Instead of a beautiful butterfly the caterpillar eventually produces a weird-looking wasp, with a long ovipositor for a tail. 

Many ichneumons prey on specific hosts, some types parasitise spiders, and some are parasites of other ichneumons. There are many more types of parasitic wasp and fly that use a similar life-cycle and metamorphosis.  In some species the parasite allows it host to pupate and is inside the chrysalis or pupa. 

I learned about these insects when I was a boy and used to enjoy keeping caterpillars to one day see them pupate and then to finally emerge as a moth or butterfly. I was naturally very sad to see that an ichneumon wasp or a parasitic fly took the place of the moth or butterfly, but I came to accept this.  I also came to understand that the parasites had a right to live too, and that they had to feed on something!

Sir David Attenborough's views on God and Creation

World famous naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough describes himself as an agnostic too. Like Darwin, he has an incredible amount of knowledge about nature. He thinks that people who believe every word of the Bible as the truth are irrational. He asks why is it that there are so many versions of the creation story around the world and so many different gods. Obviously they cannot all be true. He points out that when you look at the fossil record you see the same picture all around the world, not a lot of very different stories, that we are asked to believe, usually depending on where we are born. 

Attenborough says“If somebody says to me I believe every word of the Bible is true, you can’t argue against that degree of irrationality… there is actually a way of looking at the natural world and seeing the evidence and it’s all there. And what’s more it’s the same evidence whether it’s in Australia or Northern Europe or wherever. It’s all the same — it all produces the same answer and you can all see the evidence — if you reject that then there’s nothing I can say.”

Sir David Attenborough on God

Like Darwin he is very well aware of the gruesome lives of the many types of parasite in the world too, and asks would a loving and merciful God make these sinister creatures? 
Attenborough has been quoted as saying:
"When creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind.
And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy." (Source :
I find myself in agreement with Darwin and Attenborough! 

1 comment:

Andrew Drapper said...


Interesting post and I to some extent understand and sympathise with their and your views. And with the misunderstanding that has arisen because the church has not been teaching the truth as it should. The church all to often is fixated on being NICE rather than honest and truthful.

In part answer to David Attenborough, God is merciful, but not all-merciful. He is also Just and holy and actions have consequences.

I have just started a series on the Foundations of... well the Christian faith, but more on the foundations of everything really, at Studt three might interest you. Instead of crazy talk about bowls of milk and snakes and demons, (where did they come from), it shows how the Bible gives a clear record of where stuff, time, and space all come from and then how it became as we know it today. And as for where God came from, or the "who made God" debate try, study two.

Thanks for an interesting and helpful post.