Does evolution rob our origin of its grandeur?

The short answer

  1. Reality doesn’t care what we want.
  2. A little bit of humility is not necessarily a bad thing.
  3. Some people think an evolutionary origin is quite grand.

The longer response

I. Reality doesn’t care what we want

Even if some people do not find an evolutionary origin grand enough for their personal vanity, this does not count in the slightest against the truth of evolution; all it means is that these people need to find the maturity and humility to face up to a humble origin instead of childishly covering their eyes and ears when reality tries to disabuse them of their arrogance.

II. A not-so-grand origin may be salutary

If our evolutionary origin compels us to be humble, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s Robert Ingersoll:

I believe that man came up from the lower animals. When I first heard of that doctrine I did not like it. My heart was filled with sympathy for those people who have nothing to be proud of except ancestors. I thought, how terrible this will be upon the nobility of the Old World. Think of their being forced to trace their ancestry back to the duke Orang Outang, or to the princess Chimpanzee. After thinking it all over, I came to the conclusion that I liked that doctrine. (Ingersoll 2005:113)

III. Some think an evolutionary origin is quite grand

However, some people think our evolutionary origin is far grander than anything dreamt up in ancient Hebrew mythology. Darwin’s own eloquent thoughts on this matter are well-known, but bear repeating:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Darwin 1859:400)

Of course, since poor Darwin is much hated by the religious right—the wellspring of creationism—it would do well to hear similar sentiments from a person who remained an ardent defender of Christianity all his life. British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone (1809-1898) was one such person. He asked

if pride causes us to deem it an indignity that our race should have proceeded by propagation from an ascending scale of inferior organisms, why should it be a more repulsive idea to have sprung immediately from something less than man in brain and body, than to have been fashioned according to the expression in Genesis (Chap. II., v. 7), “out of the dust of the ground?” There are halls and galleries of introduction in a palace, but none in a cottage; and this arrival of the creative work at its climax through an ever aspiring preparatory series, rather than by transition at a step from the inanimate mold of the earth, may tend to magnify than to lower the creation of man on its physical side. (Gladstone 1887: 71-72)

Thus, while some creationists decry the evolutionary history of life as unworthy of their personal majesty and perfection, other people see the evolutionary history of life as a tribute to both man and God.


Darwin C. 1859 [1999]. The Origin of Species. New York: Bantam.

Gladstone WE. 1887. The Honorable William E. Gladstone to Colonel Ingersoll on Christianity: Some remarks on his reply to Dr. Field. pp. 59-85 in Ingersoll 1993.

Ingersoll RG. 1983. Reason, Tolerance, and Christianity: The Ingersoll Debates. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

Ingersoll RG. 2005. What’s God Got to Do with It? Robert Ingersoll on Free Thought, Honest Talk, and the Separation of Church and State. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press.