In Search of the Moral Law Within

In the series “I Believe”, Sir Charles Galton Darwin talks about living through the heroic age of physics.

Published - May 29, 2014 08:47 pm IST - Delhi

The children of famous people always arouse curiosity in the public and must be putting a lot of pressure on the descendants. Sir George Howard Darwin, son of none other than Charles Darwin married an American socialite by name Maud Du Puy and they had four children. On among them was Sir Charles Galton Darwin (1887-1962) who was a physicist and geneticist. He worked as Director, National Physical Laboratory and while there was in charge of the laboratory’s electronic brain. He has worked under Ernest Rutherford and Neils Bohr on Rutherford’s atomic theory.

In the series This I Believe, the illustrious grandson whose sister Gwen Raverat was a well-known artist of her times says, “I recognize fully that the appeal of things in life will be different for different people, and I can only say what I have found the most important things in life for myself. I count as one of the most important things in the world the understanding of the world. I have spent most of my time working at the physical sciences, and I count myself fortunate in having lived through the heroic age of physics when-what with relativity and the quantum theory -our understanding of the nature of inanimate matter has been much revolutionized as it was three hundred years ago in the days of Newton.”

It is interesting that the grandson of a man who gave us the theory of animate matter should be more fascinated by the inanimate! Aware of this divergence perhaps, he quickly adds, “This has been the science I have most studied, but I have always had a lively interest in biological subjects too, and these have much affected what I believe. Among such subjects one is the question of human nature, and this has coloured my view of what will happen to mankind in the future. I believe that a great deal of what is now being attempted for our betterment is doomed to fail, and I don’t share the particular enthusiasms of many of the would-be benefactors of humanity.

It is true that there have been immense improvements in material conditions during the past century, but they are quite external and they leave man’s fundamental nature no better than it was before. So too the intellectual triumphs of recent years don’t signify that man has become any more intelligent than he was in the preceding dark ages.

I see no safeguard for us against a relapse into conditions like those exemplified in the sad records of past history. The main hope of bringing about any real betterment in mankind depends on a different thing; it must be based on applying the idea of heredity, a science that is already understood in its principles, though hardly yet in many of its applications.

Holding this, I believe intensely in the importance of the family as the continuing unit of human life. When the science of eugenics has been more fully developed, there may be a hope on those lines of really bettering humanity.”

Thus taking the course set by his grandfather logically forward the grandson goes on to substantiate his beliefs in this wonderful series of essays which were broadcast in the 1950s. The tenor of all the essays recorded at that time is looking outward at social good and that which holds the moral fibre in place.

So too Sir Darwin, who continues, “The great Philosopher Kant once said that there were two things that continually filled him with wonder: the starry heavens above him and the moral law within him.

Like him I too continually wonder at the moral law within me, which dictates my conduct, or perhaps I ought to say the ideals of conduct which I wish I could fulfill. But I am entirely lacking in the thing which so many people seem to regard as their mainstay in life, a mystical sense of religion.”

No wonder he adds,” This I lack, and I am perfectly content to be without it ”, for his grandfather raised the never ending controversy around Biblical thought on creation .

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