On Darwin

By , 20 February 2009 6:00 pm

Astute readers that you are, you will have noticed that we have recently had the 200th[I meant to say 150th]  anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species and the 250th anniversary of the author’s birth [I meant to say  200th!]. There is a lot that I could say about Charles Darwin. After all, as you probably know if you follow this blog or read my website, I am (somewhat uncomfortably) in the middle of some of the big debates that have come to focus on this man.

On the one hand, I think much of what Darwin came up with is correct. It would be a very clumsy Creator indeed who did not build into species the ability to adapt to changing environments. I certainly have no problem with vast amounts of geological time and I do have an infinite number of problems with the wretched lunacy of flood geology and the young earth fantasies of certain people.

On the other hand, I find it equally ludicrous to believe that Darwin’s evolution is anything other than a rather basic description of how things work. It certainly does not explain why things work and I am not convinced that it is a totally adequate mechanism for explaining all the glorious complexity and diversity of the biosphere. As someone has said Darwinism ‘explains the survival of the fittest but not the arrival of the fittest’. I certainly do not see it satisfactorily explaining the large-scale creativity within the organic world.

Let me make two observations. By chance, I heard one of our more prestigious palaeontologists, Simon Conway Morris, give a sermon on the radio about Darwin. A Christian (but probably not an evangelical) Professor Conway Morris pointed out that although an excellent observer, Darwin was a rather poor philosopher and rather out of his depth when it came to discussing the big issues raised by his own theory. He also seemed to hint that Darwin had rather let his own faith slide (if you remember, he had been intending to train as a clergyman) and that the rather pitiable confusion that the old man found himself in his latter years was a problem that was, to some extent, of his own making. This fits with the comment I read a number of years ago from someone that Darwin was the classic example of the ‘use it or lose it’ nature of faith.

The second observation is the fascinating way in which various people have been trying to elevate Darwin to the role of prophet. If ever you wanted proof that atheism is a creed just like any other religion then the rather feverish attempts to elevate Charles to sainthood (at least) would give it you. I have been almost expecting to read how wise men visited him while he was a baby and how ancient prophecies were fulfilled in his birth. To listen to the adulation from some quarters you feel that they didn’t so much want him buried in Westminster Abbey as elevated above the altar. It may or may not be significant too that the commonest images of him are not of the young and rather handsome scientist but as an old man looking distinctly patriarchal and doing a passable imitation of Elijah’s third cousin once removed. Of course, elevating him to this exalted rank does him no good whatsoever. For one thing, it makes discussing his theories in a neutral way very difficult. It also means that he is forced to stand in comparison against Jesus. Here you have to feel sorry for poor old Charles; that is a comparison no one can bear.

3 Responses to “On Darwin”

  1. Benjamin says:

    “Here you have to feel sorry for poor old Charles; that is a comparison no one can bear.”


    A biographical sketch into the life of many twentieth century advocates for atheism shows they sprouted from Christian settings, such as Lenin and Engels–and it was the teaching they received that caused their descent from faith (Lenin after reading Darwin and Engels after reading the liberal theologian Bruno Bauer).

    It is a sad epiphet that my friends in the theology department say they have to fight to retain faith during their studies. Perhaps we have room to pause and ask what sort of education derives such results?

    Thanks for the tactful reading on a most debated, saddening man.


  2. Catherine Brislee says:

    Err… isn’t it 200 years since his birth and 150 since publication?

    I wonder what it was like for Darwin, after that long journey on the Beagle (was it 5 years?), living on cramped shipboard conditions, but with all the excitement of finding and collecting new specimens, to come back to living a quiet life in England, knowing that people far less brave and adventurous than himself would be bound to attack him for his views.

    Perhaps depression and the loss of his daughter had something to do with his loss of faith. But I’m just speculating. I’ve never been able to understand why study of science should lead to loss of faith. Seems to me it should have exactly the opposite effect!

  3. Chris says:

    Oh Dear

    Catherine is right! I got my dates wrong. Groan and grovel. And I know the date of the Origin of Species because I mention in it in my lectures. 1859!

    Well done


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