Evolution und Religion im Heimatland Darwins
An account of harmony and conflict
- Introduction; Setting the scene for 150 years of conflict and harmony over Darwin.
Figure 1. Street art in Shrewsbury painted on a hoarding in 2009 (photo; M.B. Roberts)
In many accounts of the decline of religion, Darwin, Marx and Freud are portrayed as the most important challenges to Christianity. Here only Darwin will be considered in the British context. To deal with the religious reaction to evolution since 1859 when he published The Origin of Species, both the history and the perception of that history needs to be considered. The perception is that the Darwin and religion are in conflict and are mutually exclusive. However right from the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, numbers of British Christians wholeheartedly accepted evolution. These included both clergy and scientists.
To suggest that religion and evolution can exist in harmony, as my title does, runs counter to common perception, but from 1858, when the joint Darwin-Wallace paper was published, evolution and religion has been marked by BOTH conflict and harmony. This brief chapter attempts to show both the harmony and conflict between evolution and religion since 1859. It will show that after a brief period of conflict, an uneasy harmony reigned until a few decades ago, when Creationism has caused much conflict both within churches and in the wider society, especially over education.
To deny either conflict or harmony creates serious historical distortions, and some historical perceptions have needed modifying and the most important have been made by historians in the last 40years as the “Darwin Industry” has grown up. To many the conflict began with the belief that the earth was created some 6000 years ago as is apparent from a simple reading of the Bible. In 1656 the Irish Archbishop, James Ussher, published Annelas Veteris Testamenti in which he asserted that the earth was created in 4004BC. This date was later included in many English bibles. By 1700 some naturalists, like John Ray, were suggesting that the earth was far older. A hundred years later most educated people reckoned the earth to be millions of years old, but thought that species were fixed and that humans were the final and separate creation of a few thousand years ago. In 1859 Darwin published The Origin of Species, in which he took the vast age of the earth as a fact and argued that all species, animal and plant, had descended from a common ancestor, and hinted that humans had also evolved, and many have perceived that there was a major conflict of science and Christianity in Britain. The perception is largely due to writers at the end of the 19th century, who claimed that Christianity had long been in conflict with science. The classic work is by Andrew Dickson White writing in 1896. Recent historians have all but debunked his work, but its influence still informs much general understanding of the reception of Darwin, which is perceived as a major conflict between science and Christianity.
- Responses to Darwin from 1859 to the end of the First World War
In 1859 the response to Darwin was very varied. Some biologists were quickly convinced but not geologists and physicists. It is simplistic to see the controversy as one between scientists and Christians, as some Christians were able scientists as was the botanist Charles Babington of Cambridge, who was soon convinced. But the Revd Adam Sedgwick, who taught Darwin geology, totally rejected evolution as did Lord Kelvin. Virtually nobody, Christian or not, was against Darwin on the grounds of a literal Genesis as the astronomer the Rev Richard Main wrote in 1860, “No educated person today believes in creation in 4004BC”.
The problems Christians had with Darwin were not over the age of the earth, but over Design and a concern that the animal descent of humans destroyed any kind of morality, and weakened, if not destroyed, the doctrine of atonement. And now we consider the iconic Victorian “confrontation” of evolution and Christianity – the Huxley–Wilberforce debate at the British Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Oxford in June 1860. This has been related many times often with non-historical embellishments. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was well-informed scientifically and during the 1820s he attended Buckland’s geology lectures for three years. Just before the BAAS meeting Wilberforce had written a long review of The Origin for the Quarterly Review, which gave the standard scientific objections to evolution concluding with a brief theological comment. This was to be expected partly due to his friendship with Sir Richard Owen, with whom he had probably discussed Darwin at length. Contemporary reports of the debate, which was the result of a paper by Draper, describe how Huxley responded to Wilberforce’s questioning of Darwin’s theory , but according to Hooker in a letter to Darwin, Huxley could not be heard and so Hooker felt obliged to speak. It seems that both gave a good showing and that Wilberforce was not humiliated by Huxley, but gave telling arguments against Darwin. It is reasonable to conclude that the Wilberforce affair was well known by leading scientists and others, including many clergy and an allusion to it even makes its way into the childrens’ novel The Water Babies, where the Rev Charles Kingsley mocks his friend Huxley by basing Prof Ptthmllnsprts on him. This is clear as Ptthmllnsprts told the British Association that apes had “hippopotamus majors” in their brains, alluding to Huxley’s demonstration that apes have hippocampus majors thus contradicting Richard Owen. In the story Ptthmllnsprts told the British Association at Melbourne in 1999 that “nymphs, satryrs, fauns, inui etc. etc. were nothing at all, and pure bosh and wind…..Whereupon a certain great divine …called him a regular Sadducee….Whereupon the professor, in return, called him a regular Pharisee…But they did not quarrel in the least…So the professor and the divine met at dinner that evening…and each vowed that the other was the best company he ever met in his life.” This is probably a truer representation of the “Huxley-Wilberforce Confrontation” than any popular account! The sources for this may well be personal conversations as Kingsley had excellent relations with both Wilberforce and Huxley and had met both after 1860. Kingsley was an Anglican vicar who was an early convert to evolution and was quoted in the 6th edition
Figure 2. Caricature of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce from Vanity Fair
What is less well-known is that a few days earlier the Rev Frederick Temple (1821-1902), preached a sermon at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford showing his appreciation of The Origin of Species. He epitomised the learned and liberal Anglican and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1896. He gave the Bampton Lectures on The Relations between Religion and Science in 1884. Temple had a good understanding of contemporary science and out of his eight lectures, two were affirmative of evolution. He discussed the creation accounts of Genesis which he saw as allegory and finished by writing, “To conclude, the doctrine of Evolution leaves the argument for an intelligent Creator and Governor of the world stronger than it was before.” 122
Rather than give a catalogue of Christians and note their beliefs, these two leading churchmen personify how British Christians reacted to Darwinian evolution until about 1970. Both Wilberforce and Temple were well-informed scientifically and had much in common. Neither held to a literal Bible with a creation in six days as both were convinced by geologists finding of the vast indefinable, age of the earth. The difference was over evolution, which Wilberforce thought had serious theological consequences, but Temple did not. Wilberforce opposed evolution for variety of reasons. Though of very conservative beliefs, Wilberforce did not take Genesis literally. This needs stressing as 21st Creationists take Genesis literally. Apart from following the scientific wisdom of his day, he also opposed evolution on religious grounds. First he thought that evolution undermined the moral uniqueness of humans in contrast to any animal, hence his possibly ahistorical quip when he asked Huxley if he was descended from an ape on his father’s or mother’s side. To him if human responsibility were undermined there could be no sin and then Jesus’s death as atonement was meaningless. Evolution thus destroyed Christianity. This was, and is, the chief religious objection to evolution. Though he allowed for geological time his interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 on the Fall were still fairly literalist. Temple was more liberal than Wilberforce and thought Genesis 3 was an allegory so was not so concerned by such objections. In one sense the difference between Wilberforce and Temple has been played out by successive Christians during the last 150 years.
In 1860 most Christians agreed with Wilberforce rather than Temple. Before long most educated Christians concluded that some kind of evolution had occurred and that it did not challenge an orthodox Christian faith. Most did not follow Darwin on Natural Selection but adopted a teleological evolution which encouraged belief in a divine being guiding evolution. This was made easier as most scientists adopted a Lamarckism rather than Darwinian natural selection. Further, most Christians, and also A. R Wallace insisted that God creatively intervened at three points in geological time, viz the creation of life, sentient creatures and, lastly, humans. This was a way of safeguarding God’s direct creative activity and effectively neutralised potential conflict, especially as it protected a non-animal origin of humans.
However Wilberforce and Temple represent the educated Christian and most of those who wrote on the subject had a university education at a time when few did. Short of giving a comprehensive list and discussion of the many writers on evolution and religion, it is best to summarise the situation by stating that most of the more liberal Anglicans and protestants followed Temple. As for the more conservative and evangelical, there was a diversity of opinion. Some did accept evolution, but many did not, though they accepted geological time. Their publications would scarcely have been read by most of the population though some did write for popular church press. Thus when we look for actual examples in the latter decades of the 19th century we will find that this situation was found among the leaders of all British mainstream denominations, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist or Congregational.
Despite the apparent dominance of Scientific Naturalists such as Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), several leading scientists were devout Christians who wrote on the compatibility of Evolution and Christianity. Sir George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903) a mathematician and physicist and recently retired President of the Royal Society gave the influential Gifford Lectures (an annual series of lectures on Natural Theology) for 1891 and 1893 on Natural Theology and argued for an evolution in which God had intervened to create life and then man..
Even those who opposed evolution still accepted geological time. It can also been seen in the nascent Fundamentalism, which was largely American, with some British involvement. To counter Modernism an American businessman paid for the publication of a series of small paperbacks known as The Fundamentals in 1910. Most articles were American, and showed an ambivalence to evolution. Even so two British articles by the Scot James Orr, show that to early Fundamentalists an acceptance of evolution was permissible.
As well as the mainstream churches there were many independent chapels, which were very evangelical. As both the pastors and their flocks had little higher education, most had little interest in intellectual matters and focussed on the death of Christ and the need for personal faith rather than science and evolution. One of the few who considered evolution was the Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. He was pastor of a large church in London with thousands in his congregation, He had no formal education but was widely read and his sermons are still published today. He had a very strict view of the Bible and his few writings on the relation of Genesis to science are ambivalent. To consider two, one accepts geological findings and the other insists on a six day creation, but he totally rejected evolution. Spurgeon’s influence on evolution has not been researched. Suffice it to say that there was an anti-evolutionism in Britain as well as the more conciliatory views of the mainstream churches.
Figure 3. Charles Darwin as a monkey, reflecting popular (mis)understandings of Darwin’s theory
In the second half of the nineteenth century there were very few who argued for a six day creation some 6000 years ago, even among evangelicals. This needs the qualification that this only refers to those who published books or tracts. It is more than likely that many church members would have been sure that the earth was only thousands of years old, but did so out of ignorance rather than conviction.
Evolution had ceased to be an issue for most educated Christians by the time Queen Victoria died. As a result of Andrew White and Huxley’s Memoirs the conflict thesis took root, and guided perceptions for a century. It possibly guided the perception of some Christians by reacting against an anti-Christian viewpoint. Few, if any, studies have been carried out on less educated Christians from Evangelical mission halls, or the men and women in the pew. Cartoons of the day on popular ideas of evolution show that many perceived there to be conflict, despite Frederick Temple’s Bampton Lectures. Conflict crept into popular novels as in Maria Corelli’s The Mighty Atom of 1896.
Fig 4. Caricature of Darwin’s theory in the Punch almanac for 1882, published at the end of 1881 when Darwin had recently published his last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.
Within most churches the perception in 1900 was that there was no conflict with evolution, but there had been a major conflict in 1860. This was enhanced by Huxley’s exaggerations of the initial conflict in 1860. This pervaded much popular thought including secularists
- A quiet forty year interlude; 1920-1961
The Victorian era was the highpoint for British churches. They were stronger and more diverse than ever before, but after 1900 they began to decline both in numbers and influence. That has continued into this century. As far as Darwin and religion is concerned the first two-thirds of the 20th century may be summed up as one of apathetic harmony! In Britain evolution was not a concern to religion as most Christians had made their peace and the majority of the population was simply disinterested. Further after 1920 Evangelicals, who were most inclined to take Genesis literally, had declined in all the mainstream churches and as the general ethos was moderately liberal most churches regarded Genesis as allegory and thus removed any potential conflict with evolution. In mainstream churches evangelicals were a tiny minority and became rather pietistic. This is in contrast to the USA where numbers of evangelicals were considerable and in the Fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s adopted anti-evolution, which resulted in “monkey laws” in many states and the Scopes Trial in Tennessee during 1925. Nothing like that happened in Britain.
The moderate Anglican tradition is represented by William Temple (1881-1944), son of Frederick Temple who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-44 and Canon Charles Raven, theology professor at Cambridge (1885-1964). It may be summed up in the report of the church of England Doctrine Commission of 1938, which stated, ‘No objection to the theory of evolution can be drawn from the two Creation narratives in Gen. i. and ii., since it is generally agreed among educated Christians that these are mythological in origin, and their value is symbolic rather than historical.’ However against this were the radical views of Bishop Barnes (1874-1953) of Birmingham. His masterly survey Scientific Theory and Religion (1933) demonstrated his grasp of physics and also dealt with matters biological. His section on belief evades various issues like Original Sin. Later in sermons he said that Christians had not considered fully the implications of evolution for faith in regard to Sin and the atonement. He tended to be ignored and many Christians adopted a Barthian theology, following the work of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, which evaded the issue by keeping science and faith separate. Barnes made no headway, probably because his liberal theology denied the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Thus from the twenties to the sixties, most Christians preferred the teleological and “lamarckian” evolution of Raven, which he expounded in several books like Evolution and the Christian concept of God (1936).
One writer who faced the religious implications of neo-Darwinism was David Lack (1910-1973) whose book Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief was published in 1957. Lack was a Cambridge ornithologist and after visiting the Galapagos in 1938-9 wrote on Darwin’s Finches. In the thirties he became a Christian (Anglican) and thought deeply about the relation of his faith to his science. The evolutionary biologist Arthur Cain (1921-1999) remarked of him “Lack was the only religious man I knew at that period (1930-1950) who did not allow his religion to dictate his view of natural selection.” Cain said many Oxford or Cambridge biologists had “vitalistic or perhaps theistic attitudes”.
Lack was a questioning Christian and his preface suggested that most regarded the dispute over evolution as finished “because they have not accepted the full implications of evolution by natural selection, or alternatively of Christianity.” He was critical of those who rejected selection in favour of Lamarckism be they Henri Bergson, Prof James Gray of Cambridge or clergy like Raven. His final chapter The Continuing Conflict attempts to lay bare the issues. He gave ten conclusions, which accept Neo-darwinism but he did not accept that science can account for morality, truth or beauty, which has come to the fore recently. He concluded by saying that one critic said that he had got the combatants into the ring, whereas his intention was to assess Darwinism in relation to faith and unfaith. Lack has been one of the few Christian writers who have tried to face the implications of Natural Selection in denying a providential and caring God.
British evangelicals had little antagonism to evolution, unlike those of the 21st century. This is because the Keswick Movement dominated evangelicals until about 1970 and stressed personal piety over doctrinal thought. Questions of science were sidelined, or regarded as long settled. If science was mentioned there was a bland acceptance of geology and some kind of evolution. The leading evangelical scientist was Sir Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945) who invented the thermionic valve in 1904. His achievements in telecommunications physics were immense and he later became an evangelical apologist. Fleming accepted deep time and the evolution of animals but opposed human evolution. He argued this in several books, which elicited responses from the anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955), (a supporter of Piltdown Man, the famous anthopological hoax of 1912), who considered Fleming to reject much of science. By 1935 Fleming was more strident in opposing evolution and in response Keith wrote Darwinism and its Critics (1935).
Other evangelicals opposed evolution more forcibly, notably Bernard Acworth (1885– 1963), Douglas Dewar (1875–1957), and Lewis Merson Davies (1882–1955), all of whom had reasonable scientific credentials. Dewar questioned evolution on moral grounds, doubted radiometric age-dating, and wrote Difficulties of the Evolution (1931) and More Difficulties of the Evolution Theory (1938) which was a reply to the palaeontologist Morley Davies’s Evolution and its Modern Critics (1937). In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement was founded, with Ambrose Fleming as president. The EPM did not make much headway and after WWII faded from public view, until it became Creationist and renamed as the Creation Science Movement in 1980. These opponents of evolution made little impact. 
Evangelicals began to take more interest in science in the 1940s through the instigation of Oliver Barclay (1919–). In 1942 Barclay, who had a Ph.D. in biology from Cambridge, was appointed to the Inter Varsity Fellowship (IVF), the evangelical group working among students. Over the next 54 years he had an immense influence in the IVF and the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship, which became Christians in Science in 1988. In 1944 Barclay wrote an article on Evolution and Christianity, in which he made a distinction between evolution as a scientific theory, which he accepted, and evolution as a world-view, a crucial distinction. The RSCF began in a small way in 1944 and has had a considerable influence in the Christian understandings of science and religion since then. From the late 50s a growing number of books were produced by evangelical and non-evangelical scientists. Notable among evangelicals were books by Clarke and Mackay. The RSCF was renamed Christians in Science in 1988, when they joined forces with the Victoria Institute to publish the journal Science and Christian Belief. In recent years it has attracted a good number of Christian scientists within Britain, many of whom are leaders in their scientific specialism. By the 1960s most Christian bodies in Britain saw little controversial in evolution, and the change that was to happen was unexpected. However in the 60s the concerns of both David Lack and the Evolution Protest Movement came to fruition.
4.1. Evolution and Religion in Darwin’s home country, a time of rising controversy. (1961-2011)
After the launch of Sputnik in 1957, space research and finally a man on the moon, the 60s became a decade of science and technology. As well as space, DNA resulted in genetic engineering, and Plate Tectonics changed the earth sciences. Parallel with the accolade of science scepticism of science grew expressing itself in the environmental movement and opposition to nuclear energy, along with New Age style movements. This was not uniquely British. Along with this there were two changes which would flower later. The first was a renewed interest in science and religion in both the USA and Britain epitomised by the work of R S Barbour, (American) and Arthur Peacocke (British) building on previous interest. Secondly in the 60s anti-evolutionism came to the fore for the second time in the 20th century in the USA. It was triggered off by the publication of The Genesis Flood in the USA in 1961.
Figure 5. Image of the cover of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb (1961) which kick-started modern creationism
In the wake of this there was a greater public interest in science, along with the publication of popular scientific books and television programmes. The majority had no concern with religion, but some, especially when they touched on evolution, could be quite atheistic.
Unlike the time of the Scopes Trial, anti-evolutionism was exported to Britain and arrived in 1969 with the British publication of The Genesis Flood. Initially it was unnoticed both by the wider society and the churches, but slowly made its presence felt. The rapidity of the change is seen by the fact that Creationism was unknown in geology departments in 1968 and had become a concern by 1973 Apart from the sale of American creationist books in Christian bookshops and the formation of creationist societies, of which only the Biblical Creation Society has survived, virtually nothing hit the media.
In the last half century the whole scene of evolution and religion has been totally transformed in Britain, as it has throughout the world. As well as scientific work there has been an ever-increasing of popular writing on biology and evolution in particular; Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape (1967) and the writings of Richard Dawkins starting with The Selfish Gene in 1976. The religious significance of Dawkins’ books was not their science but how they spelt out perceived implications of neo-darwinism as atheism. Dawkins’ works became stridently anti-religious after 1990, with The Devil’s Chaplain (2003) and The God Delusion (2006), which was an attack on all religion, though The Greatest Show on Earth (2009) gave a good account of evolution prefaced with a justified diatribe against creationism. The weakness of Dawkins that he tends to regard all religion as anti-science and not just Fundamentalism. Dawkins has come to be the leading atheist in Britain and almost a hate figure for some Christians, who often regard his atheism as stemming from evolution.
Before Creationism and Dawkins became popular in the 1980s, evolution caused little controversy in the churches or the wider society. Mainstream and most evangelicals accepted evolution and this epitomised by was The Phenomenon of Mani by Fr Teilhard de Chardin S.J. (1881-1955), the French Jesuit palaeoanthropologist. It was published in English in 1959 and was warmly received by Charles Raven at a time when little was written on science and religion. De Chardin had developed a mystical synthesis of evolution and Christianity, which chimed in with the prevalent liberal theology of the day. De Chardin’s approach was not acceptable to evangelicals with their views of Christ and the atonement. Two of the few writers on science and religion in this period were the biochemist,later Archbishop of York, John Hapgood and the priest-physicist Grenville Yarnold (The Moving Image 1966). Both touched on evolution and regarded it as read. Among evangelicals the dominant view was similar with various publications of members of the RSCF. Among theologians and clergy, few questioned evolution including most evangelicals and thus accepted evolution and interpreted Genesis in that light.
From about 1970 there was a rising interest in science and religion and a prominent writer was the biochemist Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006), who was ordained to the Anglican ministry in 1971 and began to write profusely on science and religion. He gave the Bampton Lectures at Oxford in 1978 resulting in Creation and the World of Science which dealt with the implications of “Darwinism” for a liberal Christian. His book illustrates the complexity of the relation of science and theology and the problems for a layman. Peacocke was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2001 and with Polkinghorne, was one of the most significant Christian thinkers on science in the late 20th century. He was concerned that many considered Christianity to be hostile to science and in 1986 founded the Society of Ordained Scientists. His most accessible writing on evolution is his 1997 lecture Welcoming the ‘disguised friend’ – Darwinism and divinity and the quest for Christian credibility. The title is based on a quote from Aubrey Moore writing in 1891. From reading and listening to Peacocke, one gained the impression that he regarded science as more authoritative than the Bible, reflecting his liberal theology. He also had no tolerance for the growing creationism in Britain.
Sir John Polkinghorne (1931-), a cosmologist has been of a similar significance for science and religion, who has written extensively on science and religion. As a cosmologist his focus has been on the relationship of cosmology and physics to theology but sees no problem with evolution and also likewise rejected creationism. Theologically he is more conservative than Peacocke, and has a robust view of miracles and the resurrection.
The leading Christian evolutionist is Simon Conway Morris (1951-) professor of palaeontology at Cambridge. He worked on the Burgess shale fauna and specialises in the Cambrian Explosion. His book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003) deals with evolutionary convergence and is involved in a project to investigate the scientific ramifications of convergence with a web-site, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, indicating its religious significance. With convergence having a sense of direction it is possible to see Morris as re-introducing teleology. Morris makes no secret of his faith and is a regular speaker at the Faraday Institute, which is based at St Edmund College, Cambridge, which organizes courses of highly competent speakers on aspects of science and religion. Morris is a strong apologist for Christianity and in March 2009 he was the opening speaker at the “Biological Evolution Facts and Theories Conference” held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Interest in evolution and religion goes far beyond the churches. In recent decades history of science has thrived and within that, there is great interest in Darwin and the interaction of evolution and religion, appearing in Moore and Desmond’s biography, studies like Livingstone’s Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, and those by Peter Bowler. One could also add developing understandings of geology and religion seen in Rudwick’s books and publications like Religion and Geology, based on a conference at the Bishop’s Seminary atEichstädt in 2007.The general tenor of these historical works is to reject the conflict thesis of White. However that is still repeated in popular works of religion and science and reduces the interaction of science and religion to one of polarized conflict.
In recent decades the media has been more interested in religion and evolution, often on conflicts over Creationism. Very often, both in articles and TV programmes, a “normal” scientist is pitted against a Creationist. Part of this is to present “both sides” of the argument but it is rarely said that most scientists accept evolution as do most churches.
However, most people simply do not care about evolution or religion. At a popular level many, Christian or not, are uneasy at the idea of being “descended from monkeys” and within churches there is often a folk fundamentalism which believes Genesis literally. As a Christian minister, you may encounter this often, but there has been little research on this. This cuts across people of all levels of education. Within the churches unease is not limited to the relatively uneducated layperson but also qualified clergy.
4.2. Evangelicals and Evolution
Evangelicals make up a very significant minority in the British religious scene. Since the fifties the evangelical movement in Britain has grown considerably. Much was due to the influence of the American preacher Billy Graham (1918-) and his crusades in the fifties and sixties. There is a large evangelical minority in all mainstream protestant churches. The more literalist Pentecostal and conservative groupings have also grown rapidly, with a large influx from West Africa.
This change is seen in that during the sixties evolution was not controversial but since then creationism has grown since then and now is the dominant view among British and American evangelicals. Despite media coverage many evangelicals accept evolution. Even so both clergy and laity are split between creationism and evolution, with those in mainstream churches more likely to accept evolution and those in independent churches favouring creationism.
Many evangelical scientists belong to Christian in Science, which is a semi-professional organisation for evangelical scientists among whom are several leading scientists, including Sir John Houghton. former chair of the IPCC, several FRSs, and numbers of university and school teachers. The high quality of their work can be seen on their website and journal Christians in Science. Creationist scientists tend not to be in CIS and support creationist groups like the Biblical Creation Society. The CIS covers the whole range of science and thus evolution is only a minor interest. However it has been controversial as any criticism of creationism is objected to by some. Thus the CIS have unsuccessfully steered a middle course as the publication of Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution (2008) demonstrated. He is a biochemist with a senior position at Cambridge University and accepts evolution. Together with R White, a geophysicist, he is co-director of The Faraday Institute at Cambridge. Alexander is an evangelical, yet his book drew much invective from creationists for his strong espousal of evolution and the book edited by Norman Nevin (Should Christians embrace evolution?) (IVP 2009) was published to counter Alexander’s ideas, claiming that they were new among evangelicals. However that is despite the fact that many evangelicals have accepted geological time since 1800 and evolution since 1860, Alexander has been wrongly accused of radically changing evangelical theology by his arguments for evolution. In one sense he was repeating ideas of over a century earlier!
Figure 6. Images of the covers of the two most significant recent evangelical books on evolution
4.3. The influx of creationism in Britain
As mentioned earlier Creationism in Britain effectively started with the British publication of The Genesis Flood in Britain in 1968. During the 1970s creationism grew and several creationist societies were formed like the Biblical Creation Society. By the time of the Arkansas trial in 1981, which outlawed the teaching of creationism in Arkansas schools, creationism had gained a foothold in British churches and received much media coverage. During the 1980s leading American creationists gave lecture tours in Britain. Initially creationist literature was American, but during the 80s British writers began to publish, notably Edgar Andrews (1932-) and Monty White (1945-). Today numbers of Creationists, many with scientific training are active in speaking and writing. They include professors of engineering like Andy MacIntosh (1952-) and Stuart Burgess (1962-).
By 1990 creationism had was the norm for independent evangelicals, and was boosted by visits of Ken Ham. Creationism has influenced Mainstream churches and about 5% of Anglican clergy are creationist. Within the Anglican Church there have been no directives on creationism, though many bishops acknowledge its wrongness. In 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that creationism is based on a “category mistake” by misunderstanding the purpose of the Bible, but it seems that bishops are afraid to tackle the problem due to other difficulties the church faces. Many do not understand why part of the church has rejected science. A further paradox is that those who are most effective at promoting creationism are qualified scientists. The creationist movement presents itself as orthodox and traditional Christianity, resulting in Christian “evolutionists” being demonised as compromising their faith. In part the appeal of both creationism and Intelligent Design is a reaction to the scientific atheism of Dawkins.
The growth of creationism in the last four decades has left many mystified. The reasons for its growth may be hard to understand, but the tactics are not. First, creationists have benefited from the implicit biblical literalism of many Christians compounded by a lack of scientific knowledge, especially geology and evolutionary biology. Secondly enough clergy were won over, who then taught creationism to their congregations. Thirdly creationism has become the dominant view on science both in evangelical publishing and Christian broadcasting. Fourthly, great use has been made of creationist scientists and engineers, who are assumed to be authoritative in all branches of science. Few see through a professor of engineering grossly misrepresenting geology. Lastly, they have made use of contemporary ideas of culture and education to claim that the teaching of creationism as science is right as it supports critical thinking and a liberal perspective.
- Creeping Creationism in British Schools
The most public face of creationism has been in education, mirroring the American experience. This became apparent in 2002 after the Emmanuel Gateshead affair. It is difficult to estimate how much creationism is taught in British schools, but apart from independent (creationist) Christian and Islamic faith schools, creationism is taught as science in some state schools. It remains largely hidden because one cannot go round schools and ask the question outright and also a teacher teaching creationism would be wary of disclosing the fact.
First, the fifty independent faith schools do teach creationism as science for religious reasons. They often use American creationist material like Accelerated Christian Education. Secondly, several state secondary schools effectively teach creationism but claim to follow the National Curriculum. The first state school to teach YEC was probably Emmanuel College, Gateshead, a Christian foundation formed in 1992. In April 2002 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (the leading creationist organisation) led a meeting at the school. As it was a case of hiring out the school hall it was not relevant, but it took on a media-life of its own. However it became clear that creationism was taught as science. Richard Dawkins, the Bishop of Oxford and others called for a review but a government inspection supported the school. Some indications had appeared on the Christian Institute website. The head McQuoid made his support of YEC clear and in 2000 The Christian Institute had hosted a lecture series on Christian education, mostly by teachers at Emmanuel Gateshead. Stephen Layfield, head of science lectured on “The Teaching of Science; A Biblical Perspective”. He suggested that the “Principal evidence [for the Flood] is found in the fossil-laden sedimentary rocks, the extensive reserves of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil and gas)…”. This article can be considered a manifesto for creationist teaching of science by arguing that science teachers should question evolution or geological time at every opportunity, and teaching an alternative Creationist opinion. Thirdly, there are examples of creationist teaching within the state system, in a covert way. Numbers of teachers are creationists but short of surveillance one cannot find out what they teach. To teach creationism would be contrary to both government guidelines.
The pressure to teach creationism comes from many different groups, mostly from independent churches, which are involved in groups like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International. However much writing on creationism appears in evangelical magazines, like, Evangelical Times, Evangelicals Today and in Evangelicals Now. The sheer weight of articles over many years has convinced many evangelicals that evolution is bad science and, at the very least, creationism or design should be taught as an alternative.
In September 2006 the group Truthinscience began a public campaign to encourage ‘the critical examination of Darwinism in schools’ and the teaching of “design” schools. They claimed:
We believe that a critical examination of Darwinism and the controversy that surrounds it will enable students to fulfill some of these objectives. …We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.
Abb. x: screenshot from the website? I tried to get down a screen shot but could not . This is the url
Figure 7 Screenshot of the homepage of Truth in Science http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/home.html The DVD Set in Stone presents arguments fro a young earth and the website gives the impression of being “good” science
Their website scarcely touched on a young earth or Noah’s Flood but the board of advisors were Young Earth Creationists including Prof McIntosh of Leeds and an Anglican vicar. They claimed to be presenting Intelligent Design as an alternative to “Darwinism”. Design is used by creationists today as it is less threatening to the general public than creationism. They declined to affirm their belief that dinosaurs were on the Ark. One cannot determine how successful truthinscience has been in Britain. However, since September 2006 there have been many responses to the teaching of creationism. The concerns of creationists may be seen in Paul Taylor’s book entitled Truth, Lies and Science Education, written for the general reader. Taylor claims much science taught in schools is wrong and based on atheistic assumptions. The book is scientifically inaccurate and asserts much science teaching is actually scientism and gives radiometric age-dating as an example. That is simply absurd.
In 2010 another organisation Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) was formed with Alistair Noble as the Director. This claimed that Design was a scientific position and thus ought to be taught. The website material is very ambivalent on the age of the earth, but it is difficult not to see it as a YEC front. C4ID has attracted much criticism especially from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE). C4ID has attempted to influence scientists and teachers and have had lectures presented by American creationists.
Groups like Truth in Science and C4ID appeal for fairness and to encourage “critical thinking”. However in the push for fairness, there are no demands to teach a flat earth or phlogiston in chemistry. “Critical Thinking” sounds fine, but it is impossible to do that with the misrepresentation of science which is the hallmark of all creationism.
Over the last few years, there have been several official responses. On the official teachers’ website the document GUIDANCE ON THE PLACE OF CREATIONISM AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE LESSONS , emphasized that neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design are scientific theories. Shortly after this in September 2007 the Association for Science Education published a similar statement on Science Education, Intelligent Design and Creationism and stated that it agreed the consensus of science expressed in the Interacademy Panel statement; a global network of the world’s science academies, which gave a statement on the unquestionable scientific consensus of the universe being billions of years old, the earth younger and the evolutionary succession of life, in contrast to creationist opinion that the universe and earth are less than 10,000 years old. This demonstrates that Creationism has minimal support in the scientific community, in fact, a fraction of one per cent.
However there are misunderstandings, as in September 2008 when Michael Reiss resigned as Director of Education at the Royal Society, after some Fellows of the Society protested about his views on tackling creationism in science teaching. At a meeting of the British Association in September 2008, Reiss argued that creationist pupils needed to be treated with respect and that simply attacking creationism was futile as creationism was part of a wider (religious) world view. Reiss is a University Professor and chief executive of the Science Learning Centre in London, who has a Ph.D. in biology. He is also an ordained priest in the Church of England, which some atheists see as compromising his science. It seems that Reiss was misunderstood in his appeal to understand why some students are creationist as he made the obvious statement that understanding the students rather than criticizing them makes better educational sense.
Education and creationism have been in the news in 2011, and these type of issues have continued. In March2011 (and again in March 2012), Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International was invited to St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter to speak to GSCE students in which he gave ‘scientific’ arguments for creationism resulting in a protest by a Christian parent, Laura Horner, a geologist, who set up the CrISIS petition, followed by a letter of concern to Gove from several atheists and Christians, asking for clarification. In his reply on 7th July 2011 to Hugo Swire M.P. the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, replied with reference to St Peter’s School, explaining the government position on the teaching of creationist in science lessons;
‘Creationism does not fit with the scientific consensus…: nor does it employ the scientific method. As such it should not be taught as a scientific theory or body of knowledge as it is neither of those things.’
This is one of the few examples where attempts to introduce creationism into schools has come to the public’s notice. It highlights the situation in that teaching creationism is contrary to Government policy, yet it is occurring in British schools
The second case was as a result of the present government’s initiative in the setting up of Free schools, whereby a group can sponsor a new school, which will be independent of the Local Education Authority. A fundamentalist church in Newark, the Everyday Champions Church, was seeking to set up the Everyday Champions School, as a free school in Newark with a creationist basis. The application was turned down in October, as it would have contravened government policy. As of April 2012 there are further applications for creationist Free Schools.
In 2013 a Lanarkshire school sent creationist books home for children. There was an outcry from parents and the BCSE was involved resulting in 18 months of controversy in Scotland and not yet resolved.
See also https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/roll-over-nessie-dinosaur-alive-and-well-in-scottish-parliament/ Paul Braterman has several blogs on Scottish creationism.
Throughout the period from April to September 2011, articles on the issue of creationism in schools appeared in major newspapers and in publications like The Times Educational Supplement and the New Scientist. Possibly as a result of this, on 19th September 2011about 30 scientists, including David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Michael Reiss wrote an open letter to the government insisting that creationism should not be taught in schools. Responses have been variable with positive reports in leading newspapers and Ekklesia and strongly negative ones by Creationist groups like CMI and AIG. So far there has been no response from the mainstream churches and little from politicians. It appears that only interested groups , either “evolutionary” scientists or creationists, are concerned about teaching creationism in schools, and that opposition is confined only to those who have an interest i.e. scientists, rather than of concern to a wider society. The fact that such eminent scientists made such an appeal, indicates how seriously they take what they consider to be the threat of creationism to science education and are trying to persuade the wider public. Yet, the teaching of creationism in schools is not considered a serious problem among most people, including church leaders and politicians.
At present, all official opinion is against the teaching of creationism in science lessons, but creationists seek every loophole in official documents and claim that not to teach creationism is to inhibit “critical thinking” and also Human Rights. One thing is clear; Creationism will be at the centre of controversy in ALL churches and in education for many years to come. Similar things are happening on the continent of Europe as they are in America, Brazil and Australia.
- DARWIN AND RELIGION AT LARGE
One of the problems of discussing Darwin and religion is that to the wider public the whole question of evolution either in relation to religious faith is almost irrelevant. Most people, with or without faith simply are not concerned. This is important as most Britons profess no or little faith. In as far as the media reflects the interests of the population, Darwin and religion are covered at regular intervals in the press and broadcasting. There has been little oral research study. Consumer surveys have produced highly contentious results, but this may be due to interviewees not understanding questions or poorly worded questions..
In 2008 the Christian think-tank Theos commissioned a survey in 2008 which reported that 37% of Britons believe the theory of evolution, 32% reckon that 10,000 years for the age of the earth is definitely or probably true and 51% opted for a designer, which may be taken as support for ID. The figures don’t add up and that could reflect the confusion of many on science. The report was written up in a 72 page as Rescuing Darwin, which is probably the best survey of evolution and religion in Britain today.
This survey dealt with a wide cross-section of people, but also significant are the attitudes held by the “more educated”, which surface in many areas, especially in the media. However there are limitations to a questionnaire as this only asks for answers to specific questions. There is scope for a study based on the principles of oral history, possibly along the lines of Callum Brown’s The Death of Christian Britain, which allowed people to speak in an anecdotal way. However, as responses to Brown’s book have shown, this is not an easy task.
At present, when considering the effect in wider society it is difficult not to be anecdotal and this is often influenced by the perspective of the person reporting the anecdotes. However it is difficult to avoid the anecdotal. For example, once in discussion with a palaeontologist, he insisted that I must believe in a young earth once he realised that I was a Christian minister. This is echoed by many atheists as on the defunct RichardDawkins.Net. On a more local level many schoolteachers seem to assume the conflict of Darwin and Christianity and are genuinely surprised to hear that the church has not taken Genesis literally for centuries.
Among popular serious works, including books by historians, one may find many which state the clash of science and Christianity without evidence. Popular science often does this, as does Winchester’s study on the early geologist William Smith . He claimed that early geologists “were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts”, a statement which is simply wrong.
Further many are confused over evolution and think that it claims that humans are descended from monkeys. Behind that confusion is a concern that evolution means that we are less than human and that raises the proportion of evolution doubters. In part the appeal of both creationism and Intelligent Design is a reaction to the scientific atheism of Dawkins.
A combination of media coverage and creationist activism has resulted in Creationism being seen as the proper Christian understanding of science.
CONCLUSION, OR WHY IS DARWIN MORE OF AN ISSUE TODAY TO RELIGION THAN IN 1880?
It is easier to give an historical account chronicling the main events than to explain causes. The answer to the question why Darwin causes more problem today than in 1880 cannot be given easily, and there are probably several reasons rather than one. After the “storm in a Victorian teacup” caused by The Origin of Species in 1859, “religion” and Darwin had a remarkably peaceful co-existence until about 1980. If there were any conflicts it usually came from the more militantly atheist, as most (educated) Christians had come to terms with Darwin by 1880. This is because before about 1980 there were virtually no Young Earth Creationists in Britain and none with any education.
To many today, whether Christian or not, Darwin and evolution is a non-issue, however to some it is seen as either a point of conflict or one where harmony should be emphasised. In one sense the situation has not changed since the late 19th century. Further the issues raised by evolution have not changed and ultimately come down to theodicy – asking why there is evil and suffering in the world. That was glossed over by Christian Lamarckians in the mid-twentieth century and Lack stressed that it was an unfaced problem. Today theodicy is at the fore as Creationists insist that all suffering stems from a “historical Fall”, thus necessitating the denial of all geology and evolution as there could, by definition, be no death or suffering before the Fall and thus the earth HAS to be a few thousand years old. Further many atheists question whether a loving God could allow the suffering in the world. Behind all the questions on evolution and science, the age of the earth and biblical interpretations, lies that fundamental and irresolvable question, “Why is there suffering?” Creationists say it came in at the Curse, when Adam took the fruit, evolution says it is written into the universe, which is either impersonally cruel or is given an apparently weak explanation by believers. It goes back to Darwin’s questions in his oft-quoted letter to Asa Gray when he asked about the ichneumon fly.
The main cause is probably the rise of evangelicalism with a more literalist view of scripture and in reaction to renewed teaching of evolution in the USA. A minor cause is a reaction to the reductionist views of atheistic neo-darwinism as exemplified by Richard Dawkins. It is easy to conclude that these are the main factors and that they fed each other, but that seems too simple.
As evolution touches on so many things – the origin and nature of life, human worth, and suffering it is not surprising that when evolution raises radical “religious” questions of meaning and purpose it can become so controversial. In many ways the religious controversy over evolution is similar all over the world whether in the USA, Africa, continental Europe or Britain. However the controversy takes a different form depending on the diverse cultural conditions of each area. Here the British situation reflects both the deeply secular nature of society and an established state church, with a large evangelical minority, which still has great importance to British society. I would suggest that religious controversies over evolution in Britain show more similarities to those in continental Europe and than to the USA. Probably only a few people, if any, who can remember the lack of religious controversy over Darwin half a century ago, would have predicted that on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth his theory caused more controversy than at any time since the publication of The Origin. That will not change in the near future, whether in the life of churches, on in science education.
 There are a wide range of churches in Britain. Roman Catholics are a large minority and the rest have protestant roots. The largest is the Church of England, an Episcopal church. Other significant churches with roots back to the 18th century or earlier are the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist churches. All these survive today and are often term mainstream to distinguish them from the independent evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which have formed in the last fifty years. The older churches often include evangelicals and tend to be more liberal than the new ones.
 J.F.C.Fuller; Before the hills in order stood. In The age of the earth: from 4004BC to AD2002. Ed C. L. E. Lewis and S. J. Knell, London 2001.
 Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, London 1955 (first published London 1896).
 David Lindberg & Ronald Numbers (eds) God and Nature. Berkeley, California. 1986
 Buckland Papers; Oxford University Museum
 (Samuel Wilberforce), On the Origin of Species. Quarterly Review 1860, 108:225-264.
 Hooker to Darwin 2 July 1859
 Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies 1863, various editions chap 4.
 Frederick Temple, The Relations between Religion and Science, London, MacMillan, 1884; 122
 Peter J Bowler The Non-Darwinian Revolution; Baltimore 1988
 David Livingstone, D. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1987.
James Moore, The Post Darwinian Controversies, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1979.
Michael Roberts. Evangelicals and Science. Westport, 2008.
 G.G. Stokes., Natural Theology, Gifford Lectures 1893, London, 1893
 James Orr, “Science and Christian Faith” The Fundamentals, Chicago, Testimony Publishing Company, n.d., vol iv, p102-4.
 I probably should have said to my knowledge
 See White op.cit.
 Doctrine in the Church of England 1938, p45.
 D. Lack, Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief, London 1957.
 Lack, Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief, S. 9..
 There has been little research into British evangelical scientists of the period, except for Ronald Numbers, who only considered those who could be termed Creationist. Cf. Ronald Numbers: The Creationists: the evolution of scientific creationism. New York 1992, pp. 140–157..
 Numbers, op.cit. chap 8.
 John Whitcomb & Henry Morris. The Genesis Flood. Nutley 1961, London 1969.
 This is my observation based on involvement with geology depts. In the late 60s and early 70s
 After I wrote a letter supporting it to The Times I received a letter from an Anglican priest enquiring whether I was an atheistic evolutionist. This indicates the hostility to evolution felt by some Christians
 Arthur Peacocke. Creation and the World of Science. Oxford 1978
 Adrian Desmond & James Moore . Darwin. London 1991.
 Ed M. Kolbl-Ebert, Religion and Geology. London.2009.
 This is based on my own dealings with people as minister for several decades, as many have found the fact that I am a geologist with a research interest in Darwin difficult to grasp. Countless times people have said things like, “How can you believe in God and Darwin?”,
 See Michael Roberts. Evangelicals and Science
 Taylor, P Truth, Lies and Science Education. 2007. Day One Publications.
 The 175 pages of raw data can be found at http://campaigndirector.moodia.com/Client/Theos/Files/TheosFinalFullDataSetDarwinTabsJan09.pdf
 Callum Brown The Death of Christian Britain. London 2001.
 Simon Winchester. The Map that changed the World. Harmondsworth 2003, p29