Category Archives: Charles Darwin

Adam Sedgwick; Darwin’s great geological teacher


At the end of 1831 a young Cambridge graduate and budding priest set sail on The Beagle on a five year trip round the world. He was to be the naturalist-cum-companion to the captain – Robert Fitzroy. He got the offer because he was one of the most able young naturalists of his generation. He received the letter from Rev John Henslow suggesting he should go when he returned to Shrewsbury after a three trip around North Wales. Most of that he was carrying out field geology and from the 3rd to the 20th August he was under the tutelage of Rev Adam Sedgwick, the Woodwardian Professor of geology at Cambridge.  Sedgwick had gone to Wales to work out the stratigraphy and structure of North Wales, and “picked up” Darwin in Shrewsbury, as he knew Darwin as a student. After Darwin left Sedgwick on 20th August, Sedgwick began to sort out what he termed the Cambrian. He returned to Cambridge at the end of October with much work still to do and he returned to Wales frequently over the next dozen years. This map shows their routes


And this blog referring to a paper of mine Just before the Beagle gives more detail.

(Spoiler; a longer study is about to be published!)

Darwin’s main interest on the voyage was the geology, which he wrote up in several books. On the voyage Darwin read Lyell’s Principles of Geology and after his return he looked more to Lyell than other geologists. However the influence of Sedgwick, and probably Henslow, was of far more significance and here I seek to present that the importance of Sedgwick to this novice geologist is more important than that of Charles Lyell.


Three mentors; Sedgwick, Henslow and Lyell

Sedgwick hardly needed to take Darwin on the trip and his notes make no mention of him. Here I consider first the relationship of Darwin with the peppery older geologist, which also brings out some of the relationships, perceived or not, of the rising science of geology and Christian belief.  And, most importantly, I consider what geology Darwin learnt from Sedgwick and how this moulded the geology of the Beagle.



It is difficult to discern any tangible benefit to Sedgwick in taking along Darwin as a companion, beyond that of training up another student as a geologist and simply to have company on a long journey. This is, of course, what Henslow had done for Darwin while he was at Cambridge. Some of the pride Sedgwick felt for his young pupil can be seen both in the fact that it was Sedgwick rather than Henslow who read out Darwin’s letters to Henslow on the geology of South America on 16 November 1835 (Barrett, 1977:16-19) and wrote a “bonne bouche” to Dr Butler of Shrewsbury School. Dr Butler sent an extract of this letter to Robert Darwin which Susan Darwin copied out in a letter to Charles, “He is doing admirably in S. America, & has already sent home a Collection above all praise. – There was some risk of him turning out an idle man: but his character will now be fixed, & if God spare his life, he will have a great name among the Naturalists of Europe.”[1] Dr Butler had clearly changed his mind since he regarded the schoolboy Charles as “poco curante”[2], according to his Autobiography (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:24) for wasting his time over such useless subjects as chemistry. Darwin’s sharp remark in his Autobiography may be due to the bitterness caused by his controversy with Butler’s grandson. It is difficult not to see that Sedgwick was congratulating himself, with very good reason, on tutoring Darwin so well in geology.


Charles and myself outside his old school


It is tempting to consider the relationship of Darwin and Sedgwick during this tour in the light of their disagreement over evolution 28 years later, rather than focus on their relationship in 1831, when Sedgwick was a highly proficient clerical-geologist and Darwin a scientifically-inclined putative clergyman. Barrett presents Sedgwick as a crotchety, dogmatic bigoted fundamentalist. Crotchety yes, bigot no! In this he seems to be confined by an extreme either/or outlook categorising scientists into either open-minded agnostic evolutionists or narrow-minded religious creationists, reminiscent of Clarence Darrow and his depiction of Jennings Bryan and his other antagonists at the Scopes trial. That depiction of the Scopes Trial has worn somewhat thin as Numbers (1998) and Larson (1997) have made abundantly clear. As Clark and Hughes stress the Moderate Evangelicalism of Sedgwick, he is not an obvious candidate for the latter. Frank Turner (1978) in his seminal article on the professionalisation of science refers rather patronisingly to the “by no means inglorious role” of clergyman-scientists like Sedgwick, Henslow, Whewell and Ray. However matters became worse when he incorrectly identified the clerical-scientists mentioned in Hooker’s letter to Harvey in June 1860, written in response to a letter from Harvey who put forward scientific and theological objections to Darwin. Hooker referred to the ordained scientists Haughton, Miller and Sedgwick “as asses between bundles of hay” because they rejected Darwin’s theories, which is wonderful from the son-in-law of two clergy-naturalists. Turner failed to note that Hooker was writing to Harvey, professor of Botany at Trinity College, Dublin, about his colleague Haughton, geology professor at Dublin, and Rev William Miller, professor of mineralogy at Cambridge, whom Turner confused with Hugh Miller who had died five years previously. As an aside in 1871 Haughton estimated that the base of the Cambrian was 1526 m.y., three times present estimates and in accord with Darwin’s estimates for the Wealden, and considerably longer than Huxley’s estimates of about 100 million. Ironically Harvey wrote a long and friendly letter to Darwin on 24 August 1860 explaining why he could not accept Natural Selection. Almost as much an ass “between bundles of hay” as this trio was John Henslow, Hooker’s father-in-law, who kept his colours firmly nailed to the fence. I ought to say, proudly, that I, too, am an ass!

Both Barrett and Turner presuppose that Christian belief prevents sound scientific work, as Turner claimed without evidence “Certain questions, areas of inquiry ….were discouraged because they carried the implications of impiety, immorality or blasphemy.” These were not identified. If there were proscribed “areas of inquiry” then these did not include any branch of geology, or even studies on the non-fixity of species or else Dean W. Herbert of Manchester would have been charged with blasphemy or heresy long before being made Dean in 1840! In fact, the only Dean or Bishop would have been Dean Cockburn of York who wrote so much drivel trying to disprove geology and lambasting clerical geologists like Buckland and Sedgwick. Behind the assertions of Barrett and Turner is an uncritical acceptance of the conflict thesis which assumes rather than demonstrates antagonism between science and religion and thus between clerical scientists and those styled by Moore as “Young Reformers”. In their Gifford Lectures Reconstructing Nature, Brooke and Cantor deal critically with these issues. Their assessment of Desmond’s Huxley is relevant here and their comment is most apt, “However, partisan history from whichever camp tends to downplay or distort opposing positions. Thus although Desmond’s book has many strengths, appreciation of Huxley’s critics – such as … Wilberforce or … Mivart – is not one of them”. (Brooke & Cantor 1998:68) As Desmond wrongly claimed that Owen “was coaxing Sam beyond the Six Days to a more informed opposition” (Desmond, p281)- hardly likely for one who attended Buckland’s lectures for three years running and who crowned Murchison “King of Siluria” -, so Barrett wrongly described Sedgwick as “a religious fundamentalist” (1974, p146) and consistently portrayed him as opinionated and even pontifical, right down to suggestions that Sedgwick forced Darwin to misspell “Llan” as “Slan” which cannot be borne out by either Darwin’s or Sedgwick’s manuscript notes or maps for 1831 and other years. That was because Darwin wrote “L” rather flamboyantly in his maps and notes. Both scholars seem to look for conflict way beyond the evidence. To regard Sedgwick as a fundamentalist is to posit that both Sedgwick’s and Darwin’s geology at this time was essentially Scripturally based with either literal or semi-literal notions of a biblical flood and a limited life span for the earth. This is, of course, the classic presentation of Darwin’s pre-Lyellian and pre-Beagle geology and has been given expression by both Barrett and  Gruber (see also Barrett and Gruber Darwin on Man 1974) and a host of other writers. Gruber claimed that Darwin still accepted an Ussher chronology when he boarded the Beagle. During the voyage, due to reading Lyell, “.. he expanded his conception of the time scale on which the history of the earth has unfolded from the Biblical base of 6,000 years to some indefinite number much greater than 20,000 years.” (Gruber, 1974, p101) No evidence was given for this and though conservative theologically neither Henslow nor Sedgwick were remotely literalist. (Clark and Hughes, 1896,passim). Darwin recognised this and said to Rodwell, “What a capital hand is Sedgwick for drawing large cheques upon the Bank of Time!”[3]

Sedgwick was never a literalist as he made clear to Francis Close in 1858, when he wrote, “Don’t think me a bad man, if I tell you that when puzzling my brain (during long by gone years) about this chapter, I have sometimes fancied, that the 3rd + 4th days, had by some mistake of translation been made to change place – formerly I tried all sorts of hypotheses to little satisfaction, so of late years I have little troubled my head with hypotheses, not doubting that in the end, all, all difficulties would vanish”[4]. In his Presidential Address to the Geological Society of 1830 Sedgwick had rejected the identification of “diluvium” with the Biblical Flood. In this Sedgwick was no liberal, but shared the open outlook to geology of many moderate evangelicals. In 1831 Sedgwick probably adopted a variant of the standard “Chaos-Restitution” interpretation of Genesis, which allowed for vast geological ages within an almost literalist rendering of Genesis.  Sedgwick’s fights with creationjists are discussed here;   Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2009; v. 310; p. 155-170,Michael B. Roberts,Adam Sedgwick (17851873): geologist and evangelical).

Darwin was undoubtedly familiar with this both from his theological reading at Cambridge, from geological writers such as Conybeare and Phillips (1822:   ) and from his own grandfather’s writings, which echoed the dominant understanding of Genesis even though “he disbelieved in any revelation”. (Darwin, 1989, vol29 p45). Thus we find in The Botanic Garden the following lines,

Let there be light!” proclaimed the Almighty Lord.

Astonished Chaos heard the potent word; –

Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs,

And the mass starts into a million suns;

From this it is clear Darwin was never a literalist, whether while at Cambridge or before, and his claims in his Autobiography that “I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible” must be seen as tricks of memory in later life. In this Darwin simply echoed the current orthodoxy of his day, from which only a noisy minority of Anti-geologists dissented.

Though Darwin’s later lack of faith, or agnosticism, is well-known and it is likely that he rejected Christianity sometime after his return from the Beagle, in 1831 he was more orthodox as a Christian than at any other time. He had just completed his course at Cambridge and was intending to be ordained and although he gave no indication of being an evangelical he was steeped in mainstream Anglican theology. Thus he was hardly likely to differ from Sedgwick on religious grounds as he did later.

As we have seen, the relationship between Sedgwick and Darwin has more often been asserted rather than analysed. Friction, with a theological root, has been assumed rather than demonstrated. To consider the relationship in reverse historical sequence, we begin with his comments on Sedgwick in his Autobiography. Here Darwin wrote respectfully and appreciatively of Sedgwick’s tutoring in 1831, in typically Darwinian understatement, -“This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country.” Shortly before Sedgwick died Darwin wrote “I am pleased that you remember my attending you in my excursions of 1831. To me, it…made me appreciate the noble science of geology.”[5] This reflects the letter he wrote to Henslow on 18 May 1832 “Tell Prof: Sedgwick he does not know how much I am indebted to him for the Welch expedition. – it has given me an interest in geology”[6] and some to his sisters while travelling on the Beagle. The welcome Sedgwick was given at the Mount during the 1830s is a sure indication of the affection the Darwins’ had for Sedgwick. This affection went a bit further with Susan and Caroline wrote to Darwin on 25 July 1832 that Susan would soon be Mrs Sedgwick![7] From this one can only conclude that Darwin and Sedgwick got on well on their tour. It was clearly a master-pupil relationship, determined both by the great age difference. For this Darwin must be envied. All was not always sweetness and light as the incident of the waiter at Conway, whom Sedgwick suspected of not giving a sixpenny tip. In fact, this is the only adverse statement about the relationship of Darwin and Sedgwick during their 1831 trip, and it does not concern animosity between the pair but animosity directed at the unfortunate waiter. If Darwin was right in his later years that he had given Sedgwick a mild rebuke this is surely normal human relationships and is typical of what occurs between two or more people who spend sometime together.

Further it is easy to read a breakdown of relationships into their correspondence over Origin of Species in 1859. Sedgwick’s response to Darwin is very critical of his book both on scientific and religious grounds, but Sedgwick did sign himself off as “a son of a monkey”. That self-depreciating humour shows that though Sedgwick could not countenance evolution, he was able to retain his affection for his old pupil. This is apparent in their later exchange of letters in 1868 when George Darwin was offered a Cambridge fellowship.

However it is interesting to consider Darwin’s subsequent relationship with Sedgwick in comparison to Henslow and Lyell. Though Darwin had considerable respect for Sedgwick, he had very little contact with him after returning from the Beagle voyage, whereas he retained considerable affection for Henslow and wrote what can only be termed a eulogy after his death. This may be partly explained by the greater contact and thus more influence Henslow had with Darwin, as opposed to Sedgwick, whose main contact was during this field trip. After his return in 1836 Darwin gravitated to Lyell as a geological mentor rather than Sedgwick. There may well be religious as well as personal and scientific reasons. Although formally “orthodox” while at Cambridge, Darwin never had what may be called any Evangelical fervour, nor was he ever a literalist, despite comments in his Autobiography. It is reasonable to date his “perversion” from orthodox Christianity during Autumn 1838 as he wrote in his diary, “All September … thought much on religion”[8]    “ His Autobiography points to the years “1836 to 1839” (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:49).

Of these three mentors Sedgwick was the most Evangelical as both Clark and Hughes, and Marston (1984) make clear. It also becomes apparent in Sedgwick calling with 500 other evangelical clergy for a revision of the Prayer Book in an evangelical direction, and his friendship with Dean Close, whom Sedgwick upbraids for departing from scripture[9] by adopting Miller’s interpretation of Genesis. He would not have been an easy person to see after his return from the Beagle when Darwin was rejecting his calling to the ministry. For one rejecting his initial calling it was best not to see an Evangelical who was about to be invited to become Bishop of Norwich.

Henslow, though orthodox, was less threatening than Sedgwick, but it is easy to see why Darwin gravitated to Lyell rather than his earlier mentors. Not only was Lyell in London much of the time, he was far more liberal theologically with leanings towards Unitarianism and the extreme of the Broad church. Lyell’s affable tolerance was no threat to the perverting Darwin. Lyell’s jovial anti-clericalism would also have made the rejection of an earlier calling easier.

Were it not for the historical singularity that Sedgwick passed through Shrewsbury en route to North Wales, Darwin would not have had more than a passing acquaintance with Sedgwick, probably only as a colleague of Henslow. As they spent eighteen days together in intimate company just before Darwin joined the Beagle there is the temptation to overanalyse the relationship and there are just enough ingredients for a conflict scenario to tilt the relationship into one of personal and religious antagonism. But this is done retrospectively from Sedgwick’s opposition to the Origin of Species in 1860.  There is insufficient evidence to suggest whether or not they were close friends, but Darwin retained respect, affection and gratitude to Sedgwick throughout his life. And it was mutual.


As the field trip was one in which Darwin as a novice geologist was accompanying Sedgwick an experienced and leading geologist, it would be unreasonable to expect that Darwin himself made any profound geological discoveries. The position was, as far as Darwin was concerned, entirely that of pupil and tutor. As both made notes, a comparison of their respective notes, shows how Darwin developed over these weeks.

By the time Sedgwick arrived in Shrewsbury on 2 August Darwin had a moderate grasp of geology and knew the rudiments of mapping, rock identification and the use of a clinometer to measure dip and strike (Roberts, 1996, 2000). Darwin’s geological understanding was not simply what he had learnt in the last few weeks, but was also what he had picked up in a slightly haphazard way during the previous ten years. From his reference to Cotton and the Bellstone in his Autobiography (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:28), he was familiar with some rudiments of geology by the time he was a teenager. He probably dabbled before going to Edinburgh and there learnt some geology from Jameson and Hope, who were two of the most experienced teachers of geology. As Secord emphasises so strongly by the time Darwin left Edinburgh he had a good all-round knowledge of the subject and was familiar with the geological column from the Old Red Sandstone to the Tertiary. Despite Darwin claiming in his Autobiography that he did not attend Sedgwick’s geology lectures at Cambridge, contemporaries claimed he did. Thus it is would be wrong to presume that Darwin knew no geology before 1831. From his environment both in Shrewsbury and at the universities, he would have acquired general notions of vast ages, strata, geological ages and fossils, as would any person who was competent in natural history at that time. His father’s circle included men familiar with geology and Dr Robert Darwin’s colleague, Dr Dugard, was a member of the Geological Society and thus Darwin would have had access to publications of the Geological Society and other geological works. It would be remarkable if he was not familiar with the work of Arthur Aiken on Shropshire and North Wales and probably that of Robert Townson too (Torrens, 1984). His mentor in entymology, the Rev F.W.Hope, was well-informed in geology and had his own copy of Fleming’s response to Buckland.[10] This evidence is circumstantial, but it would be surprising if the budding naturalist, who carried out many chemical experiments in the garden laboratory, was not also familiar with the rudiments of geology. However it is fair to state that Darwin was in need of competent tuition in field geology. Apart from that, as Secord wrote, “Darwin was one of the best-trained men of his age in Great Britain.” He had, of course, spent some considerable time in the field on his own but his notes and maps indicate that he was floundering. He had tried to make maps (Roberts 2000) and visited Llanymynech (Roberts, 1996) and had most probably visited the area round the Stiperstones and the Bog to the south-west of Shrewsbury. Before Sedgwick arrived he had probably spent at least six or seven days in the field, and had spent considerable time at home, both making his maps, playing with his clinometer and probably reading up on geology.

During their ten days together Sedgwick introduced Darwin to a very wide range of rock types and a fascinating range of geology. There was the additional frisson of working with someone who was on the pioneering and cutting-edge of geology. Into today’s terms Darwin had to consider strata from the Late Precambrian to the Triassic, though, of course, the elucidation of the Lower Palaeozoic was in its infancy. In descending stratigraphic order they looked at the drift at Valle Crucis and the Cefn caves, New Red Sandstone in the Vale of Clwyd; Carboniferous Limestone above Llangollen, the vale of Clwyd, the North Wales coast and Angelsea; allegedly, and putative Old Red Sandstone in the Vale of Clwyd and Anglesey, and the real mckoy in Anglesey; various slates and volcanics of the Lower Palaeozoic between Llangollen and Ruthin and in Snowdonia; trap dikes in Anglesey; and finally various facies of the then unknown Mona Complex in Angelsea. Apart from the Carboniferous the “status” of all these were controversial or were at the cutting edge of geology.

Sedgwick also taught Darwin to observe and describe the lithology of these strata and thus he was familiarised with greywackes, slates of all kinds, conglomerates and sandstones and limestones as well as a wide variety of igneous and metamorphic rocks. His knowledge of mineralogy increased greatly during the trip and he became adept at recognising a wide variety of minerals, although he long had had an interest in minerals. His increasing skill in mineralogy is shown by the absence of minerals recorded at both Llanymynech and the early stages of the tour, and after leaving Conwy he recorded a variety of minerals. His mineralogy was even more detailed after leaving Sedgwick on the final leg from Cwm Idwal to Barmouth.

As well as lithology and mineralogy Sedgwick also introduced Darwin to aspects of structural geology and how to measure dip and strike of both bedding and cleavage. Both Darwin’s and Sedgwick’s notes contain many references to cleavage and on some “Greywacke” above Penmaenmawr Darwin commented “The coloured seams in the rock P. Sedgwick remarks generally indicate the strata”[11]. Sedgwick included his findings about cleavage in his article of 1835 (Sedgwick 1835), Darwin recorded many examples of cleavage on his voyage especially on the Falkland Islands and in a chapter on South America. Darwin’s Geology of South America emphasised the difference of stratification and cleavage resulting in a response from Joseph Hooker on the Tibet border in 1849,

Stratification is vexation,

Foliation’s twice as bad;

Where joints there be,

They puzzle me;

And cleavage drives me mad.[12]

However it took 20 years to convince all geologists that cleavage was different to bedding and one of the last to accept cleavage was Lyell, despite strong letters from Darwin culminating with, “you are wrong & a heretic on this point I know well.”[13]

If my argument that Darwin also visited Anglesey is correct, then he was introduced to a yet wider sphere of geology, which turned out to be vital on the Beagle voyage. Though the geology of Anglesey rocks were of little use to Sedgwick in preparation for Snowdonia, they were of great use to Darwin for the rest of the world. The manifold dikes they investigated showed Darwin the variation in similar igneous rocks and were good preparation for the volcanic islands. The metamorphic strata of the future Mona complex gave an insight into both granitic and gneissic terrains and of schists and altered, even parboiled, greywacke, along with the distinction of altered and unaltered conglomerates and breccias, or rather metamorphosed and unmetamorphosed. Using the brief comments in the Red Notebook as signposts, the influence of both Henslow and Sedgwick on Anglesey on his geology of South America becomes manifest.

One of the ironies of popular accounts of the 1831 field trip is the assertion that Darwin and Sedgwick went on a walking holiday combined with a fossil-hunting trip. Nothing could be further from the truth, but old myths die hard and are still being published in Shrewsbury in the Third Millennium. By and large fossils were incidental to their work and the notes of both geologists make few references to fossils. However Sedgwick himself recorded the presence or absence of fossils at many localities and on several occasions when Darwin and Sedgwick visited localities together only Darwin recorded fossils, presumably having been guided to look for them. While travelling on his own Darwin recorded fossils at Cwm Idwal and on Moel Siabod and clearly understood the various types of fossils, sufficiently so to identify them on the Beagle Voyage as he did in the Falkland Islands.

Darwin was not taken to a classic area and shown the long-understood geology by an experienced teacher, as happens to most novice geologists. Instead he was taken to a relatively unknown area by an experienced geologist, who first wished to check out the previous work of Greenough in the Vale of Clwyd, secondly to work out the mass of strata in Snowdonia which were loosely known as Killas, or lumped together as Greywacke, with associated igneous rocks, and thirdly to the complex terrain of Anglesey. This resulted in a very different learning experience and would satisfy some modern theories of teaching, as the approach was one of discovery rather than being taught “eternal verities”. He was not only taught to observe but to think as well.

In the Vale of Clwyd Darwin was introduced to Sedgwick’s doubts about the existence of Old Red Sandstone marked on Greenough’s map, and then was sent on a traverse to test whether or not it was present. Much of the time Darwin was shadowing Sedgwick and receiving direct tuition, indicated by a frequent near verbal agreement in the two sets of notes.


In conclusion, the field trip with Sedgwick had far more influence than the reading of Lyell’s Principles of Geology in Darwin’s developing geological skills. Lyell gave Darwin a theoretical and conceptual framework, which is very evident when one compares The Principles of Geology with the three volumes of the Geology of the Beagle. Sedgwick gave Darwin something more important by teaching him the skills of practical geological observation in the field and rigourous geological note taking. But a comparison of Geological Observations of South America and his paper on the Falklands indicate that the influence of this trip went far beyond the mere teaching of geological skills.

This is evidenced first by both the content and the style of Darwin’s notes, and how they evolved from his first notes at Llanymynech and, for our purposes, culminating with those made at Quail Island. (Roberts, 1996). The development of Darwin’s skill can be seen graphically by simply reading through his notes in sequence from those taken at Llanymynech, then during his Welsh field trip and finally the first few days of notes taken on Quail Island, which were his first field days on the Beagle voyage.           The notes taken at Llanymynech are simply indifferent and are little more than his first use of a clinometer. Though he sought to describe and interpret the geology he observed, he notes have all the hallmarks of a not very competent beginner. The notes which Darwin made in Cwm Idwal and on Quail Island both show the influence of Sedgwick.

It is evidenced secondly by the way Darwin used and developed both Henslow’s Anglesey Memoir and Sedgwick’s interpretation of it. Darwin’s notes on Anglesey may be missing, but the threads of thought can be traced through his notebooks into his published work.

Darwin’s comment; “This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country” (Darwin &Huxley,1983:39) is a masterly understatement of his debt to Sedgwick. He should have said “continent “ or “the world” instead of country. Were it not for Sedgwick’s tutoring the reading of Lyell would have been of limited value. Sedgwick taught Darwin the practical geological skills and a sound basis of geology, whereas Lyell gave Darwin a daring conceptual and theoretical framework. Without the practical skills learnt from Sedgwick during these few days his three volumes on the geology of the Beagle voyage Darwin would have “started up a machinery as wild .. as Bishop Wilkin’s locomotive that was to sail with us to the moon.”[14] 

His birit to St Paul’s Rocks in the middle of the Atlantic show how much geology he had learnt as  on 16th February 1832 Darwin visited St Paul’s Rocks and identified serpentine, which required great geological insight;

“The rocks are serpentine. & in the lower parts mixed with much Diallage.”

and then commented;

“Is not this the first Island in the Atlantic which has been shown not to be of Volcanic origin?”[1]

ATLANTIC: ST. PAUL'S ROCKS A ship passing St. Paul's Rocks in the Atlantic  Ocean, some 550

[1] : Darwin, C. R. 2.1832. Geological diary: St Pauls. CUL-DAR32.37-38.


The Darwin manuscripts (DAR) are quoted with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. The Sedgwick Notebooks and Maps are cited or reproduced with permission of  xxxx of the Sedgwick Museum Cambridge, and the letter of Sedgwick to Close by permission of Dean Close School, Cheltenham.




BARRETT, P.H., 1974 The Sedgwick-Darwin geologic tour of North Wales. Proceedings of the American Philosophical society 118: 146-164.

BARRETT, P.H., (1977), The Collected Papers of Charles Darwin, Univ of Chicago Press, Chicago/London.

BARRETT et al (1987), Barrett, P.H., Gautry, P.J. et al., Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836 – 1844, Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge.

BROOKE,J.H. & CANTOR, G, 1998, Reconstructing Nature

BURKHARDT, F. and SMITH, S. (eds.), 1985 The correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1 (1821-1836). Cambridge Pp 702.

BURKHARDT, F and SMITH, S  (eds.), 1986 The correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 2 (1837-18430. Cambridge Pp 603.

BURKHARDT, F and SMITH, S (eds.), 1991 The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 7 (1858-1859, supplement 1821-1857). Cambridge Pp 671.

CLARK   & HUGHES    , 1890 Life and letters of Adam Sedgwick

CONEYBEARE, W & PHILLIPS, W, 1822, Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales

DARWIN, C.R., (1839c): Journal of Researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle.;

DARWIN, C.R., 1844, Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands, London, Pp175.

DARWIN, C.R. (1846), Geological Observations of parts of South America, London, Pp279.

DARWIN, C.R., (1846), On the Geology of the Falkland Islands, Quart Jour of Geol Soc, pt I, 2:267-74, (in Barrett, 1977:203 –212.)

DARWIN, C.R. & HUXLEY, T.H., 1983 Autobiographies, edited by Beer, Oxford.  Pp 123.

DESMOND, A, 1994, Huxley: the devil’s disciple, London, Pp 475.

DODD, A.H., 1990 The Industrial Revolution in North Wales. Wrexham.  Pp 439.

EVANS, John Evans, 1795 Map of the Six Counties of North Wales (inscribed to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn of Wynnstay Hall, Ruabon, June 1 1795.)

HENSLOW, J.S., 1822, Geological description of Anglesey. Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 1:359-452.

HERBERT, S, 1990 Charles Darwin as a prospective geological author, British journal for the history of science 24:159-92.

LARSON, E, 1997, Summer for the Gods, Harvard, Pp318.

LYELL, C., (1833): Principles of Geology, vol iii, Murray, London.

NUMBERS, R, 1998, Darwinism comes to America, Harvard, Pp216.

ROBERTS, M.B., 1996 Darwin at Llanymynech: the evolution of a geologist. British journal for the history of science 29:469-78.

ROBERTS, M.B., 1998 Darwin’s Dog-leg. Archives of natural history 25:59-73.

ROBERTS, M.B. 1998. Geology and Genesis unearthed, The Churchman,

ROBERTS,M.B., 2000, I coloured a map, Archives of natural history 27:59-73.

SECORD, J. A., 1991 The discovery of a vocation: Darwin’s early geology. British journal for the history of science 24:133-57.


TURNER, F., 1978 The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: a Professional Dimension, Isis, 1978

[1] Susan Darwin to Charles Darwin, 22 November 1835, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p469.

[2] Matthew to Darwin, March/April 1831, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p119

[3] J.M.Rodwell to Francis Darwin, 8 July 1882, in DAR 112: 94v, cited Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p125.

[4] Sedgwick to Close 1858, Dean Close School Archives.

[5] Darwin to Sedgwick, 13 October 1868

[6] Darwin to Henslow, 18 May 1832, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p236.

[7] Susan Darwin to Charles Darwin, 25 July 1833, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p254.

[8] Chronology 1838, Smith & Burkhardt, 1986, p432.

[9] Sedgwick to Close

[10] Fleming    The copy of this at the Oxford Museum has Hope’s name on it.

[11] CUL DAR 5 series ii, fol 10i

[12] Hooker to Darwin , 1849 Smith & Burkhardt, 1988,

[13] Darwin to Lyell, 18 November 1849, Smith & Burkhardt, 1988,

[14] Sedgwick to Darwin, 24 November 1859, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985,  CCD 8, p396


I … coloured a map – Charles Darwin


Graffiti on a hoarding in Shrewsbury in 2007. Probably lost now but I took several photos

 A few months before sailing on the Beagle in December 1831 and just before he set off on his geological tour, Darwin tried his hand at geology around Shrewsbury where he lived at the family home  The Mount.


This article cited in this blog gives a summary of all his geological work of the summer of 1831;

M.B.Roberts,  Just before the Beagle, Endeavour, Vol 25 (1) 2001, pp33-37


First of all after he bought a clinometer he went to Llanymynech Hill to test out his skills, which i wrote up in; 1] M. B. Roberts, ‘Darwin at Llanymynech: The Evolution of a Geologist’, British Journal for the History of Science, 29 (1996), 469–78. Available here;

And then he sttempted to make geological maps. He first made copies through tracing from Robert Baugh’s one inch to one mile map fo Shropshire, transferred it to paper and on two maps started to produced a geological map. They were not very good,but no better than mine on my geological mapping course.

Here is his local map oof Shrewsbury


He had marked in a large expanse of New Red Sandstone (red) and a small one of coal measures (black) . He also labelled four sites A,B, C, D.

That marked “D” to the northwest of Shrewsbury  by Little Ness is the wrong location as it was purely Drift with no outcrops. As it did not make sense I suggested that Darwin made a mistake and it should have been on Nesscliff , a hill of NRS.


View from Nesscliff looking towards Llanymynech Hill


Part of the quarried cliff at Nesscliff.


The view toward Breidden Hill and Long Mountain

Then to the  SSW of centre of Shrewsbury, Darwin marked three sites A, B and C which were close together


The probable site of NRS

Darwin recorded some coal as there were many small coal pits then

Site A was a gravel pit NE of Nobold, which is probably the site of a school now,


One of several flooded gravel pits near Nobold

The history behind the “appearance” of the both the maps and notes is interesting.  Their existence was known from darwin’s Autobiography  when he wrote “”I examined sections and coloured a mapof parts round Shrewsbury” (p39). However these maps had been “missing” for decades and Adam Perkins told me about them when visiting Cambridger library. He allowed me to make copies and so I researched the sites as it was near my home.  But there were obviously notes and I could only guess what they were. I wrote my paper “I … coloured a map”

M. B. Roberts, Archives of natural history 27 (1): 69-79. 2000

Click to access colouredamap2000.pdf

Then in 1999 Dr Sandra Herbert stayed with us in Chirk and produced the notes, which she had found in Cambridge University Library. They gave descriptions of localities and confimed that A was mislocated, and so that was written up

Herbert and Roberts; Archives of natural history 29 (1): 27-30. 2002


To conclue, here is the Bellstone in Shrewsbury which Darwin talks about in his Autobiography (p28). In the 1820s it was unexpalined but it is a glacial erratic.


And lastly a group of Harvard students sitting at the feet of Darwin outside his old school, which is now a library.


Why does Creation Groan? Or does it?

Recently the American Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, led with an Article

Why does creation groan?

The author John Schneider was a professor at Calvin College in the USA but left because of his views of Adam and Eve. They are close to mine.

Over recent years John has aplied his mind to a vital, and often ignored, issue about living things. Why if God is so good is there animal suffering? On this he published a book Animal Suffering and the Darwinian Problem of Evil, (Cambridge University Press (26 Mar. 2020)

Animal Suffering and the Darwinian Problem of Evil eBook : Schneider, John  R.: Books

It deals with the nasty aspects of life not found in the hymn All things bright and beautiful  as this cartoon shows!


I am sure if John or I made up an additional verse it would cause more upset than the one about “the rich man in his castle”!!

The question partly  comes about due to the discoveries of science about the history of life in the last 350 years, as from 1660 to 1800 it became apparent from geological studies that the earth was ancient and many millions of years old. Before 1800 it was known that life also went back millions of years old but in the 1790s the fact of extinction became evident – that is some living forms existed millions of years ago but not today. Dinosaurs are the most well-known example. However the problem of suffering is still a serious problem for those who think the earth is only a few thousand years old – as it is for everyone.

John gives the example of predation and disease in Creataceous creatures of 100 million years ago, to which we can add 500 million year old trilobite fossils have been found with teeth marks from a predator. One life form usually feeds off another, though not all are as blatant as Darwin’s wasps – the ichneumon flies..

And so Tennyson gave us the expression”nature red in tooth and claw” but contrary to popular (and scholarly opinion) he was considering the works of William Buckland, the geologist, and not Charles Darwin. Yes, animals seem to spend their lives tearing each other to bits or being torn to bits. That’s when they are not having sex!

That creates a moral question and if God is the creator of all life (whether by fizz-bang creation or through a slow oozing evolution) there is a question about his moral rectitude for creating such a bloody universe. John is forcing the question of whether a God, supposed or otherwise, who created with such suffering among creatures can be considered to have any goodness. Many ask that question when suffering hits them, either for themselves or a loved one.

Some would say his ideas are flawed because he accepts the fact that the earth is ancient and that living forms have been living and dying on this planet for a few billion years. Neither he nor anyone else can do any other  because, despite the nay-saying of Creationists, the earth IS ancient. Even so, to claim that God put a Curse of suffering on all life because of Adam’s sin raises moral questions about the goodness of god.

All this raises the classic questions of theodicy, the goodness of God and why there is suffering

This question was less challenging in the 17th century when most thought the earth was young and chronologists like Scaliger and Ussher  thought that creation occured in about 3000 to 5000 BC and all was created in six 24 hour days, so death before the Fall was irrelevant, as Adam went scrumping a matter of hours after they were created. This is the “Traditional View” but I must give a caveat. A good number of scholars were more flexible, some allowing more time for Creation by God first creating “chaos” and then later re-ordering it some time later. This was common among many savants at the end of the 17th century: Thomas Burnett is just one example.

However the “trad view” was immortalised by John Milton and Paradise Lost became the default view of many in succeeding years. The opening words of Paradise Lost show how Adam’s sin caused suffering.

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden fruit, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe“.

and later

Beast now with beast gan war, and fowl with fowl,

And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,

Devoured each other. P.Lost X 710-12

This moulded the ideas of many, scholarly and non-scholarly for several centuries, so Bishop Colenso could say in 1863 “We groan under the burden of Milton’s mythology.” That was true then and is still true today.

The “trad” view began to be eroded a few years after Ussher published his Annales with creation is 4004BC, as geologists with their picks and hammers started studying the strata. This began in the 1660s with Nils Steno, titular bishop of Titopolis and then many others in the next centuries. By 1800 there was no doubt that the earth was ancient and most educated Christians, clergy or not, accepted geology. In the 1780s James Hutton knew that many clergy accepted geological time and that makes an interesting story. That meant that they implicitly accepted that there had been death, disease and suffering in the animal world long before humans walked this earth. More and more theologians considered the implications of geological time but others e.g. Thomas Scott and Charles Simeon, simply ignored geology! Many others were happy to accept geological time , even “stretching Genesis like an elastic band”  but didn’t consider suffering.

One who did was the geologist Rev William Buckland of Oxford who regarded predation as a good thing removing old and decrepit animals quickly. However he did not consider the predation of the young. He addressed the issue more theologically in a sermon given at St Mary’s Church, Oxford in 1839

As Buckland and others were not phased by anmal suffering another geologist was. Or at least he started as a geologist but illness confined him to home so turned to biology. This was the intended Anglican parson Charles Darwin. He was also affected over the death of his father and of his daughter, Annie, at eleven. Charles Darwin was concerned about animal suffering and his concern over the parasitic ichneumon fly is notorious asking how a beneficient God could make such a creature. Ichneumons are now named Darwin’s wasps in honour of him.  I think Darwin raised all the issues over suffering and it prevented full-blown theism for him. My own understanding of suffering has benefited from considering his concerns and my conclusion will be where I am now.

So soon after the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin laid out the (his) problems of animal suffering in relation to God in a letter to the Christian botanist Asa Gray. However most Christians dealing with theodicy tend to sidestep the issue.

In his book The Problem of Pain C. S. Lewis tries to minimise the pain of animal suffering. Others have gone down the same route, but I wonder if they have witness an animal in pain. These are not only mammals as I found when I found an injured frog shrieking with pain. I cannot buy into this minimising of suffering. However I have to state that Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was instrumental in convincing me of the Christian Faith a few weeks before I obtained a degree in geology.

I find it significant that most leading Christians on science and faith are not geologists or biologists. A physical scientist does not deal with death and suffering in their work; no dead fossils, no earthquakes killing animals and people, no predation etc. Hence suffering is often sidestepped by Christians seeking to present their faith as reasonable for a scientist. One may say there is almost a conspiracy of silence.

One group take suffering head on and they are the Young Earth Creationists. To them creation took place a few thousand years ago and there was no death or suffering until the Fall of Adam and Eve, when God put a Curse on creation introducing death and suffering as a punishment. Its strength is that it seems very reasonable and true to Scripture, but it does make God seem a bit of an ogre and also means that one must reject all of science.

So now we come to John Schneider. No one can accuse him of not taking the issue head on!!!! He notes the ghastly reality of suffering whether for humans or animals. As he rightly wrote the death of an aged dog is awful. Death and suffering in the natural world seems so wrong. For us it is more so. Without saying so he dismisses the Creationist explanation, which is interesting in an evangelical publication. He totally accepts the scientific picture of an ancient earth with evolving life from soon afterwards. Not that any other position makes any sense. And, of course, he is a Christian and is trying to understand all suffering in the light of Jesus Christ. On this we  are totally at one and where we disagree it may be that we both are like blindfolded people trying to cross a mine field.

His Christianity Today article Why does Creation groan? raises many questions and, hopefully, will result in constructive discussion.

I want to consider three points;

  1. The idea of the Creator as a cosmic artist
  2. his use of Romans 9 and the potter
  3. the groaning of creation in Romans 8

Two biblical sources can help to resolve apparent conflict between the Christian story of redemption and the story of species. First, the apostle Paul’s famous discourse on divine election in Romans 9–11 is unexpectedly useful. Interpreters rarely notice that the discussion on election follows immediately after Paul’s imagery of the whole creation “groaning” in labor pains, longing to be rescued from evil (8:18–23). Surely violent predation, disorder, and death among animals are part of the picture Paul has in mind.


To justify God’s action morally, Paul adopts an aesthetic explanation. He presents God first as an artisan, a potter, fashioning an unusual vessel (9:21–23), and then as an arborist, who is pruning and grafting together a tree that will be greater in glory than any tree has ever been (11:11–24).

Paul implies that this strange messianic artistry reaches all the way back to God’s seemingly arbitrary election of Jacob and rejection of his older brother, Esau (9:6–13). The morally enigmatic style, then, according to Paul, is nothing new.

Paul explains further, however, that Israel’s “hardening” is temporary. After the Gentiles have been grafted onto the “tree” that God is cultivating, God will restore the original “root,” the Jews. Paul concludes this very long discourse with this rousing resolution: “God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” (11:32, NLT). In that way, to paraphrase Chisholm, the evils of divine election are gloriously defeated for all concerned.

This is a stunning statement. It seems that Paul envisioned the entire history of creation and redemption as a work of art, in which God has deliberately included evils in order to defeat them by means of mercy that unifies and vindicates the finished messianic whole.

Further, it is a short step back to Paul’s earlier vision of the whole creation “groaning” in great pain, not hopelessly, but in the forward-looking way of a woman giving birth (Rom. 8:22). In this vision of the future for nature—and for animals—the evil is not just ended or outweighed by the outcome but is defeated in universal, cosmic fashion. In both outcomes together—redemption of the human and nonhuman realms—the great goodness of the outcome could not be as good, true, and beautiful as it is going to be without defeat of the apparent evils involved in its creation.

Before relating this point more directly to Christianity and Darwinism, let us consider a second canonical source of support for this distinctly Jewish and Christian aesthetic approach to evils.

So to consider John’s points;

  1. The Cosmic Artist.  In many ways this is a lovely antropomorphic picture and so much better than mechanistic creation beloved by Deists in the 18th century, whereby god sort of fiddled around with details like a mechanic rather than giving a broad brush approach which a Cosmic Artist does. But I am one who does not find visual ideas like that very helpful. For me I can see the wonder of creation but the creator seems to be hiding out of sight. But his results are fantastic – however He did it!  Here are some sundew and Snowdon in the early morning.                                                 


  2. The potter in Romans 9. I find this the most inscrutable part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I probably see Paul’s picture of the potter as saying that there are many things we don’t understand and just have to accept them, just as a rejected pot might want to moan at the potter! John’s argument that  “God has deliberately included evils in order to defeat them by means of mercy that unifies and vindicates the finished messianic whole.” goes beyond what Paul is saying in Romans 9 vs 19ff, and I don’t think that it is a valid interpretation. Here John is being too fanciful and although it has an appeal to feelings I cannot accept it.
  3. Romans 8 and the Groaning of Creation. During this century this has become a popular interpretation of Romans 8 vs 19- 22 and is commonly used in eco-theology in all its forms. I have just discovered that a similar view was put forward by G D Yarnold, a priest-physicist in his book The moving Image (1965). Yarnold happens to be my uncle and studied physics alongside my mother in 1930. But I remember him telling me there was no need to learn Greek to be a vicar, but I ignored him!

Its appeal lies in the awareness of all the environmental degradation around us, from pollute air and water, loss of biodiversity, increased emissions. as we think of the extinction of soecies, grossly polluted rivers, choking smogs and lots of other nasties, it is a good anthropomorphism to say Creation is groaning. Further many do not see the seriousness of any aspect of environmental degradation, which is seen both in individual and corporate actions.

We should note this quotation from Aldo Leopold, the great environmentalist from Wisconsin. (if you haven’t read his a Sand County Almanac, then you must.) If you are not sure, just consider what replacing all your garden/yard with plastic grass and hard surfaces does to wildlife.


There is a major problem with this interpretation as, though “creation groaning” has a good feel about environmental degradation, it is rather forcing the words to say something Paul never said or meant. I am quite sure Paul never thought of environmental problems beyond stinking sewers in Rome. As well as that, we may sense that creation is groaning around us. I “groan” when I see another front garden/yard laid down to plastic grass or gravel when there were lawns, flowers shrubs and trees before. Or when road verges are mown removing all the wild flowers. Or when trees are cut down for no good reason. The list is endless. But then I ask, “How is Pluto or Sirius groaning?”

As with any biblical passage we need to ask what the author meant and not just put our own interpretation on it. Another verse which is now used to justify environmental action is John 3 vs 16  “God so loved the world”. From that some argue we too should love the world and care for creation. But, wait a minute! The word “world” – Greek kosmos is used by John in different ways. It CAN mean creation i.e. the created universe, but here and in many other places John does not use it that way, but to signify the human population opposerd to God. That is what we often find in John.

Thus we ought to consider the choice of words in Romans 8 vs 19-23 and what they mean in that context. First we need to asks what the word translated as creation – ktisis – actually means. The almost complete consensus of scholars today is that it means creation, as in the created cosmos, but very few consider that ktisis has multiple meanings. It can mean all creation, a new Christian  – new creation ” Cor 5 vs17, humanity as opposed to all creation as in Mark 16 vs15 and Colosians 1 vs23. With reference to Romans 8  Arndt and Gingrich (latest edition F W Danker)  in the standard lexicon emphasise “The meaning. of ktisis is in dispute inRo 8:19–22,” having mentioned that in col 1 vs 23 and Mark 16 vs15 ktisis means humankind. The word is used in various ways in both the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers.

Historically, at least since 1650 scholars have been divided over the meaning. However after 1860 most have favoured Creation, and very rarely explain why they chose that option. I don’t have space to give my historical survey. Just a s taster is how Luther and Calvin disagree. Of all the commentaries Luther’s is the most intriguing. He says for vs 19 ktisis is the cosmos, and then for verse 20 ktisis is man in his vanity “Most exegetes take the term “creature” in this passage to mean man, because he has a share in everything created. But it is better to understand man through the word “vanity,” as it says expressly and very rightly in Ps. 39:5: “Surely every man living is altogether vanity.” For it is certainly true that, if man, the old man, were not, there would be no vanity”. Thus instead of the cosmos being subjected to futility, humans are stuck in their “vanity” – see below on matiotes. Luther is not only the most intriguing, but also the most profound. However Calvin on Romans 8 uses ktisis to mean cosmos throughout.

Verse 22 says “all ktisis has been groaning in labor pains” and verse 20 says “the ktisis was subjected to futility, not of its own will but the one  (i.e. God) who subjected it..”

Many commentaries which opt for creation rather than humankind see in this a reference to the Fall and the Curse eg Sanday and Headlem’s classic commentary of 1900. (I doubt if these scholars believed in a Historical Fall and almost certainly accepted evolution). And in the more recent one of James Dunn among others. If that is correct then if we follow Paul we must hold that before Adam fell there was no death or suffering among re-human living forms.

N. T. Wright wrote more fully, and rather oddly, in Evil and the Justice of God. P116-7

Creation, writes Paul, has been subjected to futility (Romans 8.20). Don’t we know it: the tree reaches its full fruitfulness and then becomes bleak and bare. Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten. Human lives, full of promise and beauty, laughter and love, are cut short by illness and death. Creation as we know it bears witness to God’s power and glory (Romans 1:19-20) but also to the present state of futility to which it has been enslaved.

I love the seasons and their changes. These are photos of the Four Seasons taken close to where I live in Lancashire. The mountian for summer and winter is Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales. To me this is the joy of the Creator not futility.

DSCF8789 (1)DSCF3617


Wright uses the word “futility” or in Greek mataiotes as in Rom 8 vs 20. In every other occurence in the New Testament mataiotes and cognates is used to describe the human (fallen) condition as it is in the Greek Septuagint, par excellence in Ecclesiastes but also often in the Psalms and in the fourth commandment. If Wright is right then this is the only example that mataiotes is not used to describe human folly in both the New Testament and the Septuagint.

I question this interpretation of Romans 8 as it makes creation to be rotten to the core. Further what does it mean to say creation is groaning being subjected to futility by God? It may appeal to our feelings and emotions as we consider the destruction of the environment. In Britain I can cite the destruction of raptors on moorland, sewage-filled rivers, the removal of trees in the centre of Plymouth and many other examples. But what is the “groaning of creation” on the planet Neptune  or distant stars and galaxies, which humans have never visited?

It may be an appealing interpretation but it is not grounded in good biblical interpretation. Further it is not right to make a “big” theological argument or doctrine from one verse, especially where there are acknowledged questions of meaning.

I admit that most New Testament scholars since about 1850 say  (often without presenting any case – for or against) that ktisis throughout Romans 8 vs 18- 23 means the total creation. My own survey on the use of ktisis is that before 1860 a small majority favoured creation as the meaning, but some significant scholars did not starting with John Lightfoot in 1659. Lightfoot thought any idea of creation groaning was meaningless! With his date of Creation of 3929BC he makes Ussher seem like an old earther!

As one considers the New Testament Writings and the Apostolic Fathers one finds that ktisis has various meaning according to the context and can mean either Creation of everything of humanity. Thus Romans 1, it is used of the ACT of creation of the cosmos (vs 19) and the worship of a Creature (vs 25). Mark 16 vs 15 and Col 1 vs 23 ktisis means humanity – unless you preach to bugs and boulders! The use in Col 1 vs 15 could mean either humanity or creation. I am dealing with this in detail for a conference this year so this is a very brief summary. This five year old blog is an earlier attempt, which I have now improved and given a historical background.

John Schneider has given much to ponder and has faced up to the fact of an ancient earth with life, and thus death,disease and suffering, going back billions of years. Very often the issue of suffering is evaded but not by John! He has faced it head on. Any theological view which doesn’t accept suffering for billions of years is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. This cannot be said too strongly.

The challenge is to find a satisfactory explanation. I have never found one which satisfies me and flounder when I attempt to do so.

Ultimately I consider suffering as an unsolvable problem and one we can only feel towards in the light of the cross. Any understanding of suffering must accept that death and suffering have been part of the natural world for billions of years and are thus written into creation.

If, and that is a big if, creation is groaning and in labour pains (and perhaps the tectonically resless earth with all life facing death chimes in with this) (verse 22) then, according to Paul, that is becouse “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it (verse 20) which if ktisis means the whole of creation points to the change at the Fall. This has the corollary that there was no death before this “subjection” – Fall and thus Young Earth Creationists are correct in their claims.

I freely admit that I cannot explain suffering. I accept it as a fact that suffering has been on this planet at long as life has existed and is written into creation. I feel like Job when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind (Job 38)

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began
and caused the dawn to know its place,

But we can go further than Job as we see the incarnate Son entered into suffering as I explore in this blog. It is all I have and know it goes beyond any evidence or good argument and can offer no more. As Butterfield famously said

Hold on to Christ and for the rest be uncommitted.

and even better

My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?

Now read this which goes from the ichneumon to the cross.

Darwin’s Dog-leg; The Last leg of his 1831 Welsh visit

At Capel Curig I left Sedgwick and went in a straight line by compass and map
across the mountains to Barmouth, never following any track unless it coincided with
my course. I thus came to some strange wild places and enjoyed much this manner of
travelling. I visited Barmouth to see more Cambridge friends who were reading there,
and thence returned to Shrewsbury and to Maer for shooting;” (Darwin and Huxley,
1983: 40).

So wrote Charles Darwin in his Autobiography which he wrote when he was nearly seventy, reminiscing about his geological tour of North Wales in which he joined Adam Sedgwick, geology professor at Cambridge in August 1831. This is repeated ad nauseam and often verbatim in biographies of Darwin as his pre-Beagle life is considered.

They only thing wrong with it is that it is simply not true and though Darwin did walk from Capel Curig to Barmouth, he had left Sedgwick a few days earlier in the vicinity of Bangor and he did not go “in a straight line by compass and map across the mountains to Barmouth, never following any track unless it coincided with my course.” If anyone does believe that Darwin did follow a compass bearing from Capel Curig to Barmouth I shall happily follow that direct route with him  (no woman would be so keen to get a Darwin award) and plod along until he gives up.

This account describes the work I did twenty five years ago while living in North Wales and link to the paper I wrote in Archive of Natural History


During the nineties I obtained copies of all Darwin’s geological notes of Shropshire and North Wales and slowly visited all the sites. I worked out his routes and compared his geological notes with modern understandings. Luckily I did not have time contraints as most researchers would have and combined it with my own exploration of the area. I had an excellent field assistant and companion, Topper, who always accompanied me. Here he is as the top of Cwm Cneifion in the Glyderau when he patiently waited for me to surmount a cornice which he found easy-peasy.


For the first part of his 1831 geological trip to Wales Darwin’s companion also had a dog-collar*, the Rev Prof Adam Sedgwick, one of the greatest geologists of his generation. Darwin was very lucky to be taught by him, even if he was more liable to snap than Topper. Sedgwick gave us the Cambrian and much of the Devonian too. As a devout Christian he had no time for the Creationists of his day and his spat with the creationist Dean Cockburn of York was little more than farce.

  • not actually true as dog-collars came in later in the 19th century!

Read here;


This map traces his route. From 4th  to 19th August Darwin was with Sedgwick, travelling from Shrewsbury and then round Anglesey after a quick visit to Dublin. Account here


The router superimposed on an old geological map


After leaving Sedgqwick near Bangor, Darwin travelled to Ogwen Cottage. I presume he took a coach as what is now Ogwen Cottage was a coaching inn, much needed to change exhausted horses after the pull-up from Bethesda. From there he went round Cwm Idwal on his own – contrary to his Autobiography – and made geological observations which are described in the second part of this paper;



I could go into raptures about Cwm Idwal which I first visited in 1963. I first climbed the peaks round about. It is the place of my first rock climb. Since then I have regularly been up the peaks in all weathers. This is the same view as the above!!


Darwin went round the lake but we may ask how did he get to Plas Y Brenin in Capel Curig. He could have walked along the old road, got a ride or went over the tops of the Glyderau, which are about 1000 metres. That would have been a nice stroll for Darwin!


Cwm Idwal is a great place for bog plants, especially sundew, butterwort and bog asphodel.


This is looking down to Llyn Idwal and Nant Francon from the Glyderau.  That day I was on a field trip with Harvard students. By the lake it was raining and when a speck of blue sky appear Andrew Berry suggested we walked over the tops to Plas y Brenin. The weather simply improved with my best views ever. As we walked over the tops one student told me I was very fast for my age. I was only 61 then! Cheeky blighter!

For comparison, the road walk from Idwal to Plas y Brenin is six miles and would have taken less than two hours. The mountain route is seven miles and would take at least three hours, except for mountain goats. It took us a good three hours, but I slowed the students down!

And so we sped over GlyderFawr and Glyder Fach and then down the ridge to Plas y Brenin. This was a coaching inn and both Darwin and Queen Victoria stayed and both scratched their names on a window!

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The ridge as we dropped down to Plas y Brenin and the lakes.


Plas y Brenin, a Victorian coaching inn


An early morning view of Snowdon from Plas y Brenin looking over the Llynau Mymbyr. As Darwin stayed here many times in the 1820s as well as 1831 and then in 1842, he would have known the view.

Darwin began his route to Barmouth from Plas y Brenin and I describe it in this paper 

Archives of Natural History (1998) 25 (1): 59-73
Darwin’s dog-leg: the last stage of Darwin’s Welsh field trip of 1831

PDF here; Darwinsdogleg1998

Darwin spent two nights at Plas y Brenin. On the first day he climbed Moel Siabod 872 metres and an easy climb from the inn. Then, having left Sedgwick a letter (missing from Cambrdiger University Library) describing his geological findings at Cwm idwal, walked to Barmouth.

Darwin claimed to have followed a compass bearing to Barmouth, which would give a route of 26 miles or 40 km. I think Darwin could have done it in a day but would have been totally knackered for the next few days. The compass route is horrific with very rough terrain and few paths. The first part to the Vale of Ffestiniog is bad enough but to continue over the Rhinogau would be ten times worse. It would involve wading through large heather covered boulders! I suppose it could be done. It is excess of anything I have done in Snowdonia, or anywhwere but then I am lazy. It makes my walk of 20 miles and 6000ft of climbing from Bethesda over all the Glyderau summits and then from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan, or 18 miles and 6000ft of climbing over the Carneddau seem short strolls! (Both of these took me about ten hours. I was 41 for the Glyderau walk and 53 for the Carneddau.)  To my knowledge nobody has actually followed Darwin’s remembered route! To do so you would be given a Darwin award!!!!

A study of Darwin’s notes gives markers to the route, as he gives notes to various outcrops. Most significant was the outcrop at Carreg y Fran which he described in detail (see paper) and is locality no 7 on the map. It is 6km or 4 miles to the east of his compass route. As his notes are a fair description of the site it is beyond question. I slowly pieced together his route and walked most of it with my assistant, Topper. There was no following of a compass direction with a masochism worthy of Orde Wingate in Ethiopia, but Darwin followed clear tracks from Capel to Dolwyddelan then over the Sarn Helen, past Carreg y Fran to Ffestiniog where he spent the night on 22nd August.

The following day he followed the road south before taking a track over Bwlch Drws Ardudwy  and thence to Barmouth. It was two fairly easy days.


On page 61 of my paper I gave a timeline for August 1831, which I made in 1997 before I had realised than Darwin had accompanied Sedgwick around Anglesey. Hence I had Darwin staying in Barmouth for eleven nights. On realising he went round Anglesey I revised the dates with Darwin visiting Cwm Idwal on 20th August and leaving Capel Curig on the 22nd. Thus he would most likely have stayed in Ffestiniog on the 22nd. This is confirmed by Lucas in Archives of Natural History 29 (1) p1-26, 2002. Lucas looked more at documentary evidence rather than identifying geological localities.


Moel Siabod. Darwin  climbed from the RHS just out of view and descended the ridge facing the camera!

For the journey Darwin had a copy of Walker’s map which was published in 1824. It was a small scale and not always accurate. Those familiar with the area will acknowledge the difficulty of using this map, but Darwin was familiar with the area. However he knew the terrain in the Rhinogau from previous visits.

There is, and was, a good track from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan and from there went south along the valley to the boggy moreland east of Moel Penamnen and joined the Sarn Helel.

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Moel Siabod from above Dolwyddelan.


Snowdon                               Glyderau                                               Moel Siabod

The boogy moor!


Carreg y Fran from the summit of Manod Mawr with Cwm Penmachno in the background. Sarn Helen is a matter of yards on the far side of Carreg y Fran.


A close-up of the crag, which Darwin described as conglomerate but today is agglomerate.


Carreg y Fran from B4391 to the west of Ffestiniog. This photo was taken on the return from climbing Snowdon by the Rhyd Ddu path which was my son’s 75th birthday present for me!


Manod Mawr with Carreg y Fran behind. During WWII art treasures from London were stored in the caverns in Manod Mawr.

Darwin continued to Ffestiniog and stayed at the Pengwern Arms.

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Pengwern Arms.

Note Manod Mawr behind the inn on the right.

The next day he continued south joining the main Dolgellau road before turning off into the hills to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy.


Looking down on Bwlch Drws Ardudy from the slopes of Rhinog Fach. Boulders covered with heather does not make for easy walking! In the distance on RHS is Arenig Fawr with Migneint on LHS.

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Looking back at the Bwlch, with Rhinog Fach to the right. Well to the right below Diffws Darwin found a rock glacier and found similar in the Falklands.

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My field assistant examining one of Darwin’s outcrops.

Working out the last leg of this walk was tricky as from Darwin’s notes I could piece together several alternatives.

But he arrived in Barmouth in the evening of the 24th August and stayed there a few days.

He had no idea what was to befall him!


A view of Barmouth from the south. The mountain to the right is Diffws.


Cyfrwy from the summit of Cadair Idris with Barmouth in the background

No one knows what Darwin did with his mates at Barmouth. Perhaps he even went up his favourite mountain Cadair Idris. But he wanted to get home for the beginning of the shooting season. However when he got home there was a letter from John Henslow suggesting he joined the Beagle. He never went shooting at Maer.

And so ends his 1831 trip to North Wales, which ended in a bit of a climax!

Darwin’s geological evolution.

During the summer of 1831 Darwin spent much time geologising. This was in several stages;

  1. His vist to Llanymynech hill on the Welsh Border, when he used his newly-aqiured clinometer.
  2. His production of maps of Shropshire and Anglesey. He also marked in some geology i.e. New Red Sandstoone by Nesscliff, and made notes of several sites. This will appear soon as a blog
  3. accompanying Sedgwick around Shrewsbury on 4 th and 5th of August
  4. Accompanying Sedgwick from Shrewsbury through Llangollen to conwy and then Bethesda.
  5. After a weekend with Sedgwick they went round Anglesey using Henslow’s map as guide
  6. After leaving Sedgwick near Bangor, he went first to Cwm Idwal and then to Barmouth as described here.

He did no more geology until he landed at the Cape Verde islands. It is fascinating to read through his notes starting with the not-very-good ones at Llanymynech  and then on the main part of his trip with Sedgwick. As the two lots of notes are often similar it is clear that Sedgwick was tutoring him. Then lastly in Wales the notes he made at Cwm Idwal and then on the “dogleg”, which showed how he had improved since his visit to Llanymynech. and then lastly his notes at Cape Verde show more improvement and are perceptive.

It is interesting to compare with my own development in mapping. at Easter 1967 I was at the mapping course at Horton and made a pigs ear of mapping. In the July I was in Northern Canada mapping an intrusion at 64 degrees north. I was commended for my map. It was fun to discover a layered basic intrusion.

Darwin’s 1831 is both interesting in that it shows how Darwin learnt his science and was thus competent when he sailed on the Beagle and how a geologist develops in their field work with practice.

Did God subject Creation to pointless futility?

Now  that might seem a very odd question? Surely Creation i.e the natural world – call it what you will, is wonderful and beautiful as these two photos show;


The first is of Llyn Idwal and the Glyderau behind. I have been visiting there in all weathers and seasons since 1963 and it’s always wonderful. On the right is a typical January scene on the river Wyre near me. Snowdrops never fail to enchant. There is nothing futile here.

Most people would agree that this planet and the rest of the universe is full of wonder and awe, and many would point to Attenborough documentaries. It is clearly beautiful, though at times very harsh, but I can’t see many looking for and finding futility.

Yes, our world is also full of suffering alongside the incredible beauty. There are those, following the poet John Milton, who think the suffering is the result of Adam and Eve’s misdemeanors when the ate the fruit (note that the latin word malus means both apple and sin). suffering and death is God’s punishment for that  and seems rather excessive. It is still widely held by Creationist Christians who won’t accept that the earth is billions of years old and suffering and death have been around as long as life. As all this was known over two hundred years ago it is surprising that some seem to think that the creation is subject to futility. Some even hold it along with an acceptance of evolution.

Let’s now consider a leading Anglican New Testament scholar who accepts evolution and that creation is subject to futility – N. T. Wright. With his vast output he needs little introduction and has probably written one of the best books on the resurrection, where he deftly avoids a simplistic physical resurrection and a non-bodily one. Theologically he is a leading representative of moderate evangelicalism, but some of his Perspectives on Paul are less appreciated by the more conservative and reformed Christians. That is another issue, but I side with Wright on these. But let’s first consider his understanding of Romans 8 in his series Paul for Everyone.

Here is his translation of Romans 8:19-21 New Testament for Everyone (NTE) (which is closer to the Greek than given by Sanday and Headlam in their commentary!)

19 Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. 20 Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope 21 that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified.

That is followed by a brief exposition beginning with taking a country walk. I was not happy that he normally walks to take exercise as to me walking is a multi-faceted activity as I enjoy the effort/exercise of climbing 3000ft up a Lakeland fell, as looking at the views, finding unusual flowers like sundews, spotting glacial features and looking for all things new! He had taken an overgrown path and found it led to fantastic view and then likens Rom 8 vs18-25 to a fantastic view of “the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s creation”. He criticises, rightfully, those who see Paul’s theology solely in terms of individual justification and salvation. But after that I depart with haste from his view.

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I was proud of this photo of a struggling rowan high up the Bowland fells. I see beauty and the tenacity of life but no futility. Also God must be a rum lad if he subjected creation to futility!

He then wrote; “The language of creation on tiptoe with expectation is not what they expect. The strange idea of God subjecting creation to futility and slavery, and of creation then being rescued, simply isn’t what people wanted to hear. …. So the path to the viewpoint has been covered over with thorns and thistles.” This made me blink. I am afraid that in the summer months my legs are covered in scratches. Once, in a desert, I walked past a bush and a venomous snake popped out and tried to nip my bare leg! There must be some theology in that. On another occasion I nearly trod on a sleeping Cape Cobra ……

He continues, “the present suffering, … will be far outweighed by ‘the glory that is going to be unveiled for us’. He’s spot on there, but not in his conclusion to the paragraph “then, at last, creation … will know that the time has come for it to be rescued from corruption.”

I want to ask, how is creation corrupted? Except where stupid humans have polluted it.

I am baffled in what way creation, like all the strata from the early Precambrian to the Ice Ages, needs to be rescued from corruption. Much of my field geology has been on glacial geology ancient and modern!I cannot see anything corrupt in the Precambrian Numees Tillite  (c800 million) or recent Lower Dryas moraines,(20,000 years)  which I worked on.  He continues:

“To understand this, we need to grasp the big biblical story of creation. … God has allowed creation to be subjected to its present round of summer and autumn, growth and decay, birth and death.”

He wrote more fully in Evil and the Justice of God. P116-7

Creation, writes Paul, has been subjected to futility (Romans 8.20). Don’t we know it: the tree reaches its full fruitfulness and then becomes bleak and bare. Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten. Human lives, full of promise and beauty, laughter and love, are cut short by illness and death. Creation as we know it bears witness to God’s power and glory (Romans 1:19-20) but also to the present state of futility to which it has been enslaved.

I question this interpretation, both of Romans and Genesis, as it makes creation to be rotten to the core. Romans does not say that and it is so contrary to experience – at least my experience. I cannot see futility in the shortening days after the summer solstice. Also the word futility (mataiotes in Greek is ONLY used of the human condition in both the Old and New Testaments, so it is odd to use here for the inorganic creation. I cannot see it in geological studies, which trace out a detailed history of the surface of a planet. I cannot see the Four Seasons as anything but wonderful in their variety and nothing futile.

The beauty of creation in the seasons- a random selection of my photos

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and the futility;


Where is the futility in a struggling moorland oak in autumn or a British mountain under snow. The mountain is Ingleborough which I had just climbed for the nth time!

(The word translated futility is mataiotes which in the Greek New Testament and the Septuagint is only used for human folly!)

Also I am one of those who cycles, walks and climbs mountains every month of the year and in all weathers. As I write this on St Nicholas’s day my last three months of walking during the autumn must have witnessed that annual subjection to futility. No way! I’ve had three glorious walks in the Lakes, three in the Yorkshire Dales and many more in the Forest of Bowland. Yes, I’ve experienced wind, rain, snow, cold and warmth and gone up to my thighs in a sphagnum bog! Now that was futile!! My feet were frozen.

Stinging nettles, thistles, thorns, midges and horseflies – and in the past, tsetse flies! I have watched autumn unfold and merge into winter, fungi helping the process of decay/recycling/upcycling in weird and wonderful ways, stands of bog asphodel after losing their fantastic yellow flowers and turning bronze before sinking into a peat bog, frozen pools and a little snow. Beauty, awe and wonder, but no futility. I now look forward to climbing in the snow, and then to the pastel greenness of spring with its flowers, on to the height of summer and back to autumn. At Christmas I am looking at the buds in my garden and daffs poking through. Come January I’ll be looking for snowdrops in the road verges. In all of it I echo G M Hopkins;

The world is charged with the glory of God

not to mention some of the  psalms like Psalm 8 and hymns like How great thou art on creator and  creation

Yes, this has been going on for 4 billion years and is the nature of creation which was written in at the beginning. But his representation of “corruption, futility and slavery” shows that he believes that the creation is not as God intended. He writes of “the sharp end of corruption of creation – on an earthquake fault line, for instance, or by an active volcano – you may sense the awe of that futile power.” Power, yes, but not futile. Often it may be tragic as with the recent eruption in New Zealand. Plate Tectonics, and the attendant quakes and volcanoes were there from the beginning. And that beginning predated humans by a few billion years.

Evidence of Plate Motions - Geology (U.S. National Park Service)

On Feb 6 2023 a massive Mag 7.8 hit Turkey and Syria along a major weakness, which contiues to the Himalaya and was the localituy of the Nepal quake and the 1950 Assam quake.

( I discuss the Assam quake which nearly knocked our house down and local tremors here

One of my great climbs was up Mt St Helens in 2009, which blew its top in 1980. It was totally awesome. Many years before I was scalded in Bumpas Hell just below Lassen Peak in California, while taking a photo of sulphur crystals. I was shirtless at the time when a gust blew steam over me. I squealed!


A view from the summit of Mt St Helens showing the devastation caused by the 1980 eruption. Is Mt Ranier is the distance next to go? The grey area was green forest.


I’ve experienced a few minor quakes in Britain and a massive Mag 8.6 as a child which I do not remember, and one about Mag 4.5 in the middle of a hymn during worship in Uganda. The organist missed a few notes and carried on as we did!

If Wright is correct then there should be something marking the introduction of quakes and volcanoes in the geological record, as that should have occurred when Adam and Eve went scrumping.

There are none.

If there were, I could not have found volcanic lavas in strata some 900 million years old in the Namib Desert nor glaciation in 650 million year old strata nearby, nor some big faults caused by tectonic shifts resulting in quakes some 600 million years ago. I could also mention all the other ancient volcanic rocks I’ve seen from the 2.2 billion year Scourie dykes in the Highlands, 450 million year old lavas in Snowdonia and the Lakes giving excellent rock-climbing, not to mention the mere 65 million year old rocks in Skye. In fact, volcanoes and igneous rock have been formed for a good 4 billion years.

In 2005 Wright gave a lecture God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil (Transcript of one of N.T. Wright’s May 18-19, 2005, lectures at the Church Leaders’ Forum, Seattle Pacific University.

In the lecture he wrote;

What then about the tsunami? There is of course no straightforward answer. But there are small clues.

We are not to suppose that the world as it currently is, is the way God intends it to be at the last. Some serious thinkers, including some contemporary physicists, would actually link the convulsions which still happen in the world to evil perpetrated by humans; and it is indeed fair enough to probe for deeper connections than modernist science has imagined between human behaviour and the total environment of our world, including tectonic plates. But I find it somewhat easier to suppose that the project of creation, the good world which God made at the beginning, was supposed to go forward under the wise stewardship of the human race, God’s vice-gerents, God’s image-bearers; and that, when the human race turned to worship creation instead of God, the project could not proceed in the intended manner, but instead bore thorns and thistles, volcanoes and tsunamis, the terrifying wrath of the creation which we humans had treated as if it were divine.

I was simply stunned to read that and have long restrained from discussing it. I am well-aware of induced seismicity from hydropower, mining and fluid injection in wells, but this is another level or two up.

All these quotations could have come straight from a recent publication of Answers in Genesis and I find it difficult not to read it in the sense that the author believes that “thorns and thistles, volcanoes and tsunamis” are the result of human behaviour i.e. a Curse as the result of the Fall. That was dealt with by the assault of geological hammers and biological microscopes, if not by good exegesis. I am, of course, aware of induced seismicity, at times up to Magnitude 6, whether from mining, fracking, geothermal energy, or the unsettlement of strata from hydro-electric dams, but human activity cannot be the cause of tectonic movements before humans appeared on the scene and could not cause the massive earthquake which resulted in the 2004 boxing Day tsunami, or the eruption of Mt St Helens to give two examples.

The next paragraph makes his understanding clear;

“The human race was put in charge of creation (as so often Paul has Genesis 1-3 not far from his mind). When humans rebelled [in Garden of Eden] and worshipped parts of creation instead of God himself (Rom 1 21-23), creation fell into disrepair.”

How did creation fall into disrepair not so many thousands of years ago? How does the disrepair manifest itself? My bicycle takes a battering as I cycle over 4000 miles a year and continually edges towards disrepair necessitating repairs or replacement. Yes, it is continually falling into disrepair – particularly after winter cycling! But the creation? How?

I expect to read something like that on the website of a Young Earth Creationist group. What Wright is claiming is that when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden that affected the whole of the natural order, or creation, or cosmos, or universe and made it change from a good state to one of disrepair and had fallen into corruption, whereas it was uncorrupt before. Seriously, From my fieldwork, I cannot distinguish between the basic make-up of glacial material deposited 600 million years and those from 20,000 years ago, or alpine moraines today. I have studied all three in the field. We need more on how the creation is corrupt whereas previously it was incorrupt.

He concluded his lecture;

The Gospels thus tell the story of Jesus, and particularly of his death, as the story of how cosmic and global evil, in its suprapersonal as well as personal forms, are met by the sovereign, saving love of Israel’s God, YHWH, the creator of the world. They write intentionally to draw the whole Old Testament narrative to its climax, seeing that narrative precisely as the story of God’s strange and dark solution to the problem of evil from Genesis 3 onwards.

Here he first looks to a past event when “evil” was introduced to a pristine planet – including earthquakes – and also conflates natural with moral and spiritual evil. Wright seems to imply that natural events like volcanoes and earthquakes are not as God intended. On could add disease and death, but all these are part of the fabric of the natural world.  Leaving aside the issue of natural and moral evil, this whole discussion brings out the Achilles heel of many theological “reconciliations” of theology and evolution. Most are aware of the reality or brute fact of the vast age of the universe and evolution, but then approach their theology and biblical interpretation implicitly rejecting that reality and thus adopting a theology more amenable to young earth ideas. Most commentators on Romans 8 do this as do many other theologians.

If all these scholars are correct in taking ktisis as meaning the whole of creation , the cosmos, or the universe, then their theology and that of the apostle Paul is totally contrary to the physical realities we have in geology, biology and cosmology.

Is Paul simply wrong or have we got Paul wrong?

As Wright presents his understanding of the Fall in these three places he effectually adopts a Miltonic view of the Fall accepting that it had a serious and deleterious effect on ALL creation and that is how his epic poem Paradise Lost begins

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden fruit, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe“.


Beast now with beast gan war, and fowl with fowl,

And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,

Devoured each other. P.Lost X 710-12

We are too easily lulled by Milton, as the the geologist Rev Edward Hitchcock stressed in the 1850s, when he wrote, “we groan under the burden of Milton’s mythology.”.

Great though Paradise Lost is, it is putting the whole Genesis account as portraying a young earth and the dramatic change to the constitution of this planet caused by “man’s first disobedience.” Some New Testament scholars are saying that – at least implicitly. In other words, all of these are essentially saying Young earth Creationism is right, there was this CURSE and thus the earth is thousands of years old. That is simply untrue as the earth is billions of years old and life nearly as old, and thus death also and earthquakes.

Creation is wonderful and not subjected to futility as these photos show;

Could monkeys type the 23rd Psalm?

Come On Irritated GIF - Come On Irritated Mad GIFs

“There is no lie as good as the precise and well-detailed one.” Thus said Reijer Hooykaas over those who wished to portray Calvin as thick over astronomy. Often a quote by Calvin is cited – but it does not exist!! It is surprising how many well-detailed lies come out in the history of science and faith. These are largely due to the writer being convinced of conflict between science and faith.

Now here is a well-detailed lie about the Huxley-Wilberforce meeting in 1860 over Darwin’s theory of evolution. But before we consider this lie, here’s a summary of that meeting and its context;

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”[5].

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[6]. Just before the BAAS meeting Wilberforce had written a long review of The Origin for the Quarterly Review[7], 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[8], 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.”[9] 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.”[10] 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[11]. 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[12]. 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.[13].

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.[14]

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[15]. Suffice it to say that there was an anti-evolutionism in Britain as well as the more conciliatory views of the mainstream churches.


This taken from by brief history, also published in Streitfall Evolution.

My lie comes from an article written by Russell Grigg for Creation Ministries International – a break-away movement from Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis.

Now here it is – neatly typed!!

Huxley then arose and is said to have put forward his now well-known argument that six eternal monkeys or apes2 typing on six eternal typewriters with unlimited amounts of paper and ink could, given enough time, produce a Psalm, a Shakespearean sonnet, or even a whole book, purely by chance that is, by random striking of the keys.

In the course of his presentation Huxley pretended to find the 23rd Psalm among the reams of written gibberish produced by his six imaginary apes at their typewriters. He went on to make his point that, in the same way, molecular movement, given enough time and matter, could produce Bishop Wilberforce himself, purely by chance and without the work of any Designer or Creator.

It seems, from the various accounts of what happened (mostly letters written by Darwin’s followers, as no report on the debate was published by the British Association), that the worthy Bishop did not have an answer to this line of reasoning. This is rather surprising in view of his erudition in the realm of Mathematics. So let us consider some answers to Huxley’s argument—an argument that is still advanced from time to time by modern-day evolutionists—that chance is a better explanation for origins than design.

It is hard not to giggle at this. Great apes have long been able to type, as I am now. But only one of the great apes – homo sapiens! But still it is funny to imagine gorillas or bonobos typing or even monkeys.

Come On Irritated GIF - Come On Irritated Mad GIFs

Despite the so-called Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation over Darwin in 1860 being so well-known no one really knows what happened. All we have a few reminisces which are often contradictory. Incidentally, Wilberforce was never a professor of mathematics as Grigg claims!

But one thing is absolutely clear.


Well! that finishes of that article and all the other ideas in it simply crumble to dust.

Huxley never put forward a typewriter analogy , hence Wilberforce, good mathematician he was, thus could not discuss it, let alone refute it.

Grigg then extends his argument to the usual dichotomy of Chance vs Design.

Chance vs. Design

Let us imagine a special typewriter, ‘user-friendly’ to apes, with 50 keys, comprised of 26 capital letters, 10 numbers, one space bar, and 13 symbols for punctuation, etc. For the sake of simplicity we shall disregard lower-case letters and settle for typing all to be in capitals, and we shall disregard leap years.

How long would it take an operator, on the average, to correctly type the 23rd Psalm, by randomly striking keys? To obtain the answer, let us first consider the first verse of the Psalm, which reads: ‘THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT WANT.’

According to the Multiplication Rule of Probability (in simplified form)3 the chance of correctly typing the three designated letters ‘THE’ from possibilities is 1 in 50 x 50 x 50, which equals 125,000. At a rate of one strike per second, the average time taken to make 125,000 strikes is 34.72 hours.

The chance of randomly typing the eight keys (seven letters and one space) in the right sequence for the two words THE LORD is 1 in 50 x 50 … eight times (i.e. 508). This is 1 chance in 39,062 billion. There are 31,536,000 seconds in a year, so the average time taken in years to make 39,062 billion strikes at the rate of one strike per second would be 1,238,663.7 years.

The time taken on the average to correctly type the whole of verse 1 of the 23rd Psalm, which contains 42 letters, punctuation, and spaces, would be 5042 divided by 31,536,000 (seconds in a year), which is 7.2 x 1063 year.

What do we make of that? Not much – just special pleading from a false premise.
BUT it may convince some of CMI’s faithful


The theory that chance random combinations of living matter could produce the Bishop of Oxford, a living cell, or even a single functional protein molecule, whether in time or in eternity, therefore fails on all counts.

It falls down as Huxley never said what they claimed and the whole argument is a straw man. It may convince gullible followers of CMI but is devoid of sense of rationality.

I suppose this could convince some Creationists as they would be unaware of Grigg’s Conscious Bias. It is typical of bad creationist and bad evangelical apologetics.

You cannot make an argument based on a lie.

But we have seen that before,

Perhaps we should ask why Creationists do this!!

Darwin’s Wasps and Good Friday

I recently bought the WILDguide to Britain’s Insects. It is a magnificent bulky guide and too big to carry into the field. With its photographs and descriptions it was better than my older guides. It also made me realise how little I knew my insects

The unofficial book club review no 2 | Through 360 Degrees - A blog by Mark  Cocker

At 600 pages it is vast and comprehensive and deals with all the families from the beautiful dragon and maiden flies to the less-enchanting bed-bugs. Much has been known about insects for years and Victorian clergy sometimes spent more time looking for beetles than writing their sermons.

One section took me by surprise. The last section of one hundred pages was on the Hymenoptera – ants, wasps, bees and relatives. Flipping through this I found five pages 472-476 on

Darwin’s Wasps

That was new to me, but these are the delightful parasitic wasps, whose females inject their eggs into some poor caterpillar and the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside until they pupate, fly off and leave the poor very hungry caterpillar to curl up and die, which caused Darwin so much angst.

Here’s a female in action implanting its eggs into a caterpillar

Coined in Basel: The “Darwin wasps” | by Maridel Fredericksen | sci five |  University of Basel | Medium

Rather than expound these lovely critters here is wikipedia on them

I am not a great wiki fan, but it gives enough basic stuff on Darwin’s favourites. They have only been called Darwin’s wasps in the last few years and many articles are behind a paywall.

I cannot see Mrs Alexander including these wasps in her hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful – or this suggestion, which as serious as it is funny.


Suffering is a problem as we will all encounter at sometime and Darwin felt it so strongly  as over the loss of his daughter Annie and used the Ichneumon fly to highlight his concern. suffering is the greatest challenge to the Christian Faith.

Now to nature red in tooth and claw.

To the cynical, natural history films are a mixture of sex and violence with either animals bonking in exotic ways or tearing each other to bits. Usually it is often a large cat tearing down a buck and then scoffing the gory remains. Yet most will find the ichneumon wasps too much for even the least squeamish. The female lays her eggs in a caterpillar and the larvae eat up the caterpillar from the inside but keeping the poor thing alive until they have metamorphosed into their imagos i.e. flying wasps. Those who have been to the tropics will know jiggers. The first thing you realise that your toe by a nail is very itchy. When you look it is red and the temptation is to scratch. After several days of infuriating discomfort you notice that the centre of the red area is a tiny black circle. Soon after that you can squeeze hard and out plops the larva, and the redness subsides. The ichneumon do it on a bigger scale!

Here is a picture of a caterpillar with the larvae exiting their host. Not a picture for the squeamish!!


Just imagine the larvae chomping away at the caterpillar which is just alive. Very grisly!

But this clip of a parasitic wasp is even more graphic and  takes the violence to an extreme.

Enjoy it!!

This video of maggots eating a caterpillar alive from the inside and then sending it mad is the stuff of horror films and would make most people squirm. It’s bad enough describing how to get rid of jiggers to even the least squeamish, but this!! Yuk, double yuk! Now Charles Darwin was squeamish and that is why he gave up medicine when he witnessed an operation on a child. To Darwin the ichneumon fly casts doubt on the benevolence of God as he wrote to the Christian botanist Asa Gray on 22nd May 1860 on issues raised by The Origin of Species. He wrote;

I cannot persuade myself that a benificient &omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intent of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that cats should play with mice.

Here Darwin lays bare the whole problem of theodicy; how we understand the existence of pain, suffering and death with a loving God. Little did he think when he casually wrote that letter to Asa Gray raising issues of belief in God, that his comments would be read and considered by so many and come to epitomise the question of a loving God, and that these wasps would be named after him. This letter and the reference to the ichneumon is a reminder that Darwin’s doubts about Christianity were less intellectual and more on morality and suffering.

Darwin was a sensitive person and in 1827 gave up studying medicine in Edinburgh because he could not accept the suffering involved in operations, having witnessed one on a child. His sqeamishness turned to a questioning of a benificient God and the death of his ten year old daughter Annie in 1851 is often seen as the last straw for his Christian faith. However Jim Moore argued somewhat too neatly that this extinguished what little Christian faith he had. He had found hard to accept the death of his father in 1848, who as an unbeliever had no place in Redemption. During this period Darwin studied several works of theology which had moved beyond the edges of orthodoxy notably F.W.Newman’s Phases of Faith (1850). As Moore points out “there was no resting place en route from Anglicanism through Unitarianism to a purely theistic belief….Darwin gave up Christianity”(1 ). He did not give up belief in God, but could not reconcile a loving God with such unneccessary death and suffering. This questioning stayed with Darwin for the rest of his life. His religious musings in his Autobiography also show that his problems with Christianity were not so much intellectual as moral, and thus Darwin may be regarded as a typical Victorian moral critic of Christianity (2 ). Nowhere does this come out more poignantly than in his letter to Gray of 22nd May 1860, as the essence of his letter is the question,’How can a loving God allow suffering?’

Darwin had sent Gray a complimentary copy of the Origin in November 1859 and Gray, who had known of Darwin’s natural selection theory for several years, soon made his basic acceptance clear to Darwin. In the first part of 1860 Gray was both arranging the publication of the Origin in the U.S.A. and writing a favourable review for the Atlantic Monthly. Frequent letters passed between them mostly on these preceeding matters, but also openly discussing more religious matters. In a letter dated 22nd May Darwin aired his problems over suffering. Unfortunately the letter from Gray dated 7th May has not been found. Darwin’s letter dealt first with matters of the American edition and then of recent reviews, refering to negative ones by Sedgwick, Clarke, Duns and Owen. The second part of the letter deals with ‘the theological view of the question’ and Darwin dealt with theological rather than scientific problems, stating ‘I cannot see, as plainly as others do,…. evidence of design and beneficence.’ He could not see how a good God could have created an Ichneumon fly or allowed cats to play with mice. Ichneumonidae lay their eggs in live caterpillars which remain alive until the larvae pupate, and gave the basis for the SF film Alien! It is difficult not to feel the force of Darwin’s argument as he required a benificient theodicy, and could not reconcile ‘Nature Red in tooth and claw’ with a loving God. To Darwin a loving and wise God not only had to be an Intelligent Designer, He also had to be a Loving Designer.

Many of Darwin’s scientific predecessors, however, did not feel the problem of suffering so keenly as is evidenced by those who wrote the Bridgewater Treatises a generation earlier. The Bridgewaters represent the height of design and evidential theology in the 1830s. All the authors were Christian, mostly clergy. At least two discussed suffering. Buckland, the Oxford Geologist, who in the 1820s was the foremost proponent of Diluvialism, wrote On Geology and Mineralogy in 1836 which, according to Jon Topham, was the biggest seller of the eight and found in many mechanics’ institutes (3 ). This treatise presented the geological and palaeontological understanding of the mid-1830s through the eyes of one of geology’s foremost Anglican exponents. By 1835 Buckland had rejected his diluvialism and in 1838 became convinced of the Ice Ages proposed by Agassiz, following a visit to the Jura. Theologically Buckland was close to moderate Evangelicalism as was his friend Edward Copleston of Oriel College, whom Simeon considered to share all his essential beliefs. In the 1820s Buckland was encouraged by the Evangelical theologians J.B.Sumner (Archbishop of Canterbury 1848-62) and G.S.Faber, and by the ultra-conservative Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham (4 ). To Buckland and many contemporary Evangelicals predation did not contradict the beneficience of God, as is shown by Chap XIII of his Bridgewater Treatise; ‘Aggregate of Animal Enjoyment increased, and that of Pain diminished, by the existence of Carnivorous Races’. Neither did they accept that passages such as  Genesis 3 or Romans 8 raised problems for the concept of predation (5 ) Buckland is echoing Paley’s view of suffering in Natural Theology where he says without predation we would ‘see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless and unhelped animals’ (29 ).

And put satirically by the Oxford professor of chemistry, Charles Daubeny;

It is true  Paradise was delicious and nice,

Yet, if those born on earth had ne’er died,

‘Twould have been such a cram, like the berries in jam,

Pic-a-back men and women must ride.

William Kirby’s On the History, Habits and instincts of Animals (1835 ) was unique among the Bridgwater Treatises for adopting a young earth position to the consternation of other writers. The introductory chapter claimed that all strata were laid down in the Flood. Kirby was the leading early 19th century entomologist and his work was widely used by Darwin. This is borne out by his correspondence with the Rev John Rodwell in late 1860, describing cats and blind rats and how these supported the ideas in the Origin. On discovering that Kirby was Rodwell’s uncle he wrote, ‘whom I for as long as I can remember have venerated’. In 1818 Kirby and Spence had written a four volume Introduction to Entymology of which Darwin had a heavily annotated copy. As his was the first edition he probably used it for his beetlemania at Cambridge. In the second volume of his Bridgwater Treatise Kirby described the Ichneumon and how they destroy pests ‘by the goodness of Providence'(6 ). The chapter on insects speaks of them demonstrating the beneficence of God in their beauty, design and behaviour, especially the maternal care of the female wasp which found a suitable caterpillar for the larvae to feed on , slowly eating the poor beastie from the inside as in the video clip, something Darwin could not accept. However in his letter to Gray on 22nd May 1860 it is far more likely that Darwin was thinking of Kirkby’s account in his Entymology rather than his Bridgewater, as the former was one of Darwin’s most used texts. Kirkby described how, ‘The active Ichneumon braves every danger, and does not desist until her courage and address have insured subsistence for one of her future progeny'(7). Kirkby focussed on maternal care of the wasp and Darwin on the poor caterpillar.

There is not only suffering caused by predation , disease and other aspects of pain for living beings, but that caused by the earth itself, especially volcanoes and earthquakes. 2015 saw the ghastly earthquake in Nepal caused by a small shift in the Indian plate sliding under the Eurasian plate. It was nearly as powerful as the Nepal earthquake of 80 years ago and the Assam earthquake of 1950 (which shook our bungalow to bits). April was also the 200th anniversary of the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which killed thousands near the volcano and disrupted the climate and thus harvests for several years , causing even more deaths. No wonder the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed some 10,000 to 100,000 people in the city alone made many question a loving God. The repercussion were also theological and philosophical and the common argument that it showed God’s judgement lacked plausibility, especially as Lisbon’s Red Light district got off lightly! Among others Voltaire and Kant wrote on the questions raised, particularly of a totally benevolent creation.

With a growing understanding of geology and the structure of the earth, it was increasingly impossible not to see that these “natural evils” have been there from all time and WRITTEN into the structure of the earth, and not introduced by God after Adam and Eve went scrumping! There was no way anyone could accept the view of theodicy immortalised by Milton in Paradise Lost;

Of man’s first disobedience ,and the fruit

Of the forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe.

With loss of Eden…….

Without me giving a well-thought out understanding of death and suffering in relation to a belief in a loving God, we have to say that any  philosophical or religious view which does not accept that earthquakes, suffering and death are part of the inherent fabric of this planet is utterly false.

But there are those, who do not say this as Young Earth Creationists will echo the theodicy of John Milton and say there was no suffering or death, and even earthquakes before the Fall. It is the lynchpin of creationist thought and can be persuasive. A good example is Ken Ham’s musings on the Nepal earthquake;

You see, God’s original creation did not contain earthquakes or any other natural disasters. When God saw all that He had made over Creation Week, He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The original creation was free from any death or suffering. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve rebelled against God that death and suffering became a part of our world (Genesis 2:173:1–24). The death and suffering caused by this earthquake is a reminder of sin and the severe consequences that rebellion against our Creator brings.

I cannot buy into that and at this point I am somewhat theologically challenged by suffering, or bewildered  as was Darwin. Thus Darwin wrote ‘With respect to the theological view of the question …. I am bewildered’ as ‘There seems to be too much misery in the world’. A few lines further he wrote, ’On the other hand I cannot ….. conclude that everything is a result of brute force’ (21 May 1860). Perhaps like William Blake, Darwin could accept that God ‘designed’ the lamb, but did not frame the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the tyger (8 ). As Blake’s biographer wrote “Few poems have been scrutinised so closely”, and one reading is that a benevolent God made the lamb but not the tyger. Among critics, there is little agreement to its meaning. However his Book of Urizen seems to accept two creators one benevolent and Urizen the other, thus providing a mythological dualism to explain the negative in creation (9 ).

Suffering was an insuperable problem for belief to Darwin, and in the face of it he was left bewildered as to whether a beneficient God could have designed a world with so much animal pain. Darwin’s theodicy was a baffled reverent agnosticism; Buckland and Kirkby regarded animal suffering as God’s intention for the natural order, but this became less acceptable in a post-Chloroform society.

I originally gave much of this material at a Christians in Science conference in 1996 (when I was introduced to Intelligent Design in the form of Behe’s book). At the conference where this paper was presented the most perceptive and awkward question was on how I, as a minister, tried to minister to people in the midst of suffering. Two days after the conference I was due to bury a little baby of five months, so the questioner touched a nerve. To give a brief outline how I personally grapple with suffering, I start with God as Creator, echoing God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind (Job. 38 -42) and considering the Love of God reflected in the beauty of Creation. I then move to the death of Christ, the Son of God and the Crucified God who not only forgave sins but also entered into all human suffering. I often focus on the cry of dereliction “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ( Mark.15.34.) Pastorally, I look for the appropriate way of considering Christ’s death as entering into suffering and seek what is the right and sensitive approach to the people concerned. I find I have to say things with diffidence rather than a boldness, which would be insensitive. I have found Darwin’s concerns over suffering most helpful and challenging to my own pastoral work. Desmond’s treatment of the poignant correspondence between Huxley and Kingsley over the death of Huxley’s little son Noel has also been spiritually formative for me and gave me the kernel for a sermon at the annual Memorial Service in my Church. (Desmond op cit. p286-9) Darwin and Huxley both raised acute problems over the goodnesss of God in their pain over the loss of young children. No help will be found from an Intelligent Designer or a Cosmic Fine Tuner. Like Job they were angry with God for “taking away” their children, see Job chaps 2 and 3. The beginnings of an answer come in Job chap 38 where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind and asks Job where he was at Creation. For succour one must go to the Suffering Servant who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” ( Isaiah 53.4.) Christians need to listen to both Darwin and Huxley over suffering as they raise the deepest of personal issues as well as the less important intellectual ones.

Ultimately, I do not get much further than echoing Jesus’s cry of dereliction;

My God , my god , why have you forsaken me.

Perhaps as we come to good Friday we can think of the bizarre suffering caused by Darwin’s wasps and then think of our suffering. We then need to think of Jesus’s death on the cross and think quietly and deeply on that and not just parrot “Jesus died for our sins.

The passion narratives of the gospels are most poignant in their accounts of Jesus’s death and make us think of the human condition of suffering  and evil, both petty  and on the industrial scale.

I suggest the slow reading of the account of his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Here is Mark on the death of Jesus

The Crucifixion of Jesus
21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 2829Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
The Death of Jesus
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
I began with a parody of all things bright and beautiful. Here is her hymn on the meaning of Jesus’s death
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious Blood.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.

O dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming Blood,
And try his works to do.

But don’t forget, unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, we don’t stop at the death of Christ and move on to the resurrection which makes all things new.

Crucifixion, Failure, and the Revolution of Submission - Catholic Stand

1.) Desmond, A. and Moore, J.Darwin, London: Michael Joseph, (1991), chap 25 ‘Our Bitter & Cruel Loss’ especially p299.

2.) On the “moral criticism” of Christianity see Altholz, J. ‘The Warfare of Conscience with Theology.’, (1976) in Parsons, G. Religion in Victorian Britain. Vol IV. , Manchester: Manchester University Press (1988), p150-169. (Useful, despite howlers on the history of science!)

3) Topham, J. ‘Science and popular education in the 1830s’, British Journal for the History of Science (1992) 25, 397-430.

4.) Rupke ,The Great Chain of History p14.

5.) Buckland. W, Geology and Mineralogy considered in reference to Natural Theology., 2 vols, London, 1836 etc.

Buckland, W. An inquiry whether the sentence of death… London 1839.

See S.J.Gould’s discussion of the same theme in ‘Nonmoral Nature’ in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, London, Penguin, 1984, p32-45.

6.) Paley, W. op cit, p312.

7.) Kirkby, W. On the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. as manifested in the Creation of Animals London, various editions, from 1853 edit vol ii, p243.

Kirkby, W and Spence, W., An Introduction to Entomology, London, 1856 (6th Edition), p194.

8.) William Blake, Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright; and Little lamb, who made thee?

9.) Ackroyd, P, BlakeLondon, (1995), pp399, p 143f & p175.

William Buckland – Ice Man

Buckland was one of the great 19th century geologists who taught at Oxford. Here is a sketch of him teaching. His students included Charles Lyell, Samual Wilberforce and one  saint, Saint John Henry Newman.


In June 1842 Charles Darwin undertook his last geological field trip. He was at his father’s house, The Mount  in Shrewsbury, that month and after a winter of sickness, he felt somewhat better. Thus, he went in his gig to Snowdonia to assess whether Buckland was correct in identifying proof of a former Ice Age. In October 1841 William Buckland travelled to Wales with Thomas Sopwith (his grandson designed the Sopwith Camel, a WW1 fighter plane) to see whether Agassiz could be right about a former Ice Age. In a few days of horrendous Welsh weather Buckland identified all the main glacial troughs. I relate his visit and that of Darwin in 1842 in Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123 (2012) 649–662


Buckland was one of the leading geologists of the early 19th century but there is no decent biography of him apart from Rupke’s study  The Great  Chain of Being (1983). His eccentricities were numerous, but are mentioned more than his geological work.

He was the first to find a Mesozoic mammal, worked with Mary Anning on Dorset fossils, wrote a Bridgewater treatise on geology and, my interest here, introduced the concept of Ice Ages to Britain in 1940.

Before then what we now see as glacial deposits and glacial geomorphology was explained by an effect of the Deluge. In the 1830s Charpentier, a mine own in the Rhone valley, and Louis Agassiz, of Neuchatel and then Harvard, recognised that glaciers were far more extensive and explained erratics like the Pierre au Bot above Neuchatel. Darwin was originally totally unconvinced and preferred floating icebergs to explain erratics and had explained the Parallel roads of Glen roy as fluctuations of sea level, only to be trounced by Agassiz in 1840.


When he visited Switzerland in October 1838 and met Agassiz, Buckland was convinced of an Ice Age – note the singular, as then no one envisaged a whole series over 2 million years. Two years later in 1840 Buckland, Agassiz and Lyell travelled north on a glacier hunt.

Just south of Lancaster they found signs of glaciation as it is the southern limit of a drumlin swarm. I live 10 miles south of Lancaster and see them whenever I go north. In the Lake District they noticed the glacial cwms on the east side of Hellvelyn. Going further north they checked out Darwin’s work at Glen Roy and found what he admitted was a “great blunder” . It was not a lowering of sea level but a lake dammed by a glacier as Agassiz had found by the Aletsch glacier.

No. 857: Tyndall on Parallel Roads

And so in October 1841 Buckland headed for Snowdonia with his friend Thomas Sopwith. Sopwith made this sketch the year before in northern England


Buckland dressed for Welsh Glaciers by Thomas Sopwith, note the writing. This shows Sopwith’s sense of humour, but some humourless sciency types thought it was getting at Buckland for believing a young earth. That didn’t stop a recent biographer of Buckland saying it was on the way to Scotland!!


View from top of Y Garn 3104ft showing the Llugwy trough leading to Capel Curig, Llyn Idwal, a morainic lake. Buckland visited the valley behind Tryfan in the middle distance and note glacial features

To the left is Nant Francon, viewed below – with embellishments.



In 1831 de la Beche painted this watercolour to show that little rivers could not produce big valleys. He was right, but ideas of glaciation were a few years ahead.

This map shows the routes of both Buckland and Darwin in 1841-2 with some further details. I have retraced both routes.



The lake Llyn y Gader is WSW of Snowdon summit. The glacial troughs were sorted by Buckland in an amazing bit of work.

for detail please read my paper in Proc Geol Assoc BucklandDarwinWalesIce


Snowdon from the old coaching inn Plas y Brenin taken early morning. Buckalnd identified the glacier coming down here from Snowdon, but it also went down Nant Gwynant.

Buckland and Sopwith started at the glacial lakes at Ellesmere before heading for Snowdonia. despite filthy weath they sorted out the essential glacial features in a few days

One place he stopped was by Rhyd Ddu (the start of the quietest path up Snowdon, which I climbed last year on the 60th anniversary of my first ascent of Snowdon in 1961. It was about my 50th ascent.) . There he found a roche moutonnee by Llyn y Gader


which Tom Sopwith sketched



He also did a water colour of Buckland inspecting the roche moutonee which some think is Mary Anning. Compare the scenery with the pen and ink sketch and photo.


It even appears on book covers!!


This is an interesting sketch in Llanberis  made in the 1820s. The unannoted copy is to be found in the Oxford Museum but this with the word “Glacier” added is found in the Agassiz collection at Neuchatel. Thanks to Hugh Torrens telling me to go and find it while in Neuchatel.

No photo description available.

DSCF9513 (1)

On the left is one of the many erratics blocks in Llanberis Pass. Snowdon is up to the right.

For more read my paper which deals with Darwin as well.

Darwin spent a few days in Capel Curig and then several around Cwm Idwal before moving on to Moel Tryfan and then Llanberis and Snowdon.

For further reading

Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123 (2012) 649–662

to read the original paper open this link


Evolution und Religion im Heimatland Darwins; An account of harmony and conflict 

Now this is for German readers.

In 2009 on the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth I went to a conference near Frankfurt.

The papers were collected in a book Streitfall Evolution ed Angela Schwarz (2017  Bohlau Verlag) and I contributed a chapter in English which was translated into German.

Below is the German version but here is the English one

I am afraid it had to be translated for me as my German has been totally lost!! In my chemistry course I had to sit an exam on German translation and passed. But that was the end of my German, I am afraid.


The War that never was. Evolution and Christian Theology

We are often told of the how the church opposed Galileo, Darwin, early geologists and almost every advance of science. There is a merest smidgeon of truth in it, but mostly they are stories invented to discredit Christianity. Much originated with Draper and White in the 19th century. Dawkins has fallen for it, among others. Over the lasty fifty years the idea of conflict between science and Christianity has been discredited.

World of Books - Science | A History of the Warfare of Science the Theology - War College Series By Andrew Dickson White

Recently there have been a spate of books on the conflict thesis of science and religion. Here is one coming to it from a catholic angle.

The War That Never Was: Evolution and Christian Theology Paperback – Illustrated, May 29, 2020

Kenneth W. Kemp is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the co-translator of Archbishop Jozef Zycinski’s God and Evolution: Fundamental Questions of Christian Evolutionism.

The blurb

One of the prevailing myths of modern intellectual and cultural history is that there has been a long-running war between science and religion, particularly over evolution. This book argues that what is mistaken as a war between science and religion is actually a pair of wars between other belligerents—one between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists and another between atheists and Christians. In neither of those wars can one align science with one side and religion or theology with the other. This book includes a review of the encounter of Christian theology with the pre-Darwinian rise of historical geology, an account of the origins of the warfare myth, and a careful discussion of the salient historical events on which the myth-makers rely—the Huxley-Wilberforce exchange, the Scopes Trial and the larger anti-evolutionist campaign in which it was embedded, and the more recent curriculum wars precipitated by the proponents of Creation Science and of Intelligent-Design Theory.

My review

As I read this book, I kept thinking of the Second World War hoax made into the film The man who never was

The Man Who Never Was By Ewen Montagu

A convenient corpse with a briefcase attached was allowed to wash up in Spain so Germans would read the documents giving false information about allied plans. The argument of Kemp’s book is that there was no war between Christianity and Evolution. The conflict thesis of religion and science has taken a battering during the last fifty years but many still believe it. Much will be familiar to some, but Kemp has re-packaged it in a different way as he leads from the ‘War’ started by Draper and White, through the Scopes trial to the various Creationism and ID trials of the last 40 years.   His emphasis is transatlantic, but the issues are worldwide. With the author being a Catholic philosopher he gives a new perspective The author says the book is a partial account focussing on the paleaetiological sciences (2, 3) i.e geology, palaeontology and evolution.  . That would be fair enough but it omits so much of those sciences and does not put geology into a full perspective – which can be done briefly, though he claims to leave it for another book. It is an odd claim to say that Lyell was the founder of geology.

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Llyell (left) and his geology teacher Buckland looking at glacial striae at Rhyd Ddu in North Wales, 1841

The heart of the book gives a historical account of particular conflicts of evolution and Christianity, mostly of the more extreme kind. There is little on more atheistic questions but almost only on Christian opposition to evolution of the more extreme kind.  More on genuine wrestling by Christian thinkers would have been helpful as for example Adam Sedgwick,


Princeton theologians and Bernard Ramm. The introduction is a philosophical reflection with a succinct discussion of theology and naturalism. He concludes with recommending a ‘modest methodological naturalism’ for our theology and science and criticises Johnson’s appeal to ‘immediate divine action’. A good and nuanced account of the conflict thesis as it began in the 19th century follows, concluding with ways of assessing the various arguments.

Despite many who claim there was conflict over Genesis and geology, the author is right to say there was none, beyond the peripheral early 19th century Scriptural geologists. A sharper trajectory on how geology developed from Steno in the 1660s, would have shown the gradual dawning of the realisation of Deep Time and its relation to Christianity over the next 150 years. The presentation, which tends to flip backwards and forwards, makes it difficult to follow, if one does not have familiarity with the subject matter.

Charles DarwinSH16DARWIN2
Darwin and how some see him (statue in Shrewsbury)

The chapter on the aftermath of 1859 devotes much space to the Huxley-Wilberforce episode but sheds little new light.


Wilberforce and Huxley, who got on quite well!!

It stresses its iconic position in the conflict thesis. Rather than consider the variety of Christian responses – Asa Gray is hardly mentioned, we are given four vignettes of evolutionists losing their university positions, hardly a large number

Chapter 5 is on the first Curriculum war of the Scopes era.


The author first gives an account of events, which almost seem farcical. This undoes some of the myths surrounding Scopes. More importantly the Scopes trial is not seen as purely an anti-evolution crusade but wider than that.


Andrea at the Dayton Courthouse and myself in the dock

There was a moral side and, in a sense, Bryan and others occupied the high moral ground despite their poor science. Part goes back to Kellogg’s visit to the German trenches in 1915, where German militarism was (wrongly?) traced back to Darwin. Bryan’s concern was more moral, which is why he could not accept evolution for humans. Kemp does not mention the anti-evolutionists opposition to eugenics in contrast to many biologists and modernist churchmen. Kemp regards the Scopes affair as not a battle between science and religion but rather between conservative Christians and also sees it as a three-way conflict between fundamentalism, modernism and scepticism (139). This spoils the cardboard cut-outs of Inherit the Wind, but brings out the complexities of Interwar American society. Anti-evolution was only part of it.

Chapter 6 deals with Creationism and ID in the last sixty years, termed the second curriculum war. Much is historical and familiar from Numbers The Creationists. Little is given on the renaissance of Creationism and more on legal aspects on the teaching of evolution as with the repeal of Scopes Laws and the Arkansas judgement of 1982.  The narrative moves on to Intelligent Design, which is wrongly seen as going back to Paley. The presentation is very last century with the focus on Johnson, Behe and Dembski. There’s a nod to the Dover trial of 2005, In a long section ofn the development of anti-evolutionist thought the difference between Creation ascience and ID is clarified but on ID focues on Johnson, Behe and Dembski in the 90s and omits later developments and thus gives little on how both Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design has evolved in the last fifteen years. Thus little is provided to understand anti-evolution in the twenties.

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Ken Ham, possibly the most significant Creationist of the 2020s, gets no mention

In conclusion Kemp emphasises that Scopes was over human evolution, whereas both creationism and ID challenge almost all of evolution and geology as well. He rightly says that the (187) NABT and new Atheists add to confusion by not distinguishing between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. He concludes this ‘war’ is doing damage to religion, as many readers must have discovered

The conclusion begins with a quote from Pope John Paul II on the Galileo myth, which is almost as pervasive. As with Galileo the Warfare Thesis fails on three grounds; it presupposes a clear demarcation between science and religion, assumes that scientists and Christians are neatly arrayed on opposite sides and. Finally, theologians were always opposed to new ideas.


With such distortion the Warfare Thesis is not a good lens to understand the relation of science and religion. ‘The war that never was’ re-surfaces the whole time – whether  in churches or without. It thus needs wise engagement rather than dismissal.

As an Anglican priest I am frequently asked by those within and without the church how can I be a geologist and a Christian? Such is the indelibility of this myth.

This is not the easiest book to read, as rather than just give a narrative the author goes beyond a simple science versus religion explanation, and attempts to tease out various factors. As a result, this will help to give a better understanding of The War that never was and why there has been conflict over some aspects of science and some aspects of religion.