Category Archives: Christianity

As it says, reflecting my faith

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


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.

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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.

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;

Was Jesus really born into a ‘poor’ family? | Psephizo

Shock! Horror!

Jesus was not born in poverty.

This totally destroys the leftie gospel and the woke gospel.

Seriously Ian Paul does some solidly based iconclasm on popular ideas of the poverty of the Holy Family and points out that, for their day, there moderately well-off. This should be obvious if you don’t read the gospels with rose-tinted glasses.

Ian concludes

Jesus was not born in a stable, the shepherds were not despised outcasts, and Mary and Joseph were rather ordinary. Christmas is not about God coming to others, over there, for whom we ought to feel sorry, but to ordinary people like you and me. In the incarnation, Jesus embraced the poverty that every one of us experiences as a vulnerable, dependant human being. And if he came to us then, he will come to us again this year. ‘Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.’

Source: Was Jesus really born into a ‘poor’ family? | Psephizo

The Cross of Jesus Christ as a Crane

As a kid I loved my Meccano set and was making stuff with it  (or playing or learning mechanics?) until I was 14, when I moved over to taking bikes to bits and re-assembling them. The ten years later I did the same with Morris Minors, which I ran for twnety-five years.

I was given my first Meccano set for my seventh birthday. It wasn’t a surprise as I had checked my parents’ hiding places for presents. It wasn’t a shiny new set but I had lots of bits to play with. I had two favourites; making model vehicles and cranes. I once made a large model which looked a bit like an Austin Atlantic, with IFS at the front, a gearbox and a differential. I made lots of cranes, some of which fell over as they were so high. I would not have made those mistakes if I had consulted an engineering textbook!

My first crane was a bit like this (which is not very stable);

Analysis of Meccano Manuals - Manual Model Search

My cranes got bigger and better and I ended up making something like this,

Meccano model page 15

I could have post picture of real cranes but thought these would do. After all, Meccano is probably the best “engineering” toy ever made and beats plasticky Lego into a cocked hat. The name Meccano is related to mechanic and machine and comes from the Greek as Wiki says  “The English word machine comes through Middle French from Latin machina, which in turn derives from the Greek (Doric μαχανά makhana, Ionic μηχανή mekhane ‘contrivance, machine, engine’, a derivation from μῆχος mekhos ‘means, expedient, remedy’). The word mechanical (Greek: μηχανικός) comes from the same Greek roots.” The greek, (or at least Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Eastern Roman Empire) word  μηχανή mekhane can simply mean crane.

Here are some pictures of ancient cranes. They were made out of wood with pulleys and, often, a treadmill to provide power. Some could lift well over a ton. Similar cranes were used in the middle ages for castles and cathedrals. Of course things changed with the introduction of iron and steam power. (I am surprised greenies haven’t suggested we go back to human powered cranes.)

Roman Construction Crane | Stephen Ressler, P.E.

They could be quite large. This one seems to be working on an aqueduct.History of Cranes - Lee Industrial Contracting

I had never thought about Roman and Greek cranes until I came across the metaphor as the cross of Jesus being a crane in Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians. Ignatius was a second century Christian who became Bishop of Antioch in Syria. Somehow, details are not known, he crossed the Roman authoirites and was sent to Rome to be executed. The date  is normally thought to be in the reign of Trajan (98-117) or possibly Hadrian (117-38). en route to Rome he wrote seven letters – to the churches of the  Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans and a letter to Polycarp who was martyred several decades later.

To me he is too full of himself as bishop and calls for an almost blind obedience of bishops. Any more comment on that may detract from what he said about cranes. most of his letters are about 3000 words long and thus comparable with Paul’s. His aim in all his letters was to encourage fellow Christians who knew he was travelling to Rome to be executed. He seems rather untroubled by his forthcoming death, which was liable to be an unpleasant spectacle. Despite his views on bishops, he is strong on encouragement and his letters have a New Testament feel about them. That is unsurprising as they were written some fifty years later.

In chapter 9 (or better paragraph 9) Ignatius wrote;

because you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit;

This is from the recent translation by Michael W. Holmes, and the whole of chap 9 is

But I have learned that certain people from elsewhere have passed your way with evil doctrine, but you did not allow them to sow it among you. You covered up your ears in order to avoid receiving the things being sown by them, because you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith is what lifts you up, and love is the way that leads up to God. So you are all participants together in a shared worship, God-bearers and temple bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holy things, adorned in every respect with the commandments of Jesus Christ. I too celebrate with you, since I have been judged worthy to speak with you through this letter, and to rejoice with you because you love nothing in human life, only God.  – Epistle to the Ephesians 9

The image of the cross as a crane is vivid and would have resonated with his hearers as most would have seen one these wooden cranes on construction sites, often lifting up large stones to a considerable height. Thus there is a second image  – of stones.

The vividness of the metaphor is that to Ignatius both cranes and crosses were wooden structures with an obvious vertical component. Clearly Jesus was passive and nailed down on the cross, so was immovable, but despite his passivity his death brought about the salvation of humanity. That is what we read about in the New Testament and has been the central focus of the Christian faith ever since. This comes out in so many hymns, including the popular ones of There is a green hill and When I survey the wondrous cross. and then there is the majestic processional hymn Lift high the Cross with its TWELVE verses and chorus, giving time to circumnavigate any cathedral, following the processional cross – lifted high. To Ignatius it is not the cross lifted high, but the cross lifting us up high, as Jesus lifts up those who follow him.

Paintings of those at the foot of the cross abound, from  the almost erotic

Eugène Delacroix
Saint Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross 1829

File:Eugène Delacroix - Saint Mary Magdalene at the Foot of ...

to a simple photographic silhouette

Lent Series: At the Foot of the Cross – The Benefice of Garsington,  Cuddesdon and Horspath

Looking at the paintings found on google its seems that there were fewer men at the foot of the cross.

Ignatius develops a second image – that of stones, echoing St Peter’s words

And like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house I Peter 2 vs5

His hearers would have seen cranes lifting stones into place, so here we have the Crane/cross of Jesus lifting living stones, Christians, into place. I find it a great image

The third part of the image is the rope which is the holy spirit who, in the words of J V Taylor, is the go-between God, here between Christians and Christ. I suppose it was a three stranded rope too. Sorry, that would be an allusion to the Trinity.

In the 19th century the great New Testament scholar J.B. Lightfoot (1828-89) and later Bishop of Durham, not only wrote some excellent commentaries, but also a mammoth work on the translation and commentary on the Apostolic Fathers. Here he sees another image in chapter 9 – the Windlass.

So here is chapter 9 in the Greek and the translation.

Book page imageBook page image

Note that he uses Engine rather than Crane, but Engine  was used more generally in the 19th century for any machinery rather than the producer of motive force! He would have been surprised that most call railway locomotives an engine and that what is under the bonnet of a car. Today μηχανή mekhane  is better translated crane

However he continues “Your faith is your windlass” i.e the pulley system

That is a nice thought but fanciful and the Greek is more literally; “Your faith is the one who lifts you up”. The major Greek Lexicon of Arndt- Gingrich dismisses Lightfoot’s translation as quite unlikely.

This imagery of the cross  as the crane is very technological  and is hardly ever used. We often sing lift up the cross and how Jesus lifts up the fallen, but never this.

The multiple imagery of a crane lifting up stones for a building is a  good and evocative one, expanding the ideas of Peter (I Peter 2 vs5) of living stones in a pictorial form of the cross/crane lifting up stones and placing them above the corner stone (Jesus). Jesus as the cornerstone is also found in Ephesians 2 vs 20 but Paul jumps to more bilogical imagery.

The Cornerstone

What Ignatius gave us is an excellent image of the work of Christ and it baffles me why it is never used

Here is a crane lifting up a stone for a building

The CornerstoneANCIENT Crane - Who invented the Crane? medieval - roman - greek old


Here is a brief exposition from 1900

The Epistles of St. Ignatius

By J. H. Srawley

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

First published 1900.

have learned that certain persons from yonder [3] have passed through your city, bringing with them false teaching. These you did not suffer to sow seeds among you, for you closed your ears that they might not receive the seeds sown by them, since you were stones [4] of the temple, prepared beforehand [5] for a building of God the Father, being raised to the heights by the engine of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, using as your rope the Holy Spirit. Your faith is the windlass,[6] and love is the way which leads up to God. So then you are all companions in festal procession along the way,[7] bearing your

[1] Suggested by 1 Cor. ii. 14 sq.
[2] See Introd. § 4.
[3] It is uncertain what place is alluded to. Lightfoot conjectures Philadelphia.
[4] The change of metaphor is sudden, after the manner of Ignatius, and is followed by another change. They are in succession the soil in which seed is sown, stones of a building, and members of a festal procession.
[5] Lightfoot’s emendation has been adopted.
[6] The whole of this passage is a somewhat extravagant expansion in great detail of the metaphor used by St. Paul in Eph. ii. 20 sq. In the building of the Church, the faithful are the stones, the Cross is the crane, the Holy Spirit is the rope by which the stones are raised, faith is the windlass which sets the machine in motion, and love is the inclined plane along which the stones are drawn.
[7] Another change of metaphor. The figure is now a heathen procession, in which the pilgrims, arrayed in festal attire, carry small shrines, images, and other sacred emblems.  Such processions would be common in Syria, Asia, and elsewhere.  For a gift of such images to the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, see Lightfoot, Ignatius , II. 17.

Is the Bible contradictory on sexuality? | Psephizo

The issue of sexuality is permanently to the fore in the churches, with attendant charges of homophobia and heresy.

Here a recent article by a leading American biblical scholar, Walter Bruggeman, is discussed by Ian Paul.

It is a very constructive piece but some may disagree with Ian.

Source: Is the Bible contradictory on sexuality? | Psephizo

What do we do if we think the Bible is wrong? | Psephizo

Of course the Bible is wrong!!

It teaches a flat earth and the earth was created in 4004BC.

Really, that’s only if we don’t consider when and why it was written

Here’s Ian Paul on whether 2+2=5 and all that


Seriously there’s more too it!!

After all we still read Shakespeare despite his mistakes, especially his history of english kings!

Science hardly gets a mention…

Source: What do we do if we think the Bible is wrong? | Psephizo

What does it mean to love God with our minds? | Psephizo

The old joke  is that if you need a new brain get one off a vicar as it has never been used. That may be true for some but not all.

In this blog makes it clear that using one’s mind is vital for a Christian, though some regard thinking as optional and other Christians have weird thought processes.

Read on

Christians don’t have to be daft as this!!

No photo description available.

If you think 2+2=4 then read this blog

Source: What does it mean to love God with our minds? | Psephizo

Evolution doesn’t scupper Christianity, nor do scrumpers

One of the most popular ways of debating is to parody a view to ridicule it. You know most won’t see past your misrepresentation. It is even easier when some extremists adopt what you parody.

Here is a good example

Frank Zindler quote: The most devastating thing though that biology did to  Christianity...

When this meme appeared on my Facebook feed I presumed Zindler was a typical young earth creationist, repeating the usual claims of young earthers to bludgeon people into accepting Young Earth Creation as necessary as a result of faith in Christ.

But before considering the apparent plausibility of the meme we need to ask who is Frank Zindler. Being British I cannot keep up with all American Creationists and the atheists who take them on. I know of many and have met some, and some like Ken Ham have written against me! However this meme is from an atheist. Zindler was born in 1939 and was president of American Atheists in 2008. for more read;

among other things he had a debate with the creationist Duane Gish in 1990

Many of these are unsatisfactory partly as a result of the way Gish galloped through everything in his famous “Gish Gallop”. That is a useful tactic as it gives the impression of omniscience, without giving the opponent time to respond. I had a similar problem in 2003 when I debated the Australian John Mackay, who likewise used a scatter gun approach. I attempt to correct some of his terminological inexactitudes, and was accompanied by boos from his acolytes. Were I not a Christian, Mackay would have persuaded me to be an atheist!! However the purpose of Creationists in debates and presentations is to win an argument not to present truth.

At first, I thought this was a Creationist Gotcha meme, as Ken Ham, Mackay, Gish, Morris and so many others put forward similar  ideas. Here Zindler takes the same ideas and lobs them back like an unexploded grenade to Christians who may not be Creationist. At first sight the arguments here seem to be orthodox Christianity, but….

Frank Zindler quote: The most devastating thing though that biology did to  Christianity...

In this meme Zindler makes five points which lead to the next and clinches the argument against Christianity, or rather any version of Christianity which is not dogmatically wedded to Young Earth Creationism. All five points are made by creationists like Ken Ham.

  1. Adam and Eve were never real people

Garden of Eden | Story, Meaning, & Facts | Britannica

Well, did Adam have a navel when he was created that October in 4004BC? A serious question! In all fairness before 1800 belief in in a historical Adam and Eve was a most reasonable belief, and few Christians questioned it, though many from 1680 onwards realised the earth was slightly older than Ussher reckoned! Even when the earth was reckoned to be millions of years old some serious Christian theologians believed in a historical Adam and Eve.

For many the image of Adam and Eve is provided by John Milton in Paradise Lost. Here Milton takes early Genesis in a most literal way and put it into an epic poem. Milton has unhelpfully influenced the understanding of Genesis for centuries.

When we consider the interpretation of Genesis historically from 1600, we find that first chapter one was interpreted to allow more than six days. This was most often by a “Day-Age” theory or a Chaos-Restitution stance. By 1780 most educated Christians including the “orthodox” from both Protestants and Catholics favoured one of these to a 6-day creation. By 1859 hardly any educated Christians thought the earth was created in 6 days.   Details on this;

In the 17th century most European savants thought that most strata were laid down in the Flood, but by 1800 Noah’s contributions were limited to the top 30 ft of strata. Perhaps the last geologist to take the geological efficacy of the flood seriously was William Buckland in some illegible notes in 1842/3. He suggested the flood was a result of melting ice from the Ice Age, later taken up in the 1990s by Ryan and Pittman in Noah’s Flood.

In the 19th century the more conservative still insisted on a historical Adam and Eve but it was getting more fraught especially after radiometric age dating after 1907 showed that humans had been around for hundreds of thousands of years. B B Warfield’s attempt to keep Adam and Eve was not convincing, nor Denis Alexander.

2. If no Adam and Eve, then no Original Sin

What is Original Sin? It was not held by Christians until about 400AD, largely due to St Augustine. Eastern Orthodox churches have no doctrine of Original sin, but have a deep awareness of sin. Original sin is the belief that we inherit sin from forbears i.e. Adam and Eve. In the hands of Augustine and successors Sin is both Original and what humans do which is sinful. There is much discussion over this, which I will leave to one side. Even so all stress that Jesus died for you and your sin and forget Adam while you consider yourself!!

Here we have the classic YEC misrepresentation. Jesus died on the cross for Original Sin, rather than all human sin, present and past. Doing this takes away the fact that every human is sinful and needs forgiveness. That is ignored by focusing on Adam and Eve and Original Sin in an overly narrow sense.  If that is what Sin is, then we are not responsible for sin as we can do nothing about what we inherit.

(Whoopee, we can go out and sin to our hearts’ content!!)

Far better is to see that every human is sinful and sins. Any understanding of Original Sin which underplays individual sin effectively removes our responsibility for our actions.

3.If no Original Sin then no need of salvation

This implies that salvation through Jesus is ONLY for Original sin and not our actual and continuing sin. That is most odd. If that is right then we are not sinners in ourselves, never need to admit to or confess our sins. It makes a mockery of almost every hymn on Jesus’ death on the cross, as all point to the individual sinner, rather than something way back in time, which could have no effect on our sinning today. Frankly it is a muddled view of salvation and what Jesus did on the cross, as well as distorting what Original Sin is.

The extreme evangelical view that Jesus would have died on the cross for you, even if you were the only sinner, crassly makes a valid point.

No, every human is sinful and has the HPtFtU  as Francis Spufford said.

Human Propensity to Fuck things UP, 

More here

This is somewhat earthy but brings out the squalor of human sin in non-theological language. It shows where  we are wrong and need forgiveness from Jesus, not for some guy who went scrumping in 4004BC, but that nasty thing we did a short while ago.

We need salvation because we are shits, sorry, sinners, not because of neolithic scrumpers

4. If no need of salvation, then no need of a saviour. Jesus is unemployed

Well, if Jesus only died for scrumpers, then the rest of us have no need of a saviour and the whole Christian edifice tumbles down. Yes, Jesus is on the dole. We may as well go scrumping.

That is not the case, Jesus died for YOUR salvation, for YOUR sin and that makes him fully employed and doing overtime. That is, of course, what Christians of all shades have said for 2000 years in contrast to this meme.

Jesus' Death On The Cross - Part 1 - YouTube

5. Evolution is the death knell of Christianity

First, Evolution does not affect the nasty nature which show easily surfaces in each one of us. That is called SIN, and is the fault of the person.

Only if our focus is on the sin of scrumping does Christianity come crashing down

Jesus saved me and you, not some naked scrumpers

Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory? | Psephizo

One of the favourite arguments against the resurrection of Jesus is that the four gospel accounts are different, thus they are all made up.

One could argue that four witnesses who agree on the essentials are more reliable than those who agree on every word, having ensured there were no differences.

Paul argues that many of the differences are due to the extreme brevity of the four accounts and the need to select evidence when writing it down (or dictating which is more likely)

In 1959 my uncle, Grenville Yarnold wrote a book Risen Indeed, which is a good short book, accepting a real bodily (but not physical) resurrection, but does not discuss the differences between the gospels. He showed how the gospels point to the empty tomb and that Jesus rose from the dead, but not as a conjuring trick with bones!

Enjoy this straightforward but detailed argument

Christ is Risen.

If not Christians make fools of themselves!!

P.S. Grenville’s wife, Dorothy, got a degree in maths and physics from Oxford in the early 1930s , as did her sister my mother. both were also hockey blues.

Source: Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory? | Psephizo