Category Archives: Christianity

As it says, reflecting my faith

The Top Five Reasons I didn’t like John Mackay the Young Earth Creationist on “Unbelievable”

This is exactly what I experienced with Mackay in 2003.


He constantly tried to show the audience I was not a Christian


Source: The Top Five Reasons I didn’t like the Young Earth Creationist on “Unbelievable”


A N Wilson gains Darwin Award for Historians

After producing an awful biography of Darwin and shooting his pen off about Darwin’s bogus science practised at Downe House, I was disappointed to see that Wilson’s biography of Queen Victoria was used in the TV series Victoria. That may explain the fictitious aspects of Drummond on screen. He died three years before the repeal of the Corn Laws – the time of his murder in the TV series – and there is no evidence of a gay relationship. Having read a few of Wilson’s historical studies I have no respect for him as a historical scholar. I read his God’s Funeral twenty years ago and no longer have my copy. I wonder why.

I do think Wilson is worthy of the Darwin award for historians and this was confirmed when I dipped into his Victoria today. For interest I went to the index and looked up Darwin and this is what I found.


The three lines on Lyell and Darwin are simply historical codswollop. Yes, Lyell was a great geologist and in 1864 was rightly knighted for that. In 22 words Wilson simply got everything wrong. Yes, it is a popularly held view and especially by those who consider themselves educated that it was Lyell who shattered the views of the church over the age of the earth. But it is wrong on so many accounts.


First, before November 1797, when Lyell was born, most scientists and savants had concluded that the earth was ancient and its age was either hundreds of thousands or many millions of years old. The former was the view of the great Swiss geologist Andre de Luc snr and the latter of William Hutton. Most educated Christians throughout Europe also accepted the vast age of the earth, even if many preferred de Luc. However 100,000 years completely undermines a literal Genesis. There were also those like Lhwyd and Ray who were thinking about an older earth by 1690.

Secondly, when Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1831, many leading British geologists were clergy e.g. Sedgwick, Buckland, Coneybeare, Henslow and many lesser ones. Within the churches there were not seen as either heretics or way-out liberals, but rather as orthodox Christians with the full backing of church leaders from Archbishops and Bishops to country parsons. In fact, when the American creationist and employee of Answersingenesis  wrote his Ph.D.  (and book The Great Turning Point) on “Scriptural Geologists” from 1820 to 1850, he could only find 20 to 30 and I haven’t found many more. These so-called Scriptural Geologists were singularly ineffective in convincing the rising numbers of Victorian evangelicals, who were happy to accept the findings of geology.

Thirdly, by the time Darwin came along – effectively after 1840 – after his Beagle voyage, the vast age of the earth could be almost taken for granted. By 1859 few educated cChristians or clergy held to a six day creation and thus in all the responses to Darwin in the 1860s I have only found one which did not accept geology and that was by the Plymouth Brother B.W. Newton in his Remarks on a Mosaic Cosmogony, which was a hostile response to Essays and Reviews.

I could was lyrical on this, but have surveyed it in my book Evangelicals and Science, where I focus only on evangelicals and develop the ideas here on  Genesis and geology unearthed




Wilson has aggravated many on his biography of Darwin, which seems to be very jaundiced to him. Reviews have been largely negative and his atricles in the press show that he has little grasp of Darwin’s science and seems now after his re-conversion to be leaning to creationism or Intelligent Design

Sadly many will read Wilson as a serious historian and accept his wrong and outmoded views not only of Darwin but also the relationship of Christian and Science – so often epitomised as the bible vs Darwin

From 4004BC to 13.5 billion years

The Abyss of Time

(The Discovery of Deep Time)

 Featured Image -- 5288

One of the most dramatic sights in the world is the Grand Canyon. Nowhere demonstrates more vividly the abyss of time than this abyss. To stand at the rim and to glimpse the Colorado flowing 5000 feet below is to glimpse time and possibly to suffer chronological vertigo as well as vertigo. The Precambrian rocks at the bottom are nearly two billion years old. Above that and succeeding each other like layers in a cake are strata through most of the geological record from the Cambrian (550 m.y.) to the Permian (283 m.y.). The duration of time recorded in the rocks is beyond comprehension whether one peers down from the rim or spends six hours climbing up the geological timescale from the Colorado River in sweltering heat. The Grand Canyon is a monument to Deep Time.

However, four hundred years ago the earth was thought to be a few thousand years old. This story is how the abyss of time was gradually comprehended as a scientific understanding of the earth developed. According to Archbishop Ussher in 1656 the earth was created on 22 October 4004 BC. That date has come to signify the traditional date of Creation according to the Church and what the geologists and Darwin had to battle against. Enlightened scientists struggling against the bigotry of a benighted Church makes a lively story but has less truth than a Grade B Western.

The discovery of Deep Time is not simply one of Judaeo-Christian time giving way to scientific time after a long and bitter struggle. The picture is more complex as religious ideas have been both inhibiting and liberating in developing our concept of time. The scientific understanding of time, whether geological or astronomical, developed in Western Europe from about 1650, in societies which had a dominant, but declining, Christian culture. As a result the influence of Christian thought on time must be considered carefully, without degenerating into a cowboys-‘n-injuns scenario of the church fighting against science

It is also one in which any concepts of circular or cyclical time gave way to linear time. There is an apparent paradox here. Linear time has roots in the biblical tradition with an initial act of Creation, followed by acts of God in history, the Flood, Abraham, Moses, David and the Monarchy, the Exile and finally Jesus Christ. Cyclical time has roots in the Greek and Eastern traditions and surfaces in the scepticism of the 18th century where the eternal nature of the physical universe was emphasised against the finite, linear Christian view. Christians accepted the “Arrow of Time” long before it became scientifically incontrovertible, whether from evolution or the Second Law of Thermodynamics.


Diagram showing the linear understanding of time by Christians in 17th Century.




Creation   >       Man.>     Abraham >     Moses     David      Exile >    Jesus      >     2nd Coming

4004        2000                1500       1000         590         4BC                 ?



The story of the scientific examination of the age of the earth and universe and that of “Deep Time” goes back 350 years to 1650. Before that there are interesting, and at times profound, philosophical discussions on time but these are not scientific and give no sense of duration. However before considering these it is essential to consider Christian understandings, which were prevalent as the Scientific Revolution began in the 17th century, beginning with Genesis.


The Book of Genesis


The stories of Genesis are wellknown to Westerners. However, trivialising teaching in school and Sunday school caused many adults to think that kangaroos on the Ark and Creation in 144 hours are an integral part of Christian belief. To cast doubt on these can cause immense grief to churchgoers! Few reflect on what Genesis meant to the writer(s), or when it was written. The latter is the easier question; most biblical scholars reckon that it was compiled from earlier sources in Mesopotamia in about 500 BC; a minority reckon it was compiled in about 1000 BC; while many Evangelicals hold that Moses wrote Genesis and the Pentateuch in about 1250 BC. Because many parallels have been found between Genesis and other Near Eastern Creation myths, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and some claim that this shows that Genesis is derivative.

Exactly how the Hebrews understood Genesis is harder to answer. Some scholars argued that the universe was a three-decker one and the representation of time is literal. If the Hebrews were as informed on astronomy as their neighbours in Egypt and Mesopotamia, they would not have held such crude ideas. As the Old Testament writers borrowed ideas from both civilisations (e.g. Proverbs 22 is borrowed from the Teaching of Amenope), they probably knew their astronomy as well. However, there are few studies focusing on the question of what the ancients actually believed about time and this may be an unanswerable question. Without entering the controversy whether the Old Testament is historical or not, the Hebrews were not as concerned about chronology as later societies.


The Early church


The early Christians were more concerned about time and chronology and soon began to elucidate the biblical chronology. Until 400AD the vast majority of Christians believed that the earth would last only 6000 years and had existed for about 5500 years when Christ was born. They argued the latter from taking all biblical chronologies, especially those in Genesis 5 and 11, literally.  The former idea stemmed from “Chiliasm” – a belief that the earth would last Six days of millennia (from Psalm 90 vs 4 and 2 Peter 3 vs 8). This was proclaimed, rather than reasoned, as in the Epistle of Barnabas (c130 AD); “Therefore, my children, in six days – six thousand years, that is – there is going to be the end of everything.” This concern with the end of the world, or the coming of the Millennium, may explain their great interest in chronology.

An early example is Ad Autolycum by Theophilus of Antioch. Little is known about him beyond that he became Bishop of Antioch in 169 AD and wrote this volume after the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. He was a Greek and was strongly influenced by Jewish Christians. At the end there is a chronology from creation to the death of Marcus Aurelius (d 180 AD), a duration of 5695 years, suggesting that Creation occurred in 5515 BC. The chronologies are detailed and calculated from the biblical data and are not far off Ussher’s compilations and today’s’ estimates from Abraham to the Exile.

Theophilus was highly literalistic, while others, like Augustine, took the days of Genesis allegorically; few reckoned the earth to be more than a few thousand years old.


Diagram comparing estimates of Biblical Chronology by Theophilus (180) Ussher (1650) and in the Good News Bible (1976). The date for Noah is taken from Pitman and Ryan, Noah’s Flood, (1999)

EVENT       THEOPHILUS                             USSHER                                     GOOD NEWS BIBLE
EXILE                  561                                           593                                                     587
DAVID(d)          1079                                           1014                                                   970
MOSES              1577                                           1491                                                   c1250
ABRAHAM       2262                                            1921                                                   c1900
NOAH               3273                                             2347                                                   5600
CREATION       5515                                              4004                                                     ??


The Renaissance


The Renaissance was a time of broadening of horizons and exploration. Columbus discovered the New World; Copernicus (1473-1543) rejected the Ptolemaic system and proposed heliocentricity as the best explanation of the relation of the sun and planets. There was a revival in the study of ancient texts, classical and biblical, which also resulted in the Reformation. In all this flowering of exploration, scholarship and literature there was a sense of the unity of knowledge.

It also marked the dawn of a historical consciousness but concepts were few and the Scriptures were some of few texts, which went back to the earliest history. Thus attempts at the history of the world involved the fusing of biblical and classical writings. An example is Sir Walter Ralegh’s (1552?-1618) History of the World, which he published in 1614 while in the Bloody tower of the Tower of London. Ralegh considered the world to be created in about 4000 BC and also gave a long dissertation on the four rivers of the Garden of Eden (Genesis chap 2). Ralegh’s date was the same proposed by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), and the devisor of the map projection, Mercator (1512-1594). A century earlier Columbus (1451-1506) was more generous with 5443 BC. These few dates show how widely accepted a date of 4000 to 5000 BC was for the origin of the earth. The majority of Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians concurred on about 4000BC and the Geneva Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) typically reckoned “the present world is drawing to a close before it has completed its six thousandth year.”



As the Reformation progressed some developed a revamped Chiliasm. In the early 1600s the Dutch Protestant theologian Josef Scaliger put creation at 25 October 3950 BC. (Autumn was a favoured time for Creation, as the fruits would provide sustenance for the winter.) The most well-known Chiliaist was Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656). Ussher, whose uncle was an ancestor of the Queen (through an illegitimate niece of the Duke of Wellington), was a very able scholar and no obscurantist. He became Archbishop of Armagh in 1625.



The most well-known of his works was Annales Veteris Testamenti (1650), which was a solid piece of chronological scholarship in which he argued from historical grounds that Jesus was born not in 4BC. But he is remembered for his date of creation – 4004 BC. Despite popular representations, he did not arrive at this figure from arithmetic applied to dates of patriarchs and other Old Testament figures. To Ussher there were six Chiliastic days of 1000 years apiece followed by the seventh day of the Millennium. There were four Chiliaistic days before Christ and thus Creation took place in 4004 BC, on the night before 23 October. Adam was created on 28 October. This date causes amusement to many, but the rest of Ussher’s chronology was very sound for the 17th century as he was a careful scholar. ( figure n.) His chronological calculations for the rest of the Old Testament are close to today’s estimates. Had not Ussher’s chronology been inserted in many English Bibles from 1704, he would probably have been forgotten, except to historians who valued his careful work.


Theories of the Earth, 1660-1710


The Royal Society of London, founded in 1660, epitomised the flowering of science both in Britain and the continent. The work of Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and others in physics and chemistry needs no introduction. Less well-known is the natural history of John Ray (1627-1705), Edward Lhwyd (1660-1709) and others. The period also saw the beginnings of a scientific study of the earth and their findings were published in turgid volumes known as “Theories of the Earth”. On a first reading these seem to be a literal reading of Genesis stories with a few semi-scientific glosses. A closer read shows them to be more profound as they meld together the Bible, the classics, almost mediaeval “book” learning with the citing of endless authorities and scientific insight in a Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis One. Here they shared the outlook of most theologians (except Ussher!) and literary writers such as Thomas Traherne and Alexander Pope. Instead of taking the Creation story to teach creation in six short days, writers, following an interpretation going back to the early Church Fathers, claimed from Genesis (Chapter one verse one) that God first created Chaos (without form and void) and after an interval recreated it in six days. The duration of Chaos was undefined. With Ussher it was twelve hours, but for most it was a long and unspecified duration.  Some, notably Thomas Burnet (1635?-1715), Edmond Halley (1656-1742) and William Whiston (1667-1752), reckoned the days to be more than twenty-four hours. Halley attempted a calculation of the age of the earth from the sea’s salinity, but came to no firm conclusions other than it was tens of thousands of years old. Likewise theological writers of the day; Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) reckoned that God first created Chaos and then later re-ordered it in Six Days. He said of the duration of Chaos, ‘It might be … a great while;…’ Few accepted Ussher’s date of 4004 BC for the initial Creation, though most accepted that humanity first appeared in about the year 4000 BC, hence the general acceptance of the rest of Ussher’s chronology. The extension of time by the “Theorists” and contemporary theologians was minute compared to the billions of years of geological time, but was, as Stephen Gould wrote of Whiston’s argument that the day of Genesis one was a year long was, “a big step in the right direction.” In Britain the way was open for a longer time-scale.

Fossils and Geology

Not until the late 17th Century were “formed stones” or fossils recognised as imprints of dead creatures rather than formed as “sports of nature” in place. Only then could “fossils” be used to demonstrate former life and it took a century before the succession of fossils was used to put strata into historical order. Possibly the first person who used the succession of fossils to demonstrate evolution was Charles Darwin in a notebook in 1838, shortly before he “discovered” Natural Selection. In the 1690s there were insufficient grounds to suggest “Deep Time” or the continual reworking of the earth’s crust as understandings of erosion were rudimentary. Ray, Whiston and others cannot be expected to have done otherwise.

Most of the writers had some “scientific” understanding and often spent as much time refuting each other as suggesting new ideas. Some were mostly speculative, as was Thomas Burnet’s The Theory of the Earth. Despite his devotion to the Deluge, he sought to explain phenomena naturalistically and somewhat extended the duration of Genesis One. John Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses concerning the dissolution of the world shows the beginning of careful observation on earth processes and questions over geological time. After reading the first edition of Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses, Lhwyd wrote to Ray on 30 February 1691, ‘Upon the reading on your discourse of the rains continually washing away and carrying down earth from the mountains, it puts me in mind…which I observed’, and then described what he had observed in Snowdonia. He described innumerable boulders which had “fallen” into the Llanberis valleys. (Most of these are glacial erratics.) As ‘but two or three that have fallen in the memory of any man…, in the ordinary course of nature we shall be compelled to allow the rest many thousands of years more than the age of the world.’ Ray commented on Lhwyd’s findings and seemed deliberately to avoid facing the logic of Lhwyd’s comments. He nailed his colours firmly to the fence, and did not explicitly reject an Ussher chronology. However from his discussion of Chaos and other comments, it is fair to conclude that he accepted that the earth was considerably more than five-and-a-half thousand years old, but left the reader to decide.


Time in the Enlightenment


Often the 18th Century is presented as a geological Dark Age until Hutton shed light with his theory in 1788. The 18th century did not see a rapid advance in geology until about 1780, as observers continued the work of their 17th century forbears. Geologically the most important question was how to work out the historical succession of strata and that occurred at the end of the century.

Two who broke loose from the Theories of the Earth were de Maillet and Buffon. Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738) was a French diplomat with a sound grasp of the geography and geology of the Mediterranean and amplified Cartesian cosmogony. His work Telliamed: or conversations between an Indian philosopher and a French missionary did not appear until 1748, though manuscripts had circulated from 1720. It was an odd work both accepting mermaids and reporting careful observation on marine deposition. Our main interest is that the author reckoned the earth to be over two billion years old and according to Albritton the work acted as a leaven among 18th century geologists.


Buffon, born as Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-88) was the Keeper of the Jardin de Roi in Paris and in 1749 published the first volumes of Histoire Naturelle, but by his death in had published only 35 of the projected 50 volumes. His work was widely available in English. His classification of the natural world is of no concern to us, but his discussion of Whiston, Burnet and Woodward in the first volume of his Natural History is. He had little time for these Theories of the Earth and said, ‘I reject these vain speculations.’ However according to Roger, his biographer, Buffon borrowed more from Whiston than he was willing to admit. It also shows that the Theorists’ longer timescale was wellknown on the continent. Buffon also carried out experiments on the cooling of red-hot globes of iron and then applied his findings to the cooling of a globe the size of the earth and estimated that the age of the earth to be about 75,000 years. Though vastly greater than 4000 BC, it was not drastically different from British writers in the previous century and gave some experimental data to support them. In unpublished manuscripts Buffon reckoned the earth to be 3 million years old. In 1751 he was censured by the theologians at the Sorbonne and responded by claiming that the first verse of Genesis should read; “In the beginning God created the materials of the heavens and the earth”. This, in fact, is similar to the ideas of the initial creation of chaos, which was so widely held – at least by Protestants in Britain and Immanuel Kant.

Chaos and Time

Buffon went further than his contemporaries on the duration of time but the consensus of a Chaotic existence of matter in the early phases of the creation found its way into 18th century poetry. One was Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), whose early attempt of putting forward a theory of evolution was in rhyming couplets. If Buffon is a forerunner of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin is doubly so. Charles wrote of his grandfather, ‘he fully believed in God as Creator of the universe.’ and Erasmus’s fin de siecle poems on evolution, considered by Horace Walpole as “sublime”, reflect current understandings of Creation and Chaos,

            ‘—- 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;’

The views of Erasmus Darwin on the age of the earth are similar to Christians of the time. Take William Williams (1717- 1791), who wrote the hymn Guide me O thou great redeemer.  In 1756 he wrote Golwg ar Deymas Crist (A View of Christ’s Kingdom) an epic poem answering the Deists. Chapter II of his epic poem is an account of Creation. There were two creations: the creation of the basic materials – Chaos – and the creation of the universe with those materials, all of which God accomplished ‘in one hundred and forty four hours’, as in Genesis. Though the Re-creation took 144 hours, Pantycelyn gives no indication how long Chaos had existed. Most other religious writers held similar views and only a minority espoused a young earth.  At the end of the 18th century they also sang about it as in Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, with the orchestral introduction on The Chaos followed by the aria ‘And a new created world sprung up at God’s command’.  The libretto of The Creation dates from England in about 1750. An unknown poet took Milton’s ideas in Paradise Lost and wrote it for Handel. In 1792 Haydn obtained a copy while in England and put it to music on returning to Austria.

Many poets incorporated Chaos when versifying on Creation or related matters. The ubiquity of Chaos is evidenced by the Black poet Phillis Wheatly’s Thoughts on the Works of Providence;

That called creation from eternal night.

            ‘Let there be light,’ He said: and from his profound

            Old Chaos heard

Wheatley was a slave born in Africa who was purchased and treated as one of the family by John Wheatley of Boston. The Wheatleys, slave-owners and slave, moved in Evangelical circles and are more properly considered in respect of abolitionism, but this sheds light on how the concept of Chaos and thus of the duration of time was widely held. Sadly Phillis died in poverty at the age of 31 in 1784.

Hutchinsonian Literalism

Very different are the clerical scientists John Hutchinson (1674-1737) and his disciple Alexander Catcott (1725-79). In 1748 Hutchinson wrote Moses’ Principia to oppose Newton. Both lay great store on Genesis and sought to correct the “errors” of Newtonianism. Far less is made of the Chaos than in the Theories and Hutchinson seems not to hold that the period of chaos or tohu va bohu was of any significant duration. In 1868 his disciple Catcott wrote his Treatise on the Deluge which implied that Chaos was of short duration. The Hutchinsonian ideas were held by some until the early 19th century and the last Hutchinsonian scientist seems to have been the entomologist William Kirby (1759-1850), who argued for a Six-Day creation in his Bridgewater Treatise. It would be fair to see Hutchinsonianism as a biblicist reaction to the prevalent Newtonianism.

For the first three-quarters of the century there was no consensus on the duration of time. What the uneducated believed no one can say with certainty but the case of Phillis Wheatley should caution against assuming a mere six thousand years as only the literate have left any evidence. A minority did take the Bible literally and adhere to an Ussher chronology,

but most Christians, whether evangelical or not, stretched matters with an indefinite chaos with humanity limited to 6,000 years. It is difficult to decide whether the lines of William Cowper (1731-1800), an evangelical poet, who also wrote a poem of appreciation to the botanical poet, Erasmus Darwin, reflect a concern for geology or not,

Some drill and bore

The solid earth, and from the strata there

Extract a register, by which we learn

That he who made it, and reveal’d its date

To Moses, was mistaken in its age.

William Cowper “The Task”


The Discovery of Deep Time.


Until the end of the 18th Century the vastness of time was little understood. Though the priority for the discovery of Deep Time is often assigned to James Hutton (1726-97), the Scottish physician and scientist, the “discovery” was also made by several scientists in Europe in the last two decades of the 18th century; the Genevan polymath and mountaineer Henri de Saussure (1740-99) in the Alps near Chamonix in 1778, the much-maligned German mineralogist Gottlieb Werner (1749-1817), the Parisian palaeontologists Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Alexander Brogniart and in England, the Canal engineer William Smith (1769-1839) working near Bath.


None should be given all the credit. However by 1800 the age of the earth was known to be millions of years.

Bound up with this was the development of the use of fossils to determine stratigraphy and the historical order of rocks. Before long the succession of life was known with the attendant fact of extinction. The stratigraphic column was slowly worked out and was the main task of geologists until mid-century and slowly the familiar sequence of Cambrian, Ordovician, etc. was worked out.

Yet no precise figure could be given to the age of the earth; de Saussure thought the earth to be very old, his compatriot Luc (1727-1817) thought it to be tens of thousands, yet in the 1780s Abbé Soulavie was denounced for impiety by fellow Abbé Barruel for allegedly giving an estimate of 356,913,770 years. By 1820 the eccentric British clerical-geologist William Buckland (1784-1856) was reckoning “millions of millions” of years. There was no concerted attack by the church as most educated Christians happily accepted geologists findings, which was not surprising as many were clergy. Prominent at the end of the 18th century were John Playfair (1748-1819) of Edinburgh and Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) of Bath, who publicised the work of Hutton and Smith respectively. Some churchmen did oppose geology, but they were always a small minority.

Christian Accommodation

At the beginning of the 19th Century many Christian or nominally Christian, writers modified the consensus of the Theorists. The sequence based on Genesis One to Eleven of the initial creation of Chaos, re-ordering Creation in Six Days with man being created in about 4000BC and then the Deluge evolved into a vastly extended Chaos to allow for the vast time of geology and a multiplication of Deluges. Theologians quietly slipped geology into the Chaos. The first theologian seems to have been Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) at St Andrews in the winter of 1802. In 1816 the future Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner (1780-1862) published similar ideas in A Treatise on the Records of Creation. Both Chalmers and Sumner were Evangelicals – of an intellectual bent. This harmonisation of geology and Genesis was widely accepted and prevented any major conflict, but from 1820 to 1850 a minority tried to dismiss geology and insist on a Six-Day Creation. Their strongest opponents were the clerical geologists and their supporters.

From about 1810 the main concern of English geologists was simply to work out the stratigraphic order of rocks before asking more philosophical questions. Most geologists accepted some kind of multiple Catastrophism with Noah’s Deluge as the last of these, and were known as Diluvialists. In the 1820s some geologists, notably Charles Lyell (1797-1875), rejected Catastrophism and suggested a more gradual Uniformitarianism. Thus meetings of the Geological Society of London were often fiery debates between the Fluvialists led by Lyell and the Diluvialists led by the Rev W.D.Conybeare (1787-1857), when no holds were barred. These were great fun as were the associated dinner parties where the port flowed freely. The debates are often presented as if it were Lyell who introduced notions of a great age. He did not as all of the “Conybeare Sect” (as Lyell called his friends) accepted vast geological ages. Some of the humour may be seen in Henry De la Beche’s watercolour cartoon lampooning Lyell’s “piddling” geology. De la Beche (1796-1855) was the first director of the British Geological Survey. However the result of Uniformitarianism was that the Deluge was no longer seen as geologically significant or as the last of many Catastrophes, but many geologists were not entirely convinced of Lyell’s Uniformitarianism. Lyell scarcely affected opinions on the age of the earth.


Geology comes of Age


For the first half of the 19th century there was an almost unanimous conviction that the earth was extremely old, but not how old. Geologists were unravelling layer upon layer, strata upon strata going from the recent Drift rocks down through the Mesozoic to the Cambrian and below. The time involved was immense and apparently immeasurable. Critics of geology picked up sweeping statements of geologists, who spoke of millions of years as if they were days. Buckland reckoned the earth to be “millions upon millions”



and his friend Conybeare “quadrillions”. Darwin said of his geology tutor Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), “What a capital hand is Sedgwick for drawing large cheques upon the Bank of Time!” Beyond affirmations of great age Lyell gave no figures. This consensus of millions upon millions may contrasted to tens of thousands of de Luc in the 1790s. After the mid-1820s no geologist would even suggest that, no matter how religious he was. The earth was millions of years old, but no one knew how many.





Throughout the half-century when Deep Time was developed a minority opposed the vast extension of time. In the 1790s Richard Kirwan (1733-1812) famously opposed Hutton partly on the spectre of an eternal earth. In 1802, the very year that the French naturalist J.B. de Lamarck (1744–1829) first developed his own theory of evolution, François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) of Combourg château in Brittany published the Génie du Christianisme, a Catholic literary tour-de-force re-acting against the French Revolution. He  rejected Buffon’s long timescale commenting, ‘Dieu a dû creér, et sans doute créér le monde avec toutes les marques de vétusté.’ This can be translated ‘created the world with all the marks of antiquity and decay’, thus the world may appear ancient but is actually a recent creation. This was later taken up by Gosse. As biblicist Evangelicalism took root in Regency Britain opposition to geological ages mounted, even dismissing such evangelical geologists like Sedgwick as infidels. This did not last and by 1850 most educated people, whether or Christian or not, had accepted the Deep Time of geologists. For decades geology had been the most popular science, clergy did sterling fieldwork in their spare time, geology books were available in mechanics institutes, and geology lectures were given in most towns and often in churches. The picture Pegwell Bay painted by the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement William Dyce (1804-64) in 1860 encapsulates the awareness of geology and other matters scientific with its almost photographic detail of the flint bands in the chalk cliffs. It is often interpreted as depicting geological vertigo, but by 1860 scarcely any educated people or clergy rejected geological time. Almost the only person who did was the naturalist Phillip Gosse (1810-88), whose life was put in semi-fictional form by his son in Father and Son. Gosse was a man of extreme religious views and was not a member of any mainline church. In 1857 he wrote Omphalos (Greek for navel) to show that although the earth appeared old all was created in an instant some 6000 years ago. Thus Adam was created de novo complete with a navel. The book was a lead balloon and the parson-naturalist Charles Kingsley (1819-75) reckoned it made God a liar. There was no other answer.

If Gosse can be ignored for being beyond the fringe, le channon (or Canon) F.Maupied as a leading Roman Catholic theologian at the Sorbonne cannot. In the 1840s Maupied was teaching a literal creation and a rejection of geology during his lectures, something which had never occurred at Oxford or Cambridge. After 1850 apart from a few extreme Evangelicals and Seventh Day Adventists hardly anyone argued against Deep Time until 1961 when the Creationist movement took off.

The motivation for this reaction against Deep Time was both theological and political as it reflects reaction against both Revolution in France and Reform in Britain.


Deep Time and The Origin of Species

 Charles Darwin

When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, the vast age of the earth was as established as heliocentricity, but no firm figures could be put to its age. To many physicists geologists were far too cavalier in their guesses on geological time. The Revd Samuel Haughton (1821-97), Geology Professor at Dublin and an ardent opponent of Natural Selection suggested that 1,526 m.y. had passed since the beginning of the Cambrian, three times the present figure.  Darwin was equally generous with time and suggested that some 300 m.y had passed since the early Cretaceous. He argued this on sound geological reasons, but also to give sufficient time for evolution.

Though many make much of (limited) religious objections to Darwin, the strongest opposition came from physicists such as William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin)(1824-1907), P. G.Tait (1831-1901), James Joule (1818-89) and others. Theirs was a chauvinism from “exact scientists” to the imprecision and lack of quantitative methods of both geologists and biologists. Physicists sometimes regard geologists as stamp collectors! Kelvin struck at the heart of both with his estimates of the age of the earth. From 1855 Kelvin reckoned the age of the earth to be no more than 100 m.y., a minute fraction of the time Darwin needed for evolution to occur through Natural selection. With the authority of physics most biologists and geologists succumbed. In later editions of The Origin of species Darwin removed all reference to his high estimates and thus for the rest of the 19th Century Darwinism as such went into eclipse and most evolutionists adopted a non-Darwinian evolution.

In the 1880s Kelvin reduced his estimates to about 24 m.y., thus almost making any evolution impossible, unless there was an ineffable outside agent controlling evolution. Kelvin had virtually bludgeoned geologists into accepting limits on the age of the earth and for a half-century from 1860, few geologists dared to suggest more than 100 m.y. for the age of the earth. In 1860 John Phillips (1800-74), nephew of William Smith and geology Professor at Oxford suggested 96 m.y. He estimated that the rate of deposition today is one foot in 1,332 years. As the estimate of the thickness of fossiliferous strata was 72,000ft, that made about 96 m.y. This date gave credence to Kelvin’s 1868 estimate of 100 m.y. Huxley was less happy but was unable to assail Kelvin’s calculus. Few geologists were able to challenge Kelvin, partly because they had no good method of quantifying geological time and had to adopt guesstimates based on supposed rates of deposition as table    shows. Though rates of deposition were very much guesses the thickness of strata in the various periods are good indication of the relative length of the periods. In 1893, three years before the discovery of radioactivity, William McGee took Precambrian sediments into consideration. Playing with the arithmetic he allowed the age of the earth to be somewhere between 10 m.y. and 5,000 b.y. and favoured 6 billion, not far of the 4.64 b.y. of today.

Despite this great disparity of estimates, the one agreement was that the age of the earth was to be measured in millions of years. This was shared by most Christians, including the evangelicals, whose ideas of time were included in the booklets published in 1910, entitled The Fundamentals. Writers such as James Orr, a Scottish theologian and George Wright an American clergyman and geologist used this limited time to show how evolution had to be divinely guided rather than occurring through chance and natural selection. But by then time was getting deeper still.


Deep time goes deeper


While Kelvin was shrinking the age of the earth, in 1896 the French physicist Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered Radioactivity as Uranium compounds emitted energy similar to x-rays. Radioactivity had two major implications for the age of the earth. The first was that radioactive decay created immense energy, thus negating Kelvin’s arguments for a cooling earth. The second was that radioactive elements could be used to measure time as they disintegrated at a fixed rate – known as their half-life. Kelvin went to the grave without accepting the implications of radioactivity, which destroyed all his arguments and soon gave methods of estimating the age of rocks and of the earth and gave vastly greater figures. In 1905 the English physicist John William Strutt, later Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) showed that a mineral containing radium was 2 billion years old because of its helium content. In the same year Bertrand Boltwood suggested that Lead may be the end product of the decay of uranium and calculated the ages of 43 minerals from 400 to 2,200 my. The radiometric dating game had begun.

Arthur Holmes and the Age of the Earth

For the next fifty years the most innovative geologist on the dating-game (and on plate tectonics) was Arthur Holmes (1890-1964). He wrote many articles on geological time and several editions of a short, but profound book The Age of the Earth in 1913, 1927 (this edition cost 6d) and 1937. In 1913 he based his work on three Uranium-Lead results from the Palaeozoic. Combining this with the thickness of sediments, he estimated the base of the Cambrian to be 600m.y., remarkably close to present figures of 550m.y. Whatever flaws there were in his work, they show remarkable geological insight. As time wore on the number of age determinations multiplied and are almost infinite. A study of Holmes’ work over half a century (as carried out by Cherry Lewis) shows how a scientific theory can be gradually supported by strong experimental data.

Initially Holmes reckoned the age of the earth to be under 2 billion years (actually 1.6 b.y. in 1913 and 1927 and 1.75 b.y. in 1937), but from 1946 this was seen to be nearer 4.6 billion, with the Cambrian commencing in about 550-590 m.y., with the lower estimate being accepted today. Despite the many refinements and explosion of methods and age determinations, this picture has remained the same for half a century. There are three basic methods of determining the age of the earth. The first is to date the oldest rocks on earth, as this will give a minimum age of the earth. The ages of the Amitsoq gneisses of Greenland, first “dated” by the Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath and others in the early 1970s has not yet been bettered.  The five methods used (see figure   ) give an average of 3.65 billion years. Nearby the Banded Ironstones give ages of 3.8 b.y. These are for whole rocks and in the last ten years minute fragments of detrital Zircons in early Precambrian sediments have given ages up to 4.4 b.y. indicating that the grains may have been formed at that time yet deposited by water in about 3 b.y. ago. That indicates that the earth had cooled to form a crust with 200 M.y. or so from the formation of this planet. The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y. (see figure   ) The third is more theoretical and is to determine “model lead ages” from the decay of uranium into lead for the Earth, Moon and meteorites and was developed independently by Holmes and Houtermans in 1946. (For a more technical discussion read Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth.)


Astronomy becomes Cosmology


In the early modern period up to 1800, Astronomers were more interested in matters of space rather than time, as first geocentricity was rejected and then elliptical orbits accepted rather than circular ones. It was possible to calculate the distance of stars by geometrical means. As estimates had been made of the speed of light since the 17th century, by 1800 the distance of some stars indicated that they were two million light years away thus indicating a vast age of the universe in harmony with geological estimates. Beyond that they was little sense of time and estimates on the age of the universe could first be made in the 1920s, nearly two decades after radiometric age determinations showed the earth to be several billions of years old.

This was due to the discovery of the redshift-distance relation – Hubble’s Law – in the 1920s. Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) worked at the Mount Wilson Obsevatory above Los Angeles with Milton Humasson, a former muleteer turned astronomical photographer. Hubble’s Law pointed to the Universe forming at a particular time and thus from then the age of the universe became an important and potentially answerable question. Over the next seventy years this became a perennial issue in which the “age” depended on the value of Hubble’s Constant. An irony here is that this time astrophysicists had to see that their results concurred with the geologist’s age of the earth of several billion, rather than the physicists in the person of Kelvin over-ruling geologists. The Belgian astronomer-priest Fr G. Lemaitre (1894-1966) began to talk of a beginning in time for the universe whereas in 1932 Einstein had clearly avoided this question. At a meeting in Rome in 1952 W.H.W. Baade (1893-1960), a German émigré living in the States, argued that the universe was between 1.8 and 3.6 billion years old, somewhat less, but in the same order, as estimates for the age of the earth. All hinged on the value of H – Hubble’s Constant. To cut a long story short, (or else read Gribbin’s The Birth of Time), estimates for H have varied from 40 to 525, with suggested ages up to 20 billion years. In 1997, estimates for the age of the universe lie between 10 and 13 billion years, with a best value of 11.5 billion. And that clearly concurs with the geologists.

However, a philosophical or theological question remains. What was there before the birth of this universe? It was Fr Lemaitre who implicitly raised this question, which also has theological implications.


The duration of homo sapiens


Until the 19th Century few doubted that humans had only existed for 6000 years, or a similar short duration. In the absence of archaeology and limited historical research this is not surprising. Even when geologists were pushing back the age of the earth, 6000 years for humanity was still accepted. Often this is put down to the doctrinaire influence of the church over the age of the earth as is often claimed over the human remains at Paviland Cave in South Wales. In the 1820s William Buckland reckoned these human remains, which he christened the Scarlet Lady of Paviland, to be Roman in age, but later work showed them to be 20,000 years old. In part this was due to Buckland holding a recent existence of humanity though he was most liberal on geological time.

During the early 19th Century evidence came in slowly and by mid-century many were accepting of a longer human history. By 1847 the geologists Edward Vivian and William Pengelly were suggesting that the human remains at Kent’s Cavern in Devon were far older than the Deluge, but their ideas were not acceptable to the Geological Society. Charles Lyell held that humankind was recent (i.e.6000 years old) in 1831 but in The Antiquity of Man (1864) extended it to 100,000 years. That remained controversial for many years and even in 1912 G.F.Wright, no mean geologist, was arguing that ‘the antiquity of man … need not be more than fifteen thousand years old.’ That was almost immediately untenable due to radiometric age-dating. The date of the appearance of Homo Sapiens is a matter of controversy and today is reckoned to be in the order of 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. The question is debated with vigour both in the technical literature and popular presentations by Leakey and Stringer.


The cosmic story


At the beginning of the Scientific Revolution there was a simple cosmic story based on the early chapters of Genesis taken at face value. The story was similar for the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reflecting their common roots. The great eastern religions and the animist cultures had different stories. An essential feature of the monotheistic story was that these events had happened in time, albeit a mere few thousand years ago.

As science advanced this story was changed beyond recognition and to most people has been totally replaced by a scientific cosmic story spanning well over ten billion years. Gone were any immediate acts of a Creator producing fully-formed aspects of creation. No longer can one say with Milton;

The grassy clods now calved, now half appeared

            The tawny lion, pawing to get free

            His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,

            And rampant shakes his brinded mane; Paradise Lost VII 463-66 (5)

Instead was a slow development from the initial formation of the universe so that everything can be seen as evolving from Hydrogen. The sceptic might say, “In the beginning Hydrogen.” And so the whole total evolutionary story from the Big Bang may be traced out, through the heavy elements to the formation of the Solar System with Sun and planets, of life and ultimately, in almost the last moment, human beings. At times this acts as a secular creation story replacing the biblical one. However whether or not this is seen to exclude God it does emphasise the vastness of time, which is beyond human expectation and comprehension.


The Arrow of Time


The Christian understanding of time has been linear, starting from Creation and progressing to Christ to the Second Coming, thus having an “Arrow of Time”. In the 17th century the Theorists and Newton in his biblical researches followed this linear scheme. Newton’s Laws of Motion, which could explain and describe the motion of the heavens and mundane objects exemplified a reversible view of time. Creation was conceived as God making an up-and-running universe rather than an evolving one. Throughout the 18th Century this proved an excellent scientific way of looking at the universe as the motion of heavenly bodies could be described mathematically and their future paths predicted. Basically the same methods are used today and Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are essentially reversible.

As geologists developed their understanding of Deep Time and the stratigraphic succession in the 19th century some, notably overtly Christian geologists like Sedgwick, Buckland or Conybeare interpreted the succession as a linear progression, in which God had progressively created various life-forms. In 1830 Lyell gave an anti-progressive gloss to his uniformitarianism, which prevented him from accepting evolution until 1865. Lyell adopted a steady-state view of the earth, denied directional change in the fossil record and speculated that creatures similar to extinct forms might recur, thus activating De la Beche’s satirical pen once more. Darwin took Lyell’s Uniformitarianism and retained the linear geological progression of Sedgwick and others giving a strong directional and irreversible aspect to evolution, later often known as Dollo’s Law.

The irreversibility of time began to be grasped by physicists in the mid-19th century as thermodynamics was developed as a result on research on the production of energy from steam engines. The work of Helmholtz, Clausius and Kelvin led to the significance of entropy and thus to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In whatever physical process entropy always rises. Applied to the universe this means that the temperature will inevitably become uniform throughout. The other implication is that this gives a direction and irreversibility to the universe, with time pointing from the past to the future, like an arrow. Hence the Arrow of Time.


Left Behind?


One of the best-selling books in evangelical bookshops is Timothy de la Haye’s novel Left Behind, which portrays the events leading up to the Return of Christ and the Millennium as interpreted by Dispensationalists. Since the mid-nineteenth century Dispensationalists have developed the Chiliasm of the past into detailed fulfilments of prophecy and some have even suggested that Saddam Hussein was the Antichrist. Other contenders have been Napoleon and Hitler. De la Haye claims that Christ will return soon and the Tribulation will be inflicted on the godless who were left behind. Not only does de la Haye hold that the earth has little time left but also that it has only existed for about 10,000 years as he is very much a Creationist and his Christian Heritage College was for a time associated with the Institute of Creation Research at San Diego founded by Henry Morris (b1918).

Creationism has risen to such dominance especially in the USA that many do not realise that it was insignificant until the publication of The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris (a professor of hydraulic engineering) and J.C.Whitcomb (an Old Testament scholar) in 1961. The main arguments of Creationism are simple and beguiling and reject both evolution and any concept of Deep Time. While the falsity of Creationism has been frequently exposed, its influence remains unabated as is evidenced by the continual problems in science education as in Kansas in 1999, and law suits in Australia.  The Kansas proposals removed any mention of cosmology and deep time, presumably because without Deep Time evolution is impossible. Creationism’s influence has spread to Britain and much of the world, including the former Soviet Union, and presents itself as “true Christianity”. The popular but inaccurate opinion that Darwin shattered belief in a literal creation lends credence to their arguments, as does the strident atheism of some pop scientists. Creationism has had immense influence on popular culture in the USA and elsewhere and it spreads divisively into church life and issues of public education. The National Council for Science Education at San Diego is devoted to opposing Creationism. Creationism’s appeal must be recognised and that at its heart is a total rejection of Deep Time and thus any scientific understanding of the universe. However it must be said that not all anti-evolutionists reject Deep Time, most notably exponents of Intelligent Design though they often avoid the issue.

Image result for ken ham imagedinopica

Creationists, whose leaders often have Ph.D.s in science and engineering, leave the majority bewildered on why they should adopt such untenable beliefs. Slick explanations of religious brainwashing will not do. Two main reasons are a fear that a rejection of a literal Genesis will destroy the Christian faith and a certain amount of general chronological vertigo as the billions of years which trip off the tongues of geologists and astronomers and seem so glib and threatening to finite souls.


How much time left?


The end of the world has always held a fascination if only in a fascination for disaster movies. Many have their understanding of Christian views of the end of the world coloured by predictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Dispensationalists, which are not held by most Christians. There have long been scientific speculations on when the world will end and how long time will last. The two questions are not the same. For our planet there are two possible fates. First all or most life could be destroyed by a colliding comet or asteroid, similar to that which struck Earth 65 million years ago. But that would not be the end of time as the Earth would still be there, even though humans were destroyed. Then in about 5 billion years time the sun may become a Supernova and explode and destroy the Solar System, but there would still be a Universe. The final fate of the Universe is much further off and would be when everything is uniform and entropy has increased to its maximum. The question is if there is no more change, can there be time? (see Paul Davies, The Last Three Minutes)




Like any development in human thought, the discovery of Deep Time has not been a simple linear progression as the forces of truth overcame the forces of ignorance. The popular story of the Church holding out for 4004BC until they were totally routed by scientists, who overcame their obscurantism by scientific heroism, is far wide of the mark.

Before 1600 most people believed that the earth was created in 4000BC for the simple reason there was no arguments against this view. As we have seen significant breakthroughs occurred in the late 17th century with the misunderstood theories of the earth, in the end of the 18th century with the simultaneous development of geological understanding all over Europe, the discovery of radioactivity and its application to dating rocks in the 1890s, and the discovery of the redshift-distance relation by Hubble in the 1920s, which demonstrated a beginning to the Universe.

Only since 1946 has it been possible to date the age of the earth to 4.5 billion years, since the 1960s the Age of the universe has been variously estimated between 10 and 20 billion years. Today the age of the earth can be dated with fair precision at 4.55 b.y. and the Universe less precisely as 13 b.y. give or take a couple of billion.

We have come a long way from the 6000-year-old universe held by most in 1500. The development of understanding over the last half millennium has progressed not smoothly, but in fits and starts. One cannot separate “scientific” understandings, from “philosophical” or even “religious” ones as all had a part to play. At times these could inhibit or retard understanding and at other times accelerate it. There was no simple liberation of free thought from religious tyranny.

There is now a wide consensus on both the age of the earth and of the universe, with a knowledge is that not only that this universe has a beginning but so does time. We are now back with Augustine who claimed that the Universe was not created in time but with time. It is that question with which cosmologists like Stephen Hawking are grappling. Yet despite the irrefutable scientific evidence of vast antiquity a sizeable minority of the Western world still retain a chronological vertigo and reject any concept of Deep Time in favour of a universe which has existed only for a few thousand years.


Short Bibliography

C.J. Albritton, The Abyss of Time, California, 1980

P.J.Bowler, Evolution; the History of an Idea, California, 1989.

J.H.Brooke, Science and Religion, some historical perspectives, Cambridge, 1991.

G.B.Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth, California, 1992.

Paul Davies, The Last Three Minutes, London, 1994.

J.Gribbin, The Birth of Time, London, 1999.

Cherry Lewis, The Dating Game, London, 2000.

R.Numbers, The Creationists, New York, 1992.

  1. Young and Steary , The bible, Rocks and Time, Grand Rapids, 2005.



Chiliasm, a Christian belief centred on the Millennium, usually taking the form that the earth will last 6000 years before the Millennium is ushered in. Held by some early Chrsitians, some in 17th Century e.g. Ussher and extreme Evangelicals today. (from Greek for 1000.)

Millennium, – a thousand years. Usually taken to be the thousand years of Chrsit’s reign after his Return, based onm a literal reading of Revelation 20, which most Christians take as symbolic.

Dispensationalism, a form of popular chiliasm developed in the 19th Century, which is strong on predicting future events and a comlex working out of the Second Coming of Christ. De la Haye is an example.

Literal(ism). An unhelpful, but often used, term to label Christains who especially take Genesis One as teaching a Six-Day creation.

Evangelical. A Christian tradition stemming from the 18thCentury Revival putting especial emphasis on the Bible and the atoning death of Christ. Often wrongly considered to be literalist in use of Bible, but some are!

Deluge. Normally the Flood of Noah, which from 1650 to 1750 was thought to be the main geological cause of the strata. From 1780 to 1840 many geologists thought strata were deposited by a succession of Deluges, Noah’s being the last. This was also known as Catastrophism or Diluvialism. Lyell’s Uniformitarianism put paid to it. Recently, following Henry Morris, Creationists argue that Noah’s Deluge laid down all strata. Geologists totally reject this idea.

Catastrophism. (Not always a helpful term)  see Deluge

Diluvialism. See Deluge.

Uniformitarianism. A geological outlook that geological processes in the past were uniform to processes today and thus reluctant to posit any catastrophe. Held dogmatically by Lyell and Darwin but is under question today, especially as one considers the extinction of dinosaurs. Before 1830 known as Fluvialists. See de la Beche’s cartoon on this “piddling” school of geology!

Radiometric Age-Dating. Radioactive elements disintegrate at a fixed rate known as a Half Life. For example Uranium disintegrates into Lead, and the proportions of both elements in a mineral can be measured. In certain circumstances this can give the age of the mineral or rock. The techniques are too complicated to be explained here, but see Lewis or Dalrymple.


Biography;Michael Roberts, M.A. (Oxon), B.A. (Dunelm) F.R.Hist>S.

Michael studied Geology at Oxford and spent 3 years in Africa as an exploration geologist. He studied theology at Durham and was ordained into the Anglican Church in 1974.  . He is a keen mountain walker and has written articles on science and religion (one on Darwin and Design received a Templeton Award in 1997) and Darwin’s geology and a book Evangelicals and Science (2008).

Women can speak and teach in church after all!!Maybe Forward in Faith must go backwards!!

With the continuing controversy over the ordination of women this blog by an American evangelical scholar Dr Scott McNight is very pertinent. He discusses a recent paper by another evangelical with a Cambridge Ph D – Phillip Payne He argues that the passage in Paul in 1 cor 14 vs 34-5 is not authentic Paul and thus should not be part of the letter.

I hope all anglican Evangelicals take note

It is well worth a read and has interesting implications


via Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Authentic? No.

Is Christian Aid’s push for Divestment undermining the poor?

Over the last 10 years the ultimate Green concern of many Christians is Climate Change, which for many means Divestment from fossil fuels and the adoption of “clean” renewable energy. This has become the official stance of groups like Christian Aid, Tear Fund and Cafod, along with Christian Green groups, like a Rocha, Green Christian, with John Ray  Initiative sitting uncomfortably on the (barbed wire) fence. Within the mainstream churches if you do not agree with this consensus, you are clearly not green!! This is despite the majority not buying into it.

Apart from the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, who has a Ph. D. in chemistry, few challenge this consensus and thus it has become the default position of the churches, with frequent calls for divestment and a Bigswitch to “clean” energy.

This article in the Church Times  10 August 2017 by Joe Ware of Christian Aid is both strident and inaccurate, and seems to think the main solutions to environmental issues are Divestment and taking part in the Big Switch to “renewable” energy. One gets the impression nothing else really matters.

Until about 1990 care for the environment was hardly mentioned in the churches of the UK.  This was not because of a desire only to save souls or following the daft ideas of Dispensationalism as Joe Ware claims. More socially minded Christians were concerned about Apartheid, the inner city and urban issues and racialism. In the 70s Bishop Hugh Montefiore was one of the few who waved a green flag, but to speak of a divide between the church and environmentalism due to Dispensationalism is simply wrong. Very few believed in Dispensationalism and the over-riding view on the environment was simply apathy, as I found in 1982 when I tried to get Liverpool Diocese Board of Social responsibility to consider environmental issues. I was ignored and my request was not even minuted. I rejoiced when in the 90s churches began to go green. My joy is now muted as the focus has been narrowed down to Divestment and “clean” energy, as if any energy is clean.

Before 1990 the environment simply did not figure. Now it is foremost and many green christians are pushing for divestment from fossil fuels and are strongly opposed to fracking, so that the only thing that matters is fighting Climate Change, and that from an extreme perspective. Ware wrote favorably of McKibben, who has pushed for Divestment and anti-fracking for many years, but his enthusiasm is not tempered with accuracy or realism. Renewable energy makes up less than 10 per cent of total energy usage today and thus fossil fuels and nuclear must be used to make up the deficit and both will continue to be used for at least half a century. At best Divestment is simply virtue signalling. Apart from ideological greens, all informed commentators on energy argue that fossil fuels, preferably gas (thus fracking) must be used in the greenest way possible. This includes gurus those like Ware look to.  Thus we should read  the late Sir David Mackay, Dieter Helm, Lord Deben/John Gummer, Mark Lynas, the late Stephen Tindale (formerly of Greenpeace) and others. All accept the pressing issue of Climate Change, but differ on how it needs to be tackled. However the silent majority in the churches seem to be letting this happen, though many do not buy into this strong green agenda.

The result of the single-minded focus on Climate Change means that other issues are almost ignored (unless they can be blamed on Climate Change. In fact to say it is caused by Climate Change is often seen as a full explanation!).

Other issues in the environment are manifold.

Apart from blaming flooding on Climate Change, very little is said on reducing flooding, whether tree planting, peat restoration, or minor modifications in towns e.g. criticising hard surfacing front gardens.

My own diocesan environment group seems to ignore these but have been very forward on fracking, producing three (inaccurate) papers on the subject.

It would not be unfair to say  that  Christian Aid et al adopt much of “left-wing Junk science” and are not only anti-fracking but also anti-GMO, though they are more more muted than they were. Consider this statement;

Doubt about GM’s ability to
increase yields is not the only worry
about its use. The IAASTD warned
that GMOs in the human foodsupply
chain in the form of animal p93
feed ‘might threaten human health’.
GM’s potential environmental
impact is also a cause for concern,
with the evidence again patchy. p93-4

It is sad for an august organisation siding with negative critiques of GMO. Here is a critique of Christian Aid going back to 2003

More recently it has taken to opposing fracking.


Does Christian Aid support fracking?
Christian Aid opposes fracking because shale gas is a fossil fuel and will therefore
exacerbate global climate change. Research conducted by the International Energy Agency shows that, whilst gas is a lower carbon fossil fuel than coal, exploiting the world’s reserves of unconventional gas, such as shale gas, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5°C.
This is far higher than the 2° rise that the UK and other developed countries has said is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.Investing in shale gas exploration could also reduce the finance available to invest in renewable energy.


This statement completely ignores the difference between fossil fuels; Coal is the worst with the highest CO2 emissions (and other nasties, mostly particulates) ; oil is better  and as we now know petrol is better than diesel. Gas is the cleanest with the least CO2 emissions. (Of course we are told “fracked gas is worse than coal”, but that  only considers the papers by Robert Howarth which are contradicted by the other 05% of papers on the subject.) I can’t comment on his reference to the IEA as he gives no detailed reference. I suggest the operative word is “could”.

By making Divestment and the Big Switch the shibboleths to be a Green Christian, Joe Ware and others have introduced a new fundamentalism where Penal substitution and biblical inerrancy are replaced with Divestment and anti-fracking, and if you do not agree you are not welcome in this green fundamentalism. Sadly other  important green issues are often left to one side due to the adherence to a narrow agenda.

It is sad that Christian Aid is adopting such a narrow agenda as they will prevent many
countries from developing their own (allegedly dirty) energy supplies. Thus the potential
oil and gas in the Western Rift of Uganda could well make Uganda energy sufficient thus
limiting deforestation by replacing would burning with gas. If not exactly clean, it would
be cleaner. To me, having worked in that area as an exploration geologist (for metals)
that would be a great improvement reducing deforestation and smoky huts.
To follow Joe Ware will mean that we will give with one hand and take away with the
other. If this policy is applied throughout the world, many people will be denied access to
I hope we can follow wisdom and realism and give with both hands.


Here is Joe Ware’s article in the Church Times, interspersed with my comments.

Church and tree-huggers, unite!

11 AUGUST 2017


The frost between the Church and environmentalists is thawing, says Joe Ware


Protesting: church leaders on 5 December 2009, including the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Dr Rowan Williams, wear blue gloves as part of a wave of support at Stop Climate Chaos’s The Wave event, in London

TEN years ago — long before the historic UN Paris agreement on climate change (News, 14 December 2015), and a full year before Barack Obama became President of the United States — the UK’s Environment Agency asked 25 leading environmentalists which five things needed to happen.

Of the top 50 suggestions, second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency, was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers. In a review of the list, The Guardian’s Alison Benjamin was baffled by the part that these green visionaries saw faith as playing: “I fail to understand how religious leaders’ making the planet their priority will make a sufficient difference to warrant its ranking at two,” she wrote.

No doubt, Church Times readers are more aware that we in the UK live in an oddly secular bubble: for most people in the world, from Brazilian Roman Catholics to Bangladeshi Muslims, faith plays a key part in their lives.

What these environmental champions had identified was the frosty relationship between the environment movement and religion or, more specifically, the Church. The perceived divide between a gang of godless tree-huggers, on the one side, and an institution that cares only about saving souls at the expense of ecological destruction, on the other,

I would love to know when this frosty situation was. In the 70s and 80s few in the churches were bothered. The concern of many was not for the environment but for Race relations and apartheid and the problems of inner cities. This social gospel was at the heart of many Christians’ understanding of the gospel in practice. It was not tree-huggers vs soul savers.


caused a damaging impasse in which both creation care and evangelism suffer.

The good news is that this cold war is beginning to thaw.

This misses so many thing. Few before the mid-80s emphasised the environment and they were lone voices and often got nowhere.

In fact, both groups share much common ground, which has huge potential for the Kingdom of God. Like the arrival of Aslan in Narnia’s perpetual winter — the invention of a Christian nature-lover, C. S. Lewis — spring is coming.


THE divide between the Church and the environmental movement is a recent one. It arose in the 1970s through the influence of dispensationalist theology, which often taught that at Jesus’s return the earth would be burnt up, and was therefore dispensable,

This is baseless. Christians in the 70s were little concerned about the environment. Yes, some Evangelicals followed Lindsell The Late Great Planet Earth, but it had little or no effect in the wider church. The environment was largely ignored as the focus was on apartheid, Inner city etc.


despite the biblical mandate to care for creation and its inhabitants.

Most read Gen 1 vs22 as dominion (good or bad) rather than creation care. This biblical mandate (however interpreted) only came to the fore in about 1990

The dualist second-century heresy of Gnosticism also played a part. Although rejected by the Church, this unbiblical belief that physical matter is evil and only the spiritual is important remains influential, and implies a disregard of the natural world.

This is very sweeping and  was never held by Christians

What is often forgotten is that the modern environmental movement owes its history to Christians.

There was a broad moving towards environmentalism in the 19th century and not only among Christians. One such was Darwin.

The Scottish Presbyterian John Muir, who had memorised the New Testament by the age of 11, established the world’s first National Park in Yosemite, California.


John Muir was a great pioneer but reading his biography scarcely shows that Christianity figured large for him as he was more in awe of nature than God.

It was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, with Octavia Hill, a devout churchgoer, and Sir Robert Hunter, a broad-church Anglican, who founded the Nation­al Trust in 1895 to con­serve the Lake Dis­trict. As the environ­mental theologian Pro­fes­sor Mi­­chael North­­cott commented, it wasn’t so­­cialists or tree-huggers who started that: it was Anglicans.

This is just picking out two people. There were more and part was the general rejection of killing for collection. An example was Charles Darwin and part may be a realsiation that some species were getting rarer. One forbear was the Rev F O Morris, an ardent anti-evolutionists who founded the Society for the Protection of Birds , which got its Royal Charter in 1904. Northcott’s assertion is dubious.

In fact, Christians and secular environmentalists have a similar world-view.

This is a very limited perspective and makes no mention of God or Jesus Christ.

They both believe that our pristine planetary home has been spoiled by human selfishness (and they are both criticised for being preachy and using guilt to shame people into action).


How many believe the earth was never pristine, whatever that means? Many today hold that humans are spoiling the earth, but that is often realism not some starry-eyed departure from a pristine condition.


Christians seeking to share the gospel will find that any­one angered by environmental destruction is al­­ready cognisant of human sinfulness and the need for restored rela­tionships throughout creation. A Christianity that empha­sises care for creation will get a ready hearing. As the late evangelist Rob Frost put it: “When Christians take the earth seriously, people take the gospel seriously.”


THE campaigners who spoke to the Environment Agency in 2007 effect­ively admitted that they needed help from the Church. The good news is that the Church is responding.

This assumes that these are these are the most important environmental responses. As it is, they focus only on divestment and the big Switch


In managing their funds, host of de­­nom­ina­­tions and Christian organ­isa­tions have disinvested from fossil fuels, a movement led by the Methodist campaigner Bill McKibben of (Interview, 25 October 2013).

It would be more accurate to say some. This is simply assuming that all Christians should follow the lead of McKibbin. Perhaps we should be aware that many of his claims are more emotive than factual.

Thousands of churches in the UK have also switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity through the Big Church Switch scheme, under which more than £1 million in electricity shifted away from fossil fuels (News, 2 September 2016Comment, 15 April 2016).

Is the Big Switch a good idea? It depends on the supposed distinction of clean and dirty erenrgy and makes no distinction between coal (dirty), oil (cleaner) and gas (cleanest fossil fuel) and the fact that “clean” energies aint clean. further it ignores the inaccurate sales talk of some firms eg Ecotricity who blythely claim that they can provide all the gas the UK needs from grass grown for biodigesters. Most experts reckon that biogas like this will top out at 10% – unless we put all National Parks down to grass :). £1million in electricity is minimal as it represents less than 2000 households. What must be asked is whether it is possible to move ALL customers over to renewables. The answer is simply NO, as Sir david Mackay argued in No Hot Air, and will remain NO until at least to the end of century. At best this is virtue signalling and little more than kidding oneself.


And, of course, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, which put care for our common home at the heart of RC teaching, and ignited a wave of interest in climate change before the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 (News, 26 June 2015). After President Trump’s decision to withdraw from this agreement, a stand by the Church has never been more needed.

The Church has a crucial part to play in helping to accelerate the world’s much-needed low-carbon transition. If it can pull it off, and unite all those that care for God’s creation, then both heaven and earth will be able to rejoice.

The implication is that those who do not accept his arguments, which are shaky to say the least, do not care for God’s creation. That is unjust in the extreme and rather cultic in the way it excludes those Christians who do not agree. It is simply a Green Fundamentalism. Rather than harnessing the whole church’s resources this is simply dividing Christians and will result in less being done.

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid. He is on Twitter at @wareisjoe.

The Church Times Green Church Awards – Buildings

Churches’ storm in a tea cup over Darwin; 1860


Charles Darwin

Science versus religion – the antithesis conjures two hypostatized entities of the later nineteenth century; Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons; a mysterious undefined ghost called Science against a mysterious indefinable ghost called Religion; until by 1900 schoolboys decided not to have faith because Science, whatever that was, disproved Religion, whatever that was.

Owen Chadwick taking a rise out of the conflict thesis of science and religion.

Huxley; Darwin’s bulldog


The response to Darwin in 1859 was very varied and not restricted to the conventional conflict of science and religion. Christian responses varied from the acceptance of Kingsley and Gray and the rejection by Wilberforce and others. There was no literalist reaction and thus the response was not over the text of Genesis. Many Christians were concerned over the threat to design, teleology, the Fall and ethics. Initially Darwin was opposed by most geologists – Sedgwick, Phillips, Murchison and for a time Lyell – and physicists – Kelvin, Joule, Tait. To some evolution was still tainted with political radicalism. Thus the response to Darwin in the 1860s was complex and cannot be caricatured as Science vs Religion. Despite initial opposition evolution, in a non-Darwinian form was widely accepted in two decades.

This paper is a sequel to my blog on Genesis and geology

Keywords; Darwin, Kelvin, Wilberforce, evolution, Genesis, teleology, ethics.


At the first Charles Darwin Memorial Lecture in Shrewsbury in February 1997, David Bellamy emphasised that evolution was in harmony with his Christian faith. He was considering both the contemporary scene where many think Darwin and God to be incompatible, and also that there was a great furore in 1859 when Darwin published The Origin of Species. The latter forms in a major theme a recent biography of Darwin by John Gribbin and Michael White, which has the virtues of being cheap and readable. Its vices are legion as it contains several major chronological errors, completely misunderstands Darwin’s work as a geologist, and fails to use the recently published Correspondence of Charles Darwin. A chapter on the controversy with religion is entitled Battles with Bigotry (1), focusing on Samuel Wilberforce who is presented as scientifically ignorant and, of course, was defeated by the noble Huxley in 1860 at Oxford, as Chadwick mockingly put it “Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons”(2). White and Gribbin strongly criticised those who challenge the popular story of Huxley and Wilberforce, stating “This does not fit the facts.” Without getting into a discussion of what a “fact” is, this paper is an attempt to get at the “facts”.


Wilberforce has been denigrated for a century for hindering the advancement of science, because of his literalist views. Whatever else Wilberforce was, he was no literalist, and had considerable scientific knowledge. He was at various times on the committees of the Geological Society and the Linnaean Society and had attended Buckland’s lectures in geology at Oxford in the 1820s(3). He regularly went to scientific meetings in London and often attended the British Society for the Advancement of Science, where he took an active but supporting role. He made an impact at the 1848 Meeting of the British Association at Birmingham when, on a field trip, he used his episcopal clout to make the assembly shout “Hail, King of Siluria” to Roderick Murchison in recognition of his work on the geology of Wales and the Marches (4). Sir Roderick, King of Siluria, was one of Britain’s foremost geologists in the early Victorian era. Like all his contemporaries: de la Beche, Sedgwick, Buckland, Lyell and a host of others,


Sedgwick, Darwin’s geology teacher

Murchison argued for a geologically ancient earth, and clergy like Wilberforce were equally convinced of geology’s vast ages and extinct fauna. Whatever uneducated Christians thought, few educated Christians were literalists in early Victorian times, and virtually none by 1860.

This can be seen by considering the most well-known theological work of the 1860s and its myriad responses, Essays and Reviews. Goodwin’s essay on the Mosaic Cosmogony is often regarded as the first time the church faced the discoveries of geologists. In fact Goodwin was criticising how most Christian writers interpreted Genesis in the light of geology. Goodwin chose Buckland and Miller as typical representatives. Buckland was professor of geology at Oxford and was the first to identify a Jurassic mammal and to accept Ice Ages in Britain. Hugh Miller was a superb amateur who combined Evangelical and Presbyterian convictions with geology, whose Old Red Sandstone is a geological classic and The Testimony of the Rocks the finest work on geology and Genesis (5). Goodwin did not, and could not, criticise them for their geology but only for harmonising Geology and Genesis, which he considered futile. Along with Temple’s insipid introductory essay, Goodwin’s essay was the least controversial, as most criticisms were aimed at those by Wilson, Williams, Jowett and Baden Powell. Many orthodox Christians, from the Archbishop of Canterbury downward, responded angrily to Essays and Reviews. Samuel Wilberforce quickly brought out Replies to Essays and Reviews including an essay by Gilbert Rorison on the poetic nature of Genesis and a long appendix by John Phillips, professor of geology at Oxford. Of the many other “answers” none were literalist, except the Plymouth Brother B.W.Newton. I cannot give one Anglican counter-example.

The clergy who accepted vast geological ages and thus a non-literal Genesis, are innumerable. Focusing on Anglicans, there are the six clerical contributors to Essays and Reviews and those who wrote against Essays and Reviews, of which I have read about thirty. A selection of strong conservatives should suffice; S.Wilberforce, Henry Moule, R.W.Church, Dean Burgon, E.B.Pusey, J.C.Ryle, A Olivant, G.Rorison, J.B.Sumner, C.R.Sumner, F.Close, C.G.Gorham, T.R.Birks, C.Wordsworth, J.Pratt, J.Baylee, H.Tristram, H.G.C.Moule, H.B.Liddon, E.A.Litton, W.Lee to which may be added most commentators of Genesis. As is clear in this game of prosopography. The “score” is Literalists – Nil; Non-literalists – 21 and 6 essayists plus Colenso, Stanley, Westcott, Hort, Lightfoot, Tait, Henslow, Sedgwick, Kingsley etc., etc., giving 36 for starters. The pattern is clear: the vast majority of churchmen in the 1860s were not literalists and accepted geology. Such a revelation comes as a surprise to many, including Bishops and Geology Professors! It also means that there must be something wrong with many interpretations of the “conflict” of science and religion.

Why is this so? In 1896 Andrew. D. White, the President of Cornell University, published the final edition of The Warfare of Science with Theology (6), which has set the scene on how people have perceived the incompatibility of science and religion for a hundred years. The book has had enormous influence, especially in giving credence to what Prof.Leslie Francis describes as “the Perception of Christianity as Creationist”(7) and is often the only work consulted on how religion has always opposed every advance of science. Its pervasive influence can be seen in Josef Altholz’s essay The Warfare of Conscience with Theology (8), which refers to White’s book as “the traditional approach to the subject”, and despite distancing himself from White’s historiography largely follows it. The basic theme of White is that there has been an on-going war from Copernicus to Darwin in which the Churches opposed every advance of science. As Owen Chadwick expressed it so memorably;

            Science versus religion – the antithesis conjures two hypostatized entities of the later nineteenth century; Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons; a mysterious undefined ghost called Science against a mysterious indefinable ghost called Religion; until by 1900 schoolboys decided not to have faith because Science, whatever that was, disproved Religion, whatever that was.

Of course, that is true! That is the problem. White’s work was originally published in two volumes, each over 400 pages, covering a vast scope and supported by a vast array of references. There are sections on The war with Galilleo, From magic to Chemistry and Physics, and The Final Effort of Theology over Darwin, with the Final victory of Evolution. Many of White’s arguments have passed into the received wisdom of the twentieth century and are repeated ad nauseam by Christian and non-Christian alike. Thus G.D.Yarnold, a conservative physicist-priest wrote in 1958, “It is well known that Christian theologians at one time were somewhat reluctant to accept even the most certain conclusions of natural science into their thinking. However following a period of acute controversy ……”(9)





Though the publication of The Origin of Species changed the way people saw the world, the idea of evolution was not new. Darwin prefaced The Origin of Species work with An Historical Sketch mentioning in particular Lamarck and Grant. What was new with Darwin was the principle of Natural Selection, an idea which has often been misunderstood and wrongly associated with the Survival of the Fittest. Previous attempts at Evolution had foundered on a mechanism and Natural Selection was presented as just that. Though to many, Evolution is synonymous with Darwinism, the latter is strictly speaking Evolution in which the mechanism is largely Natural Selection. As Bowler points out in The Non-Darwinian Revolution, much of 19th century evolution was non-Darwinian, with Darwin providing the catalyst to make evolution acceptable. Within a few years of 1859 Evolution was often seen in Non-Darwinian terms and the last decades of the century saw a revival of Lamarck’s ideas (10).

At times people have looked too hard for precursors of Darwin, even recruiting St Augustine who wrote in an apparently evolutionary manner. In the Enlightenment the ideas of a Great Chain of Being stressed a continuity between species and almost gave a ladder, or chain, reaching up to man, but these were based on speculation rather than science. However before the 1790s there were no concepts to determine either the order in which animals and plants appeared or their age as this had to await the relative age-dating of the geologists, especially by Smith and Cuvier. Even then throughout the nineteenth century there was a general idea of vast geological time, without any method of ascribing particular ages for any formation, which had to wait until the application of radioactivity to dating rocks in 1905.

At the end of the eighteenth century there were two important attempts in presenting evolution in England and France. The Englishman was none other than Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus, who was a doctor in Lichfield and a member of the Lunar Society. His main works were the Botanic Garden (1791) and the Temple of Nature (1803) which stand unique among scientific works as they were written in couplets rather than prose. His Zoonomia (1794-1796) proposed a theory of evolution, but his transmutationist ideas were developed from David Hartley’s account (1749) of how the soul is affected by the habits of life rather than from natural history. Erasmus Darwin was largely ignored in his time receiving a mixed response from the scientific press. The most hostile reaction was from the chemist Richard Kirwan. With the threat of invasion and the fear of revolution the reactionary 1790s were not a good time to put forward theories which had such Gallic overtones. Both the geologists James Hutton in the 1790s and William Buckland in the 1820s were regarded by some as politically dangerous. Hutton was a member of the Scottish Enlightenment and a deist, but Buckland was orthodox with Evangelical leanings.

In France Buffon had offended the theologians at the Sorbonne with suggestions of a vast age based on cooling experiments on an iron globe. In contrast to Oxford, Cambridge and the Scottish Universities, the Sorbonne remained a bastion of biblical literalism until after 1850. Between 1845 and 1848 Canon Maupied gave his subsequently published Cours de physique sacree et de cosmogonie mosaique, in which he “optait pour la chronologie des Septante et situait la Creation cinq a six mille ans avant notre ere(11.). After the Revolution Jean Baptiste Lamarck first published on evolution during the month of Thermidor in Year 10 (August 1802) and developed this in his Philosophie Zoologique in 1809. Since 1794, Lamarck had been working on invertebrate taxonomy at the Museum d’histoire naturelle in Paris. Lamarck postulated an initial spontaneous generation of life and then development along a largely linear line (this is to be contrasted to Charles Darwin’s branching bush.) His ideas were revived when Natural Selection went into eclipse in the late 19th century and they are often regarded as the escalator theory of evolution.

Lamarck was strongly opposed by his colleague, Cuvier, who engineered his eclipse. Cuvier was a vertebrate anatomist and pioneered many of the methods on elucidating the skeletal structure of extinct creatures from a few bones. His natural history was more acceptable in England as he spoke of successive catastrophes but never supported those who saw the Noachian Deluge as the last catastrophe. In 1829 at the end of his career Cuvier was engaged in debate over evolution with Geoffroy Saint Hilaire. During the 1820s Robert Grant visited Paris regularly and was a convinced evolutionist teaching evolution in Edinburgh in the 1820s where he briefly had Charles Darwin as a student. How far Grant’s teaching actually made Darwin an evolutionist is open to question, but he was given anti-evolutionary teaching at Cambridge by Henslow and Sedgwick. In 1831 Richard Owen went to Paris with Grant and met Geoffroy but was not convinced. As Desmond expresses it “Edinburgh’s extramural schools were turned into Geoffroyian citadels” as Grant “imported the new philosophical anatomy lock stock and barrel, supporting even Geoffroy’s more controversial claims.”

In 1827 Grant left Edinburgh to take the chair of Zoology at the newly-founded University College in London and thus brought Geoffroy’s evolution to the capital. Until his decline in 1847, after which he lived in some poverty, he gave many lectures in London, often with Richard Owen opposing him. Their first run-in was in 1839 over the Stonesfield “opossum” a mammal-like creature from the Jurassic Strata (140 million years) which Buckland found near Charlbury. Buckland and Owen sought to show it to be a mammal; Grant disagreed, as a Jurassic mammal would have undermined his “ultraserialist” evolutionism. As well as scientific differences between Owen and Grant there were political and religious ones as well. Owen was an Anglican (and friend of Bishop Wilberforce) and a Peelite Tory, whereas Grant was Radical both in religion and politics. As Desmond points out, and is implicit in his book’s title The Politics of Evolution, there are political as well as religious and scientific dimensions to the controversy over evolution during the decades of Chartism. Thus in the 1830s evolutionary ideas in science were often held by those who were also politically and religiously Radical in the strongest sense. Some of the Anti-Geologists of the 1830s were also politically motivated, and considered that Radicalism was behind infidel Geology. An example of this was an anonymous letter which Buckland received in 1824 “from An enemy of Radicalism”. As a Canon of Christchurch, Buckland was hardly a Radical. The more orthodox (religiously) scientists tended to concur with Buckland and Sedgwick and adopt a Progressive Creationism which accepted an old earth but maintained that Creation rather than taking place in six days had been progressive over many millions of years.

In 1844 the anonymous publication of The Vestiges of Natural History of Creation created a storm and much speculation on the identity of the author. The volume was a synthesis of the Laplacean Development Hypothesis, contemporary ideas of evolution and other sciences. The main theme was a gradual evolutionary ascent to man. However it was seen as deistic rather than theistic and implicitly anti-miraculous. Many reviews were hostile. Sedgwick in the Edinburgh Review commented “I believe some woman is the author…partly from the utter ignorance the book displays of all sound physical logic.” But, then, Darwin’s sister Susan had taken considerable interest in him! The Scot Hugh Miller, responded with The Footsteps of the Creator and criticised it largely on scientific grounds. Don Cupitt, in one of his worse moments, completely misunderstood the book describing it as “a veritable dinosaur of a book”. Cupitt was right – it was a Velociraptor in its day! (12) There was much speculation on the identity of the author and Darwin was a prime suspect. However in a letter to the Revd W.D.Fox he said, “at which I ought to be much flattered and unflattered!”(24/4/1845). Fox was one of the first people to know of Darwin’s essay in 1842. By 1848 Darwin was convinced that Chambers was the author writing to Lyell on 16th June, “If he be, as I believe, the Author of the Vestiges, this book for poverty for intellect is a literary curiosity.” The secret was kept until 1884.

The reaction to The Vestiges probably persuaded Darwin not to publish his 1844 draft on Natural Selection. He continued his work on barnacles and wrote in his Transmutation notebooks. However despite scientific shortcomings Vestiges did make the whole concept of evolution more widely known and despite Miller’s strictures did present evolution as an idea which did not necessarily have Radical implications, whether those of Grant or Geoffroy

Darwin came to scientific maturity in this milieu. He was born in 1809 to a deistic doctor in Shrewsbury who had him baptised at St Chad’s Church at six months of age, then sent him to a Unitarian church and school and finally to an Anglican public school. As his sisters worshipped at first at St Chad’s and later at St George’s and sought to influence his religious development, Darwin had a hybrid background from the day of his birth, with roots both in the Radical Science of the Lunar Society and Grant and in the Anglican Oxbridge tradition. The Radical evolutionary side was epitomised by his Edinburgh teacher Robert Grant, and the shadow of his grandfather. The other was the Establishment Anglican Progressive Creationism of the Rev Professors John Henslow and Adam Sedgwick who between them had the greatest early influence on Darwin. Henslow, twelve years Darwin’s senior, as Professor of Botany informally taught Darwin at Cambridge, and thus Darwin was known as “the man who walked with Henslow”. When Darwin left Cambridge for Shrewsbury in June 1831 he was planning an expedition to the Canaries and in July attempted some field geology without success. Fortunately for Darwin, Henslow asked Sedgwick to take him on a field trip to North Wales, so that when he was invited to travel on The Beagle he was a competent geologist. His 1831 field notes reveal how rapidly he became competent under the tutelage of Sedgwick, who thereafter became a regular visitor at The Mount, the Darwin home in Shrewsbury(13). During his voyage Darwin changed his geological ideas from Catastrophism after Fitzroy gave him a copy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology, but Henslow had already warned against its Uniformitarianism. Despite the warning Darwin became even more uniformitarian than Lyell did. After his return in 1836 Darwin wrote up his geological findings himself and enlisted the support of other scientists for his biology. He achieved scientific recognition first as a geologist, and carried out his last geological fieldwork on Welsh glaciation in 1842. His change from geology to biology may have been due to his illness, as on his 1842 field trip at the age of thirty-three he never walked more than four miles in a day compared to twenty-five four years earlier. This may indicate that his illness was physical rather than psychological (14). He made early drafts of his evolutionary ideas in 1842 and 1844, but the hostile response to The Vestiges warned him off publication. From 1838, made several Transformationist notebooks, most of which are extant (15). Darwin moved from geology to biology with an interest in the origin of species and then in the nature of man, which reached book form in the Descent of Man in 1871. In 1855 he finished his work on Barnacles, which took much longer than anticipated after he discovered the fascinating sex-life of some barnacles! He then set to on his Big Book on Natural Selection, but after receiving Wallace’s paper in 1858, he presented a précis of his ideas in a short paper along with Wallace’s paper to the Linnean Society, and then shortened the Big Book for publication. It was published in November 1859 as The Origin of Species (16). Very soon over a thousand copies were sold, and were it published today it would have been in the best-sellers’ list for some time.


Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons

The simplistic answer is to follow Andrew White and to say that Darwin was supported by scientists and attacked by churchmen with Huxley and Wilberforce epitomising the two positions. This obscures the diversity of responses which involved both science and religion and also ideology and politics and even personalities. The slick presentation of Wilberforce as a bigoted buffoon and Huxley as an enlightened and impartial scientist is a distortion verging on dishonesty. Much writing on the response to The Origin relies on secondary sources often going back to the 1890s and no further when the warfare historiography crystallised in Huxley’s memoirs and Andrew White’s The Warfare of Science with Christianity. Owen Chadwick’s quotation sums up White’s treatment of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who was supposed to be humiliated by Thomas Huxley over evolution at the British Association meeting at Oxford in 1860. In his section on Attacks on Darwin and his theories in England (vol i p 70ff.) White claimed that the “keynote was struck at once in (a review of Darwin in) the Quarterly Review by Wilberforce”. It is illuminating to check out what “the utterances of this most brilliant prelate of the Anglican Church” said about Darwin. White refers seven times to Wilberforce’s Review of “The Origin” and succeeds in misquoting Wilberforce on six occasions! One is given the impression that Wilberforce was a scientifically incompetent bigot. White gave the Received Version of Wilberforce on Darwin, which has been repeated ad nauseam for a century. One of the most widely read is Vidler who plagiarises White’s inaccuracies on Wilberforce! (17) In fact, Wilberforce was a competent geologist, having learned geology from Buckland at Oxford and served on the councils of both the Geological and Zoological Society. His review, though anti-evolutionary, deals mostly with scientific and geological objections and judged by the canons of 1860s science, is very competent. It was also well-written and amusing, referring to “our unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms” and “our fungular descent”. Only in the last few pages of a forty-page review does Wilberforce give theological objections to Darwin (18). His expertise is not surprising as Soapy Sam’s scientific adviser was the anatomist Richard Owen and their friendship had gone back 20 years when Owen was doing battle with the evolutionist Prof Robert Grant. Darwin’s copy of Wilberforce’s review carries the annotation “aided by Owen and Murchison”(20 July 1860), an admission of the quality of Sam’s advisors. Wilberforce’s objections were very similar to Prof Adam Sedgwick’s who wrote to Darwin in 1859 after reading the copy which Darwin had sent him. Sedgwick regretted that his friend, pupil, and almost brother-in-law, had “deserted — after a start in that tram-road of solid physical truth – ….induction …. and started up a machinery as wild as .. Bishop Wilkin’s locomotive that was to sail with us to the Moon.” Despite that he signed himself as “a son of a monkey & an old friend of yours.”.(24 November 1859)

The story of the Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation is frequently repeated and in it much is made of a Lady (Brewster) fainting – which was not surprising in an overcrowded room – and various comments about simian grandparents. However contemporary reports do not support the usual story. At the Oxford meeting of the British Association on Saturday 30th June 1860, the “confrontation” occurred after ‘A paper of a yankee donkey called Draper on “civilisation according to the Darwinian hypothesis”‘ as described in a letter from Hooker to Darwin (2nd July 1860). Hooker called it “flatulent stuff” and related how Soapy Sam “spouted for half an hour…coached up by Owen”. Huxley answered well but could not be heard, thus Hooker waded in to “smite that Amalekite Sam” as the President – his father -in-law Henslow – let him speak. At the end of the letter Hooker said he was thanked by many Oxford clergy, who like most Anglican clergy enjoyed seeing their Bishop deflated! The Athenaeum (14 July 1860) gave a report of the proceedings in which Wilberforce’s reply was scientific and not religious: “the Darwinian theory, when tested by the principles of inductive science, broke down.”(19) What did happen is difficult to work out, but one thing is clear, Wilberforce and Fitzroy did not throw a religious wobbler! There is no contemporary report that Fitzroy waved a Bible in the air. They were allowed to speak as the chairman Henslow considered them competent scientifically and gave scientific objections. On about 20th July Darwin wrote back to Hooker referring to Wilberforce’s review, “I have just read Quarterly R. It is uncommonly clever; picks out with skill all the most conjectural parts, & brings forward well all difficulties.-…..I can plainly see here & there Owen’s hand. – The concluding pages will make Lyell shake in his shoes.” A few days later he wrote to his son William “The Review by Bishop of Oxford + Owen in last Quarterly is worth looking at”. Many more references to Wilberforce can be found in letters to and from Darwin during July and August 1860, mostly amicably critical, almost flippant and often amusing. However all primary sources demonstrate that Soapy Sam was no fool, although he may have been scientifically wrong. In my opinion he was wrong, but that is a judgement of an evolutionary geologist writing in 1997. In 1860 Wilberforce had the support of many great scientists – Owen, Murchison and the geology professors of Oxford and Cambridge, (Phillips, whom Wilberforce recruited to write in his Answers to Essays and Reviews and Sedgwick). Jonathan Miller’s statement “Puffed up with stupidity and self-satisfaction, Bishop Wilberforce ….made a British ass of himself” is simply ill-informed prejudice (20). It is reasonable to conclude that the Wilberforce affair was well known by leading scientists and others, including many clergy and an allusion to it even makes its way into The Water Babies where Kingsley mocks his friend Huxley by basing Prof Ptthmllnsprts on him. This is clear as Ptthmllnsprts told the British Association that apes had “hippopotamus majors” in their brains, alluding to Huxley’s demonstration that apes have hippocampus majors thus contradicting Richard Owen. In the story Ptthmllnsprts told the British Association at Melbourne in 1999 that “nymphs, satryrs, fauns, inui etc. etc. were nothing at all, and pure bosh and wind…..Whereupon a certain great divine …called him a regular Sadducee….Whereupon the professor, in return, called him a regular Pharisee…But they did not quarrel in the least…So the professor and the divine met at dinner that evening…and each vowed that the other was the best company he ever met in his life.”(21) This is probably a truer representation of the “Huxley-Wilberforce Confrontation” than any popular account! The sources for this may well be personal conversations as Kingsley had excellent relations with both Wilberforce and Huxley and had met both after 1860.

The Huxley-Wilberforce episode has been reassessed by several scholars in the last two decades, and the most accessible reassessment is the essay Knight takes Bishop (22) by Stephen Gould, which shows that the received version is based on reminiscences thirty years on and is not supported by contemporary reports, or by the reminiscences by others including Dean Farrar. Elsewhere Colin Russell locates the social origins of the conflict metaphor with Thomas Huxley and the X-Club (23). Desmond in his recent biography Huxley demonstrates how “Huxley made straw men of the ‘Creationists'”, by asking “Who…imagined elephants flashing into being from their component atoms?” As Desmond said “His atomic elephant was a clever caricature. Yet many who were branded ‘Creationists’ never thought in those terms.” This would include Sedgwick and Wilberforce. Huxley had distilled his professional dissenting strategy against the privileged Anglican Church into a Manichean Evolutionist Vs Creationist slogan, us-vs-them. Having been so perceptive here, he later refers to Wilberforce needing coaxing “beyond the Six Days to a more informed opposition”, overlooking the fact that Wilberforce needed no coaxing to accept geological ages (24). (The term Creationist must be interpreted carefully, and not to imply belief in a young earth.)

Well, then, what did happen in those years after 1859? With such highly coloured stories often presented in a highly ideological way, it is difficult to be impartial and not to bring one’s own Weltblick into the discussion. In recent years there has been a vast output of books and papers, most notably by Jim Moore, A.Desmond, P.Bowler, O.Chadwick, D.Livingstone among others (25). Invaluable has been the publication of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin (26) which provides invaluable material for the years 1858 -1861 in particular. It would be convenient if one could simply analyse first the response of scientists and then of churchmen, lay or ordained, but the two categories overlap. However, despite the dangers of doing this, it does clarify both scientific and religious questions.

Over the previous ten years Darwin had aired his views privately to his friends almost “as if confessing a murder”. Thus Lyell, Huxley, Hooker, Gray and others knew the substance of The Origin before publication, but their response varied; Lyell had great difficulty in accepting evolution and it took him years before he grudgingly accepted Evolution; Huxley jumped at evolution, becoming Darwin’s Bulldog (Desmond’s epithet Rotweiler is better!), but never accepted Natural Selection; Hooker accepted both evolution and natural selection, and Asa Gray, a devout Christian who ran a Sunday School for Negroes in Boston and was in opposition to Agassiz both on slavery and evolution, accepted evolution but insisted on Supernatural guidance of the process. Richard Owen equivocally rejected it but wanted ultimately to defend his own version of divinely guided evolution. The astronomer John Herschel rejected Natural Selection as the “law of higgeldy-piggeldy” yet reckoned that the universe was 50 billion years old (slightly longer than today’s estimates of 10 to 15 billion.). The Unitarian Louis Agassiz, Swiss born and by 1850 a professor at Harvard and a supporter of slavery, who was one of the first to recognise Ice-Ages in the 1830s, rejected Darwin outright, as did the geologist Rev Adam Sedgwick. Darwin’s other teacher John Henslow (Hooker’s father-in-law) was sympathetic but ultimately could not accept Darwin. The interchange of letters between Darwin and Henslow demonstrate both their disagreement and their friendship. Darwin respected Henslow both as scientist and parish priest and was upset by Henslow’s death in 1861. Sedgwick wrote Darwin a friendly letter on why he objected to The Origin, but their friendship cooled off after his review in The Spectator for March 24th 1860. Physical scientists in particular objected to Darwin, notably William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), Clerk Maxwell, Fleeming Jenkin and P.G.Tait (27). Thomson had particular doubts over geological Uniformitarianism and regarded geologists’ estimates for the age of the earth to be close to a billion years as ridiculous and contrary to physics. In the 1860s he favoured a maximum of 100 million years and later downsized it to 24 million. That meant that the Laws of Physics allowed no time for Evolution (28).

Now for churchmen: Baden Powell had accepted evolution in 1855 probably as result of Vestiges, and endorsed this in Essays and Reviews. Charles Kingsley, who was sent a copy of the Origin of Species, immediately accepted evolution writing back to Darwin on 18th November 1859 that “it is just as noble a concept of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development”. William Whewell likewise received a copy but was unconvinced. Less well known is Frederick Temple who indicated his acceptance of evolution in the sermon at the 1860 British Association Meeting. The evangelical Canon Tristram of Durham and no mean ornithologist went to that famous meeting an evolutionist and was persuaded against it by Wilberforce. However he soon recanted and his granddaughter reported him as saying, “When the world was evolved, oh! created.”(29). The High Churchman R.W.Church published a favourable review in the Guardian in February 1860. The biblical Scholar F.J.A.Hort tried to allay the fears of his colleague B.F.Westcott. Bishop Tait, soon to move to Canterbury, was undecided and was advised by Lyell in 1861 to read Gray rather than Wilberforce. The Scottish Presbyterian James Duns published a hostile review, but according to Livingstone was almost unique among the Scots for rejecting evolution. The American botanist, Asa Gray,


was quick to accept evolution but gave it a theistic interpretation. Gray and Darwin had a lengthy correspondence, which led up to Darwin publishing Gray’s review of the Origin in which it was interpreted theistically. Gray may be considered Darwin’s Retriever in contrast to Huxley as his Rotweiler! In 1873 Charles Hodge, a conservative Presbyterian, wrote a fine, but very fair, hostile critique What is Darwinism, concluding that Darwinism was atheism. However Hodge could, but did not accept Evolution and wrote, “If God made them, it makes no difference, how he made them: whether at once or by a process of evolution.” His theological sucessors, his son A.A. Hodge and B.B.Warfield, were totally convinced of evolution – and wrote the definitive statements of Biblical Inerrancy, which most today would consider to be inimicable with evolution (30).

Moving well into the 1860s Archdeacon Pratt of Calcutta revised his Science and Scripture not at Variance to take into account both the Origin and Essays and Reviews and by 1871 The Descent of Man, which he regarded as “a bad thing”. Also in 1871 the conservative High Churchman H.P.Liddon indicated his approval of evolution, as did E.B.Pusey with the rider that it did not involve “belief in our apedom.” In 1865 The Victoria Institute was founded to combat the effects of Darwin and Essays and Reviews but by 1867 George Warrington presented a paper entitled On the Credulity of Darwin and was rounded on by a James Reddie, who was always ready to oppose such wayward views. The Journal of the Victoria Institute gives a good record of the attitudes of British Evangelicals to evolution over the next hundred years, which may be summarised as the majority being cautiously in favour, with some strongly opposed and the very occasional young earther. More outright opposition came from the Revd F.O.Morris who wrote Difficulties of Darwinism (1869) and All the Articles of the Darwinian Faith (1875), which is “Dedicated by permission to the Right Honourable The Common Sense of the People of England”.

Reverting to a scoring system (remembering that the umpire is only able to see part of the field and thus numbers give only a rough idea), the score is for the early 1860s (so far) Biblical Literalists, Nil; Anti-Evolutionists, 6 and still counting; Pro-Evolutionists, 9; undecided, 4 and still counting. To continue this for the 1860s would give a balance in favour of Anti-Evolutionists, but this changed over the next two decades as more and more began to accept evolution. However most Christians followed A.R.Wallace, accepting evolution for the “brute” creation, but not for humanity.

The accepted picture that there was controversy verging on warfare is simply unsupported. However, at times, the conflict went further than words, as in the example of Prof James Buckman who was dismissed from his post at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, by the Anglican Governing Body, allegedly for his commercial interests but more clearly for his evolutionary views. This seems to have been a rare occurrence, but there is little research on this aspect. Against that several Oxbridge academics were evolutionists – Church, Kingsley and Hort- and in the late sixties two sympathetic to evolution were preferred to bishoprics; Temple to Exeter and Tait to Canterbury. After that it was a landslide. As Jim Moore states, “With but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution.”(31). Despite the work of the early Moore, Livingstone and others on whose work much of this is based there is a marked reluctance for scholars to reject the conflict thesis as the recent works of Cashdollar and Ward show (32).

This is very much a catalogue of responses and without some interpretation only demonstrates the variety of response and not the reason.

It is not easy to separate religious objections from scientific and political as they were often fused together. Before considering what the objections were it is essential to know what the objections were not. In the 1860s (to my knowledge) not one Christian objector to Darwin did so on the grounds of Biblical Literalism or the Genesis account, except the Confederate D.L.Dabney. (My evidence for this is combing libraries and trying to find Biblical Literalists. However a long search into the stacks of the Bodlean in Oxford would produce some literalists – and many more non-literalists. ) Where Darwin’s critics objected on the basis of Genesis, it was in a general way as all took Genesis non-literally. It is remarkable and a cause for concern that so many “standard works” on the nineteenth century argue, without a shred of evidence, that “there is a clear conflict between a literal interpretation of the words of Genesis concerning creation and the theory of evolution”. Though historians, such as Worrall or Vidler, cite this as a self-evident fact, not one literalist opponent to Darwin is ever named (33). Where Christians objected on Biblical grounds this was more on the grounds of materialism (i.e. atheism), design and the moral status of man. Along with a series of scientific objections Sedgwick concluded his criticisms of The Origin by expressing his deep aversion, “because of its unflinching materialism” and thus its rejection of God. Ten years later Hodge in What is Darwinism? makes this clear in his answer; “Darwinism is ATHEISM”, because the random process of Natural Selection does not require God. Darwin had (deliberately?) avoided any mention of human origins beyond his elusive comment “More light will be shed on the origin of man”, but that did not stop readers realising the implication. The humorist Wilberforce recognised this by references to “our fungular descent” and “our unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms”. Our simian ancestry soon became a favourite topic for cartoons and Darwin made the evolutionary origin of man clear ten years later in The Descent of Man. This was a step too far for some, as to exclude a creative act to make a human was seen to exclude the Creator. Ironically, one who insisted on a discontinuity was the co-discoverer of Natural Selection, A.R.Wallace. Thus in the late 19th century many accepted evolution, but only up to and excluding man, for example the conservative Scottish theologian James Orr, who expounded this forcibly in the eponymous Fundamentals (34). Even more ironically this was the view of Jennings Bryan who fought for the prosecution at the Scopes trial in Dayton, Ohio in 1925. Several Christians today hold similar views and their motivation is to protect first the perceived moral nature of man and secondly to eschew reductionism. These two points go a long way in understanding why many thinkers, and not necessarily religious ones, have acute problems with evolution. One has only to cite Arthur Koestler, Bernard Levin, R.S Thomas, Bishop Montefiore  of today.

The other main religious objection to Darwin was the issue of design. The dominant British and especially Anglican tradition of science was to see life forms as designed by a Creator. This is especially manifest in the works of Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises. In a different way both Cuvier and Richard Owen based their science on Design, but not in a simplistic manner. The whole concept of Natural Selection was seen to undermine design as it depends on random variations some of which are more successful at surviving to reproduce (i.e. the Darwinian definition of Fitness). This randomness called forth Herschel’s epithet of “the law of higgeldy-piggeldy” and is why Asa Gray among others wanted to accept Evolution by Natural Selection up to a point but insisted that God had guided evolution “along certain beneficial lines”(35). Darwin could not accept that and criticised Gray at the end of Variations of Animals and Plants (36).

Though Christians of a more liberal persuasion often accepted Evolution more easily and rapidly than conservatives, one cannot maintain that a Liberal Theology was necessary to accept Evolution. Yes, Baden Powell was strongly liberal, but Kingsley, a moderate liberal whose works were not approved by the Christian Observer, who accepted evolution so quickly in 1859, totally opposed Essays and Reviews. During 1860 the conservatives Church and Tristram accepted evolution. For Tristram it was the second time as he had first accepted evolution in 1858 after reading Darwin’s Linnaen Society paper and then perverted in 1860 after hearing Wilberforce only to re-convert shortly afterwards. Within a matter of years and at the most within two decades Evolution had become acceptable to most conservative and evangelical Christians as Livingstone has forcibly argued for Scottish and American evangelicals. A similar case can be made for Anglicans. This conclusion is embarrassing to both evolutionary atheists and young earth creationists, but the evidence is irrefutable.

Mixed in with religious objections were scientific and unspoken political objections. Darwin was cut to the quick by Sedgwick who in his review argued that Darwin had departed from the principles of inductive science and was too fanciful in his theorising with insufficient evidence. Darwin drew a contemporary parallel: in 1861 the physicist James Clerk Maxwell developed the wave theory of electro-magnetism and postulated that waves passed through an aether in space. As Darwin pointed out the “aether” was pure theory, but Maxwell’s equations for electro-magnetism were accepted far more readily than Natural Selection (37). Probably the reason for this was that quantitative “mathematical” science was (and is!) seen to have a stronger basis than the qualitative arguments found in The Origin. Historically Darwin chose the right example as the “aether” was later found to be non-existent. Darwin’s “Blending Inheritance” was also found to be a chimera. There was and is a perceived hierarchy of the different sciences in which the more Mathematical ones, e.g. physics, are precise compared to the vagueness of biology and, before radiometric age-dating, geology. (Many, especially physical scientists, do not appreciate the difference between experimental physical science and the observational and palaeoaetiological (historical) sciences of biology and geology, and are disparaging of the latter for being little more than stamp-collecting, as my physicist uncle Yarnold quoted above twigged me with once.) Thus Kelvin’s estimate of 100 million years for the age of the earth was seen as precise, compared to geologists who spoke vaguely of hundreds of millions, with no evidence other than hundreds of layers of rocks! Kelvin’s estimates were too low for evolution to have occurred, particularly for Darwin’s very slow gradualism. Thus in the second half of the 19th Century some of the strongest objections to Evolution, especially by Natural Selection, without a directing shove from God, came not from the Church but from physicists. Hence Darwin was criticised for making the suggestion that the Cretaceous Wealden strata were laid down 306,662,400 years ago. Later editions of the Origin of Species omitted this section which was censured by most geologists and Bishop Wilberforce as well as the physicists (38). Actual dating of rocks had to wait until Boltwood started to use radiometric methods on Uranium-rich minerals in about 1905. These were later refined and perfected by Arthur Holmes and others and give us our familiar ages in millions of years. Darwin was not so far off in his estimate as the Wealden rocks have been shown to be about 100,000,000 years old from radiometric dating. Since 1950 the many different radiometric methods all show the earth to be about four and a half billion years old. Darwin now has sufficient time! Or does he?

Many geologists objected to Darwin’s claims of vast gaps in the geological record. Wilberforce took him strongly to task (Quarterly Review 1860, p242) and was echoed by many geologists of his day. Geikie wrote; “Geologists in this country were perhaps somewhat slow in appreciating the bearings of this remarkable treatise on their own branch of science.”(39) Geikie refers to the conviction of geologists that there were no vast gaps. However further work by geologists before 1900 convinced them that Darwin was right in his argument for great gaps.

Ironically, though James Moore has given the standard study on The Post-Darwinian Controversies, which is often cited as giving a definitive rejection of the Conflict of Science and Christianity, his more recent work and his Darwin biography co-authored with Desmond seem to have more sympathy for “Conflict”. However to these authors the conflict is not only between Christians and scientists, but is more political and is between the Anglican/Tory Establishment alliance of scientists like Richard Owen and Lyell, Oxbridge clerical scientists such as Sedgwick and Buckland, supported by Tories like Peel and Bishops e.g. Samuel Wilberforce, against the scientific and political radicals like Wikely and Grant of the 30s and 40s with Huxley and Tyndall as natural successors. Thus the conflict over Darwin may be seen as continuation of the Grant-Owen controversies of two decades earlier. A weakness is that the leading characters are categorised too neatly into those supporting the Tory/Anglican alliance or their Radical opponents. As Desmond states, both Lyell and Adam Sedgwick were Whigs and one of Grant’s ‘patrons’ was John Fleming, a Scottish Evangelical Minister. Though there was a political and religious Radicalism behind the controversies, there is more of a muddied continuum of viewpoints rather than simply than a warfare between dissenting Radical and Anglican/Tory Establishment. Probably Huxley and Wilberforce can be placed at the extremes of the spectrum, but, most, whether, Lyell, Temple, Kingsley or Herschel lie somewhere in-between. The question of political attitudes moulding scientific perspectives demonstrates the danger of attempting a purely religious or scientific analysis of the controversies without taking into account the wider social, political and cultural background. Some of the personality issues have been alluded to, the most notorious being the continued strife between Owen and Huxley. Concerning Huxley, he loved to take a pot-shot at Bishops.

Closely related to this is the issue of the rising scientific professionalism, with particularly Huxley and other non-Oxbridge and non-clerical scientists. This is developed at length by Frank Turner (40) but he overstates his case. To contrast the late 19th Century professionals like Huxley with the “amateur clerical scientists” does not do justice to the latter’s achievements. The contributions to geology by Buckland and Sedgwick, or of Whewell in the philosophy of science, were as professional as anything before or since. The achievements of Sedgwick’s visit to North Wales in August 1831 with his delineation of the Cambrian System and the complicated geology of Snowdonia and elucidation of slaty cleavage were nothing short of phenomenal, and he managed to train up Darwin at the same time. And that was only one year’s work! To dismiss the Victoria Institute “as a conclave of amateurs” may be just to their amateur members, for example Rev Henry Moule, the inventor of the Dry-Earth Closet, and James Reddie, but a perusal of their journal shows that many of the contributors were professional scientists of the highest rank: the Physicist G.G.Stokes and the geologist J.W.Dawson. Undoubtedly scientific Christians were swayed in their science by their theology, but so were agnostic scientists by their naturalism. If early Christian geologists can be censured for their Diluvialism with links to the Noachian Deluge, so can Huxley be criticised for his “inchoate jelly-creature” Bathybius Haeckelii which he “discovered” in sea-floor dredgings from the Atlantic in 1868, when as Gould expresses it “his hopes and expectations guided his Expectations” and thus he found a pulsating primitive form of life from which all life must have evolved. In the 1870s Bathybius turned out to be a colloidal precipitate of calcium sulphate, which pulsated in the presence of alcohol! (41) Scientists are as prone to being guided by an ideology as anyone else, and as Anglican Evidential Science was dominant at the beginning of the era, so Scientific Naturalism grew in strength after 1850, and fuelled a rising sense of professionalism among scientists. After 1850 or so the sheer weight of clerical duties prevented a parson-naturalist making any significant scientific contribution, and the increasing technicality and specialism of science also prevented any but a professional adding to the store of science. In the 1820s Henslow could move easily from Mineralogy to Geology and then to Botany, and an amateur could have an extensive grasp of a science, and thus Ruskin could expect artists to know their geology. After mid-century this was no longer possible.

David Livingstone in Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders and other studies has dealt with Evangelical attitudes to evolution and comes out with the conclusion that from the mid-1860s until the First World War many Evangelicals were also evolutionists and those who were not evolutionists were old earthers. This comes as a surprise to many who think Evangelicals were and are Young Earth Creationist. More recently Livingstone has compared the attitudes to evolution of three groups of orthodox Calvinist Presbyterians in the 1880s. Not only were their theologies similar, they also had very close links, with interchange of academics. One group from the north of Ireland were to a man anti-evolutionary, but old earthers; the second from Princeton, including such ultra-conservatives as B.B.Warfield and A.A.Hodge, were mostly evolutionists. That really muddies the water! The reasons for this anomaly are fairly simple; the Americans were advised by Christian friends, Asa Gray and James Dana, who were the leading American botanist and geologist respectively, and the Ulstermen were reacting against John Tyndall’s British Association lecture given in Belfast in 1874. Among Scottish Presbyterians, who formed the third group, only James Duns of the Free Church writing before 1882 rejected evolution but Principal Rainy of New College declared himself an evolutionist in his inaugural lecture of 1874. In 1894 the Free Church James Iverach wholeheartedly embraced evolution, but a little cautiously for man, and Henry Drummond in Natural Law in the Spiritual World waxed lyrical about Christianity AND Evolution. It is almost paradoxical that Scottish Presbyterians of all shades were more open to Evolution than their English counterparts. Conversely Anti-geology and Anti-evolution were more popular among the English than the more conservative Scottish Calvinists. That is probably due to the influence of Chalmers, John Fleming and Hugh Miller (42). There was a fourth group of Presbyterians, this time from the Confederate states. Their leading theologians, R.L.Dabney and J.H.Thornwell were not only anti-evolutionary, but also anti-geology regarding geological methods as circular reasoning and thus fallacious (43). They also used their theology, and especially their understanding of Genesis, to support slavery, in marked contrast to the evolutionist Asa Gray.

As the Victorian era continued more and more educated Christians accepted some kind of evolution. When Frederick Temple gave his Bampton lectures on The Relations between Religion and Science in 1884, the issue was not strongly controversial. Ultra-conservatives like Dean Burgon still rejected evolution but, despite posturing as a biblical literalist, he was a confirmed old earther. Among Anglican Evangelicals Bishop J.C.Ryle of Liverpool directed his clergy to the Bucklands and Sedgwicks to help their grasp of science in the 1880s, E.A.Litton in An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (1882) regarded the antiquity of man as of no consequence but rejected evolution, and Bishop Moule of Durham writing in 1889 accepted Genesis as poetic, and seemed to accept evolution, but drew the line at the creation of man. Among Baptists John Clifford welcomed evolution and regarded Darwin as a fine Christian and was on the opposite side of the Downgrade controversy to Spurgeon (44).

To summarise for the late nineteenth century from 1880 to 1900, Biblical Literalists among mainstream Christians are virtually non-existent and I am unable to provide one example from Britain or America. Apart from Ellen White, McCready Price, the younger Kellogg (of Corn Flakes fame) and others of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Literalists are extreme rarities, though a few literalists contributed to the Fundamentals. Evangelicals mostly either followed some kind of Progressive Creationism, e.g. the geologist J.W.Dawson, Bishop J.C.Ryle, or Evolution as confined to the non-human sphere, notably James Orr, Bishop Handley Moule and W.H.Griffith Thomas in The Thirty-Nine Articles. However Numbers reported that Thomas had become a literalist creationist after 1918(45). Some evangelicals adopted evolution from monad to man, notably B.B.Warfield. Non-evangelicals adopted some kind of evolution, frequently, as was normal at that time, a non-Darwinian guided evolution. As Darwinism, with its chancy random process based on Natural Selection, went into eclipse in this period to be replaced by a “guided” evolution, in which direction or orthogenesis operated, Evolution was susceptible to a theistic interpretation, as a guiding hand was apparent. This may explain why evolution was more acceptable a century ago than it is today. As Bowler points out in The Non-Darwinian Revolution, evolution was rapidly accepted in the 1860s and 1870s but Darwinism was not. In Britain a theistic, and divinely guided form of evolution was put forward by the anatomist Richard Owen and the Roman Catholic zoologist Mivart and this fitted into the temper of the late nineteenth century. Thus began the “eclipse of Darwinism” which lasted into the 1930s. This outlook is typified by the (dinosaur) palaeontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Alpheus Hyatt, who held to a directed evolution, Cope accepted that the pattern of evolution was “conceived by the Creator, according to a plan of His own”(46). His private life was not so overtly Christian and he died of syphilis in 1897 at the age of 47.

Despite the apparent dominance of Scientific Naturalists such as Huxley and Hooker, several leading scientists were devout Christians and keen to lecture and write on the compatibility of Evolution and Christianity. Sir Gabriel Stokes, recently retired President of the Royal Society, gave the Gifford Lectures for 1891 and 1893 on Natural Theology. Stokes was a physicist and younger colleague of Lord Kelvin, and like him stopped short of a thoroughly naturalistic evolution, and argued for an evolution in which God had intervened to create life and then man. Similar was the Californian geologist Joseph Le Conte whose popular lectures had considerable influence both home and abroad. As with so much of the relationship of evolution and Christianity one suspects that scientists like Le Conte, Stokes and many others are conveniently forgotten because they do not support the warfare of science and religion. If they are mentioned it is in a patronising and dismissive way as if Christians cannot adopt “a critical approach to scientific research”(47.).

Evolution had ceased to be an issue for most educated Christians by the time Queen Victoria passed on, except for a few ultra-conservatives. As a result of Andrew White and Huxley’s Memoirs the conflict thesis took root, and guided the perception of many for a whole century. It possibly guided the perception of some Christians by reacting against an anti-Christian viewpoint. Few, if any, studies have been carried out on less educated Christians, the members and leaders of Evangelical mission halls, or the men and women in the pew. Cartoons of the day on popular ideas of evolution show that many perceived there to be conflict, despite Frederick Temple’s Bampton Lectures. Conflict crept into popular novels as in Maria Corelli’s The Mighty Atom of 1896. There seems to be a popular assumption that Evolution is contrary to Christianity which surfaced in America in the Scopes trial of 1925. Even today there is a folk fundamentalism of many church members of non-evangelical churches, where there is a perception that the right way to take Genesis is literally. Again this would be another fruitful area for research. In the absence of research, I can only provide anecdotal comments on this from my experience. I find that many church members, whether Anglican or Methodist, born between 1890 and 1930, are convinced that there is a conflict of science and religion, finding another example the day before writing this. To me this is an indication that many church members were brought up to think there was conflict, more likely through Sunday school, with teachers born in the Victorian era, than through their ministers. The use of the first personal pronoun in this section indicates the tentative nature of my argument. It also indicates some fruitful lines for research.

Ironically the Fundamentalist Christian opposition to Evolution began with the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Ohio in 1925 (The old black and white film with Spencer Tracy is far better that the 80s remake in colour which is full of historical howlers. The remake portrays Jennings Bryan as a young earth creationist whereas he accepted evolution of animals, but not humans)(47.). Bryan, in fact, took a similar lie to A.R.Wallace, G.G.Stokes, James Orr and others. The Scientific and Biblical Creationism which has flowered in America and then Britain after the publication of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb in 1961 had its roots not with Christians like Samuel Wilberforce but with the visions of the Seventh Day Adventist Mary Ellen White who in Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) argued as early as 1864 for the infidel nature of Geology and insisted on a literal interpretation of Genesis. This became official Seventh Day Adventist doctrine and was taken up by George McCready Price at the beginning of this century who claimed the falsity not only of evolution but also geology in such works as Illogical Geology. But that is another story (49.).

But to return to the 19th century. In 1897 a statue of Charles Darwin sitting in studious pose was placed outside Darwin’s school in Shrewsbury. Several bishops were invited to the unveiling. One was Frederick Temple, the enfant terrible of Essays and Reviews and since 1896 Archbishop of Canterbury. He was one of the first Anglican clergy to accept evolution and preached to that effect at the British Association in 1860, a fact usually overlooked. Another was William Walsham How, the aged Bishop of Wakefield who at that very moment was joining all the saints who were resting from their labours. He is now known as a hymn writer but in his day was known as a botanist and scientist, albeit an amateur. While Rector of Whittington he wrote his most well-known hymns and made a close study of the calcicole flora of the Breidden Hills. Foremost at the proceedings was Dr Stamer, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who replied to a toast to the Bishop and clergy. In his reply Stamer referred to how Wilberforce “one of the most brilliant, if not always most careful, Bishops of the day” had ridiculed Darwin, but to applause stressed how most churchmen now accepted evolution, regarding Darwin as “one of the doorkeepers in the vast temple of the universe.” The audience, including Hooker and several sons of Darwin, replied “Hear, hear!”(50.)



Charles Raven described the conflict of science and religion in the Victorian era as “a storm in a tea cup”, and that is a fair description. There was no simple conflict, but rather a series of new scientific ideas bearing down on a dynamic society, which was changing in so many ways, especially religiously. Some Christians did oppose science, like the clergyman who believed that God had created dead mammoth carcasses under the ice in the Arctic. Many scientists were Christians of varying orthodoxy and many were not. There was conflict and there was harmony between “Religion” and “Science”, but the whole idea of a conflict between Orthodoxy and Science as developed by Andrew White and Huxley is ultimately a myth, which survives today and is propagated by some with an atheist axe to grind, and by some Christians, whether a John Hick or Don Cupitt, who use it to justify an intellectual rejection of “old-fashioned” Orthodoxy, or Fundamentalists who reverse the roles of “goodies” and “baddies” so that the scientists epitomised by Darwin are the “injuns” who tried to destroy Christianity. Here History has turned into Ideology. Unravelling the Myth and the Ideology may shed light on science and religion both in the 19th and 20th centuries. Probably the issue and the conflict is no more resolved than when Darwin wrote to Asa Gray in 1860: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designed the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars..I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details….left to….chance. But the more I think the more bewildered I become.”(51.) Darwin put his finger on the ultimate issue, if God exists, does He create all the suffering?

Man but a worm

 References and notes;

1) White, M & Gribbin, J, Darwin, London, Simon & Schuster, 1995, Chap 11 “Battles with Bigotry”.

2) Chadwick, O, The Secularisation of the European Mind, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1975, p161.

3) Register of William Buckland’s geological lectures in 1820s, Buckland Papers, Oxford University Museum.

4) Woodward, H.B., The History of the Geological Society of London, London: Geological society, 1907 p169.

5) Miller, Hugh The Testimony of the Rocks, Edinburgh, W.P.Nimmo, 1856.

6) White, A.D., A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, London, Arco 1955 (orig 1896)

7) Francis, L.J, Gibson, H.M.& Fulljames,P, “Attitude to Christianity, Creationism, scientism and interest in science among 11-15 year olds”, British Journal of Religious Education, 1990, Vol 13 (1), p4.

8) Altholz, J.L., “The Warfare of Conscience with Theology”, from Altholz, J.L. (ed) The Mind and Art of Victorian England, Univ of Minnesota Press, 1976. (also in Parsons, G, (ed) Religion in Victorian Britain Vol IV , Manchester, Manchester Univ Press, 1989.

9) Yarnold, G.D. The Spiritual Crisis of the Scientific Age, London, George, Allen & Unwin, 1959 p46.

10) Particularly useful are Bowler, P.J. EVOLUTION; the History of an Idea, London, Univ of California Press, 1984.and Desmond, A. The Politics of Evolution London, Univ of Chicago Press, 1989.

11) Tassot, D, La Bible au Risque de la Science, Paris, F -X. de Guibert, 1997, p263.

12) Cuppitt, D, The Sea of Faith, London, SCM Press, 1993, pp69-71.

13) Browne, J. Charles Darwin; Voyaging London, Cape 1995.

Desmond, A & Moore, J. Darwin, London, Michael Joseph, 1991

On Darwin’s earliest geology; Roberts, MB “Darwin at Llanymynech”, British Journal for the History of Science, 1996, Vol 29 (4) pp469-78 and “Darwin’s Dog-leg”, Archives of Natural History 1998, vol 25, 59-73, “I coloured a map”Archives of Natural History, forthcoming, 1999/2000.

14) There have been many suggestions as to Darwin’s illness; depression due to guilt over the atheistic nature of his theory, a Psychosomatic problem (see Bowlby’s biography), a tropical illness (especially by P. Medawar) or multiple allergies. The first appeals to those who subscribe to the idea of warfare of science and theology. I find the idea of the tropical illness most satisfactory as it explains why in 1842, at the age of 33, Darwin could not walk more than a few miles, whether in Shrewsbury or Snowdonia, whereas from 1826 to 1838 he was walking 20 miles in the hills of Wales, Patagonia or Scotland. Something caused a dramatic physical but not mental or psychological decline between July 1838 and March 1842. This has been overlooked by all who have considered Darwin’s illness.

15) Barrett, P.H., Gautrey, P.J., Herbert, S., Kohn, D. & Smith, S, Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844 Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1987.

16) Browne, J. op cit p 471.

17) White, A.D. op cit p70; Vidler, A.R. ,The Church in an age of revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1961 p117.

18) (Wilberforce, S. ) “The Origin of Species” Quarterly Review, 1860, Vol 102, pp225-64.

19) Burkhardt, F. (ed) The correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol 8; 1860, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1993, pp590-7.

20) Miller, J & van Loon, B, Darwin for Beginners, Cambridge, Icon Books1992, p127.

21) Kingsley, C., The Water Babies 1863, various editions chap 4.

22) Gould, S.J., Bully for Brontosaurus, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1992, p385.

23) Russell, C.A., “The Conflict Metaphor and its social origins.”, Science and Christian Belief, 1989, Vol 1 (1) pp3-26

24) Desmond, A. ,Huxley, The Devil’s Disciple, London, Michael Joseph, 1994, pp256 & 281.

25) Livingstone, D. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1987.

Moore, J., The Post Darwinian Controversies, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1979.

26) Burkhardt, F. & Smith, S., The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ Press, 1985 –

27) Smith, Crosbie & Norton Wise, M, Energy and Empire; A biographical study of Lord Kelvin, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Morris, S.W. “Fleeming Jenkin and the Origin of Species: a reassessment.”, British Journal for the History of Science, 1994, Vol 27 (3), pp313-44.

28) Burchfield, J.D., Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth, Los Angeles, Univ of California Press, 1990.

29) Fleming, E.M. Recollections of my Grandparents; Canon and Mrs Tristram n.d.  privately printed. Quoted by courtesy of Rt Rev R. Bowlby.

30) Roberts, M.B. “Darwin’s Doubts about Design”, Science and Christian Belief, 1997 10,p Also Moore (1979) and Livingstone (1987).

31) Moore, op cit p92.

32) Ward, K., God, Chance and Necessity Oxford, One World, 1996, p63

Cashdollar, C.D., The Transformation of Theology, 1830-1890, Princeton, Princeton Univ Press, 1989.

33) Roberts, M.B., “Unearthing Genesis”, Churchman, 1998, ii2, 225-255.

34) Orr, J., “Science and Christian Faith” The Fundamentals, Chicago, Testimony Publishing Company, n.d., vol iv, p102-4.

also, Orr, J., The Christian View of God and the World, Edinburgh, Andrew Eliot, 1897, lecture IV.

35) Gray, A, Darwiniana, Cambridge, Mass, Belnap Press, 1963 (rpr), pp121-2.

36) Darwin, C. ,The Variation of Plants and Animals, London, John Murray, 1868 (1905ed), Vol ii, pp524-5.

37) Burkhardt & Smith, op cit

38) Burchfield, J. “Darwin and the Dilemmas of Geological Time”, Isis 65, 1974, 301-321.

39) Giekie, A. A Life’s Long Work, London, MacMillan, 1924, p72.

40) Turner, F.M. “The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: a professional dimension”, Isis, vol 69. 1978, pp356-76. (also in Parsons, G, (ed) Religion in Victorian Britain Vol IV , Manchester, Manchester Univ Press, 1989.)

41) Gould, S.J., The Panda’s Thumb, Harmondsworth. Penguin, 1983, pp196-203.

42) Livingstone, D.N., “Situating Evangelical responses to Evolution”, paper presented at ISAE Conference, Wheaton College, 30 March – 1 April 1995. and Roberts, M.B., “Unearthing Genesis”, Churchman 1998, 112, p225-57.

43) Dabney, R.L., Lectures in Systematic Theology, 1878, pp247ff

44) Temple, F., The Relations between Religion and Science, London, MacMillan, 1884,: Moule, H.G.C., Outlines of Christian doctrine, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1889, ;Litton, E.A., Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, rpr London, James Clark, 1960 (1882 & 1892), Ryle, J.C. Charges and Addresses, London 1890s, Principles for Churchmen, London, 1889.

45) Griffith Thomas, W.H., The Principles of Theology, London, Church Book Room Press, 1945, Numbers, R.L., The Creationists, New York, Knopf, 1992, p97.

46) Bowler, P.J. The Non-Darwinian Revolution, London, John Hopkins, 1988, p99.

47) Stokes, G.G., Natural Theology, Gifford Lectures 1893, London, A &C Black, 1893; Le Conte, J., Evolution, its nature, its evidences, and its relation to religious thought, New York, Appleton, 1899. Cp, Turner op cit 39, p188.

48) Numbers, R.L., The Creationists, New York, Knopf, 1992, pp43-44.

49) See Numbers op cit 44, and Roberts, M.B., “The Roots of Creationism”, Faith and Thought vol 112, 1986, pp21-36.

50) Shrewsbury Chronicle Fri 13 August 1897.

51) op cit 18, p224.