Category Archives: Darwin et al

Darwin, especially his geology and implications for faith

Darwin’s 208th Birthday – and God

Darwin Day 12th February 2017

This year Darwin’s birthday fell on a sunday and thus as it was a family service I preached a Darwin-lite sermon. One thought it a bit controversial


As I preach on creation today I have someone to help me

[most were slow in recognising him, but got it finally]

It is very apt as it is 208th birthday [the organist struck up Happy Birthday] Now Darwin was the greatest British scientist and did so much to help our understanding of creation and its development over the last few billion years and brought out the inter-relatedness of all life through his Theory of Evolution.

We don’t think enough about Creation and whether, in fact, God actually created everything,

how we should aprreciate creation i.e the natural world, and

how we should care for creation.

To consider creation I shall play on three letters


to be arranged as




The first is;


We ask, “Who made Creation?”. The answer is God

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  (Gen 1 vs1)

It comes out in many parts of the bible and in the Nicene Creed.

Too often God is pushed to one side and some Christians almost deny God as creator to avoid “conflict with scientists.”

There are some atheistic scientists who argue that science elimates God. In Britain the most well-known is Richard Dawkins, but in America  P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne are more strident. All are good scientists. However, some put up a strawman that Christians must believe in a 6000 year old earth.As the universe is 13 billion years old and the earth is four and half billion this makes it difficult for some Christians and implies you cannot be a Christian and accept science.

Creation does not tell us about that but tells us the WHO – God. We need to keep that foremost and see that God created everything. We need to go further and ask “HOW?”


HOW did creation come about?

HOW does it work?

HOW has it changed over time?

The Bible does not answer any of those questions. That should be obvious as Genesis was written in about 1000BC and thus the writers had no knowledge of science. The New Testament writers also knew very little science  – and there was little to know. The purpose of the Bible is tell us the WHO not the HOW. For the HOW we need to go to science as that looks at creation with the question how. In fact, science hardly goes back to Biblical times and has only taken off in the last 500 years. All the different sciences tell us something about the HOW.

One of the greatest scientists and one of my favourites is Charles Darwin  – 208 years old today. In the 1830s he spent 5 years travelling around the world on the Beagle studying the geology , botany and zoology of wherever he went. From this and what he learnt from others he pulled all the sciences of biology and geology together and produced his theory of evolution. This he published in The Origin of Species  in 1859 and in The Descent of Man of 1871 where he showed how we are evolved from other animals. Darwin did not see this as conflicted with the Christian faith and nor should we.



To put it simply Genesis tells us the WHO of Creation and Darwin the HOW.


We need more than that, we need to know HOW to enjoy and appreciate Creation. Genesis says “God saw that it was good” and so should we!

We must have an appreciation and wonder of Creation, but too often we can suffer from a Creation/Nature Deficit Syndrome, as Richard Louv called it, when people live lives almost cut off from the natural world. An example is when some people from Preston go to Beacon Fell and are scared by the wildness and remoteness. [Beacon Fell is a wooded hill of 850 ft above Preston, where there is a Country Park. It is very much nature tamed but very pleasant. Louv argues that many under 50 suffer from NDS.]


So what do we appreciate? Nature large and small. All creatures great and small. We can see the wonder and beauty  and dramatic scenery like mountains but also flatlands.The same with a Golden Eagle or lovely little black and red Burnet moth. The awe and wonder came out when taking an American biologist friend around the Lake District. We had driven up the awesome and rugged Wrynose Pass and were descending to the east.


(sorry this is Tryfan in Snowdonia!!)

Suddenly he shouted “stop”. He had spotted some sundew by the side of the road.


On Friday I went up the Dales mountain Ingleborough which was dramatic under snow and ice. On the small scale ice had formed on the rocks showing the direction of the wind.


This is something we can do each day, whether in our garden or wherever we go. There is always something to see, whether the first crocus, unusual clouds or a new moon. We need to look at the big things and the little things and remember that “God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.” (Gen 1 vs 31)



How many, not only children, kill any creepy crawlies whether in house or garden? And so wasps, millipedes, spiders  and lots of other creatures are sent to oblivion.

How many, not only children, leave the tap full on while brushing their teeth? That probably wastes 2 gallons of water and is nearly a 10% increase on our daily home usage of water.

These are just two common thoughtless little actions which are damaging to creation. There are thousands of others as well as more corporate large ones, which are too numerous to list.

A trivial action indicates what we should be like. In 1828 Darwin and a friend were walking across the Britannia bridge to Anglesey when he found a lonely toad in danger of being squashed by a cart. Darwin picked it up, took it to the end and let it go.

In this Darwin gives an example to follow as we look for the thousand little things we CAN do to encourage wildlife (plant flowers and shrubs to encourage insects), limit use of materials (use a bike more, use less water etc) and avoid pollution.

As well as these little things there are larger matters which are beyond the individual; major clean-up of rivers, peat restoration on moorlands as well as national policy.


(this shows degradation of our peat moors. 10 ft of peat have been lost in 100 years )

Above all Caring for Creation is both by the individual and more corporately with either groups or the government. All this fulfils Gen 1 vs 26 where have “dominion” over the earth means to care for it and not to wreck it for selfish gain.

On Darwin’s birthday we have considered  the WHO of creation, that God is creator but for the HOW we need science in all its forms.

We also considered HOW we should enjoy creation in all its aspects and HOW to care for it.

Too often as Christians we have ignored Creation  both in our beliefs and our practice. As the focus of the church in the weeks before lent is on creation, then it is a good time to consider how our belief in Creation works out in our daily lives.


As I typed this up from my sermon notes I felt it was too brief and rather superficial. I was tempted to put many additional comments in and develop almost every point I made.

There were many children present so it had to be simple and thus it is only an incredibly brief summary.

I do know that some said it was helpful.

I aimed to give basic principles and not go into depth on scientific issues as my simple affirmation of the correctness of evolution was sufficient here.Other blogs deal with that!

My aim was to prod people to enjoy creation if they don’t already  – and many have lost the joy of birdsong or a flower.

On care of Creation or environmental issues I had to be simplistic and didn’t mention the usual problems of climate change or fracking. Anyway those two subjects are not quite as simple as some Green christians think 😦 . I am aware some reckon I am beyond the pale on both!!

Two useful secular books are; The moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy, and The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.

There is an immense literature on Darwin and Christianity, both secular and Christian. The websites of Christians in Science and the Faraday Institute , Biologos or are good starting points





God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad

A useful summary of alternatives on evolution for evangelicals by an evangelical oil geologist from New Mexico.

he does so without making much comment  or judging each position for their strength or flaws, So I will restrain myself



In the creation-evolution debate what is God’s role? Did God make the world fast as in creationism? Or gradual as in evolution? Just how long did it take?

Source: God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad

Young Earth Creationists arguing in circles

This incredibly duplicitous meme appeared on my twitter feed today. Fri 13th Jan 2017icrevolution

Evolution is wrong as it is a circular argument from the age of fossils worked out from evolution

Yes, it is the old chestnut of Young Earthers that the age of rocks is based on a circular argument from evolution. It took me back to 1971 when I made the felicitous mistake of going to L’Abri to sit at the feet of the evangelical guru Francis Schaeffer. I arrived ther all bright-eyed and bushy tailed thinking of all the wondrous things I would learn in the next four weeks. I learnt much but not what I had expected.

On my first morning i was sent to Shaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middlemann to discuss what I would study. I explained that I was going into the Anglican ministry and had just returned from 3 years working as an exploration and mining geologist in Uganda and South Africa. He then told me what I needed to read; -Morris and Whitcomb The Genesis Flood and a host of other YEC books. I remember blurting out that they were nonsense but he insisted.

My next few hours were most unpleasant as I read The Genesis Flood  and felt they might be onto something. With all the references and apparently academic substance the book was intimidating. But then two things changed that . Second was the misrepresentation over radiometric age dating (My university – Oxford – was quite good on that) and first and foremost the section (p135ff) claiming that the relative age dating of strata leading to the formulation of the Geological Column was false as it was based on a circular argument, which is what his grandson argues in the meme from ICR.


By now I was spitting feathers and realised that the whole argument of Morris, father, son and grandson, was simply dishonest. My reason was very simple. I had just returned from 30 months of field geology in Uganda and south Africa where I had mapped a couple of thousand square miles of Precambrian strata. Most were a series of sediments; conglomerate, sandstones, odd lava , limestones and tillites. I found just one fossil – a stromatolite  – and possibly walked over some ediacara-style rocks. I worked out the order of deposition and produced my own local geological column and with the aid of a handful radiometric dates put numerical dates to the rocks. In 1971 nothing had been published except my own company report, but since then geologists have produced the same geological column in essentials. I was a twit not to publish.

600my Limestones

Numees Tillites

Stinkfontein sandstones, with some lavas

900my              Basal Conglomerate

********unconformity ***************

2400my         Kheis gneiss basement


So how did I do it as the Morris’s say I can’t without fossils?

It was following the Principle of Super-position and I slowly worked it out and traced beds across faults etc. After I worked in a very small area by an ancient copper mine, which proved to be too small to be viable, and got the idea of the regional geology, I spent months traversing and area of some 40×30 miles slowing elucidating the strata. Apart from being totally confused by what I now know to be a large area of slumped tillites(Glacial deposits) I made a coherent map, and then God got other ideas for me. That is why I went to L’Abri before going to theological college, but that may be God’s sense of humour.

I started to explain to those at L’Abri where Morris was wrong and wondered if I would go the way of Servetus. I gave one of their Farel lectures which were kept in their library. As a family we went to L’Abri in 1998 but my lecture was missing, but no others seemed to be missing.

Thus was my introduction to YEC.

If the Morris’s are right with is meme then no order of strata or the Geological Column could have been worked out before Darwin came along in 1859.That is not quite the case.

I find the best way of considering the age of rocks, both in relative order and in absolute age is to see how geology has developed in the last 350 years.

We start in the 1660s with Nils Steno, a Dane who became the Catholic Titular Bishop of Titopolis. From Denmark he went to Italy and looked at strata and worked out his Principle of Super-position i.e. where there are a pile of strata the oldest will be at the bottom. This is obvious but he was the first to see the significance. This works well in working out the order and history of strata – unless they have been turned upside down or slid over other rocks as with the Moine Thrust. Steno laid the foundation and then “poped” and others slowly carried on.

Geology started to take off in about 1780 all over Europe, and if you want to know more read Rudwick’s books! For my purpose in 1788 Prof Michell of Cambridge had worked our a geological successsion from the Chalk down to the Coal strata in what was to be the Namurian in the Carboniferous.

To remain with my Brexit history of geology and overlook geologists across the Channel the next key person is William Smith, who while he was still a Young earther in the 1790s, started to use fossils as stratigraphic markers helping to give the order of strata. By 1802, thanks to local vicars Townsend and Richardson, Smith moved to an old earth but rejected evolution, or rather knew nothing about it. In 1815 he produced his wonderful map of England and Wales, which is remarkably accurate. I find it incredible that he got the geology of the Fylde essentially correct as there is only one rock exposure (of triassic) in 200 square miles.

William Smith's Geological Map of England

Here is Smith after time inside a debtors jail and when he finally got recognition for his work


At the same time as Smith, Brogniart and Cuvier were doing similar work around Paris on Mesozoic strata and were using similar methods and like Smith were unaware of or ignored evolution. For more details read Rudwick’s books.

By 1820 the principles of geology elucidating the strata in an ancient earth were well founded. However, though the historical order of strata was known it was not possible to give actual years. At that time the geological order was known down to the Carboniferous. Below that, what we now know as the Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian, everything was mystery and muddle and on Smith’s map summed up as Killas.



In 1822 Rev John Henslow of Cambridge went to Anglesey and produced a fine mapand memoir which is the first study of the Precambrian. The map is below. Even today 200 years on, his work is still remarkably good. I found it fascinating going round Anglesey using his and more modern geological maps and was amazed at his skill.


about the same time Rev William Conybeare dealt with Carboniferous and so by 1830 it was only the older rocks to be sorted. That started when Murchison and Rev Adam Sedgwick went to Wales in 1831. Murchison went to Mid Wales and was lucky to meet up with Rev Thomas Lewis, a pupil of Sedgwick, who took him to the outcrops, which are now seen as Devonian lying conformably on”Silurian” Murchison had cracked it, but never properly credited Lewis.

Meanwhile Sedgwick started in Shrewsbury staying with the Darwins. He went a little way up Long Mountainand only found old strata (now Silurian). Had he and Darwin gone to the top they would have found Devonian sitting on Silurian. He missed it and went round north Wales where there was no Devonian or Old Red Sandstone so never found a downwardly conformably sequence. So after three weeks, and after Darwin left to go shooting but went to the Galapagos instead, Sedgwick began work near Llanberis below Snowdon in what is now Lower Cambrian.

Jim Secord describes their work and the falling out of Sedgwick and Murchison but the upshot was to delineate the Cambrian (Ordovician) and Silurian.




19th century geological map with Darwin’s 1831 route on it. this was the area Sedgwick worked on from 1831 to 1845

In the early 1840s attention turned to Devon and the Devonian was elucidated.

I cannot leave this without popping over the Channel where similar work was done. There the French geologist D’Orbigny worked out the concept of stages, mostly in Normandy. (There is a noticeboard about his work at Arromanches.) D’Orbigny was a Protestant and evolution-denier! In part of the Jurassic he worked out nearly 20 stages and reckoned that at intervals God wiped out one set of fauna and then replaced them with a slightly different group. Evolution a la Darwin is so much simply and doesn’t have God popping back to meddle every few million years.


So by 1859 geologists from all over Europe had worked out the order of strata and that the age of the earth was vast but immeasurable. Many made estimates and here are two from the 1860s; Thomas Huxley reckoned the age of the earth to be about 100 million years and Rev Samuel Haughton, Prof of Geology at Dublin and perhaps influenced by Ussher’s dating recroned the base of the Cambrian to be 1800 million years. Haughton wrote strongly against Darwin!

To show the picture of the the “anti-evolutionary” geological column and implications for vast time here is a diagram from the palaeontologist Richard Owen

Image result for richard owen geological column

And so we come to Darwin and The Origin of Species  in 1859. As befits a good geologist Darwin simply used all geological findings including vast ages and in his book developed his theory of evolution from all available biological and geological evidence. If anything, we have to say that evolution is dependent on geolgy and vast ages and not vice versa as the Morris’s falsely claim

Charles Darwin

For the next fifty years many tried to work out the age of the earth with Lord Kelvin firstly putting the limits at 100 million and later to 24 million. Some geologists were not happy! With the discovery of radioactivity things changed as this was used to “date” rocks starting with Boltwood in 1907. Soon it was clear that the age of the earth was billions and not even millions.

From 1913 Arthur Holmes dated the age of the earth at 1.8 billion and slowly refined and increased the age. (His department were not to keen on his dating Dorothy Raynor) Using model lead ages from 1946 Holmes and Claire Patterson (well-known for pointing out the dangers of lead in petrol) concluded that the earth is 4.6 billion and that has not chnaged for 70 years. Since 1946 radiometric dating has developed form simply using 3 dates as Holmes did in the 1930s to using millions!! Again radiometric age dating has nothing to do with evolution as it is based entirely on the non-evolution science of radioactive decay and physics.

In this brief blog I have discussed  – and shown – that geological arguments for Deep Time  are totally independent of evolution. This is both for relative time which was worked out in detail before Darwin and absolute time which come form radiometric age dating which has been used for over a century.

Morris’ argument goes back to Henry Morris in 1961, but he swiped it from McCready Price who put it forward 50 years before.

It is simply a lie to say what the Morris’s say.

For further reading; Martin Rudwicks’s books Worlds before Adam. Bursting the Limits of Time , Earth’s deep History  are excellent.

I deal with more evangelical aspects in Evangelicals and Science (2008) and shorter writngs

This deals with geology and Genesis from 1600 to 1850


Geology, evolution and Christianity in the 19th century

If you read many historical studies of Britain in the 19th century, you will read that a major conflict was over science. That claim is overstated. Here is a brief overview.



 Geology (Deep Time) and Evolution?

From reading many books on church history, general history or popular science, it is easy conclude  that advances in geology in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then evolution after 1859 had gradually been undermining belief in God as Creator as well as an almost official literal reading of the early part of the book of Genesis. The actuality is rather different.


Genesis 1 from a 1611 copy of the KJV

So often the work of Archbishop James Ussher is cited as the “official” view of the churches. In 1656 he published his Annales Veteris Testamenti (Annals of the Old Testament) which gave the famous date of creation as 4004BC. (Actually, it has to be worked out from his use of the Julian calendar.)


Ussher is often pilloried for this, with the charge that he inhibited the development of geology. That is false, even though I was taught it in geology lectures!! Ussher was in a long line of scholar historians/chronologists whose detailed studied suggested the earth was only some 6000 years old. Despite their bad reputation Ussher and others laid the foundations for a truly historical way of looking at the world both for human and earth history as Martin Rudwick argues so forcibly (Earth’s Deep History p9-30). Slowly this historical approach opened up historical understandings whether of Egypt or the strata.

Up until about 1660 there was no scientific reason to doubt that the earth was a mere few thousand years old as no one had studied what we now call geology or earth science.One of the first was Nils Steno in the 1660s – he later became a Catholic bishop. He was followed by Robert Hooke, Edward Lhwyd and Rev John Ray a few years later. All of these tentatively wondered if the earth was somewhat older! In fact by considering the vast number of boulders in Nant Peris in Snowdonia, Lhwyd reckoned the earth must be older as only two or so boulders had fallen into the valley in living memory. So he suggested a great age for the earth. His argument was wrong as these boulders were place their by ancient glaciers.


Nant Peris. Just here you can count over 20 boulders. If only one boulder fell into the valley every 50 years, then these 20 would indicate 1000 years . As there are thousands , then that would be 50,000 years and more. It is not a good argument but it shows that people were open to an old earth in 1680.


During the 18th century more and more studied strata or considered the implications for Christianity. These were a mixture of Christian (often clergy) indifferent or deistic.As the century progressed the idea of a massive world-wide flood (Noah’s) became totally unlikely and the concept of “Deep Time” became irresistible. After 1750 few held on to the idea that the earth was a few thousand years old and geological field work throughout Europe was building up a picture of an ancient earth, whether Hutton in Scotland, de Luc in Geneva, De Saussure in the Alps, Werner in Germany, Hamilton on Vesuvius (while his wife Emma was with Admiral Lord Nelson!), Rev J Michell and William Smith in England, Fr Soulavie, Cuvier and Buffon in France. Clergy were not absent from this group. Space forbids more detail! At no point during the 18th century was geological time used to attack Christianity as the controversy was not whether the earth was a few thousand.years old or ancient, but whether it was old (say hundreds of thousands eg Jean Andre Deluc)  or millions of years old (James Hutton).


James Hutton and William Smith

That is borne out by theological writers as where a young earth was accepted it was because it was the traditional view and not against geology. As the 18th century progressed, more Christians accepted an ancient earth WITHOUT it conflicting with their faith. With some early works accepted a young earth and later ones an old earth.

The early 19th century saw great progress in geology as the order of strata was largely worked out (i.e. Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian etc). It is true to say that the lion’s share was carried out in England. Many of these geologists were devout clergy  like Townsend, Buckland, Conybeare and Sedgwick. Others included Lyell a deist or Unitarian. Sedgwick and Townsend were Evangelicals. Much is often mde of a controversy between Uniformitarian and Catrastrophist in this period, but both groups were convinced of vast geological time and their geological methods were almost identical as became apparent to me when I studied some of what Buckland, Darwin and Sedgwick had done in the field in Wales from 1820 to 1850, using their field notebooks and published work. The difference was on matters of interpretation rather than anything else, and, even then, their conclusions were very similar.


Buckland (in a hyena den), Sedgwick and Lyell

Most theological writers from 1800 accepted Deep Time and this is clear in commentaries. The only exceptions are the small group of Scriptural or Anti- Geologists who flowered from 1820 to the 1850s, who insisted that the earth was 6000 years old and geologists were wrong. These were comprehensively rebutted by Buckland, Sedgwick, Pye Smith and the Scot Hugh Miller.

Over these two centuries there was much ebb and flow with Noah’s Flood. Initially many thought all strata and fossils were laid down by the flood, but this was slowly rejected. Some concluded that there were a succession of floods, which resulted in the deposition of the various apparently discrete series of strata. Others, notably William Smith, Sedgwick (until 1831) and Buckland reckoned that the youngest strata (i.e recent glacial deposits) were laid down by the Flood. Buckland tied this into the Ice Age as well, but note that it was he who introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain. By 1850 few thought that Noah’s Flood was more than a local inundation.

To conclude; the awareness of Deep Time caused only limited problems for some Christians, but it is fair to say that evolution was a greater, but not insuperable, issue, as though the question of time and thus the non-literal nature of Genesis was almost entirely accepted by 1859,  the unique status of human beings was implicitly challenged by evolution thuis leading many Christians to question or challenge it.

Prior to the publication of the Origin of Species  in 1859, most British scientists accepte some kind of ill-defined special creation of species, but the simple idea of special creation was crumbling because of advances in biogeography (did God creat three different species of Rhino on different islands in Indonesia), hybridization, change of living forms over times as revealed by palaeontologists and so on. There had been attempts to give an evolutionary perspective before; Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Geoffroy St- Hilaire, not to mention the anonymous Vestiges of 1844. Darwin began his note books in 1836 and published two evolutionary drafts in 1842 and 1844, and then took on an enormous project on barnacles. Claims that he delayed publication as he was afraid of the church establishment have no foundation. He was a slow and methodical worker suffering from bouts of illness. It is often not realized that after the age of 32 he could not walk more than 5 miles. Finally he was jolted into publication due to receiving a paper from A R Wallace in June 1858. After a joint paper he wrote a shortened version of his “big book” which was published in November 1859. The reaction was mixed. Physicists and geologists did not like it. More biologists, especially botanists, were far more accepting. A moderate number of Christians soon accepted the theory. The first person to use the Darwin/Wallace idea of natural selection in a scientific paper was Canon H.B.Tristram of Durham an evangelical.

SH16DARWIN2Man but a worm

Darwin’s statue in Shrewsbury!! and a Punch Cartoon

Many Christians opposed but virtually none from the point of a literal Genesis. Most notorious is Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, a competent naturalist, who reckoned evolution reduced humans to mere apedom and thus moral capabilities. For further details bring the discussion up to date, read;  Very briefly, more and more Christians came to accept evolution in the next few years, but insisted God “intervened” for the creation of life, of sentient beings and finally, humans. So much so that The Fundamentals of 1910 included several articles arguing for evolution, which is not what all would expect.

Ultimately the so-called conflict was a reading back from the 1890s by American writers like Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who claimed WITHOUT EVIDENCE that there was a terrible conflict between science and Christianity since the time of Kepler in 1543. In the last forty years this “conflict thesis of science and religion” has been systematically refuted by a new generation of historians of science, but the false ideas have proved very persistent.

It is probably right to say evolution was more a problem for the less educated, who had probably been taught a literal view of the bible in Sunday School. As today perceptions count for much on understanding science and religion

Slowly the theory of evolution was popularised, and many people came to perceive conflict between science and religion from the 1890s, with the latter as somehow obscurantist, and standing in the way of ‘progress’. This persistent myth has coloured the ideas of many.

In the long run, the theory of evolution tended to dominate human consciousness; all kinds of human, social and intellectual developments were seen in terms of ‘evolution’ towards a) a predetermined goal; and b) ‘progress’ (as interpreted by the theoriser). In the late 19th century Social Evolution was overdone, but the allegations that evolution formed the basis of Nazi ideas is very shaky and is over-stated by some Christians to the point of inaccuracy.

P.S. I have deliberately left out the implications of deep time and evolution for Christianity. But here are what has often come up.

The Moral and Religious implications of Darwin

There are many cited and here are some ignoring  all scientific issues on whether or not evolution occurred.

Issues commonly cited

  1. Genesis says Creation in 7 days
  2. Evolution excludes Creation
  3. Adam & Eve
  4. Takes away uniqueness of humans, an animal not Image of God
  5. Suffering of animal world contrary to a loving God
  6. If we have evolved, no Fall, thus no Atonement
  7. Evolution due to Chance, thus no Design and no God
  8. Chance then no Purpose and no God
  9. Moral behaviour evolved from animals
  10. Genetic basis of behaviour?





Can we, as evolved apes have a soul?

Can we, as evolved apes have a soul?




A reader asked the question in the Church Times on 28th October 2017 (sub-christian horror comic for Anglicans as one bishop put it);

The other day, a friend asked me if the Church believed in evolution. I said that I thought in general, it did accept it. He then asked when the soul arrived: did Homo Habilis have a soul two million years ago? Could someone comment on this………..?

To answer briefly: most in the churches accept evolution and none of us have a soul, whether homo habilis or us. Now having shocked some by saying no one has a soul, let me explain.

Sadly, the Churches only in general accept evolution. Many evangelicals have fallen for Young earth Creationism and Intelligent Design. Many Christians nod acceptance to evolution but do not grasp the implications.

As science, evolution is well-nigh irrefutable as there is no scientific evidence against it. Some Christians oppose it theologically and others of a religious bent find evolution smacks of reductionism.

But let’s consider the evidence for evolution. Until about 1660 most favoured an earth some 6000 years old as Archbishop Ussher argued for.


However by 1690 some like the Rev John Ray thought the earth was much older from considering rocks strewn around Snowdonia.  Move on a century and almost all scientists were convinced that the earth was  “très vieux” as the great Swiss savant and early geologist de Saussure claimed from the evidence he found in the alpine strata. In the early 19th century geologists ALL found evidence for an ancient earth and worked out the systems Cambrian, Ordovician etc. Many of those geologists were Anglican clergy, some of whom thought the earth was older than the 4.6 billion years we hold today.


Fossils galore were unearthed and it was soon apparent that some life  forms had gone extinct like the dinosaurs and that there was a succession of life forms. Before Darwin this was explained by God coming back and creating new forms which were slightly different from the previous ones. It was clear that God must have come down a myriad times to do this, but Darwin cut the Gordian Knot in 1859 with his theory of evolution in The Origin of Species.

SH16DARWIN2Man but a worm

Though he was first convinced of evolution by the fossil record, in that work he garnered evidence form every field of biology as well. Of course we KNOW that the church opposed Darwin at every turn and scientists simply took it on board. That facts support that ! The first to cite Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) theory in a paper was Rev H.B. Tristram, an evangelical vicar. The biblical scholar and noted mountaineer Rev F.J.A.Hort accepted it in a trice as did the Rev Charles Kingsley, who incorporated it into his Water Babies. As for the scientists most physicists rejected it. No, the churches did not reject Darwin and within a decade most accepted a form of evolution.

My spoiler for Anglicans is that from 1855 virtually no Church of England clergy thought the earth was only 6000 years old and most accepted evolution from 1870, though often with caveats. Or at least that was the case until the 1970s, when some evangelicals started to believe in Young Earth Creationism and now some 5% of vicars are young earthers, believing that old Ussher was essentially right with his date of 4004BC. The effect of this has been bad, as, in the attempt, to be inclusive, this is recognised as a valid position for Christians, whereas it is simply false and based on mis-reading the bible and mis-representing what science says.

One reason for objecting to evolution is how suffering came into the world and too many still consider it came form human sin. That goes back to Ussher’s poetic contemporary John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost;

Beyond that, there is the problem of the soul. Why it should be a problem as we do not have a soul, but it is. Many think humans are made up of two or three bits; body, soul (and spirit), with the implicit idea that the soul is tacked onto a body rather like a bolt-on extra. This idea of two/three bits stems not from the Bible but Platonism, which was adopted by the early church, with disastrous results ever since. Once we think of the two bits we distinguish between the bodily/earthly which is bad and the spiritual/soulish which is good. As a result historically Christians have not valued creation except as a vehicle for the redemption of the soul. Some, like the Black Stocking Calvinists of the 17th century took it to the logical conclusion and reckoned that you could kick and mis-treat animals as they had no soul. Yuk!

If we are not “souls with legs on”, so what are we? From Gen 2 vs 7 we read “man became a living being” the word for “being” is nephesh which is translated into Greek as psuche, which is taken as soul. Some animals are also nephesh. This we are “living souls” or “living beings” rather than bodies which have souls, which is the bit which survives death. That means that we see ourselves as an integral part of creation and that we cannot consider ourselves separate from the rest of the natural world. This has been a problem for millennia and the fruits are seen in the industrial world, where it is implied we can, as it were, escape the natural world – whether through technology or religion. Far better is to see ourselves as part of nature as much as insects are. The Green movement has grasped this, but often in a funny way!

At death our soul does not leave the body to fly away for the resurrection if we are lucky! We cannot say what will happen, beyond that for a Christian they will look to Jesus and his resurrection, when he was not raised as soul or spirit, but as a resurrected body. At least that is the Gospel picture and is developed by Tom Wright in his big book Resurrection. So what happens to us? I simply do not know and here I can only look to Jesus Christ and trust in Him. That will not convince those who see humans as body and soul (or souls with legs on as I prefer to say) or to those who are not Christian.

Some have tried to cut the Gordian Knot on this by suggesting that the human body evolved through former living things and then God introduced a soul. This is put forward by many including Sam (R.J.) Berry and Denis Alexander (see his Creation or Evolution), both of whom I respect greatly.


I simply do not accept their view that humans were given a soul some 10,000 years ago. To put it flippantly, they are evolutionist until 10,000 years ago and then they become Creationist at the last minute. Exactly when an earlier ape evolved into an ape we would define as homo sapiens I do not know. It goes without saying I do not accept a historical Adam.

I cannot give a nice simple answer beyond saying that we are created by God – who took a long time over it right through geological time. I prefer to say we are living souls/nephesh/psuche rather than having a soul as if that is a bolt-on extra. Without going into details this makes better sense of the biblical teaching, the nature of Jesus both as a human and in his resurrection and means we are closely tied to all of creation/natures and also to God.


D Alexander; Creation or Evolution

  1. Enns : The Evolution of Adam

The Ark Encounter: A Presentation at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

Ken Ham’s Ark encounter in Kentucky with a life-size ark has gabbed the attention of many. Here three geologists, who are Christians describe their doubts about the whole thing

The Ark Encounter: A Presentation at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting – Naturalis Historia


Naturalis Historia

ark-gsa-2016-introslideTake a tour of the Ark Encounter with a geologist, paleontologist and myself in this YouTube presentation.  In July I visited the Ark Encounter with geologist Dr. Kent Ratajeski from The University of Kentucky.   After that trip Kent, myself and Dan Phelps (President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society) worked together – my contribution was rather small – to develop a talk for the Geological Society of American annual scientific meeting. Kent attended that meeting in September where he gave the presentation to a packed room of professional geologists and other interested parties.  This YouTube recording was produced by Kent reading his talk over the PowerPoint slides since recordings at the scientific meeting were prohibited.

The talk covers a bit about the history of the Ark Encounter, goes through the major exhibits on the Ark and provides some reflections on some of that content.

In addition to this video I have written a few…

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Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Many get fed up with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis continually misrepresented normal science. Poor Ken , he has a thing about “billions of years” and resorts to porkies to reject them. This is a good summary of why his recent porkies are pure Ham.

I don’t know why he does it

Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Answers in Genesis now has a “Check this Out” feature where they tackle a scientific claim which argues for an old earth and try to debunk it.  Recently, much to my dismay, one of the home school teachers sent out a link to one of these videos on radiometric dating.  Aside from the mistakes inherent in the video, itself, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of how science works.  Here is the short video.

We will take this bit by bit.

  • 0:28 – the narrator states that most scientists regard the age of the earth as between 4.55 and 4.6 and then remarks that, if this is so accurate, why the 50 million year discrepancy?  He then states “That seems like a lot.”  50 million divided by 4.55 billion is 1.09%.  That is the standard error. This date range is made up of thousands of individual dates. The speedometer on your car is less accurate than that (standard error of 2.5%).  In fact, in any statistical test a 1% standard error is considered is equivalent to saying that you are 99% confident that the results you have are accurate. 1% is not a lot of anything. Also carefully omitted from the narrative is that these dates are derived from at least five different kinds of radiometric isochron dating:
    • Lead-Lead isochron
    • Samnium-Neodymium isochron
    • Rubidium-Strontium isochron
    • Rhenium-Osmium isochron and
    • Argon-Argon isochron.

All of these dating methods have different decay states, decay rates and half lives and yet all give dates to within 1% error

  • 1:52 – After a reasonably straightforward description of radiometric dating, the narrator then, while admitting that it is true that a decay rate can be measured using “observational science,” it requires “historical science” to tell how old the rock actually is. He states that in order to get accurate measures from rocks, one would have to know both the decay rate and the initial conditions of the rock, otherwise we cannot directly measure the ages of rocks.  He asks “how do we know what the initial conditions were in the rock sample?”  and “How do we know the amounts of parent or daughter elements haven’t been altered by other process in the past?” and How does someone know the decay rate has remained constant in the past?”   He then says “They don’t.” This is false.
  • Timothy Heaton, Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences & Physics at South Dakota State University writes this about the parent/daughter ratios:

    Isochron dating bypasses the necessity of knowing the quantity of initial daughter product in the rock by not using that value in the computation. Instead of using the initial quantity of daughter isotope, the ratio of daughter isotope compared to another isotope of the same element (which is not the product of any decay process) is used as the comparison for isochron dating. The plot of the ratios of the number of atoms of the parent isotope to the number of atoms in the non-daughter isotope compared to the number of atoms of the daughter isotope to the non-daughter isotope should result in a straight line that intersects the vertical y-axis (which is the ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes). This point of intersection gives the initial ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes, which would also be the ratio in a mineral that crystallized without any parent isotope present.

    Here is a web site that shows how this plot works in graphic fashion. The narrator’s  hourglass analogy is, therefore, inaccurate.  We don’t need to know how much sand was in the hourglass to begin with, nor did we need to observe the process.  The decay rate is well-known and invariate, which leads to his second statement.

  • As far as the variation in decay rates of radiogenic isotopes goes, they have been shown to vary only  0.1% in response to outside influences (here, and here) and have been shown to vary significantly only under extreme laboratory conditions not found on earth.

As noted above, buried deep in this video and others that Answers in Genesis puts out is a particular philosophical bent that sees “observational science” as real science and “historical science” as not. Ken Ham is often quoted as rejecting historical science by rhetorically asking “Were you there?”  In other words, we cannot know historical processes because we did not observe them.  Consequently, when the narrator of this video says “we don’t” in answer to how we can know how some of our assumptions about radiometric dating are correct, it is this philosophical bent in action.

Such a perspective is facile, as it completely disregards the fact that we reconstruct past events every day at all levels, from the simple act of encountering a broken glass on the floor with ice and water beside it (someone dropped a glass of water) to complex murder investigations in which no one but the murderer was present.  No one questions the validity of these assumptions and they form the basis for much of what we do in life, including our entire criminal justice system.

Secondary to this notion that we can reconstruct the past is that the processes that occur today also occurred in the past.  If I am digging in a field and encounter, at a depth of three or so feet, a series of horizontal metal beams that are four and a half feet apart with ties in between them, because I know that distance is the standard railway gauge, I can reasonably assume that what I have uncovered is part of an old railway.  Was I there when they built it?  No, but I didn’t have to be to have a pretty good idea of what it is.

This is true not just of human constructs but also of natural formations.  Because we have modern floods, hurricanes, meteorite craters and so on, we can identify these formations in the past.
This puts historical science and all of its reconstructive observational power on level footing with observational science.  While Ken Ham and others at Answers in Genesis might say otherwise, it simply is not so.

It is amazing how much damage to scientific and academic integrity one can do in a three-minute video.  Answers in Genesis is, apparently, up to the task.