Category Archives: science

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.

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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.

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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

 

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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 https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/charles-darwin-exposes-a-n-wilson-as-a-fraud/

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

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Why Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth & other NGOs are wrong to oppose GMOs. They will help starvation

I am baffled why so many NGOs who claim to care about starvation and malnutrition in the world should be so opposed to GMOs. It is as if they give with one hand and take with the other.

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Meme made by Peter Hess, author of Catholics and Science.

The official policy of Christian Aid is hostile to GMOs, though slightly muted from 15 years ago. They seem unwilling to accept that MOs, Modifed Organisms, have enabled greater productivity in farming for millenia. Of course, this was at the whole animal or plant level as with Lord Delamere in Kenya in the days of Happy Valley. The local cattle were not very productive so he did experiments crossing local cattle with British ones and produced more productive cattle. GMO is only a scientific extension of selective breeding.

Thus we have GM papaya in Hawaii saving a devastated industry, yet  attempts to introduce golden rice have been thwarted.

It seems odd that these groups accept the science of climate change and then want to adopt extreme measures which will do more harm than good, yet reject the science of GMOs and do their damnedest to thwart them.

This article about Uganda brought it home to me, having spent nearly a year there many moons ago. As I was an exploration geologist I lived in the back of beyond, miles from anything like electricity. I mostly ate local and soon learnt how to find the local butcher. You went into a village or town, looked up to see where vultures were circling and then driving to be right below them. Sure enough there was a shacked with cows being hacked up. The waste bits were thrown outside and the vultures did their duty. The meat was cheap, but as I asked for no bones I paid twice the going rate. It was a bargain. However my workers could not afford meat. I had no fridge and once my “cow” went off, so my cook stewed it for himself. To him it was wonderful, but I will never forget the smell. My workers were better fed than most and I went past some “shambas” (subsistence allotments) were the food available was minimal.

Clearly more food is needed and agricultural research and innovation is needed.

This article describes anti-GM groups including   Climate Action Network-Uganda (CAN-U). This is part of the international  Climate Action Network, and members of the the Europe section include Friends of the Earth , Greenpeace, Christian Aid, tear Fund, RSPB, Oxfam and CAFOD.

What GMOs have to do with Climate Change I do not know.

However this is a serious matter and I wonder how many supported of the development NGOs I listed above are aware that they oppose scientifically base agricultural improvements.

I find it shocking.

The food and famine crisis is finally bringing to a head the clash between anti-GMO activists, mostly European based, and the science and farming communities.

Source: Uganda: From scorching drought to ravaging worms, poor pay the price for missing out on a biotech solution

Uganda: From scorching drought to ravaging worms, poor pay the price for missing out on a biotech solution

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Over 1.3 Million Ugandans are experiencing some form of hunger as a result of prolonged drought that has caused massive crop failure leading to famine. Hardly had the sight of flourishing new crops brought hope to the subsistence hungry Ugandan households when the armyworms, a corn pest, struck. These worms are not the ordinary armyworms that come and go in a week. It is the fall armyworm, a type not seen before that causes extreme damage to a crop, more than the usual worms–attacking both the young shoots and the hardened leaves.

Billions of shillings from Uganda’s budget have been diverted to fighting hunger and now to controlling these worms. Government programs, for examples, elections of local leaders; and providing provisions of sanitary towels to poor girls to keep them at school have been suspended. Sections who feel aggrieved for the diversion of resources towards addressing hunger are pushing the government to the edge.

Drought tolerant crops perhaps could not have addressed the issues of prolonged drought but insect resistant transgenic maize is seen flourishing beside ravaged local maize varieties. The problem is that these resistant varieties are still confined in guarded fields because the Catargena Protocol that Uganda ratified demands there must be a biosafety law in place before farmers can access the insect resistant varieties. The Anti GMO activists have fought a battle to keep the legislators from enacting the biosafety law so that farmers may not access these “evil crops” that could save farmers from famine. Will Uganda be able to resist the activists’ assault designed to prevent the adoption of a regulatory framework.

Ugandan anti GMO activists and scientists agree on key clauses of the Biosafety Bill

Uganda is one of the leading biotechnology research companies in Africa. Despite years of research work by scientists, there has not been a comprehensive Biosafety law that would enable commercialization of GM products. The anti GM activists believed enactment of the law would open doors for GM cultivation–something they wouldn’t want. Most members of the activists group believed the bill was meant to promote GMOs and needed to be overhauled.

The committee of science and technologies of the Uganda’s Parliament has been collecting views of various stakeholders on the Biosafety Bill. After meeting the stakeholders they convened a meeting of both pro and anti GM activists, scientists, legislators and policy makers. The meeting was meant to generate consensus on key clauses of the bill.

The anti GM civil society organizations represented were: Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI); Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM); Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE); Pan-African Club; and Climate Action Network-Uganda (CAN-U).

The pro or neutral organizations included: National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO); Cotton Development Organization (CDO); National Environment Management Authority (NEMA); Makerere University; Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda (PSU); National Drug Authority (NDA); African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), Uganda National Council for Science and Technology Uganda Biotechnology (UNCST); and Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC).

Consensus

The major areas that the anti GM activists had issues with included; the title of the bill, which they wanted changed from the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill; The Competent Authority to be different from the current one proposed in the draft bill, which is the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology; and the content of the bill to cover other forms of biotechnology other than GMOs; and labeling. The two sides agreed to maintain the title of the bill but that where there is GMO in the Bill should be replaced with Modern Biotechnology or targeted Biotechnology; to have the newly created Ministry of Science and Technology become a competent authority on issues of biosafety to oversee the National Biosafety Committee; the national Focal Point which acts as link between the country and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) would remain the Ministry of Environment.

Status of Uganda’s Biosafety law process

Uganda passed a national Biotechnology and Biosafetyy Policy in 2008with a main objective of harnessing benefits of biotechnology in all the sectors. Uganda then went on to draft regulatory framework 10 year later (2012). Since 2012 up to now, Ugandan legislators have not yet enacted this law and farmers cannot access the transgenic crops that could help address the current issues of drounght and insect. There has been several consultations and counter consultations on why Uganda should and should not embrace biotechnology. The role of collecting views have been that of the parliamentary committee for science and technology. These committees have done lots of consultations that included benchmarking with countries like Brazil, India and South Africa that have grown GM crops for years. There last activity on consultations was bridging the gap between issues that were being raised by those who thought the Biosafety Bill was so bad and was meant to promote all sorts of GM products.

Prime Ministers suggestions to activism challenges

Speaking at a the same consensus building roundtable meeting, the Prime Minister pointed out at the two major obstacles that are responsible for the delay of GM crops adoption: the Innocent Ignorant farmers and “Some groups who want Uganda to remain backward and dependent”. He continued to say the latter category’s dominance in Africa is threatened and that they do not wish Africa well.

Uganda’s premier’s suggested two solutions to these challenges. The solution to those that do not wish Uganda and Africa well was that Africa must be ready for such people and must confront and stop them. He however did not delve into how the “stopping” would be carried out. The ignorant innocent farmers are to be senstized.

Whether the Prime Minister will confront the issues by mobilizing members of his party which are a majority in the house will soon be seen, since the committee is ready with its report. The President has also on several occasions publicly endorsed the need to make biotech crops availability to farmers. As we wait for this, Over a million subsistence farmers are becoming hopeless as they see their crops eaten away by the unique armyworm. Their plight will eventually result in the reallocation of finances from other key sector like health and education, and is likely to cause both social and  political unrest.

Isaac Ongu is an agriculturist, science writer and an advocate for science based interventions in solving agricultural challenges in Africa. Follow Isaac on twitter @onguisaac

A N Wilson’s bogus study of Darwin

The Times of London has gone down in my estimation with an appalling weekend essay on Darwin by the novelist and semi-intellectual A N Wilson, who after an atheist phase has returned to some kind of faith. Sadly his faith has not improved his intellectual discernment.

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A wag visited Darwin’s statue in Shrewsbury!!

Wilson has a “radical” biography on Darwin due out in September 2017 and has given two tasters; one in the London Evening Standard, https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/charles-darwin-exposes-a-n-wilson-as-a-fraud/

and one in the Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/darwin-s-greatness-is-founded-on-a-myth-r0563g83q

As one , who for several decades has studied the letters and works of Darwin and also researched his Welsh geology of 1831 and 1837-41 through fieldwork https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/darwins-boulders/ 

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Outcrop at Llanymynech

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Darwin’s boulders at Cwm Idwal

I am familiar with much of his thought and development. (As a Christian – and vicar – I have also considered his religious views). Despite having been led to be negative towards him by American fundamentalists I slowly but surely developed a great respect for Darwin as a scientist and a caring man of integrity. I have transcribed many of his geological notes – pausing over words like “vomitory” or “mammified rocks”, reading innumerable letters , scientific papers  and most of his books. Sadly, I don’t think Wilson has done any proper historical research and according to John Van Whye has used decades old studies, which have been superceded.

It is difficult not be angry over articles (and probably the biography ) of Wilson as they make so many unsubstantiated claims and seem only wishing to belittle a great scientist. His writing do not share the critical, yet sympathetic, approach of scholars like Janet Brown, Sandra Herbert, Rob Wesson , Jim Costa and many others. These do not go in for blind adulation but look at all the evidence carefully as I hope I do. Yes, Darwin made mistakes, as he did over Glen Roy in 1838 and many of his ideas are incomplete – often due to lack of knowledge as with genetics.

It does seem that Wilson is simply sceptical of Darwin’s science and I suspect he has been unduly influenced by the american Intelligent Design movement, whose loathing of Darwin is only exceeded by their inaccuracy, whether on Darwin’s alleged problem on the Cambrian Explosion or whether his ideas inspired Hitler.

Below is his Times essay interspersed with some comments.

Darwin’s greatness is founded on a myth

The great Victorian naturalist was slow to understand natural selection and reluctant to credit earlier evolutionists

During his visit to the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin failed to understand the significance of the birds that he observed there
During his visit to the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin failed to understand the significance of the birds that he observed thereGETTY IMAGES

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Charles Darwin’s version of the evolutionary idea was presented to the world in 1859 with his book On the Origin of Species. It is often spoken of as a work of science. Some have even called it the greatest scientific work ever written. Whatever you make of it, it is a strange book. Most of its central contentions, such as the idea that everything in nature always evolves gradually, are now disbelieved by scientists, and the science of genetics has made much of it seem merely quaint.

It depends what is seen to be gradual. The history of our planet goes back 4.6 billion years and looked at from that time perspective is “gradual” though at times changes are more rapid, but still very gradual in human terms.

Yet it was so much more than a work of science. It was the great consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes. Darwin effectively told the Victorians: “Rather than trouble yourself by the gross selfishness of living with vast accumulated unearned wealth, carriage drives, servants and villas, tell yourself that the differences between rich and poor are just the way nature organised things.”

Middle-class Victorians found in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a consoling myth that, thanks to evolution, they deserved to be better off than their servants
Middle-class Victorians found in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a consoling myth that, thanks to evolution, they deserved to be better off than their servantsTHE PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES

This explains its instant bestseller appeal. It also explains why there was a Darwinian revival in the 1980s, with the me-generation all trying to believe in “the selfish gene” as an explanation for why City slickers could earn hundreds of times more than the feckless “workers”, and why the market could make the first world so much richer than the third.

In Darwin’s scheme of things, the Victorian rich were the perfect expression of evolution. In perfecting itself, nature started with amoebas, and moved on through dinosaurs and flying lizards, fish, fowl and mammals until it came to the apes, so obviously like the poor savages of Tierra del Fuego or Papua New Guinea. Above the savages were the southern Europeans, above them the British and, at the top of the evolutionary pecking order, sat the great families of England, the Darwins, the Arnolds, the Huxleys and the Wedgwoods, who all intermarried and were obviously cleverer than anyone else.

some comments of remarkable silliness. Darwin also took concern on helping the poor

If the Origin of Species is only a scientific work, then it is unique in the history of science. Darwinism is the only scientific theory which was inspired, not by scientific experiment, not by observation in the field or the laboratory, but by reading a now-discredited work of economics — Thomas Malthus’s theory of population.

Malthus wrote at the juncture in history when Britain was threatened with starvation by the Napoleonic blockades. His theory was a simple one. There is a limited amount of food in the world. When it has all been eaten, any “surplus population” will inevitably starve. Wars, revolutions and all human calamities are ultimately caused by hunger or the fear of hunger.

This is simply contradicted by considering how Darwin’s thoughts on evolution developed. He read Malthus in September 1838 but crucially had finished his Notebook B in January 1838. Here he made an argument for evolution from his knowledge of the the fossil succession. He could see the change of species but could not explain the HOW. On this he was like his predecessors. But Malthus, Blyth and Matthew gave the germ of the idea of Natural Selection giving a How of evolution. Wilson got it wrong. Darwin was working from field observations both of living and fossil creatures.

Once the Napoleonic wars were over, the population of Europe soared. So did the food supply. Instances of starvation occurred most notoriously in Ireland in the 1840s, where the selfish landlords, many of them absentee, insisted on exporting huge quantities of grain while the peasant population, dependent on the potato, died of hunger. The Westminster government was scandalously late in reacting, partly because it believed that the potato famine was a Malthusian “solution” to the “problem” of a large, anti-English, Roman Catholic population. In other words, Ireland was not a demonstration of the truth of Malthusianism, it was a victim of it. We find similar, and much more alarming examples, later in history, when Darwin’s ideas were used to justify genocide and mass murder.

Darwin was a war baby, born in 1809 during Napoleon’s attempt to starve the country. In the previous 50 years, British stock breeders, taking a leaf out of the book of racehorse breeders, had begun to vary and increase the amount of eatable livestock. This was the era when the Aberdeen Angus and the Gloucester Old Spot first appeared. It was the Royal Navy in 1805, and the British and German armies in 1815, that defeated Napoleon, but the farmers and fishermen did their bit. Nevertheless, the memory of Britain’s Malthusian years lingered. Dickens’s Scrooge, with his snarling contempt for the “surplus population”, was conceived in the 1840s when Darwin was writing his first version of his famous theory, and showed how powerfully the central idea of Malthus survived.

Four of the species of finch observed by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, showing variation of beak. It was not Darwin but John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, who recognised them as distinct species
Four of the species of finch observed by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, showing variation of beak. It was not Darwin but John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, who recognised them as distinct speciesGETTY IMAGES

Darwin had several reasons for wishing to conceal where his evolutionary ideas came from. He was acutely conscious that the most famous evolutionary scientist in British history was his own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin who, 70 years before the Origin of Species, had posited the idea that life had a single origin, from which all the different species evolved.

When Charles Darwin went as a medical student to Edinburgh University, he found a lively scientific scene and attended the lectures of those who were avid readers, not only of Erasmus Darwin, but also of the French evolutionists, such as Lamarck, Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Darwin’s tutors, Robert Grant and Robert Jameson, made sure that he was up to date with the huge progress that had been made in evolutionary science in their day.

Why, when he grew to be famous as the author of the Origin of Species, did he play down the importance of what he had learnt at Edinburgh? Why did he imply, in his autobiography, that his grandfather’s work had no influence upon him? Why did he make so little reference to Grant, for example, who had set him thinking about the problems of evolutionary science, and to their solutions?

Erasmus Darwin wrote his ideas on evolution in verse and did not give much on a scientific basis of evolution. That is what was lacking in all his evolutionary predecessors.

One of the reasons is that Darwin, as well as being a supremely observant and talented naturalist and collector of specimens, was also boundlessly ambitious. His hero was Alexander von Humboldt, of whom Napoleon quipped (with some accuracy) that he was the most famous man in Europe. He was a universal genius who had travelled the world as a scientist-explorer-discoverer and returned to explain the mystery of life itself to Europeans agog for the answer.

Darwin was not content just to be a Victorian beetle-collector on a pennyfarthing bicycle. He had set his sights much higher and he ruthlessly refused to acknowledge his sources. When the Origin of Species was first published, Darwin received many letters of complaint from fellow scientists such as Baden Powell, father of the founder of the Scout movement, pointing out that he had not acknowledged their work.

BP’s letter no longer exists and from  remarks about it was not a letter of complaint. There may have been a few letters, but not the “many” of Wilson. This is shoddy scholarship.

Darwin was a weird mixture of being intensely shy and stridently in need of cutting a dashDarwin was also scared of upsetting the apple cart. Erasmus Darwin had been accused, together with Darwin’s other grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, the great potter-entrepreneur-industrialist, of sympathy with the French revolution. They were watched by the secret service. One of the chief reasons, after the Napoleonic wars, why British scientists fought shy of French evolutionary ideas was that they associated them with revolutionary ideas. The two things went hand in hand, and, of course, simple-minded creationism — the idea that God had simply plonked species down on earth in an immutable form — was indeed at variance with scientific truth.

Darwin was a weird mixture of being intensely shy and stridently in need of cutting a dash. He wanted to be famous, but he did not want the limelight. He was a liberal in politics, but in every aspect of life he was a small-c conservative. It horrified him that anyone would associate him with the revolutionary ideas that had animated Erasmus and Josiah. Before he died, he wrote a short autobiography for his children and in it any reference to 19th-century evolutionary biology before Charles had lived is blithely airbrushed from the story.

Why put so negatively/ It was not mentioned rather than air-brushed. It was a private autobiography more than anything else

A generation later, and the Darwinian faith had evolved the story of the master’s Damascene conversion to the theory of natural selection while he was a young man on HMS Beagle, sailing to the Galapagos Islands. We all know the story. Darwin noticed the different finches, from island to island, and how they had different-shaped beaks. It was here that he saw the phenomenon of descent by gradual modification happening before his very eyes.

What actually happened was this. Darwin sent back a vast number of specimens collected during the voyage of the Beagle. The notion is propounded that a revolution was taking place in his views on the immutability of species. As a matter of fact, Darwin failed to identify most of the finch specimens that he collected on the Galapagos as finches at all. Some he labelled blackbirds, others “gross beaks” and one a wren. He gave them to the Ornithological Society of London, who gave them to John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, to be identified. It was Gould, not Darwin, who recognised that they were all distinct species of finch.

So what, Darwin was more interested in the geology of the Galpagos

It was Captain FitzRoy, not Darwin, who made collections of finches and labelled them correctly, and, as Harvard University’s Frank Sulloway demonstrated in 1982, it was FitzRoy’s identification of the differences between the finches which enabled Gould to make his remarkable observations.

Darwin’s Descent of Man is an absurd, embarrassing book. I wonder sometimes how many Darwinians have actually read it to the endDarwin never mentioned the differences between the finches in the Origin of Species, even though, during the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of publication, Gould’s drawings of the Galapagos finches were reproduced again and again as if they were Darwin’s “discovery”. Moreover, Peter and Rosemary Grant, evolutionary biologists from Princeton University, spent over 25 summers studying these birds, mainly on the island of Daphne Major. They revealed that the beak changes were reversible. This is hardly “evolution”.

Beaks adapted from season to season depending upon whether droughts left large, tough seeds, or heavy rainfall resulted in smaller, softer seeds. Even had Darwin noticed the supposed evolution of finches’ beaks on the Galapagos Islands and thereby become an instantaneous convert to his famous theory, the epiphany would have been wrong.

We see here a classic evolution of mythology. And this is not surprising. Because Darwinism, as opposed to some of his groundbreaking work of natural history, such as in his studies of barnacles and earthworms, and his wonderful book on the expression of emotions in animals, was a religion from the start.

The Gloucester Old Spot and the Aberdeen Angus were not the only new hybrids which evolved through stockbreeding in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An entirely new class came into being then, the class to which Darwin himself belonged. The rentier or upper-middle class provided Victorian England with almost all its intellectuals. They were in effect a new aristocracy and they fashioned the Victorian way of looking at the world.

It is not true that Victorian England was a pious place, nor that the majority of thinking women and men were simple Bible Christians who lost their faith when they read Darwin. Most 19th-century intellectuals were agnostics or atheists and Christians such as Gladstone or Newman were the exceptions. Most of these people longed for what a neo-Darwinian of the 20th century, Richard Dawkins, said was something that “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

This is a naive and historically poor summary of Victorian thought and like his awful book on the Victorians. Here he airbrushes out Christians who did so much in science; Faraday, Joule, Kelvin, Sedgwick . He seems to be revivig the descredited warfare of science and religion

They believed they had found it in the extreme simplicity of Darwin’s theory that an impersonal force of nature, discarding the weak and promoting the strong, inexorably explains absolutely everything.

This is very simplisitic on the likes of Huxley and Hooker

In the Origin of Species, he had not mentioned the human race at all. In his Descent of Man, he finally admitted how he thought humanity had evolved. It is an absurd, indeed embarrassing, book. I wonder sometimes how many Darwinians have actually read it to the end. It tells us that savages such as he met in Tierra del Fuego spoke largely in grunts and had almost no vocabulary. Yet missionaries visited the place not long after Darwin and compiled a dictionary of their language, finding they possessed a vocabulary of over 30,000 words.

If Darwin had been right, the fittest, that is white, middle-class people, would predominate over the Irish and savages. The opposite appeared to be happeningBoth sinisterly, and ludicrously, the Descent of Man suggests that the survival of the fittest was not, in fact, occurring in Victorian Britain. If Darwin had been right, the fittest, that is white, middle-class people, would predominate over the Irish and savages. The opposite appeared to be happening. Darwin made it clear that he thought something would have to be done to correct this troubling state of affairs. His cousin Francis Galton took up the suggestion and pioneered the “science” of eugenics, in which he openly advocated making it illegal for savages and the working classes to breed. We all know where that led in the time of the national socialists, but we sometimes blind ourselves to the source of Hitler’s ideas.

Here we go – Darwin leads to social Darwinism (not) and that led to Hitler’s genocide. A spurious argument

It was not long before Darwin’s Descent had awoken Britain to a fear of “race suicide”. Sidney Webb, one of the leading left-wing social engineers of his generation and who helped draft the constitution of the Labour Party, feared Britain was “gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews” owing to their high rate of reproduction.

Webb, in common with HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill, shared the view that middle-class women would be “shirking in their duty” if they did not have families to outnumber those of the feckless poor. Less than 30 years would elapse between boring little Sidney Webb expressing the fear that his country would fall to the Irish and the Jews, and another European country, Germany, enacting the Reich Citizenship Law, the Marital Health Law and the Nuremberg Laws for racial segregation.

All were based on bogus Victorian science, much of which had started life in the gentle setting of Darwin’s study at Down House, near Bromley in Kent.

This is simply risible as anyone who has even dipped into Darwin’s incredible scientific output. He began as a geologist writing 3 works on the geology of the Beagle voyage recently described so well by Rob Wesson , an American seismologist who is an expert on South america https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwins-First-Theory-Exploring-Quest/dp/1681773163/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503746212&sr=1-1&keywords=rob+wesson and of course the geology he did in the UK  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/darwins-boulders/

or a recent work by Jim Costa, an american biologist on all Darwin’s scientific work carried out while living at Downe House, from earthworms, climbing plants, orchids etc https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwins-Backyard-Small-Experiments-Theory/dp/0393239896/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503689158&sr=1-5&keywords=costa+james 

Now if these are bogus science then so is the work of Einstein and Hawking. This is a remarkably silly comment, but sums up the quality and perception of Wilson’s study of Darwin

Charles Darwin exposes A N Wilson as a fraud

What a rubbish article!!

Frankly this article by A N Wilson in the Evening Standard couldn’t have been much worse if it had been written by a Young earth Creationist like Ken Ham or Kent Hovind.

I lifted the whole article and made a few comments on the worst errors. I expect the book to be worse.

In the 90s I read Wilson’s two books; God’s Funeral – written in his athiest phase, and The Victorians, which on science and religion just repeated the well-worn, and, by then well-refuted, myth of the conflict of science and religion. I was not impressed then and am less so today.

Since then he has come back to faith , having originally been an Anglican ordinand. However he is still better at creative writing, rather than well-researched writing, which cares about intellectual honesty and accuracy.

It is so different from great biographies like that of Janet Browne, or rob Wesson’s recent study of Darwin’s South American geology – Darwin’s First Theory.

If you think I am annoyed about this, you may just be right.

For those who don’t know me, I am a semi-retired Anglican priest, who still runs a parish. I took a degree in geology and was an exploration geologist before ordination. I have written a fair amount on science and religion and also on Darwin’s geology and his beliefs.

BTW you should never use the word “silly” when criticising someone’s writing, unless………

A.N. Wilson: It’s time Charles Darwin was exposed for the fraud he was

https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/it-s-time-charles-darwin-was-exposed-for-the-fraud-he-was-a3604166.html?amp

Two of his theories about evolution are wrong — and one resulting ‘science’ inspired the Nazis

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Visionary or crank? Charles Darwin in 1881, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron
Visionary or crank? Charles Darwin in 1881, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

Charles Darwin, whose bearded face looks out at us from the £10 note, is about to be replaced by Jane Austen. I’ve spent the past five years of my life writing his biography and mastering his ideas. Which do you throw out of the balloon? Pride and Prejudice or The Origin of Species?

Funnily enough, in the course of my researches, I found both pride and prejudice in bucketloads among the ardent Darwinians, who would like us to believe that if you do not worship Darwin, you are some kind of nutter. He has become an object of veneration comparable to the old heroes of the Soviet Union, such as Lenin and Stalin, whose statues came tumbling down all over Eastern Europe 20 and more years ago.

Silly writing. Very few, especially among scientists, venerate Darwin. He is highly regarded as a great scientist and his limitations known.

We had our own version of a Soviet statue war in London some years ago when the statue of Darwin was moved in the Natural History Museum. It now looms over the stairs brooding over the visitors. It did originally sit there, but it was replaced by a statue of Richard Owen, who was, after all, the man who had started the Natural History Museum, and who was one of the great scientists of the 19th century. Then in 2009, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, Owen was booted out, and Darwin was put back, in very much the way that statues of Lenin replaced religious or monarchist icons in old Russia.

By the time Owen died (1892), Darwin’s reputation was fading, and by the beginning of the 20th century it had all but been eclipsed.

Too simplistic. If you read Bowler’s works eg The Non-Darwinian Revolution, you will note that after 1880 natural selection went out of favour for half a century. However Darwin was still highly respected as events on his centenary show.

Then, in the early to mid 20th century, the science of genetics got going. Science rediscovered the findings of Gregor Mendel (Darwin’s contemporary) and the most stupendous changes in life sciences became possible. Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA, and thereafter the complexity and wonder of genetics, all demonstrable by scientific means, were laid bare. Only this week we have learned of medicine’s stupendous ability to zap embryonic, genetically transmuted disorders.

Darwinism is not science as Mendelian genetics are.

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That is a most face-palming comment. The use of the word Darwinism is unhelpful whether to describe the science of Darwin or his so-called followers. As for Darwin his science is as accomplished as it is wide ranging. He started as a geologist and showed great prowess. I have been lucky to study his geology in Shropshire and Wales in depth. This took place before and after his voyage on the Beagle. This can be studied in Sandra Herbert Charles Darwin;geologist and Rob Wesson.Darwin’s first theory. (or my lesser writings just-before-the-beagle  ) He had great plans for his geology in the 1840s and want to look at every limestone reef in Britain but illness put paid to that..

So on moving to Downe he did a highly detailed study on Barnacles, wrote the Origin and after that wrote some wonderful scientific monographs on so many aspects of biology. He was fascinated by the chemistry of drosera/ sundew which catches flies instead of photosynthesising. He was the first to use chemistry in biology. An American friend is writing a book on his experimental work.

I wonder if Wilson has read many of Darwin’s books, scientific papers or even notebooks

None of this denigrates Mendel or Wallace. Though Mendel is not highly significant.

 

It is a theory whose truth is NOT universally acknowledged. But when genetics got going there was also a revival, especially in Britain, of what came to be known as neo-Darwinism, a synthesis of old Darwinian ideas with the new genetics. Why look to Darwin, who made so many mistakes, rather than to Mendel?

A silly comment. All good scientists make lots of mistakes. Darwin described his 1839 work on the Parallel roads of Glenroy  as a “long, gigantic blunder”. I found many in his 1831 geology BUT he produced so much good science.

 

There was a simple answer to that. Neo-Darwinism was part scientific and in part a religion, or anti-religion. Its most famous exponent alive, Richard Dawkins, said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.

Perhaps so for Dawkins up to a point, but still grossly simplistic and silly.

You could say that the apparently impersonal processes of genetics did the same. But the neo-Darwinians could hardly, without absurdity, make Mendel their hero since he was a Roman Catholic monk. So Darwin became the figurehead for a system of thought that (childishly) thought there was one catch-all explanation for How Things Are in nature.

The great fact of evolution was an idea that had been current for at least 50 years before Darwin began his work.

Silly. There had been tentative suggestions for 50 years, but none whether Erasmus Darwin Lamarck or Chambers in the Vestiges were acceptable scientific theories. Darwin produced the first scientifically TENABLE theory of evolution, even though there were gaps

 

His own grandfather pioneered it in England, but on the continent, Goethe, Cuvier, Lamarck and many others realised that life forms evolve through myriad mutations.

silly. See above. BTW Cuvier adamantly rejected evolution but was excellent on the succession of life worked out from fossils

Darwin wanted to be the Man Who Invented Evolution, so he tried to airbrush all the predecessors out of the story.

Pure fantasy. You just need to read all his references in his books

He even pretended that Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, had had almost no influence on him.

Probably true as Erasmus put his ideas into a poem 🙂

He then brought two new ideas to the evolutionary debate, both of which are false.

One is that evolution only proceeds little by little, that nature never makes leaps. The two most distinguished American palaeontologists of modern times, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, both demonstrated 30 years ago that this is not true. Palaeontology has come up with almost no missing links of the kind Darwinians believe in. The absence of such transitional forms is, Gould once said, the “trade secret of palaeontology”. Instead, the study of fossils and bones shows a series of jumps and leaps.

Many reckon that Gould and Eldredge overstated the jumps, but both they and Darwin were operating on a long timescale.  Hey what!! I wonder if Wilson wants to reject the geological timescale. He might even find Ken Ham a good buddy.

Hard-core Darwinians try to dispute this, and there are in fact some “missing links” — the Thrinaxodon, which is a mammal-like reptile, and the Panderichthys, a sort of fish-amphibian. But if the Darwinian theory of natural selection were true, fossils would by now have revealed hundreds of thousands of such examples.

A typical Creationist argument. in fact “Darwinism” (I hate the term – just say evolutionary science) predicted Tiktaalik and Shubin went to find it in Greenland. In a sense all fossils are intermediates!! Wilson’s misunderstanding of evolution is immense.

Species adapt themselves to their environment, but there are very few transmutations.

Darwin’s second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless: that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for cissies whom Nature throws to the wall. Darwin borrowed the phrase “survival of the fittest” from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer. He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things.

Silly. Despite, or in spite of his wealth., Darwin had a great concern for the poor and needy. This statement runs contrary to everything we read about him and his actions

He thought his class would outbreed the “savages” (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish. Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

Eugenics cannot be blamed on Darwin

We all know where that led, and the uses to which the National Socialists put Darwin’s dangerous ideas.

A smear tactic with no historical foundation

Now that we have replaced Darwin on the tenner with the more benign figure of Miss Austen, is this not the moment to reconsider taking down his statue from the Natural History Museum, and replacing him with the man who was sitting on the staircase until 2009 — the museum’s founder, Richard Owen?

A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (John Murray, £25) is out next month

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

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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  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/geology-and-genesis-unearthed/

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”.

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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,

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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)

 

THE RISE OF EVOLUTION AND THE RESPONSE

 

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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.

THE RESPONSES TO THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES

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,

150px-Asa_Gray01

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.)

CONCLUSION

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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.

 

Geology and Genesis Unearthed.

Did the churches actually oppose geology and Deep Time in the early nineteenth century?  Probably most who reckon they are educated would answer Yes. But they are wrong , thanks to the likes of the geologist Rev William Buckland of Oxford

buckland

Now if you take Genesis literally you will believe this picture

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

but few after 500BC did so!

So find out more here.

Geology and Genesis Unearthed

The challenge of Geology to Genesis is often perceived to be one of the issues of the “Victorian Crisis of Faith”. Geologists had, since Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1831, been demonstrating that the earth was somewhat older than Archbishop Ussher’s Six Thousand years. Thus Richard Dawkins wrote, “in 1862 the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin greatly worried Darwin by ‘proving’ that the sun and therefore the earth, could not possibly be more than 24 million years. Although this estimate was considerably better than the 4004 B.C. date for the creation then favoured by churchmen…” (1) The historian Josef Altholz in 1976 argued that “The great majority of religous spokesmen condemned the doctrine of evolution, without regard to its scientific merits, on the ground of its repugnance to the text of the Bible and its tendency to degrade man to the level of beasts…..Both sides (i.e. clergy and scientists) seemed to identify the substance of Christianity with the text of Genesis.” (2) Both assume that most clergy in mid century were biblical literalists.

Read more

Genesis and geology unearthed

GMOS and science, money, and fake news

 

Some Greens have several shibboleths; usually  pro-organic, anti certain pesticides and glyphosphate and most certainly anti-GMO. (I forgot renewables and fracking)

To focus on GMOs many Green GMOs , like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose them. As do the Green Party.

As a Christian I am concerned that they also are a shibboleth for Christian Greens and groups like Christian Aid. Eco-congregation encourage you to oppose, and as I don’t like people starving to death I don’t do Eco-congregation

GMO EU action

Typical Greenpeace fake news

GMOdeaths

Black humour on the lack of danger of GMOs

NonGMO salt

This sums it all up. But I take non-GMO salt with a pinch of salt.

 

Well, here is a good article on the subject, based on the film Food Evolution

Source: Food Evolution documentary looks at science, money, and fake news around GMOs | PLOS Synthetic Biology Community

Food Evolution aims to take a look at the science underlying the heated rhetoric of the GMO debate. Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy, narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson and on-camera experts walk through the major claims and key players. While the documentary tries to communicate the science, it also realizes that the GMO debate isn’t just about the science. It’s about financial interests, fear, and fake news.

Follow the money

The financial interests in GMOs, and GM foods in particular, are enormous. We’re talking about the food supply of billions of people and some of the biggest brand names in the world. On the GMO side sits one of the most hated brands in the world, Monsanto. Food Evolution talks about their history producing harmful pesticides like DDT and the infamous herbicide Agent Orange. Crowds of people rally against the company and at one point even singing “Monsanto is the devil” in a church choir style.

When the documentary looks beyond the United States, we see countries dealing with the fear of GMOs against the real threat of crop shortages. In Uganda, farmers watch as fields of banana trees are lost to the “Ebola of the banana” called banana wilt. We meet the scientist who has to explain how the new GM banana gets its banana wilt resistance from sweet pepper genes and how the government has to act to let the technology move forward. Then one of the farmers has to explain to her that others “think your work is against humanity”. This is the result of anti-GMO messaging being pushed across the globe.

There’s big money to be made from both sides of the GMO debate. Obviously companies like Monsanto have been derided for their profits while selling GM crops. but Food Evolution also gets into the financial incentives of the anti-GMO side. Companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle can build their brand as a healthy and all natural by demonizing the GMO products. Millions are spent on ad campaigns to make things sound healthier, even if there are no studies to back it up. Making GMO foods sound scary gives an advantage to the products with the no GMO sticker on them and more profits to places like Whole Foods.

Fear still wins a lot of arguments

The biggest tool that anti-GMO activists use is fear. Genetically modifying sounds like something from a poorly written supervillain. Inserting more uncertainty into the discussion helps bolster the argument for sticking with traditional agriculture. While scientists want to see multiple studies supporting a claim, activists interviewed in the film were more than willing to stake claims based on one study even if it’s later refuted. The argument goes that any chance that the study is right puts a risk on us. One speaker even instill the fear in parents of giving their children diseases by having fed them GMO or non-organic foods. No parent wants to feel that there’s any chance they may have given their child cancer.

Environmental activist Mark Lynas knows from experience that fear is a more effective tool than facts. He used to be an anti-GMO activist and is still active in raising awareness about threats from climate change. Upon researching the science he found the anti-GMO position on shaky ground and the climate change position with the scientific consensus. However, his tools for convincing people and motivating change remained largely the same.

“It’s much easier to scare people that it is to reassure them” ~Mark Lynas in Food Evolution

Arguments based on fear can sound convincing regardless of how sound the underlying facts are. Food Evolution pokes holes in many anti-GMO arguments but does find partial truths in some of their arguments. The trick is to take partial truths and uncertainty and dress them up as science. On the consumer end, it’s difficult to discern the validity of sources and scientific claims.

GMO science has its own fake news problem

Fake news knows more than most that fear is one of our most motivating factors. Fear sells because it drives ratings on TV and clicks online. Like fake news in other areas, the stories are driven by viral content regardless of its accuracy.

In the GMO debate there’s a narrative that genetically engineering crops brings threats that are totally non-existent in traditional breeding and farming. As anti-GMO activist Zen Honyecutt puts it, “Organic food is the way God made it”. These scenes with Honeycutt and other activists aren’t flattering when juxtaposed with the scientific evidence that humans have been changing crops since the dawn of agriculture. That doesn’t mean they’re not effective in clickbait headlines.

Some information can avoid being completely false while still being misleading. A major chunk of the film is devoted to the back and forth over the use of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly called Roundup. Plants engineered to be resistant to glyphosate–Roundup Ready crops–have lead to the increased use of  glyphosate since it now only kills weeds without harming the crop. This has lead to the increase in glyphosate in our food supply and environment. However, it’s significantly less toxic than the pesticide DDT or other herbicides. In fact, by some standards it’s rated less toxic than caffeine. The argument over GMOs and glyphosate usage hinges on what our alternative is. Are we willing or able to drastically reduce yields without an herbicide? Or do we go back to the more toxic versions? We rarely get to these questions as it’s much harder to settle a common understanding of the facts.

So what do we do now?

The film acknowledges that science and facts aren’t enough to change people’s minds. There are no clear answers here on how to convince the skeptical public. The scene at an Intelligence Squareddebate in which the GMO side wins shows that it may be possible to convince an audience of people with open minds, but it certainly doesn’t show you how to change the mind of those who have already dug in with a position. It might however give you some science-based answers to your GMO questions.

Food Evolution’s distribution is now being handled by Abramorama with a planned New York release of June 23 and select cities after that. See the trailer and more movie info at www.foodevolutionmovie.com.

Aaron Dy is PhD student in Biological Engineering at MIT.