Tag Archives: creation

Can we, as evolved apes have a soul?

Can we, as evolved apes have a soul?




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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

SH16DARWIN2Man but a worm

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

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

One reason for objecting to evolution is how suffering came into the world and too many still consider it came form human sin. That goes back to Ussher’s poetic contemporary John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here we have the body/soul division in an old Easter hymn by Baring Gould

The second line “soul and body meet again” reflects this inadequate Greek understanding of disembodied souls and de-souled bodies. It shows how deep-seated this error is.


D Alexander; Creation or Evolution

  1. Enns : The Evolution of Adam

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

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

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


Naturalis Historia

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

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

In addition to this video I have written a few…

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God’s Grandeur; Gerard Manley Hopkins


It is time to step back from consider follies of humanity and focus on the Grandeur of God’s Creation and to see the natural world as a reflection of God and not self existent. With so much discussion on the environment (much stupid from extreme green groups and from those who simply exploit nature) it is a good time to reflect on our relationship to Creation. What better than to consider Hopkin’s marvellous poem;

“The World is charged with the grandeur of God”.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

  1. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights of the black west went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

(The photos are mostly from the North West of England and the mine is in New Mexico)

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889) wrote God’s Grandeur while living at St Beuno’s monastery near St Asaph in the Vale of Clwyd, where he studied theology from 1873 to 1877. In those years Hopkins wrote some of his finest and most hopeful poetry; The Windhover, Pied Beauty and The Starlit Night. But perhaps the finest is God’s Grandeur which is a deeply religious poem of the wonder of the natural world, or creation as Hopkins would say. Many have been moved by this poem and two books on a Christian concern for the environment use words from the poem as the title; Bent World by Ron Elsdon and Bright Wings by Peter Harris, which describes the unusual missionary project of opening up a nature reserve on the Algarve.

Yet though this poem has universal appeal with its evocation of the natural world and human responsibility for the environment, it is totally rooted in Hopkins’ experience of the landscape of the Clwydian Hills and the environs. Perhaps we can imagine Hopkins taking a long walk, or a series of walks from St Beuno’s.


As we consider the first four lines, let us imagine Hopkins ascending the hill above the monastery, Moel Maenfa which rises to just under one thousand feet. Perhaps on occasions he climbed this during a sunny spell after a heavy shower, a time when the Vale of Clwyd is especially beautiful, with the atmosphere crystal clear and whatever the season the colours at their best, whether the browns of winter or the greens of summer. Everything stands out in great sharpness, with the patchwork quilt of field and hedgerow leading up to the heather of the Denbigh Moors and beyond that the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. The whole landscape is more beautiful than normal, if that were possible and

“The World is charged with the grandeur of God”.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

  1. Why do men then now not reck his rod?


The whole vale seems to have an electrostatic charge, and all stands on end. Its enhanced reality seems also unreal, but in fact proclaiming the reality of God the Creator. Hopkins is almost echoing one of the nature psalms;

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

(Psalm 19 verses 1 -2 or else Psalm 104.)



If he were a Protestant rather than a Jesuit, he may have been echoing Calvin in the Institutes, “the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror, in which we may behold God.” Perhaps he was, as he was an Anglican until his early twenties. God’s grandeur in nature to Hopkins is so great that he cannot understand any who does not believe in the Creator, and so asks the question, “Why do men then now not reck his rod?” He meant those who did not reckognise(sic) God’s rod and sceptre, and was perhaps thinking of the physicist John Tyndall who attacked the Roman Catholic Church at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast in 1870 for their alleged hostility to science.

From the beauty of the Vale of Clwyd Hopkins then takes us eight miles eastwards to one of the ugliest parts of North Wales – Halkyn Mountain, where at that time there was extensive lead and zinc mining, which exposed the grey limestone and covered everything with grey dust so that even the leaves were grey. The poor fellows who worked there were badly paid and also covered in grey dust;


Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


Not that anyone would want to walk barefoot in a mine or in a quarry, though they would on lush green grass. These lines simply evoke desolation and environmental degradation, as the sprung rhythm collapses into a flat lifeless monotone. However Hopkins wishes to go beyond pollution to a rejection of God’s grandeur, as the poet T.S.Eliot expressed it years later, “a wrong attitude to nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude to God.”


From the dismal desolation of Halkyn Mountain, Hopkins descended a couple miles to Holywell and took refreshment at St Winefrede’s Well;

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;


The clear waters of the well washed away all that “is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;” and Hopkins felt clean again, as it were, washed in the baptismal waters which regenerated him. With this new life in him Hopkins could return to the summit of Moel Maenfa just in time to witness a glorious sunset;

And though the last lights of the black West went

and Hopkins evokes a sunset over the Denbigh Moors as the shadowy silhouettes of the Carneddau gradually fade into utter blackness, as the deep orange of the gloaming darkens and merges into the hills.


The utter blackness does not last as a few hours later dawn arrives to ussher in a new day and a new start with new hope.

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


From considering the re-invigorating of the dawn Hopkins moved to the imagery of the First Day of Creation in Genesis Chapter One. When it came to Genesis Hopkins was no biblical fundamentalist thinking of a literal Six Day Creation, but rather drew out some of the more subtle meaning of the Bible. (As an aside there are more six-day literalists today than there were in his day! It is incredible that anyone with more than one brain-cell can believe such rubbish.) According to Genesis just before “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'”, we read “and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” Hopkins took an old understanding of Genesis whereby the Holy Spirit/Ghost re-ordered the originally formless Creation. He takes that idea and applies it to the dawn as symbolic of the Holy Ghost recreating and repairing a damaged world. As the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit the line “broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” encapsulates the creative power of the Holy Spirit.


The poem is one of great faith in the grandeur of God both as Creator and in the person of the Holy Spirit as Re-creator and Renewer, and is thus almost uncharacteristic of Hopkin’s more mournful style, which reached its climax in No Worst written in 1885. In view of the greater environmental degradation and the widespread awareness of environmental issues today one wonders whether Hopkins would be as hopeful today. Perhaps he would – as he believed in God’s Grandeur.


Michael Roberts