Tag Archives: Creationism

Was there really warfare between Science and Christianity?

Was there really warfare between Science and Christianity?


The classic TV portrayal of conflict between science and religion is the reconstruction of the Huxley-Wilberforce encounter shown in the last episode of the 1970s series the Voyage of the Beagle. Wilberforce is portrayed as a scientific ignoramus and Huxley as a cool scientific orator. In many places it is assumed that Orthodox Christianity means accepting creation in six days and any departure from that is a shift in a liberal direction. This is the stock in trade of many treatments pitting science against Christianity


Geology and Genesis, 1790 to 1860

To put it simplistically Geology took off as a science in the 1790s under Hutton in Scotland, Smith in England and Cuvier and Brogniart in France when conclusive evidence was found for ordering strata and showing a vast age of the earth. Hutton’s chief spokesman was the Rev John Playfair and Smith’s the Revs B.Richardson and J.Townshend. Most educated people accepted the new findings and even the church press showed little opposition. From 1810 there was much geological fieldwork and in 1815 Smith produced the first geological map of England and Wales.



Hutton and Smith

Geologists came from various backgrounds with a considerable number of clergy, often Evangelical. The 1820s was the heyday of clerical catastrophic geology of Buckland and Sedgwick, who held that strata were deposited over a long period of time (millions of years) in a succession of catastrophes or deluges, the Noachian being the last.


Sedgwick and Lyell

In his Principles of Geology (1830) Lyell took over their methods and timescale and replaced catastrophism with uniformitarianism. Lyell has become a mythic figure with claims that he introduced notions of an ancient earth. That is bunk and has been discredited by such historians as Rudwick and Gould. As the vast of age of the earth was widely known in 1790 it cannot be the case as Lyell was born in 1797, unless miracles can happen!

Not all was smooth sailing and from the mid-twenties a vocal group, the Anti- or Scriptural Geologists, tried to show that geologists were mistaken and that Creation took place in 6 days. This disparate group included clergy and laity with a Dean of York, an Oxford Professor and Brande, Faraday’s colleague at the Royal Institution. Scientifically their writings were worthless by the standards of the day and were attacked by such orthodox Christians as Conybeare, Buckland, Sedgwick, Sumner and Pye Smith. Lyell mocked from the sidelines. To give an idea of numbers, during this period I can name at least six Deans of Cathedrals, a dozen Bishops and half a dozen clerical Oxbridge professors, who actively supported geology. In the period 1825-1850 the vast majority of Christians accepted geology, but a small and noisy minority did not. It is vital to get it in proportion. Andrew White in History of the warfare of science and theology claimed that the Anti-geologists were the Orthodox Party thus distorting our understanding.

By the 1850s the Anti-geologists were a spent force and even such an extreme Evangelical as J.Cumming accepted geology. Almost the only exception was Phillip Gosse in Omphalos (1857)


The Dawn of Evolution 1859

Charles Darwin

The Origin of Species was the seminal work of the decade and attracted great interest. The popular perception is that it was violently objected to by the Christian Church as it “questioned both the literal accuracy of the first chapters of Genesis and the argument from design for the existence of God”. The first part of this quote from Altholz is simply untrue as no educated Christians believed in 4004 BC in 1860, except a few Plymouth Brethren. Design in the strict Paleyan sense may have been killed by Darwin, but many kept to some kind of Design; Kingsley, Gray, Temple, Birks, and Hensleigh and Julia Wedgwood (Darwin’s Cousins). The main religious concern was whether our apedom would destroy our morality as Wilberforce made clear.

The responses to Darwin are fascinating and varied and no simple answer can be given. Initially some scientists were in favour – Huxley and Hooker, some not sure – Lyell, and many against, notably the leading physicists and geologists. Of Anglican and Scottish Presbyterian clergy (some of considerable scientific ability) none were literalists, and of 30 or so responses I have studied they are equally divided between being for, against or undecided. All 30 accepted geological findings and a scientific outlook. Wilberforce’s objections were largely geological, but felt our apedom would destroy Christianity. The evangelical Canon H.B. Tristram of Durham was a migratory bird and a competent ornithologist. He accepted and applied natural selection to birds in 1858, after reading Darwin’s Linnean Society paper. He went to Oxford in 1860 an evolutionist but after hearing Wilberforce and Hooker (Huxley spoke too quietly to be heard) he changed his mind. A year or so later he became an evolutionist again and used creation and evolution as synonymous.


Wilberforce and Huxley

Well. was there conflict? There was not CONFLICT, but there was conflict. The reviews and the meeting at Oxford show that there was controversy both religious and scientific. The only example of ecclesiastical prejudice I can find is the sacking of Prof Buchman of Cirencester Agricultural College, whose evolutionary ideas offended the Anglican management. By 1866 even the Victoria Institute were tolerating evolution, even if some members objected. Within two decades most educated Christians accepted some kind of evolution, even if, like Wallace, limited evolution to non-humans.


Whence Conflict between Science and Religion?

The idea that there has been a serious conflict is widely held but recent studies have challenged this,whether they focus narrowly on Huxley and Wilberforce or look more widely. The conclusion by Lindberg and Numbers, Gould, Brooke and Russell is that the conflict thesis comes from a reading back into events by some of the protagonists of the 19th century. Huxley and Hooker embellished their controversies with the church, Edmund Gosse in Father and Son made his father to be typical of Christians,  Andrew White’s massive The Warfare of Science with Theology (1896) is so flawed as to be worthless, despite its massive documentation which often cannot be followed up, Darwin’s claims that at Cambridge he did not “doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible” are not true, Leslie Stephen’s concerns with the historicity of the Ark has been shown by Sir Owen Chadwick to be the product of a lively imagination and many evangelicals had come to Colenso’s conclusions about Noah some 30 years before 1860. Most of these examples are referred to in serious works of history but a little historical research refutes them. This does raise a few questions on Altholz’s assertion that for Huxley and others “Truthfulness had replaced belief as the ultimate standard.”

The conflict thesis in its classic form needs to be consigned to the bin, BUT there is an opposite danger – the total denial of any conflict whatever and the claim that there was harmony. That is as erroneous. The other danger is to ignore popular perception as this did and still does reckon there is a conflict.

To conclude, there was some conflict, which has various causes; the wish of some scientists to break away from church involvement, the concerns of some that evolution may eliminate God. There was also conflict of re-adjustment. But it is best seen as “a storm in a Victorian tea-cup” exaggerated for polemical purposes.

Finally there was no serious battle of Genesis and Geology, but a few Christians objected to geology. By 1860 biblical literalism was virtually extinct but was revived in the USA in 1961 in the form of Creationism. Neither was there a battle royal over evolution. In 1860 hardly any educated people were still literalists. Until this is firmly grasped it is impossible to assess the relationship of Christianity and Science and to consider exactly what were – and are – the problems.

The ultimate problem is why there is suffering and evil, but I’ll leave that.



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

M.B.Roberts, Darwin’s Doubts about Design, Science and Christian Belief, 1997, vol9, p113-26

S.J.Gould, try historical essays in his various Penguins which are always well-argued

Brooke and Cantor, Reconstructing Nature, T&T Clark, 1998

Marston,P and Forster, G. Science, Reason and Faith, Monarch 1999

Numbers, R, Darwinism comes to America, 1998, Harvard Univ Press

Roberts, Michael Evangelicals and Science Greenwood 2008

and two useful books


for more see the websites of http://biologos.org/  www.asa3.org   http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/


Man but a worm




My Trip to the Ark Encounter: Some Pictures and Reflections

Having met Ham at a meeting in 1992 I have followed his absurd ideas. This ark must be the most monstrous.

It is baffling why anyone believes what he says

Naturalis Historia

Just 10 days after the grand opening of the Ark Encounter on July 7th, I traveled down to Kentucky to pay a visit to Ken Ham’s latest evangelistic outreach endeavor. It was a Friday and I arrived less than one hour after opening and spent the better part of six hours on the Ark Encounter premises.   I have shared some of my thoughts about the Ark Encounter previously (Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Opens to a Flood of Press but Few Visitors than Anticipated;  The Ark Encounter: Depicting a Real Flood with Unrealistic ImagesThe Ark Encounter Common Ancestors:  The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds).  Today I just take you on a visual tour of the Ark Encounter theme park, share a few more thoughts about the exhibits, and suggest some needed improvements.


My first glimpse of the Ark as I pulled onto the Ark Encounter property.  The Ark…

View original post 2,261 more words




Darwin concluded The Origin of Species with this magnificent paragraph;

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


This makes me think of the narrow country roads in Shropshire, which were sunken by cart traffic over hundreds of years leaving high banks on either side. These banks became entangled with plants (hawthorn, brambles, hazel, campanula, primroses, snowdrops etc.) and colonised by various animals (insects, butterflies, lizards, rabbits, polecats etc) and host to birds.

The entangled bank was an integrated ecological web.

As Darwin rode round these lanes on his horse Dobbin, whether en route to his girlfriend, Fanny, or to shoot, he would have passed many entangled banks and observed the wildlife. From so small a beginning of a teenage horse rider and amateur naturalist came the most profound of scientific theories.

The Skills Darwin learnt before sailing on the Beagle

Outdoor skills from hunting and shooting and exploring.

Navigation, use of maps

Travelling through rough country, which still can be dangerous.

A wide range of naturalists skills, observation of plants and animals, habitats, specimen collection and preservation.

A good basic geology.


This is why when he boarded the Beagle in December 1831 he was one of the most proficient young naturalists of his day.


The influences on Darwin. (1809-1882)

He was born at The Mount on 12 th February 1809


and went to Shrewsbury School under Dr Butlet but was taught little but Greek and Latin and no science


His father was a doctor with a good knowledge of science (and less on dietetics) and his grandfather, Erasmus, even more so. So from home he learnt much.


His older brother, Erasmus, built a very good chemistry lab in a shed


He collected eggs etc from an early age.

He was keen on hunting thus observed the behaviour of foxes and birds.

From his late teens he collected beetles by the thousand!


1825-27. He studied at Edinburgh for medicine and also learnt some geology and also marine invertebrates from Robert Grant

1827-1831. He studied theology and philosophy at Christ’s College, Cambridge and intended to get ordained. There was no official science teaching but John Henslow gave unofficial classes and field trips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA180px-John_Stevens_Henslow


1824-30 He did much naturalising around Shropshire and visited North Wales most years either to Snowdonia itself or to Barmouth. He climbed most of the mountains


He went on great hikes and observed all he saw on the wildlife and a little on the rocks. His favourites were beetles, but also fungi and birds (which he shot to collect specimens)


His favourite mountain was Cadair Idris and he shot birds for specimens at Bird Rock

cadairbird rock

He explored the rugged Rhinogau with epic hikes and explored the Mawddach estuary


He stayed at Barmouth supposedly being tutored in the binomial theorem but preferred other things!


He left Cambridge in June 1831 and as he was planning an expedition to Tenerife he did geology around Shrewsbury and in July 1831 tried to make a geological map and visited the limestone hill of Llanymynech.




The last of the four photos is from Nesscliff where he studied a Permo-Trias outcrop. The view is of the volcanic Breidden Hills and to the left is Long Mountain which is capped by Old red Sandstone. Darwin and Sedgwick got within a mile of an exposure but turned back, thus making Sedgwick miss a vital exposure.


The Sedgwick–Darwin Tour 3 to 20 August 1831

I present this more fully here


To the West of Shrewsbury 3-4 August

Shrewsbury to Denbigh, 5 to 7 August

Alone to Conwy, 8 to 9 August

Conwy to Bethesda, 10 to 11 August

To Anglesey and Dublin? 12 to 20 August

Separate Ways, 20 August

Caernarvon to Barmouth via Cwm Idwal 20-24th August

This map shows the route


They both had a copy of Greenhough’s map. They new that the Orange rock in the south was Old Red sandstone (later Devonian) and it was younger than the older strata (later Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian) which he wanted to study. The aim was to find the ORS and then older rocks below it. Murchison who went to South Wales was guided to the contact by Rev Thomas Lewis and sorted it all out. Sedgwick’s aim was to follow the arc of ORS (orange rocks) along the North Wales coast and Llangollen and then find the older rocks below. That determined Sedgwick’s route  and his pupil Darwin just tagged along. as it turned out Sedgwick just missed ORS at Long mountain while at Shrewsbury  and then discovered there was no ORS in North Wales so he lost his stratigraphic marker! So when he started on 21st August 1831 on his own, he bagan in Llanberis which was not the best place to start, but that is another story.


They travelled by gig with a driver. this picture is of one of Dr Robert Darwin’s patients -Mad Jack Mytton who though affluent died in a debtors jail.



In August 1831 Adam Sedgwick (geology professor at Cambridge) came to Shrewsbury after looking at strata in DudleyBRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1


and after a few days of geologising near the town they travelled to North Wales by gig (2 –wheeled carriage pulled by a horse) trying to work out what strata there were below the Devonian.Their first stop was up Castell Dinas Bran (silurian) and then to the Carboniferous Limestone of the Eglwsyeg cliffs. There is a fault between the two hills and no Devonian.



Next day they drove to Ruthin and looked first at Silurian strata by Vallee Crucis abbey, which shows the difference between bedding and cleavage.



On to the top of the Horseshoe pass (my first big hill on a cycle) looking over to the grey limestone cliffs. The road was built in the 1810s to service the slate quarry


Glancing over to Snowdonia behind the sheep they descended to Dafarn Dowarch, then made out of turf. Sedgwick stayed here in the 1840s.


Past some limestone then descended to the complex Clywd basin of the Vale of Clwyd going past more Transition/silurian slate. This windy road is Nant y Garth, which I once cycled up in a thunderstorm doing field work for this. That was memorable.



Darwin walked the last 6 miles to Ruthin where they stayed at the Castle Hotel.


At Lanfwrog to the west Darwin found some red sandstone lying topographically  below Carboniferous Limestone 50 yards away. In fact, it was New Red Sandstone, not Old Red/Devonian which had been downthrown to the east. Alas there was no basin analysis to help them!!



And then down some lovely lanes which would have been muddy! they visited the Ogof caves and found some rhino fossils – teeth.




They took the road west of St Asaph and near Glascoed Darwin was dropped off to do a 20 mile traverse and Sedgwick carried straight on to Conwy.

Darwin’s brief was to find ORS below the Carboniferous and above the Silurian/Transition. The second photo is taken a few miles west looking north towards Abergele. The hills are Carb limestone and and the foreground is Silurian. Darwin must have been miffed not to find any ORS.


He stayed at Abergelle and the next day walked to the Ormes and Llandudno chasing the non-existent ORS


He left the Great Orme behind and crossed the brand-new bridge to Conwy and met Sedgwick near the castle.


The next day, after Darwinstopped Sedgwick arguing with a waiter, they went up the Conwy valley to Cannovium and over the 2100ft Tal y Fan and dropped down to Aber for the night. They visited Aber Falls the next day and then went to the Bethesda Slate Quarries




Here is the major problem I encountered in this study. Darwin’s notes on Cwm Idwal – 5 miles from the quarries – follw straight on from his notes on Bethesda. further in his Autobiography Darwn states he went round Cwm Idwal with Sedgwick. HE DID NOT. This is countered by the letters between D and S in September 1831 when Darwin told Sedgwick what he saw on his own and then Sedgwick corrected him after visiting Cwm Idwal a fortnight later.

Instead the went across Anglesey, as Sedgwick had Henslow’s wonderful 1822 geological map to guide him, but the ORS was still elusive and this supposed outcrop of ORS later turned out to be Ordovician. Later at Cape Verde Darwin described some recent conglomerates by the shore as hard as this. I can assure that the rock is very painful to hit with a hammer.



And so the crossed the Menai Straits and shot down the newish London-Holyhead road, which had just been replaced by a dual carriageway when I visited there.



From Holyhead they took a steam-packet to Dublin for the weekend as Sedgwick wished to meet some geologists. On their return they went to look at the precambrian rocks at north Stack and then went across Anglesey with Henslow to guide them.


They found what Henslow’s incredibly hard ORS on which I nearly broke my arm. And so to the old Copper Mine at Parys Mountain. It dates back to the Bronze Age and I think it is still being mined


And so they arrived at Caernarfon, when Darwin wanted to go home for the start of the shooting season. Sedgwick went to Llanberis and started in ernest and found it hard.

On his own from Caernarfon to Barmouth 20th to 24th August

Darwin left Sedgwick at Caernarfon and then visited Cwm Idwal on his own. He reckoned that the Devil’s Kitchen was a volcanic plug, but Sedgwick put him right a little later, explaining it was a syncline.


A sketch to show what Darwin thought about Cwm Idwal and how Sedgwick corrected him.



He found the geology difficult as I did when I tried to do my undergraduate mapping there. (I gave up and mapped a layered intrusion in Northern Canada instead!!). He was oblivious of any glacial features.  He must have found some predators – sundew.


view of Cwm Idwal from Glyder Fawr 2000 ft above the Lake


From Cwm Idwal it was 6 miles to Plas y Brenin, the coach inn at Capel Curig, where he spent two nights. The next day he climbed Moel Siabod and made more notes . After that he walked to Dolwyddelan and over the moors to Ffestiniog for the night. The next day he cross the Rhinogau by the the Bwlch Drws Ardudwy


An early morning view from Plas Y Brenin

In his autobiography Darwin claimed to follow a compass bearing to Barmouth. I do not believe him! First, the route would be an utter killerwading through boulders and 3 foot heather. Secondly his geological notes describe the localities OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAi

visited and I mark these on the sketchmap.


Moel Siabod and the moorland south of Dolwyddelan


My key outcrop to determine his route was Carreg y Fran, which I located. Darwin said the rocks at the base of the cliff were conglomerate. They were in fact agglomerate.


From there he cross the remote and rugged Rhinogau and made his way to Barmouth.


After a few days at Barmouth Darwin returned home for the shooting season. Instead he accepted an invitation to travel on the Beagle

Here is Topper (1992-1994) my faithful field assistant, navigator and mountain climber, taken near the summit of Glyder Fawr.


He took a stagecoach back to Shrewsbury and found a letter inviting him to join the Beagle!

In the summers of 1837 and 1838 he spent a few weeks while staying with his father in Shrewsbury looking at glacial deposits (c18000 years old around the town and by the field centre)

At this time he was very ill and only walked short distances.

In June 1842 he felt better and wrote the first half of a draft on evolution and went to Snowdonia and went home to finish it. It as not published.

Darwin spent two weeks in Snowdonia, staying at Plas y Brennin and other inns.

He looked for evidence of glaciation especially in Cwm Idwal and was convinced that Snowdonia used to have glaciers. He could only walk five kilometres.

But this will be my next installment



 Along with many earlier visits to Snowdonia, the mountainous region of North Wales, in the 1820s to study natural history and to “climb every mountain”,

Darwin made two important visits to study the geology. In 1831 he spent nearly four weeks studying the geology of Shropshire and North Wales, mostly under the tutelage of Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge and then in 1842 to see whether there had been “former glaciations2 in Snowdonia. In 1831 he was a “learner” and made no contribution to geology[1], but his work on glaciations was highly significant[2].

My purpose here is to put Darwin’s two visits into the whole context of geology as a developing science. I give it in note form as a developing historical theme.

  1. 1660-1700. Earliest geology beginning with Nils Steno in Italy. Little grasp of an ancient earth
  2. 1690s E Lhwyd (born near Oswestry – 20 miles from Shrewsbury) and John Ray (the English Linnaeus) noted the boulders in Nant Peris a valley below Snowdon. As there were lots of boulders and only one or two fell down in a lifetime, they suggested that the earth must be much older that the biblical 6000 years. These were in fact glacial erratic transported there by glaciers.
  3. 1700- 1800 more evidence for an ancient earth and beginnings of working out the order of strata
  4. 1788 Rev John Michell, prof of geology at Cambridge worked out an order of strata;

Chalk                                                         Upper Cretaceous                                           120ft

Golt                                                            (Gault   Lower Cretaceous                              50ft

Sand of Bedford                                        Lower Greensand  – lwr Cret                          10-20ft

Northamptan andPortland lime                      (Jurassic)                                                        100ft

Lyas strata                                                       (Lias –Lower Jurassic)                                   100ft

Sand of Newark                                              (Triassic)                                                          30ft

Sherwood Forest pebbles and gravel              Permo-triassic sandstones                               50ft

Very fine white sand                                      uncertain

Roche Abbey and Brotherton Lime               (Permian Magnesium lst)                                100ft

Coal Strata of Yorkshire                                 Upper Carboniferous

This gives a good summary of strata from Upper Carboniferous to Upper Cretaceous

  • Smith developed this with use of fossils and then Geology map of England and Wales 1815.
  • untitled

6 Cuvier worked on Cretaceous strata around Paris

  1. By 1820s strata reasonably well-known down to Old Red Sandstone/ Devonian. What lay below was totally unknown and refered to Killas. This was classically put in The Outline of the Geology of England and Wales by Conybeare and Phillips (1822)

Below are a series of geological columns and the final development for today is the right hand column. What is crystal clear is that the order has not changed since Michell made his preliminary one in 1788. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us.





1799, 1812, 1815






1860 US



London Clay



Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Cornbr.
Upper Oolite
Under Oolite

Magnesian Ls

Coal Measures

Mountain Ls

Red and Dunstone

Killas and Slate

Granite, Sien

Upper Marine(Freshwater: London Clay, Plastic Clay)SUPERMEDIAL ORDER
Chalk Marle
Green Sand
Iron Sand
Oolitic Series
Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Oxford
Inferior Oolite-
New Red SandstoneMagnesian Limestone
Coal Measures
Carboniferous or
Mountain Limestone
Old Red SandstoneSUBMEDIAL ORDERTransition LimestoneSerpentine

Modern Group

Erratic Block Gr.

Cretaceous Group

Oolitic Group

Red Sandst. Gr.
Red Marl
Red Sandstone

Carboniferous Gr.
Coal Measures

Carboniferous Ls

Old Red Sandst

Grauwacke Group

(Inferior Strati.
Serpentine, Trap
Granite, Volcan.

Newer Pliocene
Older Pliocene
CretaceousWealdonOolite or JuraLias
Trias or New Red
SandstoneMagnesian LsCarboniferous
Coal Measures
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsOld Red Standst.
or DevonianPRIMARY
Coal Meas.
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsDevonian
LowerUpper Silurain
(9 units)Lower Silurian
(4 units)




1830s. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us. By 1830 British geologists had felt clear on the geology from the Old Red Sandstone to the top of the Cretaceous, but what lay above and below was still to be discovered. Lyell was instrumental in bringing order to the Tertiary, but in 1830 Sedgwick and Murchison decided to tackle what lay below the ORS in Wales, in preparation for a second volume continuing Coneybeare and Phillip’s work. They had described what lay below the ORS as SUBMEDIAL ORDER; Transition Limestone, Serpentine, Sienite,  Greywacke and  Clay Slate, indicating that it was scarcely elucidated. All this later came to be termed Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian, but in 1830 it was simply unknown strata.
(Shrewsbury is just north of the Long Mynd on the map, and Cwm Idwal is slighty above the letter “N” of Snowdonia)

The map above is a sketch map fo the geology of North Wales marking all strata older than the Devonian, i.e. all the shaded area on the map. In 1830 the weather was so bad that neither geologist went to Wales, but both went in the Summer of 1831. Murchison went to Southern Wales about 25 miles southwest of the Longmynd and was guided to an excellent downward succession from ORS to what was to be called Silurian by the Rev Thomas Lewis. Sedgwick went to Northern Wales and his aim was to find the ORS (marked on geological maps as lying below Carboniferous Limestone from Llangollen to Conway. When he found the ORS he hoped to find it going down conformably into Killas/grauwacke (now Silurian). This did not happen and he and Darwin concluded that there was no ORS from Llangollen to Conway, thus frustrating his intentions. Ironically at over 300 metres on top of the Long Mountain between Welshpool and Shrewsbury , there is a capping of ORS/Devonian strata but Sedgwick and Darwin did not go up the steep hill in their gig, thus missing the solution to the puzzle by two miles!

In early August Sedgwick and Darwin left Shrewsbury for North Wales to  look at the base of the Carboniferous Limestone hoping to find first ORS and then “Silurian” below it. They failed as there was no ORS. After that they went round Anglesea and found that no more helpful, though they found some ORS identified by Henslow in 1822, though some of that was mis-identified and turned out to be far older.  On 20th August Darwin left Sedgwick to go home via Cwm Idwal and Barmouth.  Sedgwick started working on strata by Llanberis, but had no stratigraphic markers or fossils to guide him. After a few years he managed to make sense of the geology.  Sedgwick called all these Cambrian and Murchison called southern Wales strata Silurian. It took another 50 years to sort them out properly into Cambrian Ordovician and Silurian.


After leaving Sedgwick at Caernarfon, he took a coach to Cwm Idwal, not knowing anything about the geology, except that it was older than the ORS. He had no geological guides to help him, so simply made notes. Cwm Idwal is a glacial cirque carved out of Ordovician Volcanics. Darwin gave brief descriptions regarding most as “altered slate” with some resembling basalt.

He also note volcanic rocks at Devil’s Kitchen which he considered  the Volcanic rocks at Devils Kitchen to be  “Basalt protruded out of the slate” as an “inverted cone”. In fact, they were laid flat  and then gently folded into a syncline, as Sedgwick pointed out to Darwin in a later letter after .

1842 Glacier visit

In 1842 Darwin returned to Snowdonia, having travelled round the world in the Beagle. His purpose was to see whether the Glacial Theories of Agassiz and Buckland were correct. In 1838 he had been to Glen Roy and in 1838 and 1839 had looked at the gravels around Shrewsbury and concluded that “glaciers” has some influence. Initially he was wary of Agassiz’s ideas of a continental ice age and after Buckland visited Snowdonia in October 1842, when he demonstrated glaciations, Darwin went to Snowdonia for 10days in June 1842. (In fact he had half written his first manuscript[1842] on Natural Selection before he went and finished it on return.)

He confirmed the terrestrial glaciations in Snowdonia and confirmed Buckland’s identification of glacial troughs. The highlight was his visit to Cwm Idwal where he identified the remains of an icefall by Ogwen cottage, ice-scoured rocks and moraines. Most interesting are two boulders he described, now known as Darwin’s boulders. After visiting Moel Tryfan, which he realised was sea-ice he returned to Nant Peris near Llanberis and made more observations.

Darwin had confirmed that these deep valleys were not formed by rivers………



Darwin at Llanymynech; British Journal for the History of Science, 1996, Vol 29, pp469-78

Darwin’s Dog-leg ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 1998, Vol 25, p59-73

I   coloured a map ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 2000, Vol 27,p69-79

Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37


Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37

Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Geological Association 2012


Sandra Herbert; Charles Darwin;geologist 2005

And an account of the 2018 field trip with pictures










Fracking causes Asthma!!! Or does it?

Well, fracking causes terrible problems and the latest scare story is that it causes asthma. This has appeared on the Boots medical website citing an American study.




It even appears on the UK local government site.


It has gone semi-viral on anti-fracking sites, but it is yet another spurious peer-reviewed paper on the health effects of frackinjg

The article is published in the prestigious JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association. (I first came across this as in the 90s they published a paper arguing Darwin had panic attacks and agoraphobia. Seeing he wandered around Snowdonia when ill in 1842, it seems unlikely he had the latter. JAMA ignored my response, but no one with agoraphobia could visit Cwm Idwal in 1842DSCF7213

Here is the article



the abstract sums the content of the paper and how

Residential UNGD( aka Fracking) activity metrics were statistically associated with increased risk of mild, moderate, and severe asthma exacerbations. Whether these associations are causal awaits further investigation, including more detailed exposure assessment.

This sounds serious but the actual conclusion says;

Asthma is a common disease with large individual and societal burdens, so the possibility that UNGD may increase risk for asthma exacerbations requires public health attention.

This is hardly a firm conclusion as it is only a possiblitiy.


Importance  Asthma is common and can be exacerbated by air pollution and stress. Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) has community and environmental impacts. In Pennsylvania, UNGD began in 2005, and by 2012, 6253 wells had been drilled. There are no prior studies of UNGD and objective respiratory outcomes.

Objective  To evaluate associations between UNGD and asthma exacerbations.

Design  A nested case-control study comparing patients with asthma with and without exacerbations from 2005 through 2012 treated at the Geisinger Clinic, which provides primary care services to over 400 000 patients in Pennsylvania. Patients with asthma aged 5 to 90 years (n = 35 508) were identified in electronic health records; those with exacerbations were frequency matched on age, sex, and year of event to those without.

Exposures  On the day before each patient’s index date (cases, date of event or medication order; controls, contact date), we estimated activity metrics for 4 UNGD phases (pad preparation, drilling, stimulation [hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”], and production) using distance from the patient’s home to the well, well characteristics, and the dates and durations of phases.

Main Outcomes and Measures  We identified and defined asthma exacerbations as mild (new oral corticosteroid medication order), moderate (emergency department encounter), or severe (hospitalization).

Results  We identified 20 749 mild, 1870 moderate, and 4782 severe asthma exacerbations, and frequency matched these to 18 693, 9350, and 14 104 control index dates, respectively. In 3-level adjusted models, there was an association between the highest group of the activity metric for each UNGD phase compared with the lowest group for 11 of 12 UNGD-outcome pairs: odds ratios (ORs) ranged from 1.5 (95% CI, 1.2-1.7) for the association of the pad metric with severe exacerbations to 4.4 (95% CI, 3.8-5.2) for the association of the production metric with mild exacerbations. Six of the 12 UNGD-outcome associations had increasing ORs across quartiles. Our findings were robust to increasing levels of covariate control and in sensitivity analyses that included evaluation of some possible sources of unmeasured confounding.

Conclusions and Relevance  Residential UNGD activity metrics were statistically associated with increased risk of mild, moderate, and severe asthma exacerbations. Whether these associations are causal awaits further investigation, including more detailed exposure assessment.

Asthma is a common disease with large individual and societal burdens, so the possibility that UNGD may increase risk for asthma exacerbations requires public health attention. As ours is the first study to our knowledge of UNGD and objective respiratory outcomes, and several other health outcomes have not been investigated to date, there is an urgent need for more health studies. These should include more detailed exposure assessment to better characterize pathways and to identify the phases of development that present the most risk.

The article seems quite impressive but the devil is in the details or rather the map they provide to demonstrate their claims. This shows the occurrence of spudded wells and the incidence of asthma. They show the area covered with recorded incidence of asthma and then colour-coded numbers of patients with asthma.

Dark blue means the highest incidence and thus should coincide with greatest number of wells. Oh dear! They do not as the highest number of wells coincides with low incidence of asthma!

Apart from the fact that authors did not consider other causes of asthma – air pollution, smoking, obesity etc , the map simply does not support their claims, which are assertion-based rather than evidence-based.

Seth Whitehead deals with it more fully in his EID article cited below.



More and more dealing with anti-fracking claims is like dealing with creationism. all you need to do is a bit of simple checking with a moderate grasp of the science involved and the arguments crumble to dust (possibly carcinogenic or at least harmful).

Recently a prestigious peer-reviewed paper linking fracking to cancer was retracted  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/fracking-will-give-you-cancer-not/

not to mention the embarrassing refusal of David Smythe’s geological paper https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/david-smythe-anti-fracking-geologist/

or MEDACT’s study guided by Mike Taylor https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/medacts-madact-on-fracking/ Medact have backed off and mostly emphasise climate change issues.

Yet we are told there are hundreds of peer-reviewed papers against fracking, but these are challenged  and often retracted.

Speaking sarcastically the biggest health risks of fracking are Stress-related illnesses due to scaremongering!



And also energy in depth give sound arguments why the paper is worthless.


Despite Provocative Headlines, New Pa. Study Fails to Link Fracking to Asthma

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Geisinger Health Systems have teamed up again to release another study of the potential impacts of oil and gas development in the Marcellus, this time focusing on exacerbations of asthma attacks. This new study claims those who live near shale gas wells are “1.5 to four times likelier to have asthma attacks than those who live far away.”

Just to provide some quick context, this is the same team of researchers who published a study claiming premature birthrates were higher in counties closest to shale wells, even though theywere right in line with the national premature birth rate. One of the researchers that stands out is Brian Schwartz, a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute which has called fracking a “virus.” Considering that background, it’s not surprising that, despite the fact that study after study, including data from the Environmental Protection Agency, has shown that fracking does not harm air quality, the researchers apparently started the study with the following preconceived (and debunked) assumption.

“UNGD has been associated with air quality and community social impacts. Psychosocial stress, exposure to air pollution, including from truck traffic, sleep disruption, and reduced socioeconomic status are all biologically plausible pathways for UNGD to affect asthma exacerbations.”

As the researchers likely intended, the study produced provocative headlines like “Health study shows connection between asthma attacks and gas drilling” even though it actually doesn’t show that and the authors openly admit that. Here are some important things to keep in mind when reading this study:

Fact #1: Authors admit they have no data to link asthma exacerbations to fracking

By comparing the electronic health records of 35,508 asthma patients “with and without exacerbations” treated at Geisinger Clinic between 2005 and 2012, the authors claim to have identified 20,749 mild asthma exacerbation instances (new oral corticosteroid medication order), 1,870 moderate (emergency department visit) and 4,782 severe (hospitalization) asthma exacerbations that they claim show an “association” to residential proximity to natural gas development.

“Association” is the key word in the latter sentence — the authors concede right off the bat they have no data to show causation attributable to shale development:

“Residential UNGD activity metrics were statistically associated with increased risk of mild, moderate, and severe asthma exacerbations. Whether these associations are causal awaits further investigation, including more detailed exposure assessment.” (pg. 1)

Reuters rightly reported that “The study doesn’t prove fracking causes asthma or makes symptoms worse.”

Fact #2: Data show counties with highest number of asthma sufferers have little to no shale development; Includes no data for Washington County, which has the most shale wells

One would think that if you were going to study whether fracking contributed to asthma exacerbations you could want to compare patients with exacerbations in counties with shale development to patients with exacerbations in counties without shale development. But the researchers didn’t do that. Instead, they only looked at whether patients with exacerbations lived near a shale well.

What’s more than a little interesting is the fact the areas researchers studied (outlined in the graphic below in gray) which had the highest concentrations of asthma sufferers have little no shale gas production. Energy In Depth has added the names of three high production counties — Bradford and Tioga, which were included in the study, and Washington County:

The above graphic shows that most of the counties with significant numbers of asthma patients have little to no shale gas production.

Curiously, the county with the most shale gas wells in the state, Washington County, wasn’t even included in the study. A vast majority of Geisinger’s patients reside in the counties highlighted in dark blue, each of which have little to no natural gas development.

So based on the graphic above, it is clear that a vast majority of the 35,000-plus asthma patients included in the evaluation live in areas with little-to-no development. Which begs the question: How relevant could the relatively small number of patients included in the study who reside close to natural gas wells be considering a vast majority of Pennsylvania residents who live in areas with shale development were not included in the study?

All of this brings us back to the question of why the researchers didn’t compare data county-by-county. For instance, although between just 21 and 63 Geisinger asthma patients live in Bradford County — which has the second-most shale wells as any county in the state — data comparing Bradford County asthma exacerbation rates with counties with no shale development might have given a better picture of whether there was an association. But maybe the data didn’t support the researchers’ narrative, and therefore wasn’t included in the study?

What’s more, not only were a vast majority of Pennsylvanians who actually live close to natural gas wells not included in the study, the researchers included 72 patients who reside in New York state, which has, of course, banned fracking.

Fact #3: Researchers admit severe exacerbations occurred in patients who smoked or were overweight – yet they still suggest it’s because of fracking

Not surprisingly, the researchers’ data revealed that smokers and people who were older or obese suffered the most severe asthma exacerbations:

“Compared with patients with mild and moderate exacerbations, patients with severe exacerbations were more likely to be female, older, current smokers, and obese.”

The fact that the researchers failed to prove causation isn’t surprising considering asthma has numerous triggers including airborne allergens, animal dander, mold, smoke, cockroaches and dust mites. According to the Mayo Clinic,

Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies (allergens) can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. Asthma triggers are different from person to person and can include:

  • Airborne allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, cockroaches and dust mites
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat

The researchers also concede that one of the study’s limitations is that it doesn’t consider what the patients’ occupations are, which could be major contributors to exacerbating their asthma.

Interestingly, in a recent radio interview, Dr. Theodore Them, the Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine for Guthrie Health Systems in Bradford County, Pa. noted that studies on shale often leave out the very crucial element of “confounders” as the authors here have done. As Dr. Them put it,

“And there can be confounders such as smoking habits, drinking habits, drug use that never get accounted for in these studies and cause people to come to the wrong conclusions.”  (28:36-30:09)

Fact #4: Multiple Pennsylvania studies have shown the oil and gas industry is not impacting air quality in areas of development.

Schwartz states in the study’s press release, “We are concerned with the growing number of studies that have observed health effects associated with this industry,” but it is more likely that he and his colleagues are actually concerned that there are numerous studies showing the opposite is true. Just to name a few:

  • A recent Pennsylvania report commissioned by Fort Cherry School District in southwest Pennsylvania actually examined air emissions at a nearby well site in Washington County — the state’s most active shale county — and “did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air. When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.”
  • Another recent Marcellus study led by researchers at Drexel University found low levels of air emissions at well sites. As they explained, “we did not observe elevated levels of any of the light aromatic compounds (benzene, toluene, etc.)” and “there are few emissions of nonalkane VOCs (as measured by PTR-MS) from Marcellus Shale development.” Another Pennsylvania study by Professional Service Industries, Inc., commissioned by Union Township in Pennsylvania that found “Airborne gas and TVOC levels appear to have been at or near background levels for the entire monitoring periods in the three locations monitored.”
  • The Pa. DEP conducted air monitoring northeast Pennsylvania and concluded that the state “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” A similar report for southwestern Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion.
  • A peer-reviewed study looking at cancer incidence rates in several Pennsylvania counties found “no evidence that childhood leukemia was elevated in any county after [hydraulic fracturing] commenced.”

There are several more examples of studies using direct measurements finding low emissions throughout the country that the researchers apparently chose to ignore when making the stereotypical activist claim that, “Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) has community and environmental impacts.”

Even studies conducted by fracking opponents have shown no elevated health risk near fracking sites, albeit after they garnered the desired headlines. A corrected version of a 2015 University of Cincinnati found that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions in Carroll County, Ohio, are well below levels deemed of concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The original retracted study exaggerated cancer risk by 725,000 percent due to what the researchers later claimed was an “honest calculation error.”

Fact #5: Improved U.S. air quality — courtesy of fracking — is actually reducing asthma

Not only does the Johns Hopkins asthma study dismiss the aforementioned Marcellus studies that have shown low emissions at well sites, it also ignores the fact that fracking is the No. 1 reason that three pollutants linked to asthma — nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) are all in rapid decline.

A recent study of the U.S.’s top 100 biggest power plants, which account for 85 percent of the country’s electricity, found that SO2 emissions are down 80 percent, while NOx emissions are down 75 percent. PM 2.5 levels decreased 60 percent from 2005 to 2013, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The reasons for these declines is obvious, considering power plants have traditionally been the biggest source of this pollution and power plants just happen to be shifting from coal to natural gas at a record pace. Natural gas emits one-third the nitrogen oxide as coal and just one percent of the sulfur oxide of coal, and the two pollutants combine to form PM 2.5.

Recent World Health Organization data indicates that the U.S. is reducing these air pollutants while much of the world continues to struggles, which WHO states contributes to increased risk of asthma and other health problems:

“As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.”

Ironically, the U.S.’s progress in improving air quality, thanks in large part to the Marcellus Shale, is perhaps most evident in New York, which has infamously banned fracking.

The “Big Apple” has the cleanest air in over 50 years, thanks to an increased use of natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid this out in a press release in 2013, stating:

“Today, because of the significant improvements in air quality, the health department estimates that 800 lives will be saved each year and approximately 1,600 emergency department visits for asthma and 460 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular issues will be prevented every year. The City expects further improvements in air quality and the future health of all New Yorkers as buildings continue to convert to cleaner fuels over the next several years.”

In 2005-2007, it’s estimated that PM2.5 levels in New York City contributed to over 3,100 deaths, over 2,000 hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma annually.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has also developed a factsheet that explains how natural gas reduces asthma attacks:

“This shift has also yielded significant public health benefits, avoiding thousands of premature deaths and more than 100,000 asthma attacks in 2015 alone.”

So, even assuming for a moment that the Johns Hopkins study’s “association” of asthma exacerbation could actually be proven as causal, it is clear that shale development has done far more to reduce asthma and other troublesome ailments than it has done to make them more prevalent.

Fact #6: Study conducted and funded by fracking opponents

We have to give Schwartz some credit: after producing numerous studies that fail to disclose that he’s a fellow at the anti-fracking Post Carbon Institute (something EID has brought to lightwith his previous studies) he finally disclosed that fact in this latest study:

“Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Schwartz is a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), serving as an informal advisor on climate, energy, and health issues. He receives no payment for this role. His research is entirely independent of PCI and is not motivated, reviewed, or funded by PCI. No other disclosures are reported.”

The study also received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: at least three of itsboard members are also on the board of World Wildlife Fund, which has made it clear that it is, “against the use of fracking to extract shale gas – or any other ‘unconventional’ fuels – from the ground.”

The study also used satellite data from Skytruth, a group that is against hydraulic fracturing and indeed all industrial activity. Skytruth is funded by numerous anti-fracking groups, including the Tides Foundation, Greenpeace, Oceana and the Heinz Endowments.


The researchers claim this study “adds to a growing body of evidence tying the fracking industry to health concerns.” Problem is, the study — and many others like it — actually doesn’t have any evidence to prove causation, while numerous studies that actually provide real evidence that fracking is reducing asthma throughout the U.S. continue to be overlooked.

This further blog continues the hatchet job.
This map from a PA state survey puts the knife in further.

More details in this extensive paper.



When will the paper be retracted?

There are Dinosaurs in the Bible? Job 40-41



One of my favourite recent claims from Creationists is that early people used dinosaurs to build Stonehenge. That is perfectly reasonable if the earth is only 10000 years old and dinos lived alongside humans. Ken Ham has written books on it has a museum on Kentucky to prove it


and is now building a life-size ark  – with modern construction methods.

One of the crazy bits of misinterpreting the Bible is to calaim the the book of Job tells us all about dinosaurs.

Here Greg Neyman shreds this wonderful bit of eisegesis! Enjoy!


A review of the creation science theory that Job 40-41 refers to dinosaurs

Source: Creation Science and Biblical Interpretation, Job 40-41, Dinosaurs in the Bible?


Caution Creationists3

The Mistrust of Science and what it means for natural gas.(= GMO +YEC)

I always value Nick Grealy’s comments on fracking and his articles are consistently good.

His comments on the pseudoscience of anti-fracking also apply to Creationism, anti-GMO, anti-vaxxers, anti-global warming etc.

They come from the smugness of the secure who don’t need to struggle to live and “know not what they do” for the less advantaged.

I am tempted to comment on the first paragraph, but assure all that I look much younger than Nick


sci placeboI’m in general good health. I never get so much as a sniffle, haven’t had a headache in years, and as long as I stay away from mirrors I feel 30 years old. Thanks to either good genes or the beneficial aspects accruing from twenty years of smoking, drinking and staying up all night, I often appear ten years or so younger than I actually am.

Don’t let that fool you. I’ve also had a fractured skull leading to two brain operations, a burst stomach artery, two separate forms of cancer and a heart valve replacement. Never once during my involuntary medical adventures did I ask to be prescribed the treatment 3% of doctors recommend. In short, I trust science.

I’ve noted here before that natural gas opponents on the other hand, too often choose to cite the outliers in science. And let’s be fair, science isn’t a democracy. Galileo presents an obvious example where one person disrupted conventional wisdom. In the modern era we have the relatively unsung, but spectacular, case of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren who counter to all conventional medical thinking discovered peptic ulcers were not caused by stress, spicy food and too much stomach acid, but by a virus which shouldn’t even have existed. They won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005.

A recent piece in the New Yorker by a surgeon, Atul Gawande came to my attention ironically enough through a tweet by Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Institute which studies climate change (on which we agree how overwhelming evidence supports it) but also one who frequently cites outlier studies that paint natural gas in a negative light. Just as often, he chooses to ignore any which show the opposite. Like many communications professional in the climate sector, he often enthuses about emerging technologies that may – or may not- be ready for prime time. Equally, although he too welcomes the two great climate wins of lower carbon emissions and lower carbon intensity, he chooses to present them mostly as wins for renewable technology alone, not for the other key trends of efficient design and the coal to gas switch.

Gawande barely mentions climate -or energy at all, being a physician. Nevertheless, there is much read across here for the natural gas debate. Much of what Dr Gawande says rings a rather depressing bell. I commend the whole piece, but this extract refers firstly to an issue we resolved in the UK a long time ago, but a growing one in the United States – often among the same constituency as fracking opponents – the anti-vaccination movement.

People are prone to resist scientific claims when they clash with intuitive beliefs. They don’t see measles or mumps around anymore. They do see children with autism. And they see a mom who says, “My child was perfectly fine until he got a vaccine and became autistic.”

Now, you can tell them that correlation is not causation. You can say that children get a vaccine every two to three months for the first couple years of their life, so the onset of any illness is bound to follow vaccination for many kids. You can say that the science shows no connection. But once an idea has got embedded and become widespread, it becomes very difficult to dig it out of people’s brains—especially when they do not trust scientific authorities. And we are experiencing a significant decline in trust in scientific authorities.

Today, we have multiple factions putting themselves forward as what Gauchat describes as their own cultural domains, “generating their own knowledge base that is often in conflict with the cultural authority of the scientific community.” Some are religious groups (challenging evolution, for instance). Some are industry groups (as with climate skepticism). Others tilt more to the left (such as those that reject the medical establishment). As varied as these groups are, they are all alike in one way. They all harbor sacred beliefs that they do not consider open to question.

To defend those beliefs, few dismiss the authority of science. They dismiss the authority of the scientific community. People don’t argue back by claiming divine authority anymore. They argue back by claiming to have the truer scientific authority. It can make matters incredibly confusing. You have to be able to recognize the difference between claims of science and those of pseudoscience.

Pseudoscience is especially strong in the UK fracking debate. An engineer, a handful of doctors, or one geologist are often cited as being the Galileo or Marshall and Warren of our time. But the important point is that one or a handful of outliers are their authorities. It used to be said that you can choose your opinion, but you can’t choose your facts.  Today apparently, one can also choose your science. Gawande continues, echoing my point cited above in reference to methane emissions, chemicals and even seismology, but specifically addressing many issues of the day:

Science’s defenders have identified five hallmark moves of pseudoscientists. They argue that the scientific consensus emerges from a conspiracy to suppress dissenting views. They produce fake experts, who have views contrary to established knowledge but do not actually have a credible scientific track record. They cherry-pick the data and papers that challenge the dominant view as a means of discrediting an entire field. They deploy false analogies and other logical fallacies. And they set impossible expectations of research: when scientists produce one level of certainty, the pseudoscientists insist they achieve another.

It’s not that some of these approaches never provide valid arguments. Sometimes an analogy is useful, or higher levels of certainty arerequired. But when you see several or all of these tactics deployed, you know that you’re not dealing with a scientific claim anymore. Pseudoscience is the form of science without the substance.

I trust Gawande. He’s a doctor. But he also highlights some issues transferable to the natural gas debate. One of several mistakes the gas industry has made is assuming that people listen to facts. Another is not reaching out to new audiences, an issue not unconnected to spending precious resources only preaching to the already converted. The environmental movement is equally guilty of course. The extreme churches, right and left,  often have a common business model: Think of it as tithing in reverse- priests pay their own congregations.

Either pro- or anti-, the general public increasingly don’t listen to the facts, they listen to the messengers. They listen not to the noise, but to the signal.

I’ve also mentioned the concept of “surprising validatorsbefore.  Surprising validators only arise when they have information -from communication – to start their journey from. After that it’s important for them, and them alone to speak to their congregation.  Stephen Tindale in the UK is a classic example, but I’ve always tried to be one too. I’m obviously a natural gas supporter – but not to the exclusion of anything except coal. Or pseudoscience.

Gary Sernovitz’s inspiring book the “The Green and The Black” shows there is at least one other metropolitan liberal progressive apart from I who also supports natural gas.

I would hope communication works both ways. I have a lot of people on the right who read me here, and sometimes I’ve turned down money from conservative groups. Yet I have influenced them on climate. The liberal ones have never offered sadly.

That’s a shame. I speak to a lot of greens in my sometimes apparently quixotic quest to explore for shale gas in London. After all not only are they my neigbours, they’re also my tribe. I surprise them by not having horns, not denying the climate, and sharing most every other value they hold.

But, when, not if, the London project comes to pass, there may be another barrier. “Conventional wisdom” investors, or at least those from the right, are convinced (by the protestors!) that I would never get acceptance that would allow any progress.  To that I can only say one thing: They too need to get out of their bubble. Speaking to people, instead of demonising or giving up on them may show how the natural gas industry is pushing on an open door.

But first one has to discover the door, and then turn the handle. Afterwards, as in most things, and here I refer to my medical adventures again, one finds that things aren’t so scary after all and there are nice people only too happy to help.

Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth

An excellent book about a wonderful place which Creationists are determined to misunderstand

Age of Rocks

Book Review
Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth
by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney (editors)
(hardback from Amazon or direct from the publisher for under $30)


Prelude to Catastrophe: Why this book is so needed today

When I was 16 years old, I encountered the first book I ever read about geology. It was the first step of many toward a doctorate in the discipline. To this day, I can still praise Steven Austin’s Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe as a simple primer on the processes by which sedimentary rocks form. His explanations of features like cross bedding, faulting, erosion, and layering were clear, accessible, and generally accurate. Yet Austin’s book did not gain popularity for accomplishing what any introductory textbook already had. His provocative message was that the Grand Canyon was laced with fingerprints of a recent global catastrophe, as described in chapters 6-9 of the…

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Ninetieth Anniversary of the Scopes Trial


 In October 2010 we visited Dayton for a day and got a feel of the place!! We went round the Courthouse and visited various old buildings in Dayton.



The myth of the scopes trial has taken on a life of its own and has misinformed opinion ever since the trial in July 1925. In the United States science for evangelicals was dominated by the Scopes trial, and the abiding images of those decades are provided by Inherit the Wind. This portrays American evangelicals as having  a hillbilly faith based on anti-intellectual literalism. Edward Larson in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer of the Gods (Larson 1997) corrects much of that, but old story still rules. The events that led up to the trial are the most bizarre in the history of science and religion. As we saw in Chapter 3 ( of my book Evangelicals and Science, 2008), the warfare model of the relationship of science and Christianity dominated the twentieth century. In a sense the warfare model both fuelled the events of the Scopes trial and their interpretation as it had become the received wisdom of any secular Americans. The attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938) knew the books of Draper and White by heart, and the defense co-counsel at Dayton, Arthur Garfield Heys said, “Of all the books I have read for this trial, the ‘Warfare between Science and Religion [sic], by Prof. White, is, to my mind, one of the most interesting and readable.” With attitudes like this, it is not surprising that fundamentalists initiated the anti-evolution crusade and objected to the new Darwinian biology textbooks, such as Hunter’s Civic Biology  used in Tennessee. In the 1920s the  Eugenics movement was at its height and many eugenicists were evolutionists—R. A. Fisher, Leonard Darwin, and H. F. Osborn. By 1935, thirty-five states had passed laws to compel the sterilization of the eugenically unfit. As Hunter wrote in his Civic biology, “If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.”

Christian anti-evolutionists like the “Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) who was a thrice-failed presidential candidate and Billy Sunday (1862–1935) denounced eugenics as inspired by evolution. Bryan called it brutal and at Dayton argued it was a reason not to teach evolution. Billy Sunday bracketed eugenics and evolution in his 1925 Memphis crusade. The Modernist theologians Shailer Mathews (1863–1941) and H. E. Fosdick (1878–1969) both supported eugenics. From our post-Nazi perspective it is difficult not to grant the moral high ground to the Fundamentalists. It also gave reasons to reject Modernism. Ironically in 1939 when most had rejected eugenics WilliamJ. Tinkle (1892–1981) “was still advocating selective human breeding in his creationist textbook, Fundamentals of Biology” (Numbers,1992, p. 223).

Anti-evolutionism was only part of fundamentalist militancy as their main target was theological Modernism, which swept through every denomination. As a result conservatives formed a loose coalition to combat this threat to orthodoxy. Some stressed the German roots of higher criticism and attributed a “survival of the fittest” mentality to German militarism. These were combined into the distinctive Fundamentalism of the 1920s and 1930s and the formation of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA) in 1919. With William Jennings Bryan’s opposition to the war and anti-evolutionism, this led to Dayton. The alliance of Bryan and Fundamentalists like Riley does not demonstrate that they were in total agreement. Riley was a dispensationalist, but Bryan believed in the power of reform to make life better. Bryan had a thirty-five year career in public life, becoming a Democratic Congressman in 1890. With his oratory he became known as the Great Commoner and secured three presidential nominations. After supporting Woodrow Wilson in his presidential campaign of 1912, Bryan became secretary of state and resigned from office after America’s entry into World War One. Yet he was a progressive reformer and  supported both prohibition and female suffrage. As his biographer Lawrence Levine commented, “In Williams Jennings Bryan reform and reaction lived happily, if somewhat incongruously, side by side.” His anti-evolutionism came from his Christian convictions but he was no six-day creationist. He was willing to accept evolution for the animal kingdom but not for man. He was very much in line with earlier Christians, like James Orr. Into this heady political and religious mix the Scopes trial was born. Matters began late in 1921whenKentucky’s Baptist State Board ofMissions passed a resolution asking for a law against teaching evolution. Bryan heard about it early the next year and adopted it. The campaign spread quickly, with John Roach Straton (1875–1929) advocating anti-evolution in New York, Norris in Texas and T. T. Martin throughout the south with William Bell Riley was offering to debate evolutionists, and providing the support of theWCFA. Three years later these four were the most prominent ministers supporting Scopes’ prosecution. In January 1925 Senator Shelton introduced a bill in the Tennessee Legislature. The next day John W. Butler put forward similar legislation in the House of Representatives, demanding a $500 fine for a public school teacher teaching “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible …” The House passed it by 71 votes to five. The public was caught off guard and opponents began to work on the Senate and wrote letters to the press. In February Billy Sunday returned to Memphis for a second crusade. On March 21, the Senate passed the Butler bill by twenty-four to six and itwas sent to the Governor to sign. Despite protests from evolutionists and liberal churchmen it was made law in Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union saw the bill as contrary to civil liberties and offered legal help to any schoolteacher challenging the law.

Entrance to mine closed in 1924, which resulted in economic problems for Dayton (I had a delightful walk there)


What happened next is slapstick comedy. Dr. George Rappleyea, a mine Manager, who attended a modernist Methodist church, read in the Chattanooga Times on May 4 of the ACLU’s offer of legal help. The most credible version of the legend says he hurried to Robinson’s drugstore and suggested getting publicity for Dayton. With seven others, including several attorneys, he obtained support from the ACLU. They then called in the high school’s science teacher and football coach, John Scopes and Rappleyea asked him if he had been teaching from Hunter’s Civic Biology. When he admitted his felony Robinson told him, “Then you’ve been violating the law” and then asked, “John, would you be willing to stand for a test case?” The die was cast.


Scopes was not a radical and taught physics, math, and football rather than biology. Like his father he was agnostic. He preferred sport to politics and occasionally attended  Dayton’s Methodist church. The following day, affront-page article in the Banner carried the story how George Rappleyea was prosecuting a teacher for violating state law. Anyone reading that the prosecution was acting for the ACLU would have known it was not an ordinary criminal case. Many Tennesseans did not appreciate Dayton’s publicity stunt.

Scope’s lodgings



The preliminary hearing took place on May 9 for action in August. The prosecutors included two local attorneys Sue (a man) and Herbert Hicks along with Bryan, though he had not pursued law for thirty years. According to Larson, this changed the whole issue from a narrow constitutional test to one where evolution as well as Scopes was on trial. The ACLU’s hopes for a test case were dashed again when Clarence Darrow offered to duel Bryan. Darrow, who was then sixty-eight, is best described as an atheistic pugilist of considerable notoriety, which had increased after his successful defense of the Leopold-Loeb case, when Darrow saved two from death by appealing to psychological determinism. The historian Will Herberg described him as ‘the last of the ‘village atheists’ on a national scale’. The humanist Edwin Mimms from Vanderbilt University wryly commented, “When Clarence Darrow is put forth as the champion of the forces of  enlightenment to fight the battle for scientific knowledge, one feels almost persuaded to become a Fundamentalist.”

The ACLU tried to displace Darrow as defense lawyer, but Scopes wanted him. The trial began on July 10, with five hundred visitors from the media. With America’s finest journalists present, including H. L. Mencken, the trial became a media event and dominated the national  newspapers for a week. Judge Raulstonarrived at 8.30 a.m. with a Bible and statute book and as temperatures were set to top 100 degrees he allowed attorneys to dispense with coats and ties. He was followed by the defense, Darrow, Malone and Neal, and then Scopes and Rappleyea. At nine o’clock Bryan entered with the other prosecutors to great applause. The court opened with an “interminable” prayer punctuated by amens. Shortly before noon a thousand people left the stifling courtroom, to find four steers being barbecued. After lunch the jury was selected and the venire men chosen were fundamentalist inclined ,which Mencken did not regard as impartial. After that court was adjourned for the weekend and most visitors headed to the Great Smoky Mountains to escape the heat, while Bryan preached at Dayton’s Southern Methodist church.

The Courthouse,Dayton




Me in the dock


And by his statue



On Monday the court was refilled to capacity and business began. The defense challenged the constitutionality of the antievolution statute to quash the indictment. Neal and Hays began the defense so that Darrow could close dramatically. Hays compared the statute to a law against  Copernicanism claiming that “Evolution is as much a scientific fact as the Copernican theory. McKenzie and Stewart took up the prosecution. Then Darrow took the floor and argued that the antievolution law was illegal as it established a particular religious viewpoint in public schools. Darrow’s speech was electric and Mencken wrote that “It was not designed for reading but for hearing.” Responses to the speech were varied, some hissed (morons to Mencken) and others applauded. Court resumed next morning only to be adjourned due to power failure, which prevented Judge Raulston from preparing his ruling on the motion to quash the indictment.

Wednesday was the hottest day and during lunchtime Scopes went swimming in a mountain pool with two of the prosecutors, Wallace Haggard and William Bryan Jr. and returned late.

A local river


That afternoon the defence’s first witness, the zoologist Maynard M. Metcalf, was called and Darrow prevented Scopes from taking the stand, because he was not, in fact, a biology teacher and that would collapse the whole trial. Metcalf was an Oberlin graduate and also taught a college-age Sunday-school class. Darrow persuaded Metcalf to explain evolution. The next day William Bryan Jr. opened for the state. Hays followed, to be answered by Bryan Sr., who rose to the occasion with an hour-long attack on teaching evolution, followed by Malone with an appeal for freedom. Stewart was last and put the case for statutory interpretation rather than testimony for or against evolution.

The next day the court met for an hour before closing for the weekend. Monday was crunch time and every seat was filled by 8.30a.m.. when proceedings began with prayer aimed at the defense. Hays read out  the statements of the witnesses for the defense, eight scientists, three of whom sought to reconcile evolution with Genesis, as did the four religious witnesses, including Shailer Mathews. Then Hays summoned Bryan who stated, “They came here to try revealed religion. I have come here to defend it, and they can ask me any questions they please.” As the Nashville Banner reported, “Then began an examination which has few, if any, parallels in court history. In reality, it was a debate between Darrow and Bryan on Biblical history, on agnosticism and belief in revealed religion.”

They jousted over Jonah and the whale and the long day of Joshua. When it came to Genesis 1, Bryan demonstrated his acceptance of the Day-Age interpretation, resulting in the following exchange:

Have you any idea of the length of these periods?

No; I don’t

Do you think that the sun was made on the fourth day?


And they had evening and morning without the sun?

I am simply saying it is a period.

They had evening and morning for four periods without the sun, do you think?

I believe in creation as there told, and if I am not able to explain it I will accept it.

This gave the defense what they wanted in that as Hays said, “Bryan had conceded that he interpreted the Bible.” Scopes reported in his autobiography that, “The Biblical literalists…were…disappointed that Bryan gave ground” (Larson, 1997, p. 189) This part of Bryan’s testimony was altered in Inherit the Wind. Soon afterwards Raulston adjourned for the  day and Darrow’s supporters were jubilant. Next day the jury was sent out after Darrow had suggested that the judge should instruct them  to find the defendant guilty. They did and recommended a $100 fine. The following Sunday afternoon Bryan died in his sleep after preaching in this church



Then the Scopes trial took on a life of its own. Soon the Scopes legend began to grow, beginning ith the publication of F.L. Allen’s Only Yesterday:an Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties in 1931 and culminating with the release of the film version of Inherit the Wind in 1960. As Larson wrote, “Far more than what happened in Dayton, these two works shaped how later generations would come to think of the Scopes trial.” Allen intended to give a racy account of the Roaring Twenties, but  altered what happened at the trial, incorrectly stating, “Bryan affirmed his belief that the world was createdin 4004 BC.” By doing this Allen wrongly persuaded future generations that not only was Bryan a six-day creationist but that this was a central tenet of fundamentalism. As Larson points out Allen made many distortions, which became the Scopes legend. Larson then names other writers who adopted Allen’s account such as the historians Furniss and Hofstadter.

Hofstadter drew parallels with the Scopes trial and McCarthyism in his Anti-intellectualism in American life, which is what the liberal left wanted to hear. This association with McCarthyism inspired Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play, Inherit the Wind, in which anti-evolutionism was not the danger but McCarthyism instead, as they felt that McCarthyism paralleled some aspects of the Scopes trial. When I first saw the film some thirty years ago I thought it was a docudrama of the Scopes trial. Whatever the intentions of the playwrights, this is how most viewers perceive it as it molded their understanding of 1920s anti-evolutionism. The characters in Inherit the Wind have their counterparts in the Scopes trial, but much was changed for artistic and political reasons. Prominent in the film is the fundamentalist mob singing about the old-time religion. Bryan was metamorphosed into Brady, a mindless reactionary demagogue who told Drummond (Darrow) that creation took  place “on the 23rd of Octoberin the Year 4004BC at  -uh,at 9 a.m!” Brady collapsed and died at the end of his closing speech. At the time critics savaged the play and the movie and by 1967 Joseph Wood Knutch could say, “Most people who have any notions about the trial get them from the play Inherit the Wind, or from the movie.”

The response today of YEC leaders to the Scopes trial exposes the ambiguity of the participants. The Bryan of Inherit the Wind would be more to their liking. Henry Morris wrote, “Probably the most serious mistake made by Bryan on the stand was to insist repeatedly that he had implicit confidence in the infallibility of Scripture, but then to hedge on the geological questions, relying on the day/age theory. George McCready Price had warned him against this very thing. Darrow, of course, made the  most of it, ridiculing the idea of people claiming to believe the Bible was inspired when its meaning was so flexible that one could make it say whatever he wished!” (Morris, 1984, p. 66). Writing in 1942, Price complained that Bryan had “conceded the entire geological arguments to evolutionists, with the pitiful results now known to all the world” (Numbers, 1992, p. 99).

The Australian, Carl Weiland, reviewing Larson’s book also criticized Bryan for accepting geological time. He wrote “In fact, it may surprise many readers to know that the ‘Great Commoner,’ as the populist Bryan was affectionately known, would have felt perfectly comfortable with any of today’s ‘intelligent design’ theorists and long-age creationists. In a pinch, he would have been able to cope with some form of theistic evolution, it seems so long as Adam’s soul remained divinely created. . . .And of course, it is well-known that in the witness box, the wily Darrow showed up the inconsistencies in Bryan’s acceptance of millions of years in the face of the Bible’s clear statements on six days. Not to mention that Bryan, not having a clear stand or understanding on the historicity of Genesis, had no coherent response to the question of Cain’s wife, either. The message this gave people was quite clear—if even this great ‘champion’ stumbled in the face of ‘science,’ Christians had no answers, and the Bible could not be trusted.”3

It is almost impossible to consider the Scopes trial dispassionately as it is hard to separate myth from history. Many see it as the precursor of the recent YEC debates and education bills. In one sense it is, but there are vital differences. In 1925 the contentious issue was the teaching of evolution, but not geology. Today the intention is to reject both evolution and geology.

Perhaps the real victor of the Scopes trial was George McCready Price, who is the grandfather of modern creationism, to whom we now turn.

P.S. A link to the transcripts of the trial http://darrow.law.umn.edu/trials.php?tid=7

Thanks to Gary Hurd for giving the link


Bryan College, which has recently purged OECs , i.e. those believing the same as Bryan. (Had to correct this as originally said YECs.) They is a distinct irony in that Bryan College is YEC wheres as Bryan was OEC and open to evolution except for humans.

P.S. One aspect I have not mentioned, and rarely is discussed is that many evolutionary biologists, in common with many intellectual Britons, were eugenicists. This gave the Dayton creationists some sense of having the moral high ground, though the science was wrong.

Evolution and religion in Britain from 1859 to 2013

This is the longer English version of the chapter  Evolution und Religion im Heimatland Darwins; An account of harmony and conflict published in Streitfall Evolution , Bohlau Verlag , 2017   ed by Angela Schwarz

It is from a conference at Siegen Univ in 2009

  • Introduction; Setting the scene for 150 years of conflict and harmony over Darwin.


Figure 1. Street art in Shrewsbury painted on a hoarding in 2009 (photo; M.B. Roberts)


In many accounts of the decline of religion, Darwin, Marx and Freud are portrayed as the most important challenges to Christianity. Here only Darwin will be considered in the British context. To deal with the religious reaction to evolution since 1859 when he published The Origin of Species, both the history and the perception of that history needs to be considered. The perception is that the Darwin and religion are in conflict and are mutually exclusive. However right from the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, numbers of British Christians wholeheartedly accepted evolution. These included both clergy and scientists.

To suggest that religion and evolution can exist in harmony, as my title does, runs counter to common perception, but from 1858, when the joint Darwin-Wallace paper was published, evolution and religion has been marked by BOTH conflict and harmony. This brief chapter attempts to show both the harmony and conflict between evolution and religion since 1859. It will show that after a brief period of conflict, an uneasy harmony reigned until a few decades ago, when Creationism has caused much conflict both within churches[1] and in the wider society, especially over education.

To deny either conflict or harmony creates serious historical distortions, and some historical perceptions have needed modifying and the most important have been made by historians in the last 40years as the “Darwin Industry” has grown up. To many the conflict began with the belief that the earth was created some 6000 years ago as is apparent from a simple reading of the Bible. In 1656 the Irish Archbishop, James Ussher, published Annelas Veteris Testamenti in which he asserted that the earth was created in 4004BC[2]. This date was later included in many English bibles. By 1700 some naturalists, like John Ray, were suggesting that the earth was far older. A hundred years later most educated people reckoned the earth to be millions of years old, but thought that species were fixed and that humans were the final and separate creation of a few thousand years ago. In 1859 Darwin published The Origin of Species, in which he took the vast age of the earth as a fact and argued that all species, animal and plant, had descended from a common ancestor, and hinted that humans had also evolved, and many have perceived that there was a major conflict of science and Christianity in Britain. The perception is largely due to writers at the end of the 19th century, who claimed that Christianity had long been in conflict with science. The classic work is by Andrew Dickson White[3] writing in 1896. Recent historians have all but debunked his work[4], but its influence still informs much general understanding of the reception of Darwin, which is perceived as a major conflict between science and Christianity.

  1. Responses to Darwin from 1859 to the end of the First World War

In 1859 the response to Darwin was very varied. Some biologists were quickly convinced but not geologists and physicists. It is simplistic to see the controversy as one between scientists and Christians, as some Christians were able scientists as was the botanist Charles Babington of Cambridge, who was soon convinced. But the Revd Adam Sedgwick, who taught Darwin geology, totally rejected evolution as did Lord Kelvin. Virtually nobody, Christian or not, was against Darwin on the grounds of a literal Genesis as the astronomer the Rev Richard Main wrote in 1860, “No educated person today believes in creation in 4004BC”[5].

The problems Christians had with Darwin were not over the age of the earth, but over Design and a concern that the animal descent of humans destroyed any kind of morality, and weakened, if not destroyed, the doctrine of atonement. And now we consider the iconic Victorian “confrontation” of evolution and Christianity – the Huxley–Wilberforce debate at the British Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Oxford in June 1860. This has been related many times often with non-historical embellishments. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was well-informed scientifically and during the 1820s he attended Buckland’s geology lectures for three years[6]. Just before the BAAS meeting Wilberforce had written a long review of The Origin for the Quarterly Review[7], which gave the standard scientific objections to evolution concluding with a brief theological comment. This was to be expected partly due to his friendship with Sir Richard Owen, with whom he had probably discussed Darwin at length. Contemporary reports of the debate, which was the result of a paper by Draper, describe how Huxley responded to Wilberforce’s questioning of Darwin’s theory , but according to Hooker in a letter to Darwin[8], Huxley could not be heard and so Hooker felt obliged to speak. It seems that both gave a good showing and that Wilberforce was not humiliated by Huxley, but gave telling arguments against Darwin. 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 childrens’ novel The Water Babies, where the Rev Charles 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.”[9] 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. Kingsley was an Anglican vicar who was an early convert to evolution and was quoted in the 6th edition


Figure 2. Caricature of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce from Vanity Fair


What is less well-known is that a few days earlier the Rev Frederick Temple (1821-1902), preached a sermon at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford showing his appreciation of The Origin of Species. He epitomised the learned and liberal Anglican and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1896. He gave the Bampton Lectures on The Relations between Religion and Science in 1884. Temple had a good understanding of contemporary science and out of his eight lectures, two were affirmative of evolution. He discussed the creation accounts of Genesis which he saw as allegory and finished by writing, “To conclude, the doctrine of Evolution leaves the argument for an intelligent Creator and Governor of the world stronger than it was before.”[10] 122

Rather than give a catalogue of Christians and note their beliefs, these two leading churchmen personify how British Christians reacted to Darwinian evolution until about 1970.  Both Wilberforce and Temple were well-informed scientifically and had much in common. Neither held to a literal Bible with a creation in six days as both were convinced by geologists finding of the vast indefinable, age of the earth. The difference was over evolution, which Wilberforce thought had serious theological consequences, but Temple did not. Wilberforce opposed evolution for variety of reasons. Though of very conservative beliefs, Wilberforce did not take Genesis literally. This needs stressing as 21st Creationists take Genesis literally. Apart from following the scientific wisdom of his day, he also opposed evolution on religious grounds. First he thought that evolution undermined the moral uniqueness of humans in contrast to any animal, hence his possibly ahistorical quip when he asked Huxley if he was descended from an ape on his father’s or mother’s side. To him if human responsibility were undermined there could be no sin and then Jesus’s death as atonement was meaningless. Evolution thus destroyed Christianity. This was, and is, the chief religious objection to evolution. Though he allowed for geological time his interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 on the Fall were still fairly literalist. Temple was more liberal than Wilberforce and thought Genesis 3 was an allegory so was not so concerned by such objections. In one sense the difference between Wilberforce and Temple has been played out by successive Christians during the last 150 years.

In 1860 most Christians agreed with Wilberforce rather than Temple. Before long most educated Christians concluded that some kind of evolution had occurred and that it did not challenge an orthodox Christian faith. Most did not follow Darwin on Natural Selection but adopted a teleological evolution which encouraged belief in a divine being guiding evolution. This was made easier as most scientists adopted a Lamarckism rather than Darwinian natural selection[11]. Further, most Christians, and also A. R Wallace insisted that God creatively intervened at three points in geological time, viz the creation of life, sentient creatures and, lastly, humans. This was a way of safeguarding God’s direct creative activity and effectively neutralised potential conflict, especially as it protected a non-animal origin of humans.

However Wilberforce and Temple represent the educated Christian and most of those who wrote on the subject had a university education at a time when few did. Short of giving a comprehensive list and discussion of the many writers on evolution and religion, it is best to summarise the situation by stating that most of the more liberal Anglicans and protestants followed Temple. As for the more conservative and evangelical, there was a diversity of opinion[12]. Some did accept evolution, but many did not, though they accepted geological time. Their publications would scarcely have been read by most of the population though some did write for popular church press. Thus when we look for actual examples in the latter decades of the 19th century we will find that this situation was found among the leaders of all British mainstream denominations, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist or Congregational.

Despite the apparent dominance of Scientific Naturalists such as Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), several leading scientists were devout Christians who wrote on the compatibility of Evolution and Christianity. Sir George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903)  a mathematician and physicist and recently retired President of the Royal Society gave the influential Gifford Lectures (an annual series of lectures on Natural Theology) for 1891 and 1893 on Natural Theology and argued for an evolution in which God had intervened to create life and then man.[13].

Even those who opposed evolution still accepted geological time. It can also been seen in the nascent Fundamentalism, which was largely American, with some British involvement. To counter Modernism an American businessman paid for the publication of a series of small paperbacks known as The Fundamentals in 1910. Most articles were American, and showed an ambivalence to evolution. Even so two British articles by the Scot James Orr, show that to early Fundamentalists an acceptance of evolution was permissible.[14]

As well as the mainstream churches there were many independent chapels, which were very evangelical. As both the pastors and their flocks had little higher education, most had little interest in intellectual matters and focussed on the death of Christ and the need for personal faith rather than science and evolution.  One of the few who considered evolution was the Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. He was pastor of a large church in London with thousands in his congregation, He had no formal education but was widely read and his sermons are still published today. He had a very strict view of the Bible and his few writings on the relation of Genesis to science are ambivalent. To consider two, one accepts geological findings and the other insists on a six day creation, but he totally rejected evolution. Spurgeon’s influence on evolution has not been researched[15]. Suffice it to say that there was an anti-evolutionism in Britain as well as the more conciliatory views of the mainstream churches.


Figure 3. Charles Darwin as a monkey, reflecting popular (mis)understandings of Darwin’s theory

In the second half of the nineteenth century there were very few who argued for a six day creation some 6000 years ago, even among evangelicals. This needs the qualification that this only refers to those who published books or tracts. It is more than likely that many church members would have been sure that the earth was only thousands of years old, but did so out of ignorance rather than conviction.

Evolution had ceased to be an issue for most educated Christians by the time Queen Victoria died. As a result of Andrew White and Huxley’s Memoirs[16] the conflict thesis took root, and guided perceptions for a 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 from 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.

Man but a worm

 Fig 4.  Caricature of Darwin’s theory in the Punch almanac for 1882, published at the end of 1881 when Darwin had recently published his last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.


Within most churches the perception in 1900 was that there was no conflict with evolution, but there had been a major conflict in 1860. This was enhanced by Huxley’s exaggerations of the initial conflict in 1860. This pervaded much popular thought including secularists

  1. A quiet forty year interlude; 1920-1961

The Victorian era was the highpoint for British churches. They were stronger and more diverse than ever before, but after 1900 they began to decline both in numbers and influence. That has continued into this century. As far as Darwin and religion is concerned the first two-thirds of the 20th century may be summed up as one of apathetic harmony! In Britain evolution was not a concern to religion as most Christians had made their peace and the majority of the population was simply disinterested. Further after 1920 Evangelicals, who were most inclined to take Genesis literally, had declined in all the mainstream churches and as the general ethos was moderately liberal most churches regarded Genesis as allegory and thus removed any potential conflict with evolution. In mainstream churches evangelicals were a tiny minority and became rather pietistic. This is in contrast to the USA where numbers of evangelicals were considerable and in the Fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s adopted anti-evolution, which resulted in “monkey laws” in many states and the Scopes Trial in Tennessee during 1925. Nothing like that happened in Britain.

The moderate Anglican tradition is represented by William Temple (1881-1944), son of Frederick Temple who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-44 and Canon Charles Raven, theology professor at Cambridge (1885-1964). It may be summed up in the report of the church of England Doctrine Commission of 1938, which stated, ‘No objection to the theory of evolution can be drawn from the two Creation narratives in Gen. i. and ii., since it is generally agreed among educated Christians that these are mythological in origin, and their value is symbolic rather than historical.’[17] However against this were the radical views of Bishop Barnes (1874-1953) of Birmingham. His masterly survey Scientific Theory and Religion (1933) demonstrated his grasp of physics and also dealt with matters biological. His section on belief evades various issues like Original Sin. Later in sermons he said that Christians had not considered fully the implications of evolution for faith in regard to Sin and the atonement. He tended to be ignored and many Christians adopted a Barthian theology, following the work of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, which evaded the issue by keeping science and faith separate. Barnes made no headway, probably because his liberal theology denied the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Thus from the twenties to the sixties, most Christians preferred the teleological and “lamarckian” evolution of Raven, which he expounded in several books like Evolution and the Christian concept of God (1936).

One writer who faced the religious implications of neo-Darwinism was David Lack (1910-1973) whose book Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief [18]was published in 1957. Lack was a Cambridge ornithologist and after visiting the Galapagos in 1938-9 wrote on Darwin’s Finches. In the thirties he became a Christian (Anglican) and thought deeply about the relation of his faith to his science. The evolutionary biologist Arthur Cain (1921-1999) remarked of him “Lack was the only religious man I knew at that period (1930-1950) who did not allow his religion to dictate his view of natural selection.” Cain said many Oxford or Cambridge biologists had “vitalistic or perhaps theistic attitudes”[19].

Lack was a questioning Christian and his preface suggested that most regarded the dispute over evolution as finished “because they have not accepted the full implications of evolution by natural selection, or alternatively of Christianity.”[20] He was critical of those who rejected selection in favour of Lamarckism be they Henri Bergson, Prof James Gray of Cambridge or clergy like Raven. His final chapter The Continuing Conflict attempts to lay bare the issues. He gave ten conclusions, which accept Neo-darwinism but he did not accept that science can account for morality, truth or beauty, which has come to the fore recently. He concluded by saying that one critic said that he had got the combatants into the ring, whereas his intention was to assess Darwinism in relation to faith and unfaith. Lack has been one of the few Christian writers who have tried to face the implications of Natural Selection in denying a providential and caring God.

British evangelicals had little antagonism to evolution, unlike those of the 21st century. This is because the Keswick Movement dominated evangelicals until about 1970 and stressed personal piety over doctrinal thought. Questions of science were sidelined, or regarded as long settled. If science was mentioned there was a bland acceptance of geology and some kind of evolution.[21] The leading evangelical scientist was Sir Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945) who invented the thermionic valve in 1904. His achievements in telecommunications physics were immense and he later became an evangelical apologist. Fleming accepted deep time and the evolution of animals but opposed human evolution.  He argued this in several books, which elicited responses from the anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955), (a supporter of Piltdown Man, the famous anthopological hoax of 1912[22]), who considered Fleming to reject much of science. By 1935 Fleming was more strident in opposing evolution and in response Keith wrote Darwinism and its Critics (1935).

Other evangelicals opposed evolution more forcibly, notably Bernard Acworth (1885– 1963), Douglas Dewar (1875–1957), and Lewis Merson Davies (1882–1955), all of whom had reasonable scientific credentials. Dewar questioned evolution on moral grounds, doubted radiometric age-dating, and wrote Difficulties of the Evolution (1931) and More Difficulties of the Evolution Theory (1938) which was a reply to the palaeontologist Morley Davies’s Evolution and its Modern Critics (1937). In 1932 the Evolution Protest Movement was founded, with Ambrose Fleming as president. The EPM did not make much headway and after WWII faded from public view, until it became Creationist and renamed as the Creation Science Movement in 1980. These opponents of evolution made little impact. [23]

Evangelicals began to take more interest in science in the 1940s through the instigation of Oliver Barclay (1919–). In 1942 Barclay, who had a Ph.D. in biology from Cambridge, was appointed to the Inter Varsity Fellowship (IVF), the evangelical group working among students. Over the next 54 years he had an immense influence in the IVF and the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship, which became Christians in Science in 1988. In 1944 Barclay wrote an article on Evolution and Christianity, in which he made a distinction between evolution as a scientific theory, which he accepted, and evolution as a world-view, a crucial distinction. The RSCF began in a small way in 1944 and has had a considerable influence in the Christian understandings of science and religion since then. From the late 50s a growing number of books were produced by evangelical and non-evangelical scientists. Notable among evangelicals were books by Clarke and Mackay. The RSCF was renamed Christians in Science in 1988, when they joined forces with the Victoria Institute to publish the journal Science and Christian Belief. In recent years it has attracted a good number of Christian scientists within Britain, many of whom are leaders in their scientific specialism. By the 1960s most Christian bodies in Britain saw little controversial in evolution, and the change that was to happen was unexpected. However in the 60s the concerns of both David Lack and the Evolution Protest Movement came to fruition.

4.1. Evolution and Religion in Darwin’s home country, a time of rising controversy. (1961-2011)

After the launch of Sputnik in 1957, space research and finally a man on the moon, the 60s became a decade of science and technology. As well as space, DNA resulted in genetic engineering, and Plate Tectonics changed the earth sciences. Parallel with the accolade of science scepticism of science grew expressing itself in the environmental movement and opposition to nuclear energy, along with New Age style movements. This was not uniquely British. Along with this there were two changes which would flower later. The first was a renewed interest in science and religion in both the USA and Britain epitomised by the work of R S Barbour, (American) and Arthur Peacocke (British) building on previous interest. Secondly in the 60s anti-evolutionism came to the fore for the second time in the 20th century in the USA. It was triggered off by the publication of The Genesis Flood[24] in the USA in 1961.


Figure 5. Image of the cover of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb (1961) which kick-started modern creationism

In the wake of this there was a greater public interest in science, along with the publication of popular scientific books and television programmes. The majority had no concern with religion, but some, especially when they touched on evolution, could be quite atheistic.

Unlike the time of the Scopes Trial, anti-evolutionism was exported to Britain and arrived in 1969 with the British publication of The Genesis Flood. Initially it was unnoticed both by the wider society and the churches, but slowly made its presence felt. The rapidity of the change is seen by the fact that Creationism was unknown in geology departments in 1968 and had become a concern by 1973[25] Apart from the sale of American creationist books in Christian bookshops and the formation of creationist societies, of which only the Biblical Creation Society has survived, virtually nothing hit the media.

In the last half century the whole scene of evolution and religion has been totally transformed in Britain, as it has throughout the world. As well as scientific work there has been an ever-increasing of popular writing on biology and evolution in particular; Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape (1967) and the writings of Richard Dawkins starting with The Selfish Gene in 1976. The religious significance of Dawkins’ books was not their science but how they spelt out perceived implications of neo-darwinism as atheism. Dawkins’ works became stridently anti-religious after 1990, with The Devil’s Chaplain (2003) and The God Delusion (2006), which was an attack on all religion, though The Greatest Show on Earth (2009) gave a good account of evolution prefaced with a justified diatribe against creationism[26]. The weakness of Dawkins that he tends to regard all religion as anti-science and not just Fundamentalism. Dawkins has come to be the leading atheist in Britain and almost a hate figure for some Christians, who often regard his atheism as stemming from evolution.

Before Creationism and Dawkins became popular in the 1980s, evolution caused little controversy in the churches or the wider society. Mainstream and most evangelicals accepted evolution and this epitomised by was The Phenomenon of Mani by Fr Teilhard de Chardin S.J. (1881-1955), the French Jesuit palaeoanthropologist. It was published in English in 1959 and was warmly received by Charles Raven at a time when little was written on science and religion. De Chardin had developed a mystical synthesis of evolution and Christianity, which chimed in with the prevalent liberal theology of the day. De Chardin’s approach was not acceptable to evangelicals with their views of Christ and the atonement. Two of the few writers on science and religion in this period were the biochemist,later Archbishop of York, John Hapgood and the priest-physicist Grenville Yarnold (The Moving Image 1966). Both touched on evolution and regarded it as read. Among evangelicals the dominant view was similar with various publications of members of the RSCF. Among theologians and clergy, few questioned evolution including most evangelicals and thus accepted evolution and interpreted Genesis in that light.

From about 1970 there was a rising interest in science and religion and a prominent writer was the biochemist Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006), who was ordained to the Anglican ministry in 1971 and began to write profusely on science and religion. He gave the Bampton Lectures at Oxford in 1978 resulting in Creation and the World of Science[27] which dealt with the implications of “Darwinism” for a liberal Christian. His book illustrates the complexity of the relation of science and theology and the problems for a layman. Peacocke was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2001 and with Polkinghorne, was one of the most significant Christian thinkers on science in the late 20th century. He was concerned that many considered Christianity to be hostile to science and in 1986 founded the Society of Ordained Scientists. His most accessible writing on evolution is his 1997 lecture Welcoming the ‘disguised friend’ – Darwinism and divinity and the quest for Christian credibility. The title is based on a quote from Aubrey Moore writing in 1891. From reading and listening to Peacocke, one gained the impression that he regarded science as more authoritative than the Bible, reflecting his liberal theology. He also had no tolerance for the growing creationism in Britain.

Sir John Polkinghorne (1931-), a cosmologist has been of a similar significance for science and religion, who has written extensively on science and religion. As a cosmologist his focus has been on the relationship of cosmology and physics to theology but sees no problem with evolution and also likewise rejected creationism. Theologically he is more conservative than Peacocke, and has a robust view of miracles and the resurrection.

The leading Christian evolutionist is Simon Conway Morris (1951-) professor of palaeontology at Cambridge. He worked on the Burgess shale fauna and specialises in the Cambrian Explosion. His book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003) deals with evolutionary convergence and is involved in a project to investigate the scientific ramifications of convergence with a web-site,[28] funded by the John Templeton Foundation, indicating its religious significance. With convergence having a sense of direction it is possible to see Morris as re-introducing teleology. Morris makes no secret of his faith and is a regular speaker at the Faraday Institute[29], which is based at St Edmund College, Cambridge, which organizes courses of highly competent speakers on aspects of science and religion. Morris is a strong apologist for Christianity and in March 2009 he was the opening speaker at the “Biological Evolution Facts and Theories Conference” held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Interest in evolution and religion goes far beyond the churches. In recent decades history of science has thrived and within that, there is great interest in Darwin and the interaction of evolution and religion, appearing in Moore and Desmond’s biography[30], studies like Livingstone’s Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, and those by Peter Bowler. One could also add developing understandings of geology and religion seen in Rudwick’s books and publications like Religion and Geology[31], based on a conference at the Bishop’s Seminary atEichstädt in 2007.The general tenor of these historical works is to reject the conflict thesis of White. However that is still repeated in popular works of religion and science and reduces the interaction of science and religion to one of polarized conflict.

In recent decades the media has been more interested in religion and evolution, often on conflicts over Creationism. Very often, both in articles and TV programmes, a “normal” scientist is pitted against a Creationist. Part of this is to present “both sides” of the argument but it is rarely said that most scientists accept evolution as do most churches.

However, most people simply do not care about evolution or religion. At a popular level many, Christian or not, are uneasy at the idea of being “descended from monkeys” and within churches there is often a folk fundamentalism which believes Genesis literally. As a Christian minister, you may encounter this often, but there has been little research on this[32]. This cuts across people of all levels of education. Within the churches unease is not limited to the relatively uneducated layperson but also qualified clergy.

4.2. Evangelicals and Evolution

Evangelicals make up a very significant minority in the British religious scene. Since the fifties the evangelical movement in Britain has grown considerably. Much was due to the influence of the American preacher Billy Graham (1918-) and his crusades in the fifties and sixties. There is a large evangelical minority in all mainstream protestant churches. The more literalist Pentecostal and conservative groupings have also grown rapidly, with a large influx from West Africa.

This change is seen in that during the sixties evolution was not controversial but since then creationism has grown since then and now is the dominant view among British and American evangelicals. Despite media coverage many evangelicals accept evolution. Even so both clergy and laity are split between creationism and evolution, with those in mainstream churches more likely to accept evolution and those in independent churches favouring creationism.

Many evangelical scientists belong to Christian in Science, which is a semi-professional organisation for evangelical scientists among whom are several leading scientists, including Sir John Houghton. former chair of the IPCC, several FRSs, and numbers of university and school teachers. The high quality of their work can be seen on their website[33] and journal Christians in Science. Creationist scientists tend not to be in CIS and support creationist groups like the Biblical Creation Society. The CIS covers the whole range of science and thus evolution is only a minor interest. However it has been controversial as any criticism of creationism is objected to by some. Thus the CIS have unsuccessfully steered a middle course as the publication of Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution (2008) demonstrated. He is a biochemist with a senior position at Cambridge University and accepts evolution. Together with R White, a geophysicist, he is co-director of The Faraday Institute at Cambridge. Alexander is an evangelical, yet his book drew much invective from creationists for his strong espousal of evolution and the book edited by Norman Nevin (Should Christians embrace evolution?) (IVP 2009) was published to counter Alexander’s ideas, claiming that they were new among evangelicals. However that is despite the fact that many evangelicals have accepted geological time since 1800 and evolution since 1860[34], Alexander has been wrongly accused of radically changing evangelical theology by his arguments for evolution. In one sense he was repeating ideas of over a century earlier!


Figure 6. Images of the covers of the two most significant recent evangelical books on evolution

 4.3. The influx of creationism in Britain

As mentioned earlier Creationism in Britain effectively started with the British publication of The Genesis Flood in Britain in 1968. During the 1970s creationism grew and several creationist societies were formed like the Biblical Creation Society. By the time of the Arkansas trial in 1981, which outlawed the teaching of creationism in Arkansas schools, creationism had gained a foothold in British churches and received much media coverage. During the 1980s leading American creationists gave lecture tours in Britain. Initially creationist literature was American, but during the 80s British writers began to publish, notably Edgar Andrews (1932-) and Monty White (1945-). Today numbers of Creationists, many with scientific training are active in speaking and writing. They include professors of engineering like Andy MacIntosh (1952-) and Stuart Burgess (1962-).

By 1990 creationism had was the norm for independent evangelicals, and was boosted by visits of Ken Ham. Creationism has influenced Mainstream churches and about 5% of Anglican clergy are creationist. Within the Anglican Church there have been no directives on creationism, though many bishops acknowledge its wrongness. In 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that creationism is based on a “category mistake” by misunderstanding the purpose of the Bible, but it seems that bishops are afraid to tackle the problem due to other difficulties the church faces. Many do not understand why part of the church has rejected science. A further paradox is that those who are most effective at promoting creationism are qualified scientists. The creationist movement presents itself as orthodox and traditional Christianity, resulting in Christian “evolutionists” being demonised as compromising their faith. In part the appeal of both creationism and Intelligent Design is a reaction to the scientific atheism of Dawkins.

The growth of creationism in the last four decades has left many mystified. The reasons for its growth may be hard to understand, but the tactics are not.   First, creationists have benefited from the implicit biblical literalism of many Christians compounded by a lack of scientific knowledge, especially geology and evolutionary biology. Secondly enough clergy were won over, who then taught creationism to their congregations. Thirdly creationism has become the dominant view on science both in evangelical publishing and Christian broadcasting. Fourthly, great use has been made of creationist scientists and engineers, who are assumed to be authoritative in all branches of science. Few see through a professor of engineering grossly misrepresenting geology. Lastly, they have made use of contemporary ideas of culture and education to claim that the teaching of creationism as science is right as it supports critical thinking and a liberal perspective.


  1. Creeping Creationism in British Schools

The most public face of creationism has been in education, mirroring the American experience. This became apparent in 2002 after the Emmanuel Gateshead affair. It is difficult to estimate how much creationism is taught in British schools, but apart from independent (creationist) Christian and Islamic faith schools, creationism is taught as science in some state schools. It remains largely hidden because one cannot go round schools and ask the question outright and also a teacher teaching creationism would be wary of disclosing the fact.

First, the fifty independent faith schools do teach creationism as science for religious reasons. They often use American creationist material like Accelerated Christian Education. Secondly, several state secondary schools effectively teach creationism but claim to follow the National Curriculum. The first state school to teach YEC was probably Emmanuel College, Gateshead, a Christian foundation formed in 1992. In April 2002 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (the leading creationist organisation)[35] led a meeting at the school. As it was a case of hiring out the school hall it was not relevant, but it took on a media-life of its own. However it became clear that creationism was taught as science. Richard Dawkins, the Bishop of Oxford and others called for a review but a government inspection supported the school. Some indications had appeared on the Christian Institute website. The head McQuoid made his support of YEC clear and in 2000 The Christian Institute had hosted a lecture series on Christian education, mostly by teachers at Emmanuel Gateshead. Stephen Layfield, head of science lectured on “The Teaching of Science; A Biblical Perspective”. He suggested that the “Principal evidence [for the Flood] is found in the fossil-laden sedimentary rocks, the extensive reserves of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil and gas)…”[36]. This article can be considered a manifesto for creationist teaching of science by arguing that science teachers should question evolution or geological time at every opportunity, and teaching an alternative Creationist opinion. Thirdly, there are examples of creationist teaching within the state system, in a covert way. Numbers of teachers are creationists but short of surveillance one cannot find out what they teach. To teach creationism would be contrary to both government guidelines.

The pressure to teach creationism comes from many different groups, mostly from independent churches, which are involved in groups like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International. However much writing on creationism appears in evangelical magazines, like, Evangelical Times, Evangelicals Today and in Evangelicals Now. The sheer weight of articles over many years has convinced many evangelicals that evolution is bad science and, at the very least, creationism or design should be taught as an alternative.

In September 2006 the group Truthinscience[37] began a public campaign to encourage ‘the critical examination of Darwinism in schools’ and the teaching of “design” schools. They claimed:

We believe that a critical examination of Darwinism and the controversy that surrounds it will enable students to fulfill some of these objectives. …We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.[38]


Abb. x: screenshot from the website?  I tried to get down a screen shot but could not . This is the url

Figure 7 Screenshot of the homepage of Truth in Science http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/home.html The DVD Set in Stone presents arguments fro a young earth and the website gives the impression of being “good” science

Their website scarcely touched on a young earth or Noah’s Flood but the board of advisors were Young Earth Creationists including Prof McIntosh of Leeds and an Anglican vicar. They claimed to be presenting Intelligent Design as an alternative to “Darwinism”. Design is used by creationists today as it is less threatening to the general public than creationism. They declined to affirm their belief that dinosaurs were on the Ark. One cannot determine how successful truthinscience has been in Britain. However, since September 2006 there have been many responses to the teaching of creationism. The concerns of creationists may be seen in Paul Taylor’s book entitled Truth, Lies and Science Education[39], written for the general reader. Taylor claims much science taught in schools is wrong and based on atheistic assumptions. The book is scientifically inaccurate and asserts much science teaching is actually scientism and gives radiometric age-dating as an example. That is simply absurd.

In 2010 another organisation Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) was formed with Alistair Noble as the Director.[40] This claimed that Design was a scientific position and thus ought to be taught. The website material is very ambivalent on the age of the earth, but it is difficult not to see it as a YEC front. C4ID has attracted much criticism especially from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE)[41]. C4ID has attempted to influence scientists and teachers and have had lectures presented by American creationists.

Groups like Truth in Science and C4ID appeal for fairness and to encourage “critical thinking”. However in the push for fairness, there are no demands to teach a flat earth or phlogiston in chemistry. “Critical Thinking” sounds fine, but it is impossible to do that with the misrepresentation of science which is the hallmark of all creationism.

Over the last few years, there have been several official responses. On the official teachers’ website the document GUIDANCE ON THE PLACE OF CREATIONISM AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE LESSONS [42],  emphasized that neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design are scientific theories. Shortly after this in September 2007 the Association for Science Education published a similar statement on Science Education, Intelligent Design and Creationism[43] and stated that it agreed the consensus of science expressed in the Interacademy Panel statement[44]; a global network of the world’s science academies, which gave a statement on the unquestionable scientific consensus of the universe being billions of years old, the earth younger and the evolutionary succession of life, in contrast to creationist opinion that the universe and earth are less than 10,000 years old. This demonstrates that Creationism has minimal support in the scientific community, in fact, a fraction of one per cent.

However there are misunderstandings, as in September 2008 when Michael Reiss resigned as Director of Education at the Royal Society, after some Fellows of the Society protested about his views on tackling creationism in science teaching. At a meeting of the British Association in September 2008, Reiss argued that creationist pupils needed to be treated with respect and that simply attacking creationism was futile as creationism was part of a wider (religious) world view.[45] Reiss is a University Professor and chief executive of the Science Learning Centre in London, who has a Ph.D. in biology. He is also an ordained priest in the Church of England, which some atheists see as compromising his science. It seems that Reiss was misunderstood in his appeal to understand why some students are creationist as he made the obvious statement that understanding the students rather than criticizing them makes better educational sense.

Education and creationism have been in the news in 2011, and these type of issues have continued. In March2011 (and again in March 2012), Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International was invited to St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter to speak to GSCE students in which he gave ‘scientific’ arguments for creationism resulting in a protest by a Christian parent, Laura Horner, a geologist, who set up the CrISIS petition[46], followed by a letter of concern to Gove from several atheists and Christians, asking for clarification. In his reply on 7th July 2011 to Hugo Swire M.P. the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, replied with reference to St Peter’s School, explaining the government position on the teaching of creationist in science lessons;

‘Creationism does not fit with the scientific consensus…: nor does it employ the scientific method. As such it should not be taught as a scientific theory or body of knowledge as it is neither of those things.’

This is one of the few examples where attempts to introduce creationism into schools has come to the public’s notice. It highlights the situation in that teaching creationism is contrary to Government policy, yet it is occurring in British schools

The second case was as a result of the present government’s initiative in the setting up of Free schools, whereby a group can sponsor a new school, which will be independent of the Local Education Authority. A fundamentalist church in Newark, the Everyday Champions Church, was seeking to set up the Everyday Champions School, as a free school in Newark with a creationist basis. The application was turned down in October, as it would have contravened government policy.[47] As of April 2012 there are further applications for creationist Free Schools.

In 2013 a Lanarkshire school sent creationist books home for children. There was an outcry from parents and the BCSE was involved resulting in 18 months of controversy in Scotland and not yet resolved.

TruthBeTold (2)Cart pulled by dinosaur

See also https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/roll-over-nessie-dinosaur-alive-and-well-in-scottish-parliament/ Paul Braterman has several blogs on Scottish creationism.

Throughout the period from April to September 2011, articles on the issue of creationism in schools appeared in major newspapers and in publications like The Times Educational Supplement and the New Scientist. Possibly as a result of this, on 19th September 2011about 30 scientists, including David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Michael Reiss wrote an open letter to the government insisting that creationism should not be taught in schools.[48] Responses have been variable with positive reports in leading newspapers and Ekklesia[49] and strongly negative ones by Creationist groups like CMI[50] and AIG[51]. So far there has been no response from the mainstream churches and little from politicians. It appears that only interested groups , either “evolutionary” scientists or creationists, are concerned about teaching creationism in schools, and that opposition is confined only to those who have an interest i.e. scientists, rather than of concern to a wider society. The fact that such eminent scientists made such an appeal, indicates how seriously they take what they consider to be the threat of creationism to science education and are trying to persuade the wider public. Yet, the teaching of creationism in schools is not considered a serious problem among most people, including church leaders and politicians.

At present, all official opinion is against the teaching of creationism in science lessons, but creationists seek every loophole in official documents and claim that not to teach creationism is to inhibit “critical thinking” and also Human Rights. One thing is clear; Creationism will be at the centre of controversy in ALL churches and in education for many years to come. Similar things are happening on the continent of Europe as they are in America, Brazil and Australia.


One of the problems of discussing Darwin and religion is that to the wider public the whole question of evolution either in relation to religious faith is almost irrelevant. Most people, with or without faith simply are not concerned. This is important as most Britons profess no or little faith. In as far as the media reflects the interests of the population, Darwin and religion are covered at regular intervals in the press and broadcasting. There has been little oral research study. Consumer surveys have produced highly contentious results, but this may be due to interviewees not understanding questions or poorly worded questions..

In 2008 the Christian think-tank Theos commissioned a survey in 2008[52] which reported that 37% of Britons believe the theory of evolution, 32% reckon that 10,000 years for the age of the earth is definitely or probably true and 51% opted for a designer, which may be taken as support for ID. The figures don’t add up and that could reflect the confusion of many on science. The report was written up in a 72 page as Rescuing Darwin[53], which is probably the best survey of evolution and religion in Britain today.

This survey dealt with a wide cross-section of people, but also significant are the attitudes held by the “more educated”, which surface in many areas, especially in the media. However there are limitations to a questionnaire as this only asks for answers to specific questions. There is scope for a study based on the principles of oral history, possibly along the lines of Callum Brown’s The Death of Christian Britain[54], which allowed people to speak in an anecdotal way. However, as responses to Brown’s book have shown, this is not an easy task.

At present, when considering the effect in wider society it is difficult not to be anecdotal and this is often influenced by the perspective of the person reporting the anecdotes. However it is difficult to avoid the anecdotal. For example, once in discussion with a palaeontologist, he insisted that I must believe in a young earth once he realised that I was a Christian minister. This is echoed by many atheists as on the defunct RichardDawkins.Net.[55] On a more local level many schoolteachers seem to assume the conflict of Darwin and Christianity and are genuinely surprised to hear that the church has not taken Genesis literally for centuries.

Among popular serious works, including books by historians, one may find many which state the clash of science and Christianity without evidence. Popular science often does this, as does Winchester’s study on the early geologist William Smith [56]. He claimed that early geologists “were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts”, a statement which is simply wrong.

Further many are confused over evolution and think that it claims that humans are descended from monkeys. Behind that confusion is a concern that evolution means that we are less than human and that raises the proportion of evolution doubters. In part the appeal of both creationism and Intelligent Design is a reaction to the scientific atheism of Dawkins.

A combination of media coverage and creationist activism has resulted in Creationism being seen as the proper Christian understanding of science.



It is easier to give an historical account chronicling the main events than to explain causes. The answer to the question why Darwin causes more problem today than in 1880 cannot be given easily, and there are probably several reasons rather than one. After the “storm in a Victorian teacup” caused by The Origin of Species in 1859, “religion” and Darwin had a remarkably peaceful co-existence until about 1980. If there were any conflicts it usually came from the more militantly atheist, as most (educated) Christians had come to terms with Darwin by 1880. This is because before about 1980 there were virtually no Young Earth Creationists in Britain and none with any education.

To many today, whether Christian or not, Darwin and evolution is a non-issue, however to some it is seen as either a point of conflict or one where harmony should be emphasised. In one sense the situation has not changed since the late 19th century. Further the issues raised by evolution have not changed and ultimately come down to theodicy – asking why there is evil and suffering in the world. That was glossed over by Christian Lamarckians in the mid-twentieth century and Lack stressed that it was an unfaced problem. Today theodicy is at the fore as Creationists insist that all suffering stems from a “historical Fall”, thus necessitating the denial of all geology and evolution as there could, by definition, be no death or suffering before the Fall and thus the earth HAS to be a few thousand years old. Further many atheists question whether a loving God could allow the suffering in the world. Behind all the questions on evolution and science, the age of the earth and biblical interpretations, lies that fundamental and irresolvable question, “Why is there suffering?” Creationists say it came in at the Curse, when Adam took the fruit, evolution says it is written into the universe, which is either impersonally cruel or is given an apparently weak explanation by believers. It goes back to Darwin’s questions in his oft-quoted letter to Asa Gray when he asked about the ichneumon fly.

The main cause is probably the rise of evangelicalism with a more literalist view of scripture and in reaction to renewed teaching of evolution in the USA. A minor cause is a reaction to the reductionist views of atheistic neo-darwinism as exemplified by Richard Dawkins. It is easy to conclude that these are the main factors and that they fed each other, but that seems too simple.

As evolution touches on so many things – the origin and nature of life, human worth, and suffering it is not surprising that when evolution raises radical “religious” questions of meaning and purpose it can become so controversial. In many ways the religious controversy over evolution is similar all over the world whether in the USA, Africa, continental Europe or Britain. However the controversy takes a different form depending on the diverse cultural conditions of each area. Here the British situation reflects both the deeply secular nature of society and an established state church, with a large evangelical minority, which still has great importance to British society. I would suggest that religious controversies over evolution in Britain show more similarities to those in continental Europe and than to the USA. Probably only a few people, if any, who can remember the lack of religious controversy over Darwin half a century ago, would have predicted that on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth his theory caused more controversy than at any time since the publication of The Origin. That will not change in the near future, whether in the life of churches, on in science education.

[1]  There are a wide range of churches in Britain. Roman Catholics are a large minority and the rest have protestant roots. The largest is the Church of England, an Episcopal church. Other significant churches with roots back to the 18th century or earlier are the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist churches. All these survive today and are often term mainstream to distinguish them from the independent evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which have formed in the last fifty years. The older churches often include evangelicals and tend to be more liberal than the new ones.

[2] J.F.C.Fuller; Before the hills in order stood. In The age of the earth: from 4004BC to AD2002. Ed C. L. E. Lewis and S. J. Knell, London 2001.

[3] Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, London 1955 (first published London 1896).

[4] David Lindberg & Ronald Numbers (eds) God and Nature. Berkeley, California. 1986

[5] Samuel Wilberforce. Replies to Essays and Reviews.London 1862, p501.

[6] Buckland Papers; Oxford University Museum

[7] (Samuel Wilberforce), On the Origin of Species. Quarterly Review 1860, 108:225-264.

[8] Hooker to Darwin   2 July 1859

[9] Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies 1863, various editions chap 4.

[10] Frederick Temple, The Relations between Religion and Science, London, MacMillan, 1884; 122

[11] Peter J Bowler The Non-Darwinian Revolution; Baltimore 1988

[12] David Livingstone, D. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1987.

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

Michael Roberts. Evangelicals and Science. Westport, 2008.

[13] G.G. Stokes., Natural Theology, Gifford Lectures 1893, London, 1893

[14] James Orr, “Science and Christian Faith” The Fundamentals, Chicago, Testimony Publishing Company, n.d., vol iv, p102-4.

[15] I probably should have said to my knowledge

[16] See White op.cit.

[17] Doctrine in the Church of England 1938, p45.

[18]  D. Lack, Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief, London 1957.

[19] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Cain

[20]  Lack, Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief, S. 9..

[21]  There has been little research into British evangelical scientists of the period, except for Ronald Numbers, who only considered those who could be termed Creationist. Cf. Ronald Numbers: The Creationists: the evolution of scientific creationism. New York 1992, pp. 140–157..

[22] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltdown_Man

[23] Numbers,  op.cit. chap 8.

[24]  John Whitcomb & Henry Morris. The Genesis Flood. Nutley 1961, London 1969.

[25] This is my observation based on involvement with geology depts. In the late 60s and early 70s

[26] After I wrote a letter supporting it to The Times I received a letter from an Anglican priest enquiring whether I was an atheistic evolutionist. This indicates the hostility to evolution felt by some Christians

[27]  Arthur Peacocke. Creation and the World of Science. Oxford 1978

[28]  details, URL: www.mapoflife.org (Stand: 15.03.2012).

[29] www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday

[30] Adrian Desmond & James Moore . Darwin. London 1991.

[31] Ed M. Kolbl-Ebert, Religion and Geology. London.2009.

[32] This is based on my own dealings with people as minister for several decades, as many have found the fact that I am a geologist with a research interest in Darwin difficult to grasp. Countless times people have said things like, “How can you believe in God and Darwin?”,

[33] www.cis.org.uk

[34] See Michael Roberts. Evangelicals and Science

[35]  www.answersingenesis.org This huge website has much creationist material, mostly of American provenance


[37] www.truthinscience.org.uk

[38] http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/

[39] Taylor, P Truth, Lies and Science Education. 2007. Day One Publications.

[40]  http://www.c4id.org.uk/

[41]  http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/CentreForIntelligentDesign/CentreForIntelligentDesign

[42] http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/docbank/index.cfm?id=11890


[44] Interacademy Panel statement http://www.interacademies.net/10878/13901.aspx

[45] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/sep/11/michael.reiss.creationism

[46] http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/Campaign-starts-stop-teaching-creationism/story-11717670-detail/story.html

[47]  http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6082592, http://www.christiantoday.com/article/evangelical.school.gets.the.go.ahead.in.nottingham/28446.htm

[48]  http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/.

[49]  http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15402

[50]  http://creation.com/cmi-in-british-schools

[51]  http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2011/09/21/call-for-uk-to-ban-creation-in-schools-saying-it-is-dangerous/

[52] The 175 pages of raw data can be found at http://campaigndirector.moodia.com/Client/Theos/Files/TheosFinalFullDataSetDarwinTabsJan09.pdf

[53] http://campaigndirector.moodia.com/Client/Theos/Files/RescuingDarwin.pdf

[54] Callum Brown The Death of Christian Britain. London 2001.

[55]  http://forum.richarddawkins.net/

[56] Simon Winchester. The Map that changed the World. Harmondsworth 2003, p29

Charles Darwin through Christian spectacles.

CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)


February 12th 2009 saw the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. Along with Isaac Newton he was one of the greatest British scientists, though his science is still controversial. To some he was a great scientist and to others the devil incarnate!



He was a quiet family man, whose life was marred by illness. He was born into an affluent home in Shrewsbury


and went to Cambridge to study for the Anglican ministry.


In 1831 he was invited to join the Beagle to sail round the world. That changed his life and the course of science. On that voyage he was more interested in geology and only later “moved” over to biology.

Darwin learned his science at both Edinburgh and Cambridge and some of his student notes survive. His family was scientific and as a teenager he had a well-equipped chemistry lab in an outhouse at the Mount, the family home. At Cambridge he joined the Rev John Henslow’s unofficial natural history classes and fieldtrips and was introduced to the geologist, the Rev Adam Sedgwick.





In August 1831 he joined Sedgwick on a geological trip to North Wales, which gave Darwin the finest teaching a budding geologist could hope for and the grounding for the Beagle voyage. A study of his notes and routes demonstrates how he developed as a geologist. Studying that gave me great pleasure. Here is his/my favourite place  -Cwm Idwal




His priority on the Beagle voyage was geology, and he also collected many biological specimens. On return Darwin wrote up his geology in three volumes and got other naturalists to deal with biology.


After marriage to Emma Wedgwood in 1839, he moved to Downe in 1842 by which time illness had struck. For many years he carried out detailed work on barnacles, while developing with his species theory. He had written two drafts in 1842 and 1844. (His 1842 draft was punctuated by a visit to North wales to see if there was glaciation. see my paper. By then, even though only 33, he was not physically capable of climbing mountains.) These are Darwin’s Boulders in Cwm Idwal



In the late 1850s he was working on a big book on evolution, but was jolted into action by the arrival of a letter from Wallace in 1858 in which Wallace independently proposed the theory of natural selection. As a result, he wrote a shorter book The Origin of Species, which was published in 1859. Over the next twenty years he wrote a series of biological books on orchids, insectivorous plants, climbing plants, cross- and self-fertilisation in plants, and, finally, on worms. The book, which gave the greatest challenge to some theological views was The Descent of Man (1871), which posited a totally evolutionary view of humans. His published works fill 29 volumes and represented the cutting edge of biology in his day.

The great achievement of Darwin was to show how all life is inter-related and tied into the physical structure of this planet. By showing the evolution of humans he demonstrated that we are part of the natural world and not separate from it. Though aspects of his work have been superseded, his basic theory still holds today. To put it simply, Darwin took over earlier ideas of geology and the succession of life from trilobites and invertebrates, through dinosaurs and other vertebrates and finally to humans. Drawing from many aspects of biology he argued that life forms change over time and that ultimately all living things have a common ancestor. This now forms the basis of all biology and TV programmes on wildlife like those of David Attenborough.



When Darwin set sail on the Beagle he had intended to become an Anglican clergyman, but that faded during the voyage. The Darwin-Wedgwood family came from radical dissenting stock, though Charles was baptised in St Chad’s Church Shrewsbury, and with his parents and siblings worshipped at the Unitarian Church. How far his faith was simply nominal we cannot say, but before the Beagle he showed some signs of devotion and his notes on the evangelical John Sumner’s Evidence of Christianity show some serious theological thinking. However, by 1839 all that had gone and he was open to his future wife, Emma, about his lack of belief. He wavered between a vague theism and atheism and ‘must be content to remain an agnostic’. I consider Moore and Desmond’s argument that he lost his faith after the death of his ten-year-old daughter, Annie, overstated and not based on hard evidence. At Downe he was a flying-buttress member of the church. His Autobiography written a year or so before he died contains a fascinating section on his beliefs.



Some portray Darwin as destroying all morality because of our evolutionary ancestry. Darwin was a highly moral person, both in his personal life and concern for others. He supported many good causes, including SAMS (South American Missionary Society). He is often charged with being a racist, and perhaps he was according to 21st century PC standards. However he was the third generation Darwin/Wedgwood to oppose slavery. He was appalled at slavery in Brazil and in the 1860s objected to the slavery in the Southern states of the USA. This comes out very strongly in his letters with Asa Gray , the Harvard botanist and populariser of The Origin in the USA. Same anti-evolutionists claim that Darwin’s views lead straight to Mein Kampf and the Holocaust, as if Darwin was responsible for the twisted ideas of Hitler. A close study does not support that, and we need to note that creationist anti-evolution has often resulted in racism as in the Southern States and Apartheid South Africa.


The effect of Darwin on Christian Belief

Man but a worm



Darwin is often credited with making Christian belief intellectually untenable. He never considered that to be the case and the greatest challenge to biblical orthodoxy came from biblical criticism and a new theology. Compared to Essays and Reviews (1861) the Origin of Species had little theological impact. It is often not known that decades before 1859 most educated Christians had rejected a literal Genesis (if they had ever held it, which I doubt), a young Earth, a worldwide flood and a theodicy dependent on physical death coming in at the fall of Man. In a recent BBC Wildlife magazine, Attenborough repeated this incorrect opinion that “This[the date of 4004BC for creation] was based on the calculations of archbishop Ussher”.

Where Darwin has impacted negatively on belief this has been far more later generations reading back to Darwin rather than what Darwin said. This negativity is epitomised by Samuel Wilberforce and his “debate” with Huxley, which came to the fore in the 1890s when T H Huxley and others wrote their memoirs and claimed there had been a battle royal in the 1860s, which gave rise to the conflict thesis of science and religion which has been rejected by recent historians of science. However it is repeated by many today, e.g. Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and much pop history of science. It is still adopted by several church historians and theologians, despite constant criticism.


Christian opposition to Darwin and evolution

The popular perception is that the Christians have always been implacably opposed to Darwin, despite the vast volume of scholarship contradicting this. However, ever since 1859 some Christians have opposed Darwin. Initially some, who accepted geology, rejected evolution for various reasons, but none from a Young Earth position, which claims that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old.

During the last thirty years in Britain, Young Earth Creationism (YEC) has come to prominence. YEC is not the traditional Christian view, as it originated with the Seventh Day Adventists in the late 19th century from Ellen White and George McCready Price. It remained a minority view among American evangelicals until YEC was kick-started again in 1961 with the publication of The Genesis Flood. YEC now dominates American evangelicalism and is growing rapidly in Britain.

Caution Creationists3

Caution Creationists3


Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Bristol, England, UK


A more recent anti-evolution movement is Intelligent Design, which is now closely associated with YEC. Neither YEC nor ID has any credence as science.


Anglicans and Darwin/evolution

Contrary to some opinion the Anglican Church has been very postive towards all science for 500 years. While Galileo was under house arrest, the Revd John Wilkins published a Copernican book. Many of the early fellows of the Royal Society were Anglican clergy; I shall only mention John Ray, who suspected that the earth was older than Ussher allowed! From 1780 many Anglicans supported the rising science of geology and some of the most significant world geologists before Darwin were Anglican clergy like Adam Sedgwick, William Buckland and William Conybeare. In the period 1800 to 1855, over 80% of Anglican clergy accepted geology (an approximate figure from my reading as many writers as possible). (MBR Genesis Chapter One and Geological Time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 to 1825),p39-50   Myth and Geology; ed Piccardi and Masse (Special Publication 273 of the Geological Society of London) (March 2007).

Open this;


A small and vociferous minority did oppose geology; for example the Revd Henry Cole calling the evangelical Sedgwick an ‘infidel scoffer’. (MBR Adam Sedgwick (1785_1873): geologist and evangelical; p155-170 Religion and Geology. Ed Kolbl-Ebert, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2009; v. 310;)

Open this;


However, these devout anti-geologists were savaged by clerical-geologists like Sedgwick and disappeared by 1855 only to re-appear, Phoenix-like, in the 1980s, including at least one bishop.

The reaction to Darwin was varied. Some happily accepted evolution: Frederick Temple, R. W. Church, Hort (but Westcott was wary), Baden Powell, Liddon, Pusey (just!), Symonds and two evangelicals – H. B. Tristram of Durham and Prof C Babbington of Cambridge. Within decades most thinking Anglicans had accepted evolution but often insisted on the direct creation of humans. Some Anglicans opposed evolution, archetypically Samuel Wilberforce, but all opponents accepted geological time. Some of the main opposition to Darwin came from physicists and geologists.

This rapprochement between Christianity and evolution continued until 1980, with most, including the majority of evangelicals, accepting evolution, with a minority rejecting evolution but not geology. In fact, I can only find one YEC Anglican from 1855 until the 1970s. That was W. H. Griffith Thomas, who accepted evolution while principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He went to North America in 1910 and by 1917 came to accept a Young Earth through the influence of the Seventh Day Adventist autodidact McCready Price. I cannot find of another Anglican example, and teachers from Moule to Packer and Stott all accepted evolution. (Bishop J. C. Ryle accepted geological time albeit not evolution, and represents the ultra-conservative Anglican of 1900.)

Things began to change after the publication in Britain of The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb in 1968. Since then increasing numbers of British evangelicals have rejected evolution and espoused the biblical literalism of YEC. My informed impression is that possibly 5% of Church of England clergy are YEC. At least two, Kevin Logan and Martin Dowe, have written paperbacks of doubtful value promulgating YEC. There are more who are sympathetic to Intelligent Design, which is marginally more scientific than YEC.


Against that, the majority of  Christians, whether or not Anglicans simply don’t care about doubts about evolution and take it for granted! For the last 130 years most Anglican theological writers have happily accepted evolution, whether they were conservative or liberal. Some have focussed on science and religion and from a previous generation include Mascall, Yarnold, Raven and Smethurst. The late Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne have dominated the scene since 1980, with Alister McGrath of increasing significance. Very few concentrate on Darwin and evolution, apart from R. J. Berry, a geneticist.


To some, Darwin’s theory of evolution nullifies the Christian faith and both Richard Dawkins and Creationist Christians share that opinion. These opinions and those of the majority, agnostic or Christian, who reckon that Darwin does not affect the Christian faith will be heard loudly and widely this year.



Understandably some don’t like the thought that they are descended from apes and ultimately from an amoeba. At first sight this makes us less than human and that our morals have no basis. Atheists like Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion claiming that you have to choose between God and evolution, or even science, do not help this. Compared to that strident claim, those who take the bible literally with a six day creation as in Genesis seem plausible – until you examine their arguments and find that their science is simply appalling, as well as their biblical interpretation.

In one sense I can see why some Christians are disturbed by Darwin or evolution, but the whole picture of a five billion year old Earth which first produced life four billion years ago and then ultimately all the intricate variety of life we know today is breathtaking and should fill us with awe and wonder – of the Creator. As the Revd. H. B. Tristam, a Victorian evangelical and naturalist, always said, “as we were evolved, sorry, created”.

Now where do I stand? I became a Christian through a Christian Union a few weeks before I graduated in geology. For several years I was unaware there was a clash between science and faith! The conflict between science and faith came as a surprise to me, partly for family reasons as my physicist uncle was ordained and my biochemist father non-religious. I happily keep my faith and science together. To me, all science enhances my faith. I have a particular interest in Darwin, as I have researched his geology in depth. The more I study the man, the more I respect him, but I get irritated with either gross adulation or denigration of a great scientist. He was not a Christian, but was a very moral person. His science was brilliant in its day and laid the foundation for the future. I enjoyed celebrating Darwin’s bicentenary. That year I was lucky to attend conferences in England, Wales, Germany, Egypt and the USA. While in the USA I managed to climb Mt St Helens

To conclude – the memorial plaque to Sedgwick in Dent church






References; The literature is vast and of uneven quality.

Janet Browne has probably written the best biography.

More popular is

Van Wyhe, John, 2008, Darwin, the story of the man and his theories of evolution. London Andre Deutsch.

My papers on Darwin’s geology;

Darwin at Llanymynech; British Journal for the History of Science, 1996, Vol 29, pp469-78

Darwin’s Dog-leg ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 1998, Vol 25, p59-73

I   coloured a map ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 2000, Vol 27,p69-79

Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9;   with Prof.S.Herbert )

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37


Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123 (2012) 649–662



General topics

Alexander, Denis, 2008 Creation or Evolution. Monarch

Young, Davis & Stearley, 2008 The Bible, Rocks and Time. IVP

Miller, Ken, 1999. Finding Darwin’s God. Harper/Collins

Roberts, M., 2008 Evangelicals and science. Greenwood Press.


Useful websites



http://www.asa3. org