Tag Archives: darwin

Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

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


I don’t know why he does it

Answers in Genesis’ Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

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

We will take this bit by bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds

Just what animals did Noah take on the ark?

Many havem answered that question. In the 17th century Bishop John Wilkins said Noah took 2 camelopards and 1835 sheep for the “rapacious beasts” according to my copy of Catcott on the deluge (1760) I think they were wiser and more consistent than todays Young Earthers

Naturalis Historia

Just how many animals where on Noah’s Ark according to 6-day creationists?  That answer has varied considerably over the past century.   With the completion of the Ark Encounter, the most visible attempt to show the feasibility of  preserving all land animal diversity from a global flood, more people are being exposed to a modern answer to that age-old question.   The group – Answers in Genesis – who constructed the Ark Encounter theme park have provided the lowest estimate to date: a max of 6700 total animals.

To rationalize their small Ark population they have become increasingly vocal about how modern biological diversity – the abundance of species – is the result of rapid speciation of ancestral “kinds” following a severe biological bottleneck during Noah’s flood just 4350 years ago.  We could call these ancestors of modern species progenitor kinds or proto-kinds but just what is a “kind” and just how are the boundaries of one kind versus another determined?  How a “kind”…

View original post 2,580 more words

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…

View original post 1,871 more words

Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

Re-blogged from Paul Braterman’s blog.

Paul is right to show his concern for this, though we differ on the position of church schools.

My impression is that would be a very narrowly-Christian university as shown by Fraser’s membership of the Wee Frees (who though very rigid – I would not be welcome – are not quite 6-day creationist).

To us orthodox, but not fundamentalist Christians reference to “pre-suppositional framework” sets alarm bells ringing, as pre-suppositionalism is an extreme evangelical and largely very reformed argument which tends to exclude all others, Christian or not, by bleat “your pre-supps are wrong”. It is a closed impenetrateble self-confirming hermeneutic and is usually 6 day creationist.

Unless I am a radical secularist, (as Creationists think I am) his labelling unvrsities as “radical secularist” is simply wrong. Our universities are SECULAR not secularist and on the whole staff and students of diverse beliefs can thrive in them.

Perhaps this is a suggestion too far.


Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

ProfJamesFraserProfessor James Fraser CBE,  has called for the establishment in Scotland of universities that teach within “the pre-suppositional framework of a Christian world view”, as opposed to the “radical secularist” position that he attributes to the existing universities, and holds up the network of Christian universities in the United States as a model. This demand is ill-conceived and presumptuous, and should be resisted. Professor Fraser is a philosophy graduate who has spent nearly all his career in university administration; he, of all people, should know better.

Remember that Scottish Universities are very heavily dependent on taxpayer money, since Scottish students have their fees paid for them by the Government. So the proposed Christian universities would be funded, in direct competition with the existing system, at the expense of a general population of whom now less than half are Christian. But that’s the least of it.

Self-styled Christian universities do indeed exist in the United States, and the problems that they pose should be enough to make Professor Fraser think again. They require their faculty to be Christians, and teach from a Christian point of view. But who is to say what point of view is Christian, and what is not? The Free Church, whose General Assembly he was addressing, adheres to a version of Christianity according to which the world was made in six days, the entire earth and life science content of the school curriculum must be wrong because it contradicts the Word of the Bible, humankind is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good”, and all those who do not receive God’s grace are condemned to miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Is this what Professor Fraser wants to be able to demand from his Faculty? There have been cases, in the United States, of distinguished Professors being sacked from these Christian universities, merely because they did not accept on faith the literal truth of Genesis. Is this what we are being asked to emulate?

presupapolocoverAs for a “pre-suppositional framework”, that is a technical term that Professor Fraser will not have used lightly. The pre-supposition involved is that all reasoning and all evidence must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the framework, which is itself sacrosanct. Such an approach to knowledge is the very opposite of everything that a university stands for.

And finally, the claim that existing universities are “radical secularist”. I honestly do not know what the learned Professor means. All points of view are represented within our universities, and that is how it should be. Religious viewpoints have, if anything, a privileged position. They have chapels for those who wish to use them, hold religious services, and provide facilities for chaplains of all faiths. And nothing could be more stimulating for believers and nonbelievers alike than to freely mix and to discuss their agreements and differences. Why would anyone wish things otherwise?

Image of Professor Fraser from University of Highlands and Islands news release

Source: Professor wants faith-based Christian universities for Scotland

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







A Pair of Contradictions.

Evolution and Genesis are often seen as personifications of two contradictory views of the Universe. Darwin wrongly symbolises an evolutionary and naturalistic view of the universe from which God is excluded. Genesis symbolises a world-view where everything is created by the direct fiat creative act of God. If Darwin is taken seriously then Genesis is ignored and God is gently squeezed out of existence. Some do just that, the Oxford Zoologist, Richard Dawkins, for example, and the philosopher Michael Ruse in Taking Darwin Seriously (1986), but not so in Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (2000). If Genesis is taken seriously, then Darwin and all his works are seen to be fundamentally flawed, and a “Creationist” position is adopted, in which not only is Evolution rejected, but so are the findings of Geology and Astronomy, and the age of earth is held to be a mere 10,000 years. This dilemma is echoed both by teenagers (and adults!) who say, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in Darwin.” and think that is the last word, and by loyal Christians who feel that they must take Genesis literally.

Rather than to force a choice of either Darwin or Genesis, this brief paper contends that it is a case of BOTH/AND not either/or, because Darwin and Genesis are complimentary and answer different questions. A Christian must take both together and let the insights of “Darwin” (i.e. a personification of evolutionary biology, and geology) illuminate and enhance the Christian teaching of the creation of the world and all its life. Together they also shed light on four other important issues; The problem of ascribing ages to the planet and its strata; the problem of language; the problem of the nature of man; and the question of design.


For one hundred and thirty years Charles Darwin has come to personify evolution. Evolution means different things to different people, but, in essence, evolution means that all life is descended from a common ancestor, most popularly that we are descended from apes. Parodies and misunderstandings abound, and there is a prevalent view that evolution excludes creation and thus God.

The genius of Darwin in “The Origin of Species” (1859) was that he brought together previously unrelated aspects to biology; Variation and selection (leading to Natural Selection), the Geological Record, Geographical Distribution and the “Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings”. One of the main “gaps” in Darwin’s theory was the problem of inheritance or genetics. The solution to this was provided by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s but remained unknown until the turn of the century. Genetics was what biologists were looking for and this resulted in the “Neodarwinian Synthesis” of Darwinianism and Mendelism which reigned supreme until Gould and Eldredge put forward “Punctuated Equilibria”(Stop-Go Evolution) in the 1970s. The subsequent argument has been lively and even acrimonious, but few have questioned Evolution as such. Evolution is regarded as much of a Fact as the sphericity of the earth, – and rightly so!

To summarise the arguments for Evolution, these are

1) The Evidence of the Fossil Record.

The geological record shows a progressive “appearance” of life. ; invertebrates with shells at the base of the Cambrian (550m.y.); Vertebrates (fish) in the middle Ordovician (460 m.y.); leading up to Mammals in the Jurassic (180 m.y.); and finally “Man” a few million years ago.


2) “Mutual Affinities”

There are great number of mutual affinities between all forms of life. For example the structure of all vertebrates have much in common. If, say, the fore limbs of a bird, a whale, a dog and a human are compared, they all have the same basic structure and are said to be homologous, and point to a common ancestor. Here is a diagram of homologies

Source: K.  Padian, Integra Comp Biol 2008; 48: 175-88, reproduced in A. Thanukos, Evolution: Education and Outreach 2009; 2: 84-89.

3) Geographical Distribution.

The oddities of geographical distribution were explained before Darwin by holding that God created different creatures in different places. Thus, for example in the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin visited when on the Beagle in 1834, God with would have created umpteen different finches on different islands. Evolutionarily this is seen as common ancestral finches living in isolation on different islands, and then diverging over subsequent generations. On a longer timescale lifeforms before the Mesozoic in Africa and South America were similar, but have diverged since then. The classic ism the Wallace Line in the middle of Indonesia. The reason became clear with the discovery of Continental Drift which demonstrated that the two continents started to move apart during the Mesozoic.

This is a terribly brief summary of Evolution, but there is a plethora of good non-technical books,

(follow up on the ASA website). Sadly slick and over-simplified TV-style presentations do not help one’s understanding.


Open any childrens’ Bible on the first page and you are usually confronted with an idealised picture of a giraffes and lions on Noah’s Ark.


Thus from an early age people are encouraged to believe in a literal six-24 hour day creation. This aids and abets youngsters to give up their faith at an early age, but the problem often persists to adulthood, leaving them with a nagging doubt that God could not have created the world because of Darwin.


The Bible begins with the marvellous double “account” of Creation. I say double because Genesis 2 differs from Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is the best known with its structure of creation on six successive days. Approach it literally and you are in mess. Attempting to tie it in to scientific discovery always fails, as is inevitable as the Bible was “written” 3000 years before the rise of Geology. See it as a hymn to God the Creator and it comes to life. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The focus is on God, the Rock of Ages, not the ages of rocks. Again “And God said” occurs nine times as an introductory formula for God’s creativity. Ultimately Genesis One is a “Whodunnit” not a “Howdunnit”!

Genesis 1 and 2 are not the only parts of the bible, which speak of God the Creator. Take the last five chapters of the Book of Job, or Isaiah chapter 40 from verse 12, some of the Psalms especially 8, 19,and 95 (the Venite) to mention a few from the Old Testament, and John chapter 1 and Colossians Chapter 1 verses 15 to 20., both of which speak of a “Cosmic” Christ.

Taking Creation seriously is an affirmation that God is the Creator of all that is, with a realisation that the Bible gives no scientific explanation. Science will inform our understanding of Creation, not overthrow it.


In the margins of many old Bibles, we will find dates in years B.C. for the Old Testament. For Creation the date is 4004.B.C., and this date is usually ascribed to Archbishop Ussher of the seventeenth century. Up to 1650 most Jews and Christians reckoned the age of the earth to be a few thousands.


With the rise of scientists such as John Ray, Whiston and others before 1700 the earth was seen as somewhat older. The flowering of geology at the end of the eighteenth century with Smith, Cuvier, de Saussure and Hutton developed that further, and before long talk was of millions of years. Many of the early geologists were Anglican clergy and soon the churches took the vast age of the earth on board.


There were a minority of Christians who opposed geology as did some of Faraday’s colleagues at the Royal Institution. By 1860 hardly any clergy or educated Christians believed in 4004.B.C. One orthodox Evangelical writing in 1862 wrote, “Some school-books still teach to the ignorant that the earth is 6,000 years old. No well-educated person of the present day shares that delusion.” (Alas, many share it in 2001!) So much for Richard Dawkins’ claim that in 1862 churchmen favoured the 4004.B.C.date for creation. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was typical of that day, as he completely accepted the geological timescale and was well-informed in matters scientific. His attack on Darwin was not theological obscurantism, but the last fling of a soon-to-be outmoded scientific view. Poor Soapy Sam, history has been very unkind to him. In fact, the usual story about Wilberforce being trounced by Huxley in 1860 is not supported by contemporary reports.

Putting actual dates to the age of the universe, the earth or rock strata proved difficult even though Ussher was dethroned. Before 1860 there were simply guestimates of millions and hundreds of millions, but no figures could be given. In the first edition of “The Origin” Darwin reckoned that 306,662,400 years had passed since the mid-Cretaceous, and was berated for it. (In fact, it was a very good reckoning, as today’s figures are about 100,000,000 years, only a factor of five out.) In the 1860s Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the earth first at 100 million years and later at 24 millions. Geologists were none too happy, but accepted them. It was the application of Radioactivity to geological dating that began to give numerical dates. For forty years now the age of the earth has been unchallenged at 4,600 million years, and the oldest rocks at 3,800 million. and the base of the Cambrian at 550 million. To the geologically uninitiated they are mind-boggling, but then so are the structure of the atom and black holes.

Some Christians have great problems over these vast ages and suffer from chronological vertigo, but they are brute facts we cannot deny. As Christians, we should see the hand of God in the unfolding history of our planet, and let this not only increase our wonder of Creation but more importantly of the Creator.

(Recently, Creationists have tried to demonstrate that the geological methods are fatally flawed, and that the earth is but a few thousand years young. Not one of the Creationist arguments has any substance to it. It is sad to be so negative, but Creationism is a confused hot-potch of bad science, misunderstanding and misrepresentation.)

The problems some have over geology is caused by a too literal view of the Bible, and not allowing the pre-scientific biblical writers to communicate truth about God in a non-literal way. It also does not recognise that most educated Christians never took Genesis literally!



Thus wrote Wordsworth in I wandered lonely as a cloud and it makes the point far better than to say “a group of 137 Narcissi pseudonarcissus were oscillating in a wind of 14.5 k.p.h. (Force 3 Beaufort Scale)”. Literalism is the scourge of all language, as it refuses to recognise idiom or imagery, or to recognise that there can be no one-to-one correlation with the object described. Poetry is the most dependent on imagery, and scientific language supposedly the least so, but what about Tectonic Plates etc. Scientists make much use of imagery, but this is often not acknowledged. The Bible contains a variety of language from history and letters to poetry and early Genesis, which has been called saga, legend, myth and (my preference) proto-history. Literalism often ends up in absurdity. Countering the literalism of a student, who wondered how the mountains “skipped like rams” in Psalm 114, the Evangelical Charles Simeon (d1836) replied humourously “Yes, with a hop, skip, and a jump!” Historically literalism has been a problem over the Bible only for the last hundred and fifty years. Further to try to shoehorn the Bible in a scientific worldview is utterly absurd, as biblical writers predate science by a couple of thousand years. The great Reformer John Calvin, writing in his Commentary on Genesis centuries before Darwin, is very apt on this matter; “Moses wrote in a popular style…he had respect to us rather than to the stars…(and finally) He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” To Calvin the important was what the Bible said about God, not science. This echoed more recently when Pope John Paul said, “The Bible tells us how to go to, heaven, not how the heavens go”.


Much of the hostility to evolution is because of the fear that humans will be reduced to mere animals. After all if we are descended from apes then we must be apes! This was one of Bishop Wilberforce’s major concerns with evolution in 1860, and his review of “The Origin of Species” is full of witty dismissals as “our unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms” and “our fungular descent”. This fear of being nothing but an animal, and ultimately nothing but a collection of atoms is a common theme to much anti-evolutionary thought today, whether secular or religious. To allow evolution by purely “natural” means is often seen to be reductionist, and often God is brought in to “intervene ” at suitable moments, such as the formation of life itself, or the first human. I have much sympathy with a concern over a reductionist outlook on life, which is fairly common today. However to attempt to disprove Darwinism to keep reductionism out is doomed to failure. All science is methodologically reductionist, it has to be. That does not mean it has to lead to philosophical reductionism. Science will not give values, they have to come from elsewhere, and may be religious, ideological or simply pragmatic. In the final analysis it is one’s belief system which gives one an assessment of the nature of humanity.

For a Christian humans are be made in the Image of God. “The Image of God” is a recurrent theme. It first appears in Genesis chap 1 verse 26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness”. Over the centuries there has been considerable discussion on what the “Image” is. Suggestions include the moral sense, the religious sense, and the intellect. Most importantly the Image signifies something special about humanity, and possibly cannot be rigorously defined.


Every few years the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins publishes another best-selling semi-popular scientific work, which are always controversial. The first was “The Selfish Gene“. In 1986 “The Blind Watchmaker” was published, and is excellent on how evolution happens through “chance”. The very title is a dig at God, as he is at pains not to allow the existence of God. All life forms evolve through small changes going on randomly, and his computer modelling on how this could happen is most convincing. The “design” we see in life-forms, happens by chance, almost blindly, hence the title “The Blind Watchmaker“. This is an allusion to Paley’s argument of a Divine Watchmaker (Natural Theology; 1802, one of Darwin’s textbooks). The theme of Paley is that, if we find a watch we conclude a watchmaker, and thus if we find animals, then we conclude an animal maker and that is GOD. To man, evolution by such chancy natural means excludes the creative action of God. (This was the heart of opposition to Darwin in the 1860s). That is, if natural selection occurs, then there is no “design”, then God is not Creator.

This was, and is, seen to be a problem over the living world but not the inanimate world of rocks and landscape. That is, it is acceptable to consider that over the aeons of geological time, the geological structure of the earth developed without the assistance of a Newtonian “Divine arm”, but the “Divine Arm” is necessary for the development of life. Last century several of Darwin’s opponents took this line, including Wilberforce, and the geologist Adam Sedgwick.

To some all these discoveries have excluded God from the creative process. This is inevitable if one conceives of the Creator making man as a baker moulds a gingerbreadman. This crude and childish picture of God helps no one. Seeing the hand of God at work does not necessitate such “direct” involvement! An atheist will see “design” as a chance happening, a theist will see “design” as a recognition that God is above and behind all things.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork

Psalm 19 verse 1

Not all “design” is beautiful, some is frankly horrific. Darwin could not see the work of a Benevolent Designer in the Ichneumon fly. This lovely little creature lays its eggs inside a caterpillar. The eggs hatch and proceed to eat the caterpillar alive, keeping it so until the larvae emerge. “Design” does not point conclusively to a Good God.

To conclude;

Beauty of (apparent) design is a problem to the atheist

Suffering is a problem to the Theist.


Of the evolutionary picture Darwin said, “There is grandeur in this view of life”. But he should have added “AND DEATH”. The natural world is incredibly wasteful of life; just consider frogspawn. The spawn will produce hundreds of tadpoles, and if TWO survive to become frogs and breed, that is success. Three is a population explosion. The fate of the tadpoles is varied, some, to the horror of children, are eaten by other tadpoles. Then, one of my joys in late spring is to hear the Cuckoo calling. The music of the adult is not matched by the morality of its offspring casually heaving out its adopted kin. Life is shot through with suffering and death. Nature is Red in Tooth and Claw. Human life is also often cruel and short. Surely “an all powerful, all-loving God simply would not allow small children to die in screaming agony”? Suffering is the great problem, whether personal, intellectual, or religious.

The evolutionary picture is very clear; suffering and death have been around since life began some 3,000 million years ago. Fossil graveyards are common; animals have been fossilised in the act of predation. This is not what Milton wrote of in “Paradise Lost”-

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden fruit, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe”.


Beast now with beast gan war, and fowl with fowl,

And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,

Devoured each other. P.Lost X 710-12

The link is clear, suffering and death are a result of human sin, and before the Fall of Adam and Eve there was no suffering or death. From Genesis 3.18, it is also held that prickly plants are the result of Sin. To adopt this view, as do Creationists, puts one in a dilemma; either Christianity is wrong, or science is wrong. Fortunately Milton was wrong, and though his influence has been prevalent, it has not been the only one. Since the rise of geology in 1800, this view has been untenable, but it has not always been possible to bury it, especially in popular Christianity. Very often Milton’s view is accepted as the traditional view, and as the notorious Bishop Colenso said in 1863, “We literally groan , even in the present day, under the burden of Milton’s Mythology.” (He was actually echoing the American geologist, Edward Hitchcock.) We still do! Undoubtedly, before the rise of geology there was no evidence that there was death before the Fall. Even so many theologians accepted that death did occur before the Fall, e.g. Aquinas, and Isaac Watts. Oddly many of these believed that thistles and thorns came in at the Fall (Gen 3.18).

In a sense, to claim all suffering is the result of human sin at the Fall conveniently gets God off the hook, but this can and does create tremendous guilt in a sick person, and thus puts God back on the hook. Space forbids me to examine the unnecessary guilt and mental and spiritual suffering caused by this view, which is still, in essence, held by many today. Suffering and death is something we cannot understand or explain. The evolutionary picture helps us to see that much suffering is the natural order of things, but that is no answer. Neither does this mean that no suffering is caused by Sin. It takes little reflection to see that. There is no theological answer to suffering; clues are given in the Book of Job, and, above all, in the death on the cross.


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…” Thus begins the last paragraph of “The Origin of Species”. Wales is full of entangled banks, as is Shropshire the county of Darwin’s childhood. These entangled banks are to be found along many country lanes and footpaths, and are covered with an entangled mass of plants, and throughout spring and summer with a profusion of flowers. But what are we “to contemplate…and to reflect.”? Darwin is clear and said, “to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms…have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life…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 evolved.”

Darwin is absolutely right “to contemplate an entangled bank” and explain it scientifically, and how the various forms of life present are there by a process of Natural Selection “selecting” what is best for the particular geology and climate. Once we get past saying, “Ooh, aah. What a pretty flower?” and the stamp-collecting approach to Natural History, i.e. simple identification, we will come to questions of why and how. To say naively “God created it that way ” is, I think, an insult to God. Of course God created it (apologies to any atheists) but how? In the natural world any explanation will be ultimately evolutionary, explaining development over time. Or else it will be back to John Milton, The grassy clods now calved, now half appeared

The tawny lion, pawing to get free

His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,

And rampant shakes his brinded mane; P.Lost VII 463-66

and this is what the anti-evolutionary Creationist would have us believe. Milton’s poetry becomes Creationist fact. Any who will not accept evolution, are ultimately obliged to hold a similar outlook, even if they accept the great age of the universe. (I say this despite my respect and affection for Old Age Creationists.) An evolutionary perspective will help us to see the interrelatedness of plants and animals not only with each other, but also with the whole environment. Further it will help us to see the influence of past history, not only geological, but also the development of life.

Darwin’s contemplation did not stop at the purely scientific, he also contemplated the “grandeur” and the beauty and wonder of what he saw. In the last paragraph Darwin almost goes into raptures over the beauty of the natural world. No matter how “reductionist” one is, there is scarcely anyone who is blind to natural beauty. We also need to contemplate how beauty and our apprehension of it actually evolved and why. Beauty cannot be reduced to molecular vibrations and natural selection.

There are many who marvel at natural beauty, whether they are keen walkers, ornithologists, or simply like to drive in the country. But many get no further than ñ

To worship Nature in the hill and valley,

Not knowing what they love:-

That was Wordsworth nearly two centuries ago, and the outlook is more prevalent today. Many today have great wonder and respect for the natural world and concern for its conservation, but do not know that what they love is God’s Creation. To often, I fear, the Church has ignored Creation, because it does not fully accept or understand Evolution and is fearful. As a result people “worship nature” and never know “what they love” and Who made it. Contemplation of an entangled bank ought to lead to contemplation of the Creator.

However the entangled bank is not always so beautiful. The ugliness comes in many ways. The red we see may not be a clump of Red Campion, but a Coke tin, reminding us to contemplate what can only be called human sin, happy to destroy God’s world and our enjoyment of it. Or perhaps every plant has turned brown as local council policy is for tidiness rather than life. Suffering, death and decay are always there, whether a dead vole covered with maggots, a raven with a broken wing. From contemplating a beautiful flower, we may contemplate death, which is never far away from life. It is too simplistic to say that death is simply the precursor to another life, and perhaps here the only answer is to contemplate the briars, which can be plaited into a crown. Nature with open volume stands

to spread her makers’ praise abroad

here on the cross ’tis fairest drawn

in precious blood and crimson lines.

Isaac Watts

16 January 2001