Monday, 16 June 2014

Nineteenth Century Christianity did not respond to Darwin with visceral horror.

Molecular biologist and evangelical Christian Denis Alexander has a short, accessible article which buries the myth that 19th century Christianity was hostile to Darwin, or that it cravenly surrendered to it. Anyone who advances either idea simply has no idea what he is talking about. Cue Alexander:
The very first written response to Darwin’s famous book On the Origin of Species [1859] was from an Anglican priest and was so positive in tone that Darwin quoted from it in the second edition of the Origin. The priest was the Rev. Charles Kingsley and on November 18th, 1859, six days before the publication of the Origin, he was thanking Darwin for his kind gift of an advance copy, writing that 
‘All I have seen of it awes me’, commenting that it is ‘just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas [gaps] which He Himself had made’.
Since 1859 most Christians have been equally happy to incorporate evolution within their biblical understanding of creation. Yes there was some opposition at the beginning, as there is for any radically new theory, but the most influential church leaders soon realized that Kingsley was right. The idea that evolution was greeted with general horror by the Church is a myth.

The British historian James Moore comments that ‘with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution’, and the American historian George Marsden reports that ‘… 
with the exception of Harvard’s Louis Agassiz, virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870s’. One of those biologists was Asa Gray, professor of natural history at Harvard and a committed Christian, who was Darwin’s long-term correspondent and confidante, helping to organize the publication of the Origin of Species in America. 
Some Christian theologians were particularly welcoming in their response to evolution. One such was the Rev. Aubrey Moore, a scientist-priest at the University of Oxford who was Curator of the Oxford Botanical Gardens. Moore claimed that there was a special affinity between Darwinism and Christian theology, remarking that ‘Darwinism appeared, and, under the guise of a foe, did the work of a friend’. The reason for this affinity, claimed Moore, was based on the intimate involvement of God in his creation as revealed in Christian theology, for
There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law… For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.

Full article is here.