On Darwin’s Faith

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Depending on one’s perspective, Charles Darwin is a lightning rod and a foundation. Opposing sides in the theology-evolution issue use him in different ways. Whereas conservative Christians describe him as an immoral, hateful atheist who is a messenger from the devil, evolution supporters refer to him as a scholar, a brilliant thinker, and even an inspiration.

Interesting how the two views of one life differ based a perspective of a forced choice that some present. In terms of his religion, Darwin faith life was filled with struggle. Below are chronological moments in Charles Darwin’s religious life. Besides, February 12th is his 208th birthday.

1809: Charles Darwin is born into a family of a father who was a religious skeptic, a Unitarian mother, and 4 siblings (3 sisters and a brother) who attended church with their mother. His paternal grandfather was a deist, as was Darwin’s brother.

1817: Darwin’s mother died. Thereafter, his older sisters took him to an Anglican church where he remained and was educated. At the time, the Anglican church had a 6-day, young-earth creationist view of the world.

1828: After several years in medical school at the University of Edinburgh, Darwin enters Cambridge University to study theology. Studies introduce him to Paley’s Natural Theology, which influenced his beliefs in a God intervening in creation.

1831: Darwin graduates from Cambridge with a theology degree, but decided not to pursue being an ordained pastor. A geology field trip initiated the thought that the earth is very old, therefore developing a view of today’s old-earth creationists with an intervening God as the designer. Later that year he begins his 5-year journey on the HMS Beagle.

1831-1836: Through his many observations across the globe, Darwin is convinced God is present in nature and that God was the intervening designer.

1836-1839: After his journey, Darwin thought deeply about biology, geology, and theology, so he spend much time writing. He rejected origins based on Genesis 1 and eventually Christianity – but not God.

1839: Marries Emma (a Unitarian) in an Anglican ceremony. They would eventually have 10 children, two of which died in infancy.

1851: Annie, his second oldest child and the “apple of her proud father’s eye” dies after an illness of several years. This devastated Darwin, and some say this greatly impacted his view of suffering.

1856: Starts writing On the Origin of the Species.

1859: On the Origin of the Species is published. In it Darwin mentions god as the Creator on multiple occasions – signally his shift from a traditional theist to a non-traditional theist with God as the creator of the evolutionary process.

1860-1861: Reflecting on reactions people had about the book, Darwin writes to a Harvard botanist, “I had no intention to write atheistically … my views are not at all necessarily atheistical.” He also admits being troubled by the suffering that occurs in nature and in the world, but reinforces a belief in design by a Creator.

1871: The Descent of Man published. While acknowledging the “highly irreligious” will denounce his work, he supports his belief in a Creator at work in designing life. “The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance.”

1876: Because of his struggles with suffering, he continues to question God’s existence. In his biography Darwin explains his belief in God as an intelligent designed and states, “I deserve to be called a theist.” His writings point to one who believes in a god that is not assigned to one particular religion. Later he concludes, “The mystery of the beginning of all things is not solvable by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

1879: Although agnostic, Darwin writes this powerful sentence about evolution and theology in a letter: “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man be an ardent theist and an evolutionists. …. In my extreme fluctuations, I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God …. I think that as I grow older, but not always, that an Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind.”

1882: After a difficult 3 months with health issues, Charles Darwin dies – and never an atheist. Reports of him recanting his view of evolution and proclaiming Jesus Christ as savior lack evidence, therefore untrue. He is buried in London’s Westminster Abbey (Anglican).

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Flashbacks: On the Science-Religion Interchange

I became interested in the interchange between science and religion during my time as A Frank Angle. Here are a few of my favorite posts on the topic. Enjoy, visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On Faith and Science

I find it interesting when hearing Christians say one has to choose between religion and evolution. Another spark of interest is when atheists and/or agnostic say that because one is a Christian, that person must take the Genesis account of creation literally.

To add to the fray, not long about I did this post about evolution without mentioning religion, yet numerous comments mentioned religion. Does all this imply or assume a natural conflict between religion and theology? – Especially because one relies on facts about the natural world and the other relies on an inward faith in something outside the natural world that science cannot prove or disprove.

Faith is a complex, yet bold and loving trust about God, God’s grace, and God’s creation that changes our heart, thoughts, and actions. Faith is not proof and does not require proof. It is through this gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), the unconditional trust of faith, that Christians place themselves into the hands of God for care, comfort, reassurance, strength, and protection. Faith is also the trust Christians place in God for the positive future when God reveals himself to us in eternal life. (1 Peter 1:3-5, John 11:26-27)

I appreciate this description of faith by Lutheran Theologian Dr. Ted Peters:

Faith responds to God’s Word. Faith recognizes that God is gracious. Faith believes. Faith trusts. Faith invites the risen Jesus Christ into one’s soul. Faith acts in love. Faith seeks understanding. “Atheist Stimulus and Faith Response”, Trinity Seminary Review, Summer/Fall 2009 (Vol. 30, Issue 2)

I describe science as a way of knowing, but not the only way. Although science and theology examine different realms of human life, integrating the two leads us to a newer and deeper perspective of nature. Using science, theology, philosophy, psychology, history, ethics, and other social sciences enhances our understanding as each provides a layer of information and perspective into a quest for meaning; however, science cannot detect or measure faith. Science cannot test a God is everywhere hypothesis. Besides, these statements are outside the boundaries of science. Again, from Dr. Peters (2009):

Believing faith is justified by appeal both to the story of Jesus we find in God’s Word and to reason as well. Reason supports faith, even if this support never completely expunges all doubt. Scientific reasoning provides helpful knowledge of the created world in which we live, to be sure; but its method restricts itself to looking for natural causes. Modern science is blind to transcendent reality. This blindness is not proof that no transcendent reality exists. People with strong Christian faith can work quite happily in scientific research.

The way science opens our eyes to nature, we can get a broad perspective of creation. As the United Church of Christ states, “We are seeing nature with new eyes, and what we see fills us with wonder and praise.”

Dr. John Haught (Georgetown University) describes how science and theology together enhances a two-dimensional Flatland into a multi-dimension view.

It is our own attachment to Flatland that leads us to an either/or rather than a both/and way of thinking about natural and divine creativity. Thus, we think we have to make a choice between explaining the diversity of life in terms of either natural selection or divine creation. (Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution, 2001)

Faith is a spirit. Faith is confidence. Faith is a power of hearing and understanding the word with the hope of living by the word. Faith is a belief in a presence of unconditional love, forgiveness, and eternal life. Faith is a confidence of God at work in our lives, including our ability to discover and understand the world through science. Faith is a trust to never let go.

Image from John Haught’s book Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution (Paulist Press)

On a Tough Wait

This evening we got the news that our friend (who is has been in the hospital most of November) has taken a drastic turn for the worse. I wonder if she will still be with us when I awaken in the morning.

I want to take a day away from my planned post for her and her family. I know she would suggest I press on, by hey, this is still a post.

No matter if one has faith or not, no matter the religion, and regardless of geography, human nature is to feel a sense of sadness during times like this.

So on this night and through the day tomorrow, I hope and pray for peace and strength for her and her wonderful family.

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Update 11:oo am EST Dec 1, 2011

We received word that our friend peacefully passed away at 8:15 am EST. I know no more pain and uncertainly, and in the spirit of the baptism that I believe, she is in a better place. I can’t imagine what her family is feeling after having their life turned upside down in a matter of 3 weeks. Please keep “the family of Frank’s friends” in your prayers. Thanks everyone for caring.

On Faith, Soul, and Science

Faith is a complex, yet bold and loving trust about God, God’s grace, and God’s creation that changes our heart, thoughts, and actions. Faith is not proof and does not require proof. It is through this gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), the unconditional trust of faith, that Christians place themselves into the hands of God for care, comfort, reassurance, strength, and protection. Faith is also the trust Christians place in God for the positive future when God reveals himself to us in eternal life. (1 Peter 1:3-5, John 11:26-27)

Lutheran Professor of Theology Dr. Ted Peters describes faith in this manner:

Faith responds to God’s Word. Faith recognizes that God is gracious. Faith believes. Faith trusts. Faith invites the risen Jesus Christ into one’s soul. Faith acts in love. Faith seeks understanding.

In a USA Today column titled “Science and Religion aren’t Friends”, evolutionary biology Dr. Jerry Coyne states, “Recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head. We now know that the universe did not require a creator.”

Dr. Coyne is right to say there is no scientific evidence for a soul for as the soul is one’s inner essence fueled by their faith – thus nothing to do with chemistry, physics, biology, or any other areas of science as the subject is outside the boundaries of science.

Modern technological tools are unable to detect the soul or discover the source of our faith. Faith is from the grace of God, and it is faith that allows us to affirm eternal life while realizing an eventually earthly death.

Yet, science gives us an understanding of the grandeur of His creation. Telescopes and other scientific tools show me hope, heart, awesomeness, and more – all because of my faith – which is something that science can’t address.

Enjoy the spectacular video on YouTube.