Darwin and God

In much popular comment Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” is viewed as almost immediately causing one of the greatest storms in intellectual history by directly threatening the old Biblical view of creation and challenging the whole existence of God. This was not quite how it actually happened at the time, as scholars have long pointed out, although Darwin’s long time impact proved to be great. He did indeed challenge the central issue of man’s place in nature, the whole question of Nature, Humanity and God. There was indeed some fierce squabbling, and there were emotional reactions at the time, but in hindsight what is surprising is how relatively calm was the immediate debate (especially in Britain).
There was no “war” between science and religion at this time. Not all clerics were anti-science, nor were all scientists anti-religious – far from it. There were outspoken sceptics such as T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall and Francis Galton. On the other side you could set devout Christian scientists such as Charles Lyell, Faraday, Lister, Asa Gray and Clerk Maxwell. There were a number of possible responses to the cultural shock of Darwinian evolution. One was a sort of existential acceptance of a Godless universe. Another was to find a reconciliation between religion and science. More on this soon.

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