Re: Darwin and theism

William B. Provine (
Fri, 17 Apr 1998 14:54:41 +0100

Dear Ted,

I disagree with your interpretation of Darwin. His autobiography states clearly
that within a few years of his return from the Beagle voyage in 1836, he had
given up most of Christianity. Being a "theist" is, I think, much different than
being a Christian.

The autobiography also is very clear about evolution and natural selection in
relation to belief in personal gods. Darwin saw them as incompatible in his
later life, but he did not advertise this view (for a complex of historical

We should hold out no hope from Darwin for the compatibility of Christianity, or
belief in any personal god, with evolution by natural selection.

Best wishes, Will

Ted Davis wrote:

> David Campbell wrote:
> " In this context, it is worth noting that evolution by natural
> selection was proposed before Darwin as a way God had created life.
> Darwin, and more flagrantly Huxley, had rejected Christianity prior to
> adopting an evolutionary viewpoint, so it's not surprising that their
> philosophies colored their presentation."
> This needs some comment. Agreed, this may still be the generally received
> view of Darwin, theism, and evolution, and still has substantial support
> among Darwin scholars, such as (I think it is accurate to say) David Kohn.
> However -- and this is a very important "however" -- this may be changing.
> James Moore and Adrian Desmond argue, convincingly in my opinion (and John
> Greene's opinion, which counts much more), that Darwin lost whatever was
> left of his Christianity c. 1850, in response to the deaths of his daughter
> and father, neither of whom was "saved" but both of whom he viewed as highly
> moral persons. And this was several years after he first wrote out a
> version of the Origin of Species (which he did first in 1842 and again in
> 1844), and long after he had begun investigating the "species question." On
> this interpretation, then, Darwin was a theist (perhaps a Christian) when he
> wrote the first versions of the Origin, and only later on gave it up. One
> can see immediately why this is important, if correct: it flies in the face
> of the "warfare" view of religion and science generally, and of evolution
> particularly.
> Ted Davis