From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Mon Jan 27 2003 - 12:05:42 EST

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    I want to support and enlarge upon Ted Davis' remarks about Darwin's
    religious perspectives. I recently completed a review that will come out in
    the "Anglican Theological Review" of William E. Phipps' recent book,
    _Darwin's Religious Odyssey_ (Trinity Press International, 2002). Phipps
    has made a thorough study of all of Darwin's writings, including letters
    that only recently have been published, and also the writings of his
    contemporaries and modern historians of his life and works.

        I begin my review with these words: " Darwin may have 'made it possible'
    for scientist Richard Dawkins 'to become an intellectually fulfilled
    atheist,' but not Darwin himself. As Phipps, professor emeritus of religion
    and philosophy at Davis and Elkins College, shows in detail, Darwin spent
    his adult life pondering the God who has created this evolving universe,
    with all of its grandeur and suffering."

        Phipps traces Darwin's religious odyssey from his days as a university
    student to late in his life. He argues that while (as is well known) Darwin
    abandoned the traditional Anglicanism of the 39 Articles and the creeds, and
    rejected special providence (the _Origins_ is an attack on that notion), he
    maintained the concept of general providence. And Phipps asserts that
    Darwin's agnosticism pertained "to a lack of certainty, not to a denial of
    Deity." I write (as Ted pointed out), "he maintained throughout his life
    that no conflict existed between evolution and religious belief, and praised
    the efforts of clergy, including dozens of those nineteenth-century Anglican
    parson-naturalists, who broadcast this message." His supporters included
    the prominent theologians Frederick Dennison Maurice and Aubrey Moore; the
    latter described Darwin as the friend disguised as a foe, who challenged
    theology to restore the concept of God's immanence in nature to its proper

        To my surprise, though Darwin seldom attended services, he remained a
    life-long member of St. Mary's parish in Downe, served on the parish
    council, liberally contributed to support the Sunday school, and once paid
    for the visit of an evangelical preacher to the parish who had been invited
    to teach about the evils of drunkenness. Darwin was a friend of and
    conversation partner with the vicar of Downe, the Rev. Brodie Innes. Their
    discussions must have been most interesting. He once said, "Innes and I
    have been fast friends for thirty years, and we never thoroughly agreed on
    any subject but once, and then we stared hard at each other, and thought one
    of us must be very ill." Darwin made arrangements to be buried at St.
    Mary's, with Innes conducting the funeral. His more prominent friends had
    other plans.

        "The heart of Phipps' argument," I write in my review, "is that even as
    Darwin rejected traditional faith, he remained a deeply religious man who
    'exhibited reverence toward whoever was responsible for originating and
    developing the universe,' and embodied the highest sentiments of Victorian
    Christianity: 'Even though Darwin rejected Christian orthodoxy, he retained
    Christian orthopraxy'.." Phipps gives several examples of Darwin's
    attitudes and practices to buttress the latter assertion.

        I think that at times Phipps' portrait of Darwin crosses the line into
    hagiography, and I say so in the review. On the other hand, I would defend
    Darwin against a charge that he was being dishonest in his continued
    association with the parish of Downe. I don't think he was, and I don't
    believe he did so merely for his wife's sake, or to present a certain face
    to his Victorian society. Whatever direction he went theologically--and I
    don't think he ever arrived at a finished position--I believe that he
    sincerely admired (as did his champion Huxley) and felt comfortable with the
    ideals of Christian practice as they were articulated in his day.

        Darwin illustrates perfectly what happens when someone's name becomes a
    symbol upon which people hang all sorts of opinions pro and con. We would
    all do him justice if we took care not to take his name in vain.

    Bob Schneider

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Ted Davis" <>
    To: <>
    Sent: Monday, January 27, 2003 9:37 AM
    Subject: RAPID RESPONSE REPORT--comments

    > I offer the following comments on the RAPID RESPONSE REPORT we all
    > in our mailboxes this morning.
    > First, I haven't read Jonathan Ree's commentary in Harper's, but I am
    > guessing that the author is the same Jonathan Ree who wrote a very
    > interesting biography of Descartes, from a Marxist point of view (though
    > this is nearly invisible as I recall), some three decades ago. I think he
    > may now work for channel 4 (BBC).
    > Second, contrary to the report, Darwin never endorsed atheism. Indeed, he
    > declined to do so when a Marxist correspondent asked him to, and he
    > thought of himself in the "agnostic" category in the last several years of
    > his life (he was definitely a theist of some type until at least the
    > mid-1840s, if not later). Furthermore, he admitted that evolution was not
    > necessarily atheistic, and granted the difficulty of understanding how
    > example) our own thoughts have any integrity if there is only accident
    > governing the universe. I agree with the implication of the report, that
    > Darwinism makes atheism easier to hold, but I strongly disagree that
    > was himself an atheist. I would also reject the view that Darwinism is
    > atheism, which is perhaps implied in the report.
    > I am tempted to add lots of comments on whether the ID program has a real
    > chance to alter the highly secular mindset of the modern academy in the
    > West, but this would take a very long time--more than I presently
    > get me embroiled in a lengthy conversation that I would be unable to
    > continue. (I use listserves such as this one mainly to give and receive
    > information, not to conduct protracted arguments. I prefer to save my
    > arguments for traditional printed media.)
    > So, I'll confine my thoughts on this to the following, and let it go: with
    > Pascal, Dostoevsky, and Polkinghorne, I think that the interpretation of
    > nature is morally ambiguous. And it is becoming increasingly clear to me,
    > that the ID folks are committed to a "natural law" interepretation of the
    > universe. You do the math.
    > Ted Davis

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