Monday, March 18, 2013

Newman on Darwin and evolution

In 1859 Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) published On the Origin of Species, setting out the evidence for his theory of evolution. 

Many thoughtful churchmen of the time saw as little contradiction between “theism” and “evolutionary theory” as Darwin himself did. In fact, Darwin’s complex spiritual journey notwithstanding, he had actually written to John Fordyce in 7th May 1879 that it was “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

Of course, Darwin’s theories gave rise to much debate in his own time and throughout the twentieth century. Clearly, it is now unremarkable for Christians to accept many of Darwin’s ideas.

It is interesting to note that in 1868 John Henry Newman wrote to a fellow priest regarding evolution. Newman was open to Darwin’s theories, and was not intimidated by modern science. This is what he said: 

“As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvelous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr. Darwin's theory need not then be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that 'the accidental evolution of organic beings' is inconsistent with divine design – It is accidental to us, not to God.” 

(John Henry Newman, Letter to J. Walker of Scarborough, May 22, 1868, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973) 


Alice C. Linsley said...

Newman was one of the greatest 20th century theologians. He cut his teeth on Anglicanism in the days when Modernism was beginning to erode the foundations. His insight into Darwin's theories demonstrates that the brightest Christian minds have no difficulty with true inquiry, only with small minded scientism.

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