Darwin is more famous, and more notorious than ever. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ongoing controversies over science and religion. Today’s debates, from the teaching of intelligent design in schools, to questions of free will and human values in light of modern research in genetics, have deep roots in the nineteenth-century controversies surrounding Darwin’s work on evolution. Yet Darwin is most often used in ways that distort or oversimplify his views. He is misquoted or misrepresented in order to support a particular position. Whose Darwin is the true Darwin, and what are the implications of his theory for the present?
The importance of Darwin and the nineteenth century debates on science and religion for present day issues and concerns, such as intelligent design, are addressed in series of interviews with leading scientists, philosophers and historians.
A dramatisation of the correspondence between Charles Darwin and Asa Gray was commissioned by the Darwin Project, and written by Cambridge playwright, Craig Baxter. It was developed for the stage by director Paul Bourne of the Menagerie Theatre Company, Cambridge, UK.
What did Darwin really believe about God? the Christian revelation? the implications of his theory of evolution for religious faith? These questions were asked again and again in the years following the publication of Origin of species (1859). They are still asked today by scholars, scientists, students, and religious believers.
Thomas Dixon, 'America’s Difficulty with Darwin', History Today (2009), reproduced by permission.
Darwin has not been forgotten. But he has, in some respects, been misremembered. That has certainly been true when it comes to the relationship between his theory and religion. Charles Darwin himself hated religious controversy. Creationism and ‘Intelligent Design’ are not evidence of some general and timeless antagonism between faith and reason. Rather, they are the products of a particular place and a particular time: the United States of America since the end of the Second World War.
Several letters refer to events at the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Oxford, 26 June – 3 July 1860. Darwin had planned to attend the meeting but in the end was unable to. The most famous incident of the meeting was the verbal encounter between Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Henry Huxley in a discussion of Darwin's theories. This account of the meeting has been drawn from the Athenæum, which provided the most complete contemporary report and which Darwin himself read.
The story of Charles Darwin’s involvement with the church is one that is told far too rarely. It shows another side of the man who is more often remembered for his personal struggles with faith, or for his role in large-scale controversies over the implications of evolutionary theory for religion. His local activities in the village of Down paint a fascinating picture of a man who, despite his own divergent beliefs and uncertainties, was determined to support the church as a social institution. His correspondence provides a unique window into this complicated relationship throughout Darwin’s life, as it reveals his personal and professional interactions with various clergymen and religious bodies.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century in Britain, religion and the sciences were generally thought to be in harmony. The study of God’s word in the Bible, and of his works in nature, were considered to be part of the same truth. One version of this harmony was presented in William Paley’s Natural theology, or evidences of the existence and attributes of the deity (1802).
Very sorry WDF was obliged to go to Cheltenham with his parents instead of coming to Cambridge, for the weather is fine, the beetles numerous. Adds news of friends and facts about his collection of insects.
Thinks of reading divinity with Henslow the summer after next.
News of family and friends, much of it about forthcoming marriages: Fanny Owen and R. M. Biddulph, Fanny Mackintosh and Hensleigh Wedgwood. Charlotte Wedgwood will write to him of her own engagement to Charles Langton.
Writes lovingly of small events since he left Maer. Fears their opinions may differ on "the most important subject", religion, but is grateful for his openness about his "honest & conscientious doubts".
Discusses CD’s religious doubts. Fears his work may lead him to discount what cannot be proved, and advises that there are some things which, "if true are likely to be above our comprehension" and "that there is a danger in giving up revelation".