November 30, 2020

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 8- The Religious Evolution of Darwin

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes!
Chapter 8- The Religious Evolution of Darwin

By Denis O. Lamoureux

In this chapter Denis strives to rehabilitate Darwin’s popular image as the atheist of atheists.  After all, Richard Dawkins has famously noted that while it had always been possible to reject theology, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker London: Penguin, 1991, 6).  At first, as I began this chapter, I was skeptical of what Denis was trying to accomplish.  Charles Darwin’s theological views seemed to me to not be relevant to the science of evolution.  Either the science was correct or it wasn’t.  But as I read on, I was mindful of the audience that Denis was specifically trying to reach with this book; the young Christian raised in anti-evolution evangelicalism who was beginning their college years exposed to the actual science for the first time.

To that person, Darwin is the great bugaboo, the originator of “Darwinism”.  Richard Dawkins, and others like him, equate “Darwinism” with their own dysteleological view of evolution in which “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, New York: BasicBooks, 1995, 133).   But Denis says:

The final surprise in this chapter will be to show that Charles Darwin did not embrace Darwinism…  Dawkins famously stated that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.  To counter Dawkins, I propose that Darwin makes it possible for me to an intellectually fulfilled theist.  Be assured that this is no attempt to “Christianize” Darwin, because he rejected Christianity as a young adult.  But what I will suggest is that Darwin provide numerous theological insights that have assisted me as a Christian to embrace evolution as the Lord’s creative process for making all plants and animals, including men and women.

Denis then traces Darwin biography with numerous quotes that indicate he did believe the deist version of intelligent design.  In his early Cambridge years, Darwin was introduced to the works of William Paley and the watchmaker analogy.  During his voyage on the Beagle, in his final diary entry, Darwin writes:

Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests, undefaced by the hand of man, whether those of Brazil where the powers of life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where death & decay prevail.  Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature– No one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.

Darwin clearly rejected God-of-the-gaps arguments as well as an interventionist, miracle working God.  He says in his autobiography:

By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported—that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become—that the men at the time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us… by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.

However, in an earlier version of The Origin of the Species, he seems to have believed that biological evolution was teleological.  He explicitly states, “By nature, I mean the laws ordained by God to govern the universe.”  In the last sentence of The Origin of the Species, he states:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Denis notes that in the next five editions of his book from 1860 to 1872, Darwin is even more explicit and replaces “originally breathed” with “breathed by the Creator”.  In a letter to Asa Gray dated May 22, 1860, devout Christian and Harvard botanist who promoted The Origin of the Species in America, Darwin states twice in no uncertain terms with regard to his book:

I had no intention of writing atheistically… Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical.

In the Descent of Man, writing for those Christians in England that had trouble with man evolving from lower life forms, Darwin applies the Embryology-Evolution Analogy and says, “… The birth of both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance.”

Finally, in his autobiography, Darwin argues back and forth with himself thusly:

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight.  This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wondrous universe, including man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a result of blind chance or necessity.  When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist… But then arises the horrid doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?

So Denis concludes:

… the story of Charles Darwin is not only surprising, it is also an encouragement to Christians who are wrestling with biological evolution.  He offers numerous theological insights that assist us to move beyond the “evolution” vs. “creation” debate.  By declaring, “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist,” Darwin opens the door for us to love Jesus and to accept evolution.  We can reword this remarkable insight for twenty-first-century generation:  It seems absurd to doubt that anyone may be an ardent born-again Christian and an evolutionary creationist.

So what do you think?  Did Denis make his point?  Is it important to revise Darwin’s viewpoint from atheist to agnostic deist?  Does Denis’ argument lessen the impact of atheist rhetoric about “intellectually fulfilled atheists” and does his argument counteract the fundamentalist rhetoric that casts Darwin as the “evilution boogeyman”?


  1. Darwin’s views did change over time. The 1879 letter to Fordyce in full

    It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.

    btw it can be interesting to mine his correspondence at

    Darwin’s close friend, Thomas Huxley, is usually credited with coining the word agnostic and applying it to himself. This should be remembered when considering how Darwin may have understood the word.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    John Barry,
    Before you start today, have a chill pill, talk a run with your dog or a circle around the block. Eat chocolate .Try coffee and dounuts.

    We all get the drift of your thoughts. We are all equal on the blog. Some of us are theologians, some just write haiku, like me.
    Please give us space to think through the days post and self evaluate our positions and our faith as we all consider Advent and remembering the birth of our Lord Jesus and then to further consider our acceptance into the Heavenly Kingdom, what ever that entails.
    I know you are new to our blog, take notes and reevaluate your thoughts and contributions.
    We care for each other.

    May our Lord bless us all this Advent as we approach this Holy Time.


    • john barry says

      Susan, thanks for your advice. What is the purpose of this site? Is it to agree with each other in outlook and opinion? I certainly hope that I have not inferred that all are all equal in their rights and freedom of opinion. I work to be “equal” with some on this board who have knowledge and a keen intellect. I am humble out of necessity more , in my humble opinion. I am here because many on this site have views different than mine. How much “space” do you need before you form an opinion or position. If there are “rules” on this blog other than common courtesy , common sense and a respect for others , what are they? If my comments here are disruptive or in any way offensive if the responsible person for this blog notifies me I will not participate. So thank you for your advice, I will tell my wife that I have been advised to eat candy, drink a lot coffee and have a donut, this is advice I must follow as it came off the internet. You said it as well as Tiny Tim “God Bless Us All, Each and Every One”. Thanks for your concern . My son lives in Japan , your haiku is well written.

      • john barry says

        in above, “all are not equal” is what I meant , left out the “not,” shows we are not all equal in proofreading and writing ability. Thanks

      • Mike the Geologist says

        John: your comments are fine and your participation is appreciated.

        • Mike the G Man , thanks always thought geologist were down to earth and well grounded .

        • I’m not a moderator, but I second that. I’m deeply confused as to why Susan is interpreting your comments as hostile.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says


          • +1. Seems to me like someone else needed to take a chill pill before starting today, and It wasn’t John Barry.

          • Maybe we could ask Susan what is troubling her. I can see that something is bothering her and I would like to listen if she needs someone to hear about her difficulty.

            I have found that what is usually presented as the problem often is not, and not even the person telling about his problem knows this. Some troubles run very deep. Susan’s life is tough. She suffers. She has asked for prayer here and we have prayed for her. We have been blessed to have her here on imonk and maybe this is a ‘cry for help’ or at least for someone to hear her out.

            No need to attack her or to suspect John Barry. Life’s tough. God bless John, God bless Susan, and God help us to listen to one another in our pain, which is a language we all know too well.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I have been enjoying all the Science Guy posts ever since last spring when Mike began them. I am not a scientist, but I as well find a romance and a wonder in science’s investigation of the natural world that I have also encountered in Orthodoxy.

        Since I cannot read much science, I content myself with popularizers. This series has been among the best lay science material I have read since Hofstader, Penrose, or Freeman Dyser. And that is high praise indeed.

        Be nice to John Barry. He wrote some great soundtracks for the Bond movies back in the day.

        • john barry says

          Burro, Thanks for the memory. Somehow in the evolutionary chain I received the absolutely no talent genes unlike the man who made rose to fame using my name. I offered to co write songs for the Bond movies but he never replied as noted in the discussion on evolution I was in the ‘shallow” end of the gene pool. Growing up I thought Doctors were referring to my Wranglers when they referred to my bad genes as family could not afford Levis. Songs I pitched to the “other” John Barry were “Pink Eye” he went with Gold Finger”. “You Only Die Once” instead of the over the top “You Only Live Twice”, “Live and Let the Dog Out” instead of “Live and Let Die”. It appears Mr. John Barry did not appreciate my talent and so far refused to acknowledge any contribution I may have made to his career. It does fit in, talk about evolution , the evolution of James Bond though the years would astound Ian Fleming. Gold Finger is still one of my favorite movies, I guess I have not evolved much but I have chilled out, recommend chocolate , coffee and donuts but a note to the wise, do not try to walk the dog unless it is yours.

      • John Barry, Though we disagree on much, I appreciate your participation.

        • Robert F. Thanks , Again I am here because I value the opinion and viewpoint of many on this board even though I do not agree with them in all matters. I am not an internet/Facebook type and this and a few other “good’ sites are enough for low tech me. You and others here are forthright in your opinion and many opinions here have depth. I read your 5.22 post on this comment thread and actually agree with the substance of what you stated. I do not mind (and who would care if I did) that some might disagree with me, It is their God given right to be wrong (just joking). Too many people I share opinions with are close minded, rude, hostile and nasty to those who differ with them, no way to win friends and influence people. Most of the time they cannot state their case and that is not good for public relations. I am laid up with a minor problem and have some time. I appreciate Chaplin Mike and the contributions like Mike the G, It goes without saying that I appreciate like others the participation of all here, why else would we all visit and share comments. I do think and fear that in social, political, culture and religious areas America is becoming balkanized as people stay in their own circle of comfort, what good is that? So when (not if) we should disagree that is okay as I am only infallible when I sit in my computer chair in a complete stay of nirvana which I do not even attempt to achieve, so sometimes I am wrong but do not know it. Now that is a blissful state in which I dwell.

  3. Susan Dumbrell says

    stars hang in silence
    Christ the DaySpring from on High
    waits His lowly birth

    • Really love your haikus
      I taught my children what a haiku is so that I could share yours with them 🙂

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        Ben, I have been out watching the night sky, having trouble identifying star or planets,
        As you know I am in Australia and the night has just fallen. Quiet and still, the birds have gone to sleep.

        However the skies all magnify the Glory of God,

        I need food, Stars are self energising, I think, I am not.

        Love to you and your children,
        I am composing another haiku for further on in Advent.
        It gives us such scope for elaborating our best thoughts and perceptions of our Lord and Creator.
        Try to put your children to the task, It is simple, 5,7,5. simple

        Too much is about the mind and not about our Maker. He created me, redeems me and sanctifies me and what else do I need?

        I just need to ask for His Blessing to all IMonkers.

        • Susan,
          If you would like some free, open source software for star gazing, check out The software is used in astronomy classes and planetariums.


          • Susan Dumbrell says

            Thanks Wayne,

            That will be helpful.
            Our skies are so clear out here in the country, no street lights or other contamination. I just am not sure what I am looking at.
            I go into the garden every night just to check they are all there!
            I do recognise our Southern Cross.
            We had Jupiter and Mars in a race at dusk at the beginning of the year.
            After that I am lost.


            • I envy your clear skies as I deal with the effects of light pollution unless I trek out of town. The back yard is so much more convenient.


    • awaiting the sun
      morning begins to unfold
      amid the darkness

  4. Funny that he comes to the conclusion that Darwin was approximately a believer in a deist version of intelligent design. Is that different to the modern Intelligent Design that seems to be one of the bugbears of BioLogos?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Modern Intelligent Design” has the baggage of being Young Earth Creationism with the labels swapped out.

      And the Deist Clockmaker God does have some application regarding the laws of physics and physical universe. The Deists’ mistake was taking it too far and giving God a permanent “hands-off” attitude on EVERYTHING after the Big Bang. Maybe it’s more like booting up a Cosmic version of SimEarth, waiting for some life to grow to the point you can actually talk to it, then stepping in to interact.

  5. It seems like Darwin’s views about God were in frequent, and unsettling, flux. Many of us find ourselves in a similar situation, including being not quite sure how we should describe or name our theological position to others. Agnostic, at least with regard to a good many things, is not an altogether terrible thing to be.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > Did Denis make his point?

    Yes, and you are correct that his point is pointed at a particular demographic.

    > Is it important to revise Darwin’s viewpoint from atheist to agnostic deist?

    No, or at least not once you are over the YEC hump. To me, who was never YEC, and was not raised among people who gave Darwin much thought beyond being a historical figure of note – it feels beside the point. But in a different context… I know people who bristle at the mention of him [which is a principally emotional response!].

    > Does Denis’ argument lessen the impact of atheist rhetoric about “intellectually fulfilled atheists”

    Hmm… I have doubts. But then I have doubts if a majority of the human population has any interest in being “intellectually fulfilled”. And I have sympathies that they might be right to disregard such a notion. I also wonder if addressing YEC “intellectually” is going to be all that fruitful; I suspect it is principally not an intellectual construct.

    > and does his argument counteract the fundamentalist rhetoric that casts Darwin as the “evilution boogeyman”?

    Most people who have made it so far into such a book are already opened, or opening, to having that argument counteracted – so probably, yes.

  7. As usual in such discussions some clarifications are necessary.

    1. There is no such thing as “Darwinism” outside the minds of fervid creationists. What there is, is evolutionary theory which began in earnest with Darwin but certainly didn’t end with him. He didn’t know anything at all about genetics (making his perceptions all the more remarkable). It was the so-called “Neo-Darwinian Synthesis” of natural selection and genetics that really kicked things into high gear. By going on and on about “Darwinism” creationists simply enable the mistaken notion that evolution began and ended with Darwin. Obsessing about Darwin’s personal opinions and attitudes misses the point.

    2. Dawkins’ point was not that Darwin was an atheist. Dawkins was pointing out that by describing a non-teleological mechanism for the diversity of life, Darwin provided an intellectual foundation for those who doubted the existence of a god but up to that point had been faced with an otherwise inexplicable question, “Where did all this come from?” And let’s be clear – natural selection as described is non-teleological. (That’s the whole point!Natural selection. If the process were guided or even just tweaked it would be artificial selection.) This is exactly what most disturbed the Victorians.(and of course disturbs many moderns). What was traditionally considered one of the most seminal functions of God could now be explained through purely natural means. (Not to mention that evolutionary theory seems to challenge some of the core beliefs of Christianity. What becomes of Paul’s argument about the First Adam in Romans?)

    Creationists have a real talent for trivializing everything so why not one of the most momentous intellectual revolutions in the history of western civilization?

    There are no easy answers here and I would say that if all of this doesn’t disturb us we haven’t really thought about it. (Of course not thinking about it always an effective strategy!)

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Well said, Stephen

    • –> “I would say that if all of this doesn’t disturb us we haven’t really thought about it.”

      Hmm…not sure I’d equate “being disturbed” with “not having thought about it.” We are disturbed by what we’re disturbed by, independent of depth of thinking. There are a lot of mysteries in life that I’ve thought a lot about (for instance, if there’s a God, why is there so much evil in the world), but I’m not disturbed by those unknowns or those tensions.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Does Denis’ argument lessen the impact of atheist rhetoric about “intellectually fulfilled atheists” and does his argument counteract the fundamentalist rhetoric that casts Darwin as the “evilution boogeyman”?

    I would like to point out that “Darwin as the EVILution Boogeyman” fits right in with yesterday’s post.

    Because “Abortion, Homosexuality, and Evolution” ARE the New Trinity for American Evangelicals.

  9. Burro (Mule) says

    When I assayed The Origin of Species in grad school, looking for a chink, I was struck not so much with the force of his argumentation, but with the beauty of his Victorian prose.

    We live in an ugly age, and we express ourselves uglily.

    • +1

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Both my roommate and Pope Benedict have mentioned the term “Cult of Ugliness” to describe today’s zeitgeitst.

      My contact with it was in SF novels, where the SensaWunda has been superseded by I Have To Show This Is Serious. And one of the things To Show I’m Serious (with or without the “Important Message” flashing subtitle) is to remove all beauty from the universe. The uglier and more AWAP (As Weird As Possible) the fictional aliens, the Darker the fictional society or fictional future, The More Serious I Must Be.

      And in cartoons, where the Cult-of-Ugly style of Ren & Stimpy or Ed, Edd, & Eddy is or was a fad.

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