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"Finding Darwin's God" — Is It Possible?

by Richard Peachey

Kenneth R. Miller, Ph.D., is a professor of biology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He has coauthored (with Joseph Levine) a life science textbook used in many British Columbia high schools (Biology. 1995 [3rd edition]. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall).

Recently, Miller has produced a volume in which he discusses his "search for common ground between God and evolution" (Finding Darwin's God. 2000 [paperback]. New York: Cliff Street Books [HarperCollins]). At the end of this book, he quotes the final sentence from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, in which Darwin refers to "the Creator." Miller then responds with his own concluding statement: "I believe in Darwin's God" (p. 292).

Kenneth Miller was raised as a Roman Catholic (p. 260), and states that he is "a Christian" (p. 267). Throughout his book, he struggles with (from one side) creationists and (from the other side) evolutionists, trying to argue his case for a middle ground of theistic evolution. Miller's work can be, and has been, questioned on a number of fronts (for example, see John Woodmorappe and Jonathan Sarfati. 2001. "Mutilating Miller." TJ 15[3]:29-35 <http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j15_3/j15_3_29-35.pdf>). But here I want simply to raise the issue, "What does it mean to 'believe in Darwin's God'?"

History reveals that Darwin actually held various views regarding God during his lifetime. To which one of these beliefs, then, is Miller purporting to subscribe? . . .

1. Charles Darwin was raised with Unitarianism, a doctrine that rejects the deity of Jesus Christ. On Sundays his mother Susannah, daughter of the noted Unitarian Josiah Wedgwood, regularly took her children to the Unitarian Chapel (Adrian Desmond and James Moore. 1994. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. NewYork: W. W. Norton. p12. — I note that Stephen Jay Gould praised Desmond and Moore's work as "unquestionably, the finest [biography] ever written about Darwin.") Since Kenneth Miller has called himself "a Christian," he presumably does not "believe in Darwin's God" from this stage of his life!

2. In 1827, as he prepared to study for the Anglican ministry, Darwin investigated, and appeared to be comfortable with, Trinitarian orthodoxy (Desmond and Moore, pp. 48f.). Even as late as the mid-1830s, when aboard the Beagle, he was "heartily laughed at by several of the officers . . . for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality" (Francis Darwin, ed. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters. New York: Dover Publications. p. 62). This is perhaps as close as Darwin ever came to being a creationist! Is Miller claiming to "believe in Darwin's God" from this era of his spiritual journey?

3. During and after his Beagle voyage, Darwin was progressively becoming more and more agnostic. He gave up any trust in the Old Testament as a divine book, he rejected miracles, he dismissed the credibility of the gospels, and he "gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation" (F. Darwin, p. 62).

By 1851, when his favourite daughter died, Darwin had lost any vestige of Christian faith. "Annie's cruel death destroyed Charles's tatters of belief in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity, even if it had been a long, drawn-out process of decay. . . . Charles now took his stand as an unbeliever" (Desmond and Moore, p. 387). If this is Miller's position, then to "believe in Darwin's God" is really nothing more than a euphemism for atheism! — or agnosticism, if you prefer (as Darwin did; see Desmond and Moore, p. 657). [Note: Desmond and Moore's historical claim regarding the impact of Annie's death on her father's faith has been disputed. See the update below.]

4. It is true that Darwin was willing to use the term "Creator" at the conclusion of the Origin (published in 1859). But it seems that, at best, he was acknowledging merely the possibility of some sort of "First Cause" or "philosophers' God." Consider the following passage, written by Darwin in 1876:

"[There is an] extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the 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. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species, and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. . . . The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic" (F. Darwin, p. 66).

If this is all that Miller intends when he staunchly affirms, "I believe in Darwin's God," then we shouldn't be surprised if Christians aren't lining up to become theistic evolutionists!

5. But wait — didn't Darwin convert to Christianity on his deathbed? No, sadly. Evolutionists and creationists now agree that this idea is just wishful thinking, not based in historically verifiable events (see James Moore. 1994. The Darwin Legend. Grand Rapids: Baker Books).

* * *

Kenneth Miller professes to "believe in Darwin's God." He has not told us whether this means a position of Unitarianism, orthodox Anglicanism, agnosticism, or bitter unbelief. Nor does it matter that much, since in point of fact no genuine reconciliation between Darwinism and true biblical faith can be manufactured! William Provine, the atheistic professor of biology and history of science at Cornell University, was correct when he wrote:

"Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judaeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). . . . [Such a God] has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatever that is detectable. In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology . . . if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism" (Academe, Jan/Feb 1987, pp. 50-52).


Update: Regarding the impact of Annie Darwin's death on her father's faith, Australian historian of science John S. Wilkins has commented, "There is a well-trodden myth that Darwin lost his faith after the death of his beloved daughter Annie . . . but this has been roundly debunked. . . . Annie did not die until April 1851, by which time he was already firm in his lack of faith." <http://evolvingthoughts.net/2014/03/accommodating-science-evolution-and-change/>, March 2, 2014.

Wilkins's main source is J. Van Wyhe and M. J. Pallen, "The 'Annie Hypothesis': Did the Death of His Daughter Cause Darwin to 'Give up Christianity'?" Centaurus 54(2):105-123, May 2012. The abstract of that article is as follows:

"This article examines one of the most widely believed episodes in the life of Charles Darwin, that the death of his daughter Annie in 1851 caused the end of Darwin's belief in Christianity, and according to some versions, ended his attendance of church on Sundays. This hypothesis, it is argued, is commonly treated as a straightforward true account of Darwin's life, yet there is little or no supporting evidence. Furthermore, we argue, there is sufficient evidence that Darwin's loss of faith occurred before Annie's death." <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0498.2012.00256.x/abstract>

Either way, it remains accepted that by 1851 Darwin had lost any vestige of Christian faith. See also the Wikipedia article "Religious views of Charles Darwin." <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Charles_Darwin>


For further reading:

"PhD Study Finds: Evolution is Incompatible with God!" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=54>

"Darwinism = Atheism!" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=100&Itemid=54>

Richard Weikart, "Did Darwin Believe in God?" <http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/09/did_darwin_believe_in_god.html>