Darwin’s Religious Journey

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Professor John Hedley Brooke
Professor John Hedley Brooke (1944 – )
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 8 October 2009. Chaired by … and presented by Professor John Hedley Brooke.

The lecture is a detailed investigation into Charles Darwin’s concern with theistic ideas about, and interpretations of, biological evolution. Darwin’s own ontological position eventually became agnosticism. This involved a rejection of the view held by many Christians that the evolutionary process had been divinely guided.

His arrival at this position resulted not only from his own specialist research but also from a general viewpoint in the thinking of his time. This was that evolution had contained a struggle for existence, which in turn had entailed enormous physical suffering; the facts of struggle, suffering and extinction were regarded as incompatible with the theory that evolution had been directed by the kind of deity postulated by Christianity. This perspective was one Darwin came to share.

Bound up with this outlook was Darwin’s doubt that evolution possessed a purposive direction of any kind, divine or otherwise. He pointed out that the existence of natural laws underpinning biological processes did not necessarily mean that these processes were purposive and teleological: there could be order without purpose.

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