Framing the picture of Darwin in Australia

Anglican bishop Tom Frame’s book Evolution in the Antipodes, published a few years ago, is a wide ranging discussion of everything from Charles Darwin’s visit to Australia on the Beagle voyage, to the teaching of creationism in Australian schools, and takes a sensible tone throughout.

darwin old cropped

It isn’t hard to stir up controversy about Darwin in some quarters, but a lack of clarity about the history of Darwin, his theories, their reception and the criticism of them continues to bedevil discussions. Those with a vested interested in pushing extreme views about Darwin, both pro- and anti-, continue to push the fallacy that he deliberately undermined Christian society. As John Carroll suggests, Darwin focused like a laser on observation of nature, and it was up to later followers to distort or make more wide ranging claims for the implications of evolutionary theory. Darwin himself was reluctant to court controversy. As for his own religious beliefs, he lapsed into a kind of agnosticism, partly through his observations of nature, and partly through circumstances in his private life. But one could never claim him as a flag waving atheist.

As for the rise of creationism, it seems that its advocates rarely admit or understand its history, particularly as a more recent phenomenon responding, ironically, to an emphasis in Darwin’s wake on the all-conquering nature of scientific inquiry, in exactly the scientific terms the atheist evolutionists wanted to make prominent. In contrast to some of the more theological language typically employed by the Church to speak of creation. Frame’s book is a good summary of this history, both in the US and UK, and in Australia.

He also delves into the Lamarckian controversies of more recent times. Many Darwinians are religiously passionate about keeping Lamarck (who espoused a kind of counter theory of natural selection and adaption) out of the picture because he offers an alternative, or perhaps simply addition, to the idea that random mutations in genes drive natural selection. For Lamarck, there was the possibility that characteristics acquired during a lifetime, brought about by individuals’ adaptation to their environments, could be passed on. Frame, again, summarises the history of the resurgence of Lamarckian theory well, without taking sides.

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