Running with the Devil’s Chaplain

In the brilliant movie Expelled we are treated – if that’s the right word – to the inner workings of the worldwide Darwin industry.[1] According to Richard Dawkins, the evolution lobby is “desperately wanting to be friendly to mainstream, sensible religious people.”  The strategy is “to tell them that there’s no incompatibility between science [i.e., evolution—TM] and religion.”

Evolutionists have been cultivating fans among the religious left for a long time now. Charles Darwin, with a degree in divinity, didn’t want to be the “Devil’s Chaplain.”[2] He didn’t set out to destroy Christian faith, but he knew others would trace the logical implications of his theory to their inevitable, hopeless ends. This was the road traveled by Dawkins which is why, as he admits in the Expelled interview, “people like me are bad news” for the PR guys at Evolution, Inc.

Darwin wanted love and appreciation, not a mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches. He actively sought the endorsement of credible believers to soften the atheist edges. One likely candidate turned up in the form of Asa Gray. The American botanist was mightily impressed with Darwin’s naturalism. And yet Gray believed in God. There had to be room for design and purpose, but where?

Like so many of Darwin’s closest allies, and eventually Darwin himself, Gray recognized the problem of variation. Natural selection could only work on what was already there. It could change the proportion of long-necked giraffes and short-necked giraffes, but it couldn’t create giraffes. Gray had a solution: somehow, without any supernatural intervention, God could drive the engine of variation.

Gray bugged Darwin to adopt this view, but Darwin would have nothing of it. In a watershed letter to Gray dated May 22, 1860, Darwin highlights a critical stumbling block: “There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ [parasitic wasps—TM] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” Gray’s proposal made the old problem of suffering even worse. Did he really want to blame God for all the pain and suffering caused by evolution over millions of years? Darwin didn’t think so. And besides, the whole point of the Origin of Species was to explain design away. Evolution had no purpose, no goal, no end. It just is.

No matter what you call it – theistic evolution, designed evolution, Christian evolution – the result is a contradiction in terms. Darwin saw so clearly what Gray could not.

Eventually, Darwin didn’t need the church’s endorsement, but his two-part strategy was embraced by the evolution lobby. Step one: convince Christians that belief in evolution is the only smart way to go. With any luck, they won’t think too deeply about where that’s leading them. At this point, the “useful idiots” will spread the contagion of intellectual respectability among their benighted church-going friends. If they start talking in serious tones about God using evolution to achieve His creative ends, then drop the ecumenical pretense and tighten the screws. This brings us to step two: demand an end to all this God-talk, or else.

If you think I have overstated the case, consider the recent plight of Michael Reiss.[3] On September 11, 2008, Reiss advocated the open discussion of young-Earth creationism and intelligent design in British science classrooms. Reiss is a theistic evolutionist. In fact, he’s a biologist, an ordained minister of the Church of England, and the former director of science education for the esteemed Royal Society. I say “former” because Reiss had to resign after making these comments. How could this happen? Reiss said all the right things about know-nothing creationists. He backed evolution to the hilt. Isn’t that enough? Well, no. Reiss’ belief in God and his church affiliation ultimately got in the way of what really mattered: the merchandising of a completely materialistic evolution.

Theistic evolution, by definition, is not a smart choice, and doesn’t appease anyone. Serious Darwinists of the world have no room for God. More importantly, the God of Christianity has no room for the long, blind, purposeless workings of Darwinian evolution.

[A version of this article appeared in Think, February 2009, p. 39.]

[1] Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is available from

[2] Adrian Desmond and James Richard Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994, pp. xviii, 73, 84-5

[3] You can read Michael Reiss in his own words at

© 2008 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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