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To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, Theos Director of Studies and author of Darwin and God, Nick Spencer, delivered the 2009 Charles Gore Lecture to an audience of 300 in Westminster Abbey last night.
In the lecture, Nick Spencer traced Darwin's religious biography and examined what could be learned about the great scientist. Concluding his lecture, he said:
"Darwin was … an atheist with regard to the Christian God. But he was never, even in his wildest fluctuations, an atheist full stop.
"He ended his life torn in different directions – between the big picture and the small – but he was clear, nevertheless, that it was perfectly feasible to do both God and natural selection.
"The fact that he supported missionary work throughout his life was simply down to the fact that he had experienced, first hand, and heard, second hand, what a positive impact such work had on ‘uncivilised’ people.
"Darwin was an atheist but also was not an atheist. He was unbeliever who spoke and gave generously to Christian mission. He was a man who had a life-long loathing of slavery and racism, yet one whose thinking, in particular the way he assumed that biology meant destiny, would be used after his death to justify the very worse kind of racist policies. He was a man who has been hijacked for the cause of modern atheism in a way that he would have been profoundly uncomfortable with. Indeed, he was a man who had the bad luck to please anyone with an axe to grind. He was, in other words, a complex man.
"As the historian John Hedley Brooke once observed, we should be careful not to pigeon-hole the man who wouldn’t pigeon-hole pigeons."
Charles Gore (1853-1932) was a Canon of Westminster between 1894 and 1902. As a memorial to him an endowment fund for a series of annual lectures was established and since 1935 a lecture has been held at the Abbey almost every year.
The full transcript of Nick Spencer's 2009 Gore lecture can be read here.
To listen to the lecture, click here.
To watch a short interview with Nick Spencer on Darwin and God, click here.
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.