Robert J. Berry is a geneticist at University College London. He is also an evangelical Christian and has written a number of works on the compatibility of religion (his kind, anyway) and evolution. He has a quite accurate letter in today’s Nature. Since that is behind a paywall, I have excerpted it below the fold.
The Church in England did not generally react so “badly” to Darwin’s ideas as readers of your Editorial may be led to believe (Nature 461, 1173–1174; 2009).
Reverend Charles Kingsley, Regius Professor at the University of Cambridge, UK, wrote in 1863 “God’s greatness, goodness and perpetual care I never understood as I have since I became a convert to Mr Darwin’s views.” The Bishop of Carlisle, Harvey Goodwin, proclaimed after Darwin’s funeral in Westminster Abbey “It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God.” In 1884 Frederick Temple, Bishop of Exeter and future Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote “The doctrine of Evolution restores to the science of Nature the unity which we should expect in the creation of God.” Aubrey Moore, a leading theologian at the University of Oxford, welcomed Darwinism “as a friend in the disguise of a foe” because it struck at the heart of nineteenth-century deism.
Ironically, in view of later developments, even some of the authors of Fundamentals (a series of Christian booklets published in the United States between 1910 and 1915) were happy to see evolution as the method that God used in his work of creation.
The assumption that there must be conflict between evolution and religion was (and is) the result of the distorting “cultural lenses” that you mention. Modern ‘creationism’ was born only in the twentieth century, largely through the efforts of the Canadian adventist George McCready Price. There has probably been less conflict in England than in most other countries.
None of this is to claim that all religious people view evolution in a positive light, nor that all evolutionists are objective about religion. But we need to remain aware of our cultural lenses.
Two things about this. One is that Berry is absolutely right about the religious response to Darwin prior to 1920 or so. For the first 50 years, Darwin was a friend to religion. Second, he is right also that we tend to read back into the past the battles of today, or overgeneralise one minority opinion of Christianity – the modern, post-1960, fundagelicals.