John Stevens Henslow: Faithful Guide for Evolution



On 16 May 1861, John Stevens Henslow (1796–1861) passed away in Suffolk, UK.

As a college student, Henslow undertook scientific studies at Cambridge University: geology with Adam Sedgwick (1785–1873), chemistry with James Cumming (1777–1861), and mineralogy with Edward Daniel (1769–1822). Thereafter, he began to prepare for the Anglican priesthood and served as the curate at a parish in Berkshire. While working as a priest, he continued to study scientific topics, building a herbarium for British plants and working with John James Audubon (1785–1851) to establish ornithological societies. It was in this capacity that he became acquainted with Charles Darwin (1809–1882), earning him the recognition as “Darwin’s chaplain.”

Several excepts from a biographical memoir demonstrate the role of his faith in his scientific research and ministry as a chaplain, as well as his hope for a more welcoming reception for Darwin’s theory among apologists in later generations:

‘One great feature in his religion which always struck me, was the strength of his faith… His was, indeed, the faith which seemed able to remove mountains. It was his strong faith which encouraged him to undertake what he did, much of which it might have been thought by some hopeless to attempt ; and which carried him through difficulties, at the sight of which many would have turned back. It was the same strong faith to which may be traced the equanimity with which he took all the events and accidents of life, and the calmness with which he reasoned with opponents, whose hearts had not been brought under the same principles as his own. And this faith, which was so conspicuous in himself, he impressed on others.’ (pp. 145-146).

‘With reference to the religious aspect of this question, … he had always defended Darwin from some of his opponents, whom he considered as having shown him ungenerous treatment in fastening upon him opinions of an infidel or irreligious tendency, which those who are acquainted with his real sentiments on matters of religion know to be utterly without foundation.’ (p.213).

‘Subsequent inquiries led him still further to modify this opinion, as well as to regret the publication of his earlier letters in the Athenæum, otherwise than as serving to inculcate caution in the inquiry. He continued his attention to the subject, comparing the researches of others with his own conclusions, and holding himself ready, if truth required, to abandon any opinions which it might be shown he had too hastily taken up. With a view to obtaining further evidence, in the autumn of 1860, he went to France to examine the celebrated gravel-pits at Amiens and Abbeville,  where the same flint hatchets had been found in large quantities ; likewise associated, as was stated, with the bones of extinct quadrupeds.’ (p.215).

‘He was not one of those who fear a collision between Scripture and science. His opinions on this subject, as expressed in one of his letters in the Athenæum, above alluded to, deserve to be recorded in his own words : —“I dare to assert that I yield to no man in firm belief that ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration’; but, then, given only for the purposes specified, viz. ‘for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ I am equally satisfied that proofs have been established, by arguments conclusive to all who have learnt to appreciate the evidence, that the inspired writers were often left to convey their lessons in their own words, intelligible to those whom they addressed, and in accordance with their own imperfect or erroneous views of nature… Yet, they who can look back a few years will remember how the same pulpits, then rebuking and maligning the conclusions  at which geologists had arrived, are now content to accept them as evidence of a Wisdom, Power, and Goodness, beyond any that former ignorance could ascribe to the works of that First Great Cause”…’ (pp.217-218).

“John Stevens Henslow.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Jenyns, Leonard. Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, MA, FLS, FGS, FCPS: Late Rector of Hitcham, and Professor of Botany. (London, GB: J.V. Voorst Publishers, 1862; Cambridge Univ. Press Reprint, 2011), Full text at archive(dot)org. Image: Cambridge Press.


Robert Hare: Chemist Investigates the Science of Spirits


robert hare 2

On 15 May 1858, Robert Hare (1781–1858) passed away in Philadelphia, PA. He was an American chemist known for his investigations into spiritualism.

He was the author of about one hundred and fifty articles in the American Journal of Science as well as several books, including: “Chemical Apparatus and Manipulations” (1836), “Compendium of the Course of Chemical Instruction in the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania” (1840), “Memoir on the Explosiveness of Niter” (1850), “Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations” (1855) and “Spiritualism Scientifically Demonstrated” (1855).

Robert_Hare_Apparatus.png From “As a high-ranking scientist of the day, he was one of the first scientific authorities to denounce early American Spiritualism in the press… At age 72 he began his investigations and devised a number of instruments that, contrary to his expectations, conclusively proved, he believed, that a power and intelligence other than that of those present was at work. His first apparatus was a wooden board about four feet long, supported on a fulcrum about a foot from one end, and at the other end attached by a hook to a spring balance. A glass vessel filled with water was placed on the board near the fulcrum; a wire gauze cage attached to an independent support, not touching the glass at any point, was placed in the water. The medium would affect the balance by simply placing his hand into the wire cage… A second apparatus consisted of a revolving disk attached to a table in such a manner that the movements of the table actuated the pointer, which ran around the letters of the alphabet printed on the circumference of the disk and spelled out messages. The disk was arranged so that the medium could not see the letters. Hare’s book Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestation, published in 1855, sums up the results… The book, the second part of which describes the afterlife as depicted by the communicators, passed through five editions. Reaction was quick to set in against its influence. The professors of Harvard University passed a resolution denouncing Hare and his ‘insane adherence to a gigantic humbug.’ He was howled down by the American Association for the Advancement of Science when, in Washington in 1854, he tried to address members on the subject of Spiritualism. He finally paid for his convictions by resigning from his chair.”

Quote from his book “Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations” (1855)

“The universe, as it is presented to my mind, induces a belief that it must have a presiding deity of commensurate power. As there are millions of suns, each having its planets, as the space which it occupies appears to us little short of infinity; as it must have endured from eternity, and must endure eternally,— the power and glory of this presiding Deity must be commensurate with his realm, as to extent and magnificence. Yet evil exists; which can only exist from choice on his part, or because it cannot be avoided. There must be a want of will or power to prevent or remove evil. Such is the God which my reason obliges me to acknowledge. Where impressions are the offspring of reason, they cannot destroy their parent. But those who owe their opinions of their deity to tradition, have a deity which, not having originated from reason, may always be made the means of setting its dictates aside.”

“Hare, Robert (1781-1858).” Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. © The Gale Group, 2001.
Hare, Robert. Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations. (New York, NY: Partridge & Britten, 1855), 213.
Image: Chronicle / Alamy Stock PhotoSwarthmore University Press (1950).

John Herschel: To Believe in The Spirit of Physical Law



On 11 May 1871, John Herschel (1792–1871) passed away in Kent, England. The son of William Herschel (1738–1822) and Mary Baldwin Herschel, he was an astronomer, chemist, botanist, mathematician and inventor who helped develop photography.

One source noted: “John Herschel believed that his scientific discoveries confirmed the existence of a loving creator God.”

A passage from A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1880):

“This use of the word law, however our readers will of course perceive has relation to us as understanding, rather than to the materials of which the universe consists, as obeying certain rules. To obey a law, to act in compliance with a rule, supposes an understanding and a will, a power of complying or not, in the being who obeys and complies, which we do not admit as belonging to mere matter. The Divine Author of the universe cannot be supposed to have laid down particular laws, enumerating all individual contingencies, which his materials have understood and obey,— this would be to attribute to him the imperfections of human legislation; Rather, by creating them endued with certain fixed qualities and powers, he has impressed them in their origin with the spirit, not the letter, of His law, and made all their subsequent combinations and relations inevitable consequences of this first impression, by which, however, we would no way be understood to deny the constant exercise of his direct power in maintaining the system of nature, or the ultimate emanation of every energy which material agents exert from his immediate will, acting in conformity with his own laws…

herschel“Now, when we see a great number of things precisely alike, we do not believe this similarity to have originated except from a common principle independent of them ; and that we recognize this likeness, chiefly by the identity of their deportment under similar circumstances, strengthens rather than weakens the conclusion. A line of spinning-jennies, or a regiment of soldiers dressed exactly alike, and going through precisely the same evolutions, gives us no idea of independent existence: we must see them act out of concert before we can believe them to have independent wills and properties not impressed on them from without. And this conclusion, which would be strong even were there only two individuals precisely alike in all respects and for ever, acquires irresistible force when their number is multiplied beyond the power of imagination to conceive. If we mistake not, then, the discoveries alluded to effectually destroy the idea of an eternal self-consistent matter, by giving to each of its atoms the essential characters, at once, of a manufactured article, and a subordinate agent.”

Lamont, Ann. “Great Creation Scientists: Sir William Herschel (1738–1822): Founder of Modern Stellar Astronomy.” 1 Jun 2000.
Herschel, John. A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy. (London: 1831), 37. Image: Portrait (1829), by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780–1860).

Manfred Eigen: Finding Meaning in the Texts


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May 9 is the birthday of Manfred Eigen (b.1927), born in Bochum, Germany.

He was co-awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ronald George Wreyford Norrish (1897–1978) and George Porter (1920–2002) “for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equilibrium by means of very short pulses of energy.”

Some of his most notable theoretical achievements include: the “quasispecies model” of collected genotypes, and the “hypercycle model” of self-replicating aggregates of molecules. These systems (defined by mutation rates qᵢⱼ with ∑qᵢⱼ=1, parental numbers wᵢⱼ = Aⱼqᵢⱼ and offspring numbers nᵢ’ = ∑wᵢⱼnⱼ) form a system of linear equations. As an evolving system, they pass through hypercycles as connected, self-replicating macromolecules, catalyzing the creation of successors in a process that involves both cooperation and selfishness.

Prof. Eigen was made a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 12 May 1981.

A biblical studies text, Words become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11 by Ellen J. Van Wolde (Brill, 1994), outlines a hermeneutic based on Prof. Eigen’s evolutionary theories by considering the reader environmental influence and the polyvalency of the semes (units of language).

“…Just as in the nature studied by Eigen, in a text too, the number of available possibilities is very great. This is caused by the polysemic structure of the elements of the text: each element consists of many elementary building blocks (semes) and the connections between these polysemic elements in a text makes the number of possible meanings very great. In the reading process, readers who reason from their own language and culture code, and their own context of experiences, distinguish a number of elements inside the text continuum as bearers of meaning and let these function in their giving of meaning, so the nodal points or intersections arise between text and reader… In this way it can become clear that what Eigen said about evolution applies here too: neither absolute arbitrariness nor absolute necessity determines the creation of meaning; rather, a directed collaboration between text and reader enables a particular choice out of a number of possibilities.”

Referenced:– “Hypercycle (chemistry).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
“Quasispecies model.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
“Ordinary Academicians: Manfred Eigen.” ©2011-2015 The Pontifical Academy of Sciences. —Wolde, Ellen J. Words Become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11. Vol. 6. (Leiden, NL: Brill, 1994), 173,175.

Teilhard de Chardin on scientific research


2014-02-27 TdChardin

“We Christians have no need to be afraid of, or to be unreasonably shocked by, the results of scientific research, whether in physics, in biology, or in history. Some Catholics are disconcerted when it is pointed out to them – either that the laws of providence may be reduced to determinisms and chance – or that under our most spiritual powers there lie hidden most complex material structures – or that the Christian religion has roots in a natural religious development of human consciousness – or that the human body presupposes a vast series of previous organic developments. Such Catholics either deny the facts or are afraid to face them. This is a huge mistake. The analyses of science and history are very often accurate; but they detract nothing from the almighty power of God nor from the spirituality of the soul, nor from the supernatural character of Christianity, nor from man’s superiority to the animals.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in a lecture on 27 February 1921 in Paris titled “Christ and Science”


Fr. Alexandre Guy Pingré: Creator of an Observatory


pingre 3

On 01 May 1796, Fr. Alexandre Guy Pingré, C.R.S.A. (1711–1796) passed away in Paris, France. He was an Augustinian priest and an astronomer who studied the history of comets.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) notes: “He built an observatory in the abbey of Ste-Geneviève and there spent forty years of strenuous labour… [Nicolas-Louis de] Lacaille had calculated for his treatise, ‘L’art de vérifier les dates’, the eclipses of the first nineteen centuries of the Christian era; Pingré in a second edition took up his calculations and extended them over ten centuries before Christ… About 1757 he became engrossed in the history of comets, and in his ‘Cométographie ou Traité historique et théorique des comètes’ (2 vols., Paris, 1783-4), the material contained in all the ancient annals and more recent publications is methodically arranged and critically sifted.”

From his Annales céleste du dix-septième siècle (1756 -1786):

»Mais comment se fait cette tendance? par impulsion ou par attraction? … Il faudrait donc regarder l’attraction comme cause de la gravitation des corps; et qui oseroit nier que Dieu, en créant les corps célestes, n’a pas pu les astreindre à s’attirer réciproquement en raison directe de leur masse et inverse du quarré de leur distance?«

“But how is this tendency? by impulse or attraction? … It would be necessary to look at the attraction as the cause of the gravitation of the bodies; and who would dare to say that God, in creating the celestial bodies, could not compel them to attract each other in direct proportion to their mass and in inverse of the square of their distance?

Stein, John. “Alexandre Guy Pingré.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1911).
Pingré, Alexander Guy. Annales céleste du dix-septième siècle. (Paris, 1901), 429.
Images: Academie de Marine; CometWatch (UK).

Erasmus Darwin: Science Magnifies the Creator


erasmus darwin 3c

On 18 April 1802, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) passed away in Derby, England. He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin (1809–1892) and was himself a natural philosopher, inventor, abolitionist and poet. With several contemporaries, he helped establish the Lichfield Botanical Society to translate the works of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) from Latin into English. He was buried at All Saints Church, Breadsall, and has also been commemorated in a Sandstone/Moonstone carving outside of Birmingham, Great Britain.

In his Zoonomia (1794-1796) and the posthumous poem The Temple of Nature (1803), he had outlinedone of the first formal theories on evolution.” His writings have been noted for what has been termed “an ‘integrative’ approach: he used his observations of domesticated animals, the behaviour of wildlife, and he integrated his vast knowledge of many different fields, such as paleontology, biogeography, systematics, embryology, and comparative anatomy” (UC-Berkeley, Museum of Palentology).

The following passages from Zoonomia: The Laws of Organic Life (1794-1796) demonstrate both his scientific view of microscopic evolution as well as his theological view of creation:

This idea of the production and changes of form of microscopic animalcules is countenanced by the smaller kinds… Various new animalcules are formed from the decomposition of those which previously existed; owing in both cases to the immutable laws impressed both on inanimate and on organized matter by the great First Cause…”

“This perpetual chain of causes and effects… divides itself into innumerable diverging branches, which, like the nerves arising from the brain, permeate the most minute and most remote extremities of the system, diffusing motion and sensation to the whole. As every cause is superior in power to the effect, which it has produced, so our idea of the power of the Almighty Creator becomes more elevated and sublime, as we trace the operations of nature from cause to cause, climbing up the links of these chains of being, till we ascend to the Great Source of all things. Hence the modern discoveries in chemistry and in geology… enlarge and amplify our ideas of the power of the Great First Cause.

Late in life, his grandson Charles Darwin would recall: “I had previously read the Zoonomia of my grandfather in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless, it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species. At this time I admired greatly the Zoonomia; but on reading it a second time, after an interval of ten or fifteen years, I was much disappointed; the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given.”

Sources– “Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802).” UC Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology.
Darwin, Erasmus. Zoonomia. (Boston, MA: Carlisle Press, 1st ed. 1794-1796), 438, 441.
Autobiography of Charles Darwin Ed. Francis Darwin. (London, GB: Murray, 1892), 166.
Images: Painting by Joseph Wright (1734–1797);