Darwin and God by Nick Spencer, SPCK, 2009, 160 ff.
By Howard A. Jones
`For a man who eschewed religious controversy, Darwin has probably had more impact on religious thinking than anyone else born in the last 200 years' - so opens a section of the Introduction that tells us why this book was written. It is not about evolution. It explores specifically Darwin's personal relationship with his God, how this changed over his lifetime and the emotional anxiety that his scientific discoveries caused him because of the impact he knew these ideas would have on religious belief, especially as his wife was a devout Christian.
In his student years Darwin contemplated a career first in medicine and then in the ministry. But when he returned from the voyage of the Beagle in 1836, his career as a naturalist rather than a clergyman was set. It was Darwin's reading of Lyell's Principles of Geology on the voyage that convinced him that biblical stories of Creation and of the Flood were myths.
Darwin's own beliefs thus evolved from a sound Christianity, to a period of many years of agonising doubt about the truth of the Christian religion (a period brought vividly to life by Spencer through Darwin's own words), to a state of open agnosticism about the role of God in his final years. There is no suggestion here that any time he became an atheist; rather, like John Locke with whose works Darwin was thoroughly familiar, he was an anti-Trinitarian.
There is a glossary of names at the end of the book, followed by several pages of notes and references, suggestions for further reading and a useful index. This book is thoroughly recommendable.
Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.