ARTICLE: Making a Theist out of Darwin: Asa Gray’s Post-Darwinian Natural Theology

Online first from the journal Science & Education:

Making a Theist out of Darwin: Asa Gray’s Post-Darwinian Natural Theology

T. Russell Hunter

Abstract In March of 1860 the eminent Harvard Botanist and orthodox Christian Asa Gray began promoting the Origin of Species in hopes of securing a fair examination of Darwin’s evolutionary theory among theistic naturalists. To this end, Gray sought to demonstrate that Darwin had not written atheistically and that his theory of evolution by natural selection had not presented any new scientific or theological difficulties for traditional Christian belief. From his personal correspondence with the author of the Origin, Gray well knew that Darwin did not affirm God’s “particular” design of nature but conceded to the possibility that evolution proceeded according to “designed laws.” From this concession, Gray attempted to develop a post-Darwinian natural theology which encouraged theistic naturalists to view God’s design of nature through the evolutionary process in a manner similar to the way in which they viewed God’s Providential interaction with human history. Indeed, securing a fair reading of the Origin was not Gray’s sole aim as a promoter of Darwinian ideas. In Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Gray believed he had discovered the means by which a more robust natural theological conception of the living and evolving natural world could be developed. In this paper I outline Gray’s efforts to produce and popularize a theistic interpretation of Darwinian theory in order to correct various misconceptions concerning Gray’s natural theological views and their role in the Darwinian Revolution.

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