Darwin: Hero or sinner? Shropshire's leading clerics have their say

By Lucy Todman | Shrewsbury | News | Published:

Shropshire's leading Anglican and Catholic figures have joined our ongoing debate about Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin and his wife Annie

Here, in their own words, they argue that, far from being mutually exclusive, religion and science work together to help us understand our existence.

The Right Reverend Mark Rylands, Anglican Bishop of Shrewsbury:

Darwin: Hero or Sinner?

Well, we are all sinners! I believe everyone has fallen short of God’s perfect standards and in need of God’s forgiveness given freely through his son, Jesus Christ. Me, you and Charles Darwin.

I do not believe, though, that Darwin is a ‘sinner’ because of his writings on natural selection and theories of evolution.

The Right Reverend Mark Rylands, Anglican Bishop of Shrewsbury

Charles Darwin is rightly celebrated as a local hero because his delight and interest in the natural world led him to have a great influence on how humankind now sees the world.

Darwin did not see his writing as denying God’s role as Creator. He was not an atheist but it’s true that Charles Darwin became an agnostic – someone not sure of his belief in God.


Darwin’s faith began to waver, however, not because of his discoveries but because his daughter, Annie, died at 10 years old.

Overcome with grief, he questioned the existence of a God who would allow this to happen. By contrast, his wife’s faith in God grew stronger following the tragedy.

I believe in a God who cares for this world, its creatures and people alongside a theory of evolution.

I believe in creation and evolution. Science exists to explain the way in which the world works.


The bible explains why the world exists – because of God’s love and purposes.

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‘Theology’ (the study of God) is often called the ‘Queen of Sciences’ because it is seen as including all other forms of knowledge.

When I studied anthropology at university, I was greatly concerned about this issue.

I worked it through and was helped tremendously by seeing my professor of anthropology going into church one Sunday morning! Indeed, I discovered there are plenty of scientists who are also Christians.

Professor R.J (Sam) Berry’s writings have been a particular help to me. His son, Andrew, was at Shrewsbury school with me back in the 70s where we both learned biology in the school’s ‘Darwin Buildings’.

Sam Berry was a Professor of Genetics at University College London and has written books on ‘God and Evolution’ and ‘Creation and Evolution, not Creation or Evolution’ which explain how it is possible to believe in a God who is a creator, saviour and guide alongside a belief in a world that has also evolved.

So, for me, Charles Darwin remains a local hero despite, like me, also being a sinner.

The Right Reverend Mark Davies, Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury:

As a bishop I very much welcome all engagement with the great questions that human life and the universe pose.

The town’s Darwin Festival celebrates Charles Darwin’s remarkable contribution to the scientific debate whatever the merits or defects of his work.

I hope such a festival can be an occasion for a genuine engagement between faith and reason. In the college where I trained for the Priesthood the great library held one of the first editions of Darwin’s book “Origin of Species” which showed the interest back in the 19th century for Christians to follow the development of theories in the natural sciences.

The Right Reverend Mark Davies, Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury

It is worth remembering how a Catholic priest, Father Georges Lemaitre, became the first to posit the theory of ‘The Big Bang’ and another priest, Father Gregor Mendel, opened for us the huge field of genetic exploration.

These two examples come to mind indicating there is no conflict between faith and reason and how the Church has made a huge contribution to scientific development and the scientific method.

Perhaps the questions surrounding Darwin’s legacy in Shrewsbury might serve to encourage a renewed culture of shared dialogue showing the link between faith and reason.

The festival getting everyone talking

It has captured the attention of thousands of people in Shropshire and whether you agree with Darwin's theory of evolution or not, the Darwin Shrewsbury Festival which began this week has got everybody talking.

From free guided tours to brainteasing lectures and dance performances there are a host of interactive events being staged in and around the town.

This two-and-a half-week programme is the first of its kind and cements Shrewsbury’s rightful position as not only the birthplace of Charles Darwin but the inspiration behind his independent thinking which went on to the change the story of evolution around the world.

The DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival is organised with the help of Croud Digital Marketing, Friends of the Museum, Jon King, Morris and Company, Royal Society of Biology, Severn Rivers Trust, Shrewsbury BID, Shrewsbury Heritage, Shrewsbury Unitarian Trust, Shrewsbury Town Council, Shropshire Council and Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

A menagerie of animals, including a life size bear and a huge gorilla have take over Wyle Cop, bringing a bit of fun to the town's most famous road.

Aleks Vladimirov

Aleks Vladimirov, partnerships manager of Shrewsbury BID said: “The DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival allows us to celebrate a man whose ground-breaking ideas and independent thinking influenced the world. The legacy of Charles Darwin is something that should be marked and the festival will really connect with people, set them thinking and help define what makes Shrewsbury a great place.”

A Darwin Memorial Lecture will take place at Theatre Severn tomorrow and Professor Martin Rudwick will describe what Darwin did in his first career: from his earliest geological training while based in Shrewsbury; through his mind-expanding fieldwork in South America and the coral islands of the Pacific; to his ambivalent final fieldwork on the enigmatic Parallel Roads in Scotland, which coincided with the creative biological thinking that later culminated in On the Origin of Species.

This week it was revealed that plans are afoot to look at buying Charles Darwin's birthplace and turning it in to a tourist attraction.

Shrewsbury Town Council has agreed to look at the feasibility of The Mount being bought but stressed it would not necessarily be the purchaser. Shrewsbury's mayor Jane Mackenzie said at a meeting of Shrewsbury Town Council that she believes the purchase of the building will attract tourists from across the world if it was opened to the public.

Mount House is currently the home of the district valuer and valuation officer and The National Valuers office is in the process of withdrawing staff from the building and the lease is due to expire in 2021.

Lucy Todman

By Lucy Todman

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle based in Shrewsbury.


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