Charles Kingsley - Who Knew?

Jeff Hardin (University of Wisconsin) was recently speaking at the BioLogos conference and brought up some comments by the Reverend Charles Kingsley. Admittedly, I am not much of a student of 19th century theology, but I don’t believe I’ve heard the name before. A quick search here revealed that @jongarvey was familiar with his work, and @T_aquaticus had a quote of his in his voluminous quote stash regarding the Omphalos argument. I’m sure @TedDavis is also familiar, but I found it just a bit surprising, seeing what he had to say regarding Darwin’s work:

Shall we quarrel with Science if she should show how those words (Darwin’s) are true? What, in one word, should we have to say but this?–We knew of old that God was so wise that He could make all things; but behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that He can make all things make themselves.

This thought really sums up my view on a Creator that uses evolution - it does not diminish the power of God at all, but adds a completely new dimension of unfathomable creativity to His awesome power.

@jongarvey, you’ve mentioned appreciation of his work. What else have you found inspiring?



IDCreationism diminishes Him by portraying Him as a tinkerer who is limited almost entirely to modifying existing machinery.


In a different view, God would be incapable of creating natural laws that would allow for evolution and perhaps abiogenesis. Instead, God has to act directly on the natural world to make up for what those laws are lacking.


Agreed. There’s no coherent theology behind either one.


Probably the most famous thing Kingsley ever wrote, apart from Water-Babies The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby - Wikipedia

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I’ve found that chasing up the primary source for this quote (the only one anyone ever re-tweets from Kingsley) most people significantly misrepresent his viewpoint on nature in the context of his writing overall.

My article on him here.

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Thanks, Jon. I also greatly appreciate his quote on design in nature that you included. I seem to agree with him on several points.

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I would agree that there is no coherent theology behind those two statements about God, as @T_aquaticus expressed them. God does what God wants to do, and (IMO) God it’s not appropriate for mere creatures such as ourselves to say that God can’t create a world that evolves and even has the created capacities to produce life from non-living things without “direct” or “immediate” or “special” or “extraordinary” or “miraculous” (these are some of the adjectives that are typically used in the Christian theological tradition) action. Likewise, it’s inappropriate for us to say that God “has to act directly” to make up for “laws” that are “lacking,” from our perspective.

In reference to the origin of life, I personally think it’s likely that God did act “outside” of created capacities, but I do not know and we aren’t likely to settle that one here. The point is, I am open to God doing things in that way, anywhere in the history of the world, including in natural history. Perhaps many of us would agree that we have no idea how that could have happened “naturally,” but of course that conclusion is (like all scientific conclusions) contingent on current knowledge, and 1000 years from now things might look very different.

If it should be the case that “nature” with its “laws” does lack the ability to produce complex life forms “on its own,” then indeed it would be coherent (and potentially true) to claim that “God did a miracle.” Of course, it’s fair to ask whether we can ever be certain that nature can’t do that, but (IMO) neither science nor theology deals with certainties.

Incidentally, my problem with both of those putative claims about God is not related to any concerns about God “withholding gifts” from the creation, as Howard Van Till famously used to argue, when he was voicing objections to ID against Phil Johnson and others. IMO, Howard was essentially taking Leibniz’ side against Newton, in the famous “Leibiz-Clarke (Newton) debate.” My own sympathies have always been with Clarke (who wrote on behalf of Newton) in that one. Leibniz insisted that the world is “God’s watch,” and that it’s a far better notion of the Creator to believe that God would design a more perfect watch that doesn’t need tinkering. Clarke/Newton explicitly rejected the clock/watch metaphor in this context–contrary to the widespread cultural myth that Newton “invented” the “clockwork universe.” Instead, they believed it was much more appropriate to divine governance of the universe that God could make the world as God saw fit, including a world in which God might continue to act specially from time to time to achieve God’s purposes. IMO, that’s a fully coherent theology, and better than that of Leibniz.

Another way to say this: Leibniz was basically expressing a similar theological attitude to that expressed by Einstein’s famous quip, “God doesn’t play dice.” Clarke/Newton was basically expressing the attitude Bohr voiced, when he told Einstein, “Stop telling God what to do.”

Those interested in more background for my views can contact me privately (tdavis AT messiah DOT edu) and ask for my paper, “Newton’s Rejection of the ‘Newtonian Worldview’.”


That’s really the best any of us can do. We can separate facts from opinions, and embrace our fallibility. If humans were infallible and had all the facts then we wouldn’t need science.

This is a common misconception when it comes to science. Many people have the incorrect notion that scientists are telling nature how to act. Of course, this isn’t the case. Scientists just do their best to understand how nature works. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive. Perhaps friction occurs when theologians start with a belief of how nature should work, and then run into problems when science describes how nature works.

Since we are sharing quotes, here’s a good one from St. Augustine from the 5th century AD:

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