‘Are you related to the economist?” People sometimes ask when they see my surname. I explain that, yes, John Maynard Keynes is my great-great-uncle – his brother Geoffrey married Margaret Darwin, my great-grandmother. “So you’re related to Darwin too?” Yes, he’s my great-great-great grandfather. Eyes might fall on the cross around my neck: “And you’re a Christian?” Yes, a Catholic. “How does a Darwin end up Catholic?”Read the whole piece here.
The question genuinely seems to puzzle people. After all, Darwin ushered in a new era of doubt with his theory of evolution, and the Bloomsbury Group, of which Keynes was a part, influenced modern attitudes to feminism and sexuality. How can I be a product of this culture, and yet Catholic? The implication is that simple exposure to my ancestors’ life work should have shaken me out of my backwards error.
Among my family members religion is seen as an anachronism at best, a pernicious form of tyranny at worst. So where do I get it from?
Mum converted to Catholicism shortly after I was born, having been Anglican prior to that. My parents’ marriage was a mismatch of personalities and values. It was annulled soon after I came along. Mum worked full-time as a single mother, while raising my brother and me in the Faith, attending Mass at Blackfriars in Cambridge. Fortunately, she remained on terms with my father and the extended Keynes family. If there was any sense in which they saw my Catholic upbringing as indoctrination, or “child abuse” in the way Richard Dawkins has characterised it, I had no inkling of that, except perhaps once when my father asked me what sins a 10-year-old could possibly have to confess. He was a near contemporary of Christopher Hitchens at the Leys School, and a product of the same cultural forces that formed Hitchens’s brand of atheism.
By the time I was in my teens Mum had become a Buddhist. My brother rejected any form of organised religion that contravened his ethic of autonomy. My only link to the Church came through school, St Mary’s, Cambridge, which I left at 16 for college. Away from any contact with the Church, secular values prevailed and I drifted into agnosticism. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s, while studying for a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University, that life gave me cause to reassess those values. Relationships, feminism, moral relativism, the sanctity and dignity of human life: experience put them all under my scrutiny.
By this point Dawkins had sparked “the God debate” with The God Delusion, and my great-great-great grandfather’s theory of natural selection by evolution was being used to support New Atheism. Aware that Darwin himself said “Agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind” and “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent theist and an evolutionist”, I followed the debate carefully. Did evidence for evolution necessarily imply atheism?
...I read central texts on both sides of the debate and found more to convince me in the thoughtful and measured responses of Alister McGrath and John Cornwell, among others, than in the impassioned prose of Hitchens et al. New Atheism seemed to harbour a germ of intolerance and contempt for people of faith that could only undermine secular Humanist claims to liberalism. Moreover, it could not adequately account for the problem of morality, discussed by C S Lewis in Mere Christianity, without recourse to an inherently contradictory argument.
I used to blog more about evolution, though I eventually left it off because I felt like I'd said most of what I had to say, and the whole "do Christianity and evolution contradict each other" debate seems to go in circles rather than progress. However, soon-to-be-family-member apparently thought of me first when it came to commenting on the story, and so I ended up doing a brief radio interview the other day for the Son Rise Morning Show on Sacred Heart Radio dealing with Laura Keynes' reversion to the faith. If you have any interest in hearing it, I'm told the interview will play tomorrow (Wednesday June 19th) morning at 6:35AM Eastern. You can hear it online here. The piece may re re-run on Thursday the 20th at 7:45AM Eastern.
Prepping for the discussion, I had occasion to go back over my old evolution posts and realized that since they were mostly written to respond to specific posts or questions, they were kind of spotty and disorganized when it comes to presenting an overall discussion of the issue. Maybe it's time to revisit the topic with a more mature eye.