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By 
Praveen Sethupathy
 on May 23, 2017

One of Darwin’s Greatest Supporters Was a Devout Christian

The person that Darwin felt best understood and appreciated him and his theory was a devout man of faith and a follower of Christ.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Editor’s note: Below is one of the “highlight clips” from the plenary talks at our Christ and Creation conference last month in Houston, TX. This week’s clip is from Praveen Sethupathy’s talk, titled “Quid Est Veritas: Reflections on Science and Faith.” In the video below, Praveen discusses the relationship between Darwin and Asa Gray, a Christian contemporary of Darwin’s who defended his findings. (Embedded video is the full talk, fast forward to 13:15 to see the section transcribed below.)

Randomness does not imply lack of order or purpose. Instead, it can—operating under specified constraints—weave a pretty beautiful tapestry, like how evolutionary processes bring about the diversity of biological life.

One of the earliest and most enthusiastic American supporters of Darwin’s thesis was a man named Asa Gray. He was a botanist at Harvard and a devout Christian. After critical examination of the theory and extensive back-and-forth interaction with Darwin himself, he found the theory so beautiful, so compelling that he was among the first to galvanize support for Darwin’s theories here in America.

And he went on to author a volume of essays called Darwinia about the harmony between biological evolution and Christian doctrine. Notably, Asa was not troubled at all by what he called “accidental” or “random” processes in nature, because he believed that creation was endowed with a certain amount of freedom. Which would necessarily bring about variation, but all within the sphere of God’s plan and design.

Darwin once wrote in a letter that, “no one person understands my views and has defended them so well as Asa Gray.” I want to let this sink in: the person that Darwin—at least at one point in his life—felt best understood and appreciated him and his theory was a devout man of faith and a follower of Christ.

About the author

Praveen Sethupathy

Praveen Sethupathy

Praveen is a Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Director of the Center for Vertebrate Genomics at Cornell University, where he directs a research lab focused on genome-scale and molecular approaches to understand human health and disease. He received his BA degree from Cornell University and his PhD in Genomics from the University of Pennsylvania. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Human Genome Research Institute under the mentorship of Dr. Francis Collins, he moved in 2011 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics. The same year he was selected by Genome Technology as one of the nation’s top 25 rising young investigators in genomics. In 2017, he returned to Cornell University as an Associate Professor and was promoted to Full Professor in 2022. Praveen has authored over 125 peer-reviewed publications and has served as a reviewer for 50 different scientific journals. Recent honors include the prestigious American Diabetes Association Pathway To Stop Diabetes Research Accelerator and the Boehringer Ingelheim Research Mentor Award. Praveen has been an invited speaker for the Veritas Forum, has served on the advisory board for the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, and serves on the Board of Directors for BioLogos. He lives in Brooktondale, NY with his wife and three children.