One of Darwin’s Greatest Supporters Was a Devout Christian


Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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.


Praveen Sethupathy
About the Author

Praveen Sethupathy

Praveen Sethupathy is a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University, where he directs a research laboratory focused on human genomics and complex diseases. Praveen received his B.A. in Computer Science from Cornell University, his Ph.D. in Genomics and Computational Biology from the University of Pennsylvania, and he continued his training in genomics and gene regulation as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Francis S. Collins at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Sethupathy was recently selected by Genome Technology as one of the nation’s top 25 rising young investigators in genomics. He has published nearly fifty articles in scientific journals, including Science, Nature Communications, PNAS, and Genome Biology. He also serves as associate editor of Non-coding RNAs in Endocrinology and as a reviewer for over twenty journals. Dr. Sethupathy has been an invited speaker for the Veritas Forum, has contributed opinion pieces for BioLogos, and serves on the advisory board for AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion as well as the Board of Directors for BioLogos.