Thursday, 18 October 2012

Writing “Walking with Gosse” [continued]

“Walking with Gosse” has the subtitle “Natural History, Creation and Religious Conflicts”. Yesterday, I blogged about why I greatly admired Henry Gosse the Natural Historian and communicator but had reservations on how uncomfortable I felt with his many references to his deeply-held religious beliefs.

Henry was faced with a challenge when the idea of geological time was becoming accepted, together with the opinion that gradual changes in the Earth’s flora and fauna occurred through time. He had a very good knowledge of these developments and accepted their logic. However, how could they be squared with the account in Genesis, where God created the Earth and all its inhabitants in six days? In 1857 (two years before Darwin produced “On the Origin of Species”), Henry published “Omphalos”, his attempt to reconcile the Biblical account of Creation with the growing view of geological time and gradual changes. It contained his rather odd theory of Prochronism and, for more on that, see "Walking with Gosse".

Unfortunately, the responses to “Omphalos” were negative – from the scientific and religious communities and even from one member of his own family. Henry was hurt and, having just lost his wife to breast cancer, was at a low ebb. Of course, his faith sustained him, and he appreciated having moved to Torquay where he spent much time collecting marine animals, researching and writing. His young son, Edmund, accompanied him in collecting trips and they were very close at this time, both enjoying the wonders of the natural world.

There are echoes in “Omphalos” of the contemporary debate between those who believe in Creation and those who feel evolution provides the best explanation of the changes that have occurred on Earth. I’m firmly in the latter camp and find the Creation argument very difficult to accept. Many Christians also believe in evolution and feel that the words used in Genesis were not intended to be interpreted literally, as Henry had done.  

All of us face the question of what was the driving force behind the origins of the Earth and its inhabitants but, for sure, fights between the different viewpoints detract from our appreciation of the extraordinary forms and behaviours of all we see around us, from the smallest to the largest. Why can’t we all share that and leave the explanations to personal decisions?

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