Faith Is Intellectually Justifiable
They lived in different centuries: George Romanes lived and died during the 19th century. Ernst Mayr was born in 1904 and died in 2005. However, Romanes and Mayr had something major in common—both were devoted students of Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary biology.
Romanes’ wife said Darwin’s books influenced her husband so much that “it is impossible to overrate the extraordinary effect they had” on him (Life and Letters of George John Romanes 8). Mayr, who was called “the Darwin of the 20th century,” believed that no biologist during the past 150 years modified the average person’s worldview more than Charles Darwin (Scientific American, July 2000, 80).
Romanes devoted himself to scientific research through the influence of Darwin. They first met in 1874 and the result was “an unbroken friendship marked on one side by absolute worship, reverence, and affection, on the other by an almost fatherly kindness and wonderful interest in the young man’s work . . .” (Letters 13-14). The two (Darwin and Romanes) corresponded frequently. In one of his letters to Darwin, the young Romanes wrote, “I value your opinion more than the opinion of anybody, because in other things I have always found your judgment more deep and sound than anybody’s” (68). Professor Mayr of Harvard believed Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection “produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted” into the 21st century (Scientific American 81).
Mayr observed that most leading scientists and philosophers during the 1850s, when Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published (1859), were Christian men who believed the world had been created by God. However, skepticism toward the very existence of God was increasing. This skepticism affected Romanes. His wife wrote that “with startling rapidity . . . he took up a position of agnosticism” (Letters 83). Charles Gore, who edited and led in the publication of a posthumous (1895) work by Romanes (Thoughts on Religion), said “his mind moved rapidly and sharply into a position of reason scepticism about the existence of God at all” (Thoughts 9).
Sometime before 1889, Romanes wrote three essays that were unpublished at the time. One of these was, “A Candid Examination of Religion,” which was his own critique of his former anonymously published work, A Candid Examination of Theism, in which he had denied the existence of God. In this self-critique of his atheistic position he wrote, “. . . [T]he negative conclusions reached in the former essay have been greatly modified by the results of maturer thought. . . . [T]he modifications in question have not been due in any measure to influence from without. They . . . have been due exclusively to the results of my own further thought” (Examination of Religion 99). Through additional careful thought, Romanes returned to theism. He reclaimed his faith in God. He concluded that “this whole negative side [atheism] of the subject proves a vacuum in the soul of man which nothing can fill save faith in God” (152). This is a very significant statement by a devoted student of Darwin especially in contrast to Ernst Mayr’s affirmation some 110 years later that Darwin’s “greatest contribution” was that he showed “the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism [God]” (Scientific American 83).
Romanes died on Wednesday, May 23, 1894, at the young age of 46. On the preceding Thursday he had said, “I have now come to see that faith is intellectually justifiable. It is Christianity or nothing” (Letters 349, emp. added).
In a sense, the more things change the more they remain the same. The Warren Center exists to affirm and defend the proposition that Christian theism is “intellectually justifiable. It is Christianity or nothing.”