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Charles Darwin's bicentennial

Two aspects of Darwin's legacy for liberal religion.
By Christopher L. Walton
Spring 2009 2.15.09

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This issue marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his scientific masterpiece, The Origin of Species. Two essays take up different aspects of Darwin’s legacy for liberal religion: The Rev. Dr. William R. Murry sees Darwin’s influence in contemporary Unitarian Universalism’s often benign view of nature; Darwin, he argues, helped us affirm a “natural faith” (page 26).

The Rev. Anthony David, on the other hand, takes issue with one strand of post-Darwinian thinking, which has portrayed human nature as not simply natural but downright beastly. When religious liberals affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person and promote nonviolent, cooperative behavior, are we affirming human nature—or trying to radically amend it? Impressed by descriptions of bonobo behavior, he argues that our ethical aspirations are as deeply rooted in our primate nature, in “our inner ape,” as are our more violent impulses (page 30).

Also in this issue: Chuck Collins introduces the idea of “common security clubs” as a way to weather the economic recession together (page 14); the Rev. Christine Robinson urges us to take more spiritual risks in our congregations (page 33); and Kimberly French profiles the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, whose new memoir offers a candid, moving account of coming of age as a black Unitarian Universalist in the midst of the black power era (page 38).

Finally, the upcoming General Assembly in Salt Lake City (June 24–28) will vote on whether to replace the Unitarian Universalist Association’s current Principles and Purposes with a new text proposed by the Commission on Appraisal, after a two-year review. It’s an up-or-down vote; see page 52 for the text delegates will consider.


The art that accompanies our Murry and David essays is the work of Alicia Buelow, who surprised art director Bob Delboy and me when she told us how excited she was to accept the assignment because she had grown up UU in Palo Alto, California. Most of the professional illustrators we commission are unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalism, unfortunately, but there is no directory of professional UU illustrators for us to turn to. So, if you are a UU and an illustrator, we’d love to hear from you.

We also feature fine art by UU artists in the “Reflections” section—don’t miss the magnificent painting by Angie Reed Garner on page 21—and we’re always looking for more. If you’re interested in sharing your work in “Reflections,” please contact Kenneth Sutton, the section’s editor, at ksutton@uua.org.

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