A Biologist’s Sonnet

george-john-romanesOne of our friends, Dr. Tim McGrew, shared this moving sonnet with us recently. It’s from the famous biologist (and a favorite student of Charles Darwin) George Romanes. Romanes started out as a Christian (and aspiring poet) but lost his faith as he studied evolutionary biology. He would return to his faith at the end of his life after knowing several Christians whose ability to have a reasoned and rational faith, two things he thought impossible, gave him hope.

What is remarkable about Romanes is that he seemed to understand what he was losing in his apostasy and it caused him great sadness.  This resonates with me for I too struggled through a long season of doubt, grieving in the deepest parts of my being that Christianity might, after all, be mere wishful thinking.

Romanes wrote the following in a letter to his wife on the only verse from Psalm 27 that he believed applied to him (he had not yet returned to Christ):

“I will not disappoint you about the sonnet, which you expect to be in the vein of ‘Weltschmerz,’ and therefore send you the first of the series which I wrote in the small hours, after reading your favourite Psalm. There was only one verse that remained appropriate to me, so I took it as a text. … I did not intend to send the sonnet even to you when I wrote it, but afterwards thought I ought to have no secrets.”

From Psalm 27:7

I ask not for Thy love, O Lord: the days
Can never come when anguish shall atone.
Enough for me were but Thy pity shown,
To me as to the stricken sheep that strays,
With ceaseless cry for unforgotten ways—
O lead me back to pastures I have known,
Or find me in the wilderness alone,
And slay me, as the hand of mercy slays.
I ask not for Thy love; nor e’en so much
As for a hope on Thy dear breast to lie;
But be Thou still my shepherd still with such
Compassion as may melt to such a cry;
That so I hear Thy feet, and feel Thy touch
And dimly see Thy face ere yet I die.

You can read more about his remarkable story at Dr. McGrew’s wonderful site, The Library of Historical Apologetics: “A Pilgrim’s Regress: George John Romanes and the Search for Rational Faith”

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