English mathematician and Church of England priest
Powell was prominent as a liberal theologian who put forward advanced ideas about evolution. He held the Savillian Chair of Geometry at the University of Oxford from 1827 to 1860.
Powell was an outspoken advocate of the constant uniformity of the laws of the material world. His views were liberal, and he was sympathetic to evolutionary theory long before Charles Darwin had revealed his ideas. He argued that science should not be placed next to scripture or the two approaches would conflict, and in his own version of Francis Bacon's dictum, contended that the book of God's works was separate from the book of God's word, claiming that moral and physical phenomena were completely independent.
His faith in the uniformity of nature (except man's mind) was set out in a theological argument; if God is a lawgiver, then a "miracle" would break the lawful edicts that had been issued at Creation. Therefore, a belief in miracles would be entirely atheistic. Powell's most significant works defended, in succession, the uniformitarian geology set out by Charles Lyell and the evolutionary ideas in Vestiges of Creation published anonymously by Robert Chanbers which applied uniform laws to the history of life in contrast to more respectable ideas such as catastrophism involving a series of divine creations. "He insisted that no tortured interpretation of Genesis would ever suffice; we had to let go of the Days of Creation and base Christianity on the moral laws of the New Testament"
He was one of seven liberal theologians who produced a manifesto titled Essays and Reviews around February 1860, which amongst other things joined in the debate over On the Origin of the Species. Their declaration that miracles were irrational stirred up unprecedented anger, drawing much of the fire away from Charles Darwin.
Powell would have been on the platform at the legendary BA 1860 Osford evolution debate that was a highlight of the reaction to Darwin's theory. Sadly, Powell died of a heart attack a fortnight before the meeting.
After his death his family changed their surname to Baden-Powell in his memory.
Works by Baden Powell
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