Can you love god and agree with Darwin?

AN Wilson on his return to faith after a period of atheism

Has fear of death helped your faith return?

Fear of death.....The approach of death certainly concentrates the mind. My growing hunch or intimation that dead friends are still in some mysterious sense with us was part of the "return". Fear of death has never played a large part in my consciousness - perhaps unimaginative of me. I might be deceiving myself but I do not think that I do have an inordinate fear of death.

Do people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins simply not get life?

I think on the whole that's right, that clever as the professional atheists are, they are missing out on some very basic experiences of life.

What's the worst thing about being faithless?

The worst thing about being faithless? When I thought I was an atheist I would listen to the music of Bach and realize that his perception of life was deeper, wiser, more rounded than my own. Ditto when I read the lives of great men and women who were religious.

Reading Northrop Frye and Blake made me realize that their world-view (above all their ability to see the world in mythological terms) is so much more INTERESTING than some of the alternative ways of looking at life.

Of the things that drove you atheism, what have you still to resolve?

Childish playground things - religious people aren't cool, religious people have spots, wear specs, all those feelings; embarrassment at being in the same gang as people whose views sound, and perhaps are, absurd ; or worse than absurd. The disconcerting sense that certain psychological types (often v unappealing) seem to be drawn to religion. I very much dislike the intolerance and moralism of many Christians, and feel more sympathy with Honest Doubters than with them.

Can you love god and agree with Darwin?

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage of the Beagle, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin of Species.

The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages, its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence - and is obviously incompatible with Christianity.

I think the jury is out about whether the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true, and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book Why Us by James Lefanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian "gradualism". But these are scientific rather than religious questions.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.