England: Laura Keynes, a great-great-great-granddaughter of the English naturalist, has joined Catholic Voices, the project set up to speak up for the Church in the media.
She writes in this week’s Catholic Herald about how she returned to her childhood Catholic faith after a period of agnosticism.
The daughter of an atheist father and a mother who had converted to Catholicism but later became a Buddhist, she was baptized Catholic. But she says she drifted into agnosticism in her teens and “away from any contact with the Church.”
When she began studying for a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford she started to “reassess those values. Relationships, feminism, moral relativism, the sanctity and dignity of human life”.
The debate sparked by Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion inspired her to read more about the subject, and she concluded that “New Atheism seemed to harbor a germ of intolerance and contempt for people that could only undermine secular Humanist claims to liberalism.”
She writes: “If atheism’s claim to the intellectual high ground is bolstered by my ancestor’s characteristic ability to explore and analyse inconsistencies in the evidence, that same family characteristic led me towards a sceptical assessment of what can and can’t be known absolutely.”
Keynes also describes how her decision was received by loved ones.
“That I freely chose to be a Catholic after much thought and analysis, and wasn’t brainwashed into it, baffle my friends and family alike,” she writes. “I overheard one comment: ‘But she seemed like such an intelligent girl.’ So when people ask ‘A Darwin and a Catholic?’ what they’re saying is that I confound expectations.”
Although Keynes hails from Britain’s sceptical “intellectual aristocracy” – a web of families including the Galtons, Benns, Keynes and Darwins – among her family members was a 17th-century Jesuit, Fr John Keynes, who wrote “A Rational Compendious Way to convince without any Despite, all Persons Whatsoever dissenting from the True Religion”.