Faith and Evolution Need Not Be Irreconcilable

A surprisingly liberal consideration of Evolution by Dinesh D’Souza from the fairly conservative Christianity Today:

The Evolution of Darwin

The scientist’s problem with God did not spring from his theory.

It was in 1859—exactly a century and a half ago—that Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. It is perhaps the most controversial book of the past millennium, and the work that has since made Darwin the patron saint of modern atheism. According to Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Evolution does seem to turn many Christians into unbelievers. A famous example is the distinguished Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Evolution gave him a profound sense of intellectual liberation from his Baptist upbringing in the South. Evolution also makes some people secular evangelists for the Darwinist cause. Michael Shermer was an evangelical Christian studying at Pepperdine University when his study of evolution convinced him to give up his faith. Shermer is now the editor of Skeptic magazine.

So does a belief in evolution automatically lead to disbelief in God? Actually, Darwin didn’t think that. Darwin was not an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”; rather, he called himself an agnostic. Atheists say God does not exist, while agnostics say they don’t know one way or the other. Moreover, Darwin did not boast about his unbelief; rather, he approached it with marked public caution. Shocking the mores of traditional believers may be Dawkins’s thing, but it certainly wasn’t Darwin’s.

Here we must distinguish between Darwin the scientist and Darwin the unbeliever. Darwin, who was raised Anglican and even considered becoming a clergyman, did eventually relinquish his Christian faith. But he did not do so because of evolution.

The story is told in Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s authoritative biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. When Darwin’s daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin came to hate the God he blamed for this. This was in 1851, eight years before Darwin released Origin of Species.

Around the time of Annie’s death, Darwin also wrote that if Christianity were true, then it would follow that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and many of his closest family friends would be in hell. Darwin found this utterly unacceptable, given that these men were wise and kind and generous. Darwin’s rejection of God was less an act of unbelief than a rebellion against the kind of God posited by Christianity. A God who would allow a young girl to die and good people to go to hell was not anyone whom Darwin wanted to worship.

When Darwin published his work on evolution, the American biologist Asa Gray wrote Darwin to say that his book had shown God’s ingenious way of ensuring the unity and diversity of life. From Gray’s point of view, Darwin had deepened man’s understanding of divine teleology. Darwin praised Gray for seeing a point that no one else had noticed. In later editions of his books, Darwin went out of his way to cite the English writer Charles Kingsley, who described evolution as compatible with religious belief. To the end of his life, Darwin insisted that one could be “an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

Some of Darwin’s followers, however, were attracted to Darwin’s theory precisely because they saw it as helping overthrow the Christian case for divine creation. Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, noted that evolution’s “complete and irreconcilable antagonism” toward Christianity constituted “one of its greatest merits.”

So why didn’t Darwin correct his overenthusiastic advocate? Here is where the story gets complicated. Over time, Darwin’s hostility to Christianity did play a role in his scientific views. While Darwin was originally very modest about evolution—a theory to account for transitions from one life form to another—he became increasingly insistent that evolution was an entirely naturalistic system, having no room for miracles or divine intervention at any point. When Darwin’s co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, wrote him to say that evolution could not account for man’s moral and spiritual nature, Darwin accused him of jeopardizing the whole theory: “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.” Darwin’s ultimate position was that it was disastrous for evolution to, at any point, permit a divine foot in the door.

This history is important because we can embrace Darwin’s account of evolution without embracing his metaphysical naturalism and unbelief. Dawkins and others like him are in a way confusing the two faces of Charles Darwin. They are under the illusion that to be an evolutionist is essentially to be an atheist. Darwin, to his credit, rejected the equation of these two stances as illogical, even if he didn’t always maintain, within his own life, a clear distinction between his science and his animus toward God.

Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, is author of What’s So Great About Christianity and other books.


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  1. #1 by netprophet on January 26, 2009 - 3:27 pm

    I think you might loose that bet. But that’s not my point. The doctrine of original sin is not a biblical doctrine but rather a church doctrine formulated by man’s interpretation taken out of context and therefore suspect. For me it is ludicrous and contrary to the nature of God.

    If you’re interested you can find a Hebrew Lexicon at; http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on January 26, 2009 - 3:55 pm

    I don’t know why that last comment of yours got spammed Net, but it did. Sorry about that. But I agree completely with your assessment of original sin. Amen. But then I am confused about your earlier remark:

    “However, if you are saying that without Adam and Eve we have no original sin, then there was no need for the Christ, who made reference to both during his ministry.

    I looked up Adam as well and it seems like that it can be traced etymologically to the Hebrew (or whatever preceded Hebrew).

  3. #3 by Robert on January 26, 2009 - 4:51 pm

    That’s an interesting take from D’Souza. It’s not his usual tone.

    So this year will mark 200 years since Mr. Darwin’s birth. there are many skeptical and science groups looking to mark this date as HUGE. That’s their prerogative, for my part I’ll toast Chuck with my finest wine….but i won’t worship him 😉

    While I accept the tenets of evolution I think it is important to note that the Theory of Evolution as we understand it today bears little resemblance to Mr Darwin’s original insight.

    R.

  4. #4 by netprophet on January 26, 2009 - 5:00 pm

    My earlier remark was a common argument among Christians who believe that original sin was necessary for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But it was for all of mankind’s sin that Jesus provided a reconciliation to the Father because we indeed have all sinned. Not necessarily under the law but against the nature of God with which we all enter into life but choose to reject in our temporal ignorance of sin. Spiritually we come to know our sin through the Holy Spirit not by church doctrine less we, for example, believe a newborn has sinned just by being born.
    If that makes any sense.

  5. #5 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on January 26, 2009 - 6:58 pm

    Oki-Doki, Net

  6. #6 by Christian Beyer on January 26, 2009 - 7:58 pm

    Rob – sorry you were spammed as well. Dang WordPress! And yes you are right about how we have progressed since Darwin’s original idea. But that doesn’t mean that it is any more incompatible with theism, no matter what you atheists and fundamentalists agree upon 😉 BTW, I didn’t know you were a vintner. How about sending me a bottle to try?

    Right, Net. The common understanding of original sin makes no sense at all. Even as a young Roman Catholic it sounded nuts – kind of like there was an irreparable error in God’s system.

  7. #7 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on January 26, 2009 - 11:16 pm

    Maybe Original sin is like a collective unconscience?

  8. #8 by logiopsychoambrosiaivorytowerpath on January 26, 2009 - 11:27 pm

    I’d rather contemplate how original sin is transfered–is it genetic, or something else–rather than stand in denial of such an obvious fact.

  9. #9 by Christian Beyer on January 26, 2009 - 11:33 pm

    How could it be genetic? Unless you are suggesting that human intelligence and self-awareness are genetic?

    Looking at it from the other direction, ‘original sin’ is that which separates us from other animals.

  10. #10 by rltjs on January 27, 2009 - 12:21 am

    But, will science kill Theism in general and Christianity in particular? Definitely, the answer is no. Eventually, [Old Testament] simply becomes old Church history and mythologies:

    MYTH allegory or parable: a story that has a hidden meaning, especially one that is meant to teach a lesson

    MYTHOLOGY body of myths: a group of myths that belong to a particular people or culture and tell about their ancestors, heroes, gods and other supernatural beings, and history.// Microsoft® Encarta®

    Christianity, the doctrines by Christ, I think, is very little affected by science. It could even come out more polished and refined. [Defects in there, if any, are probably erroneous attribution, erroneous translation, erroneous witnessing, etc. But as we can see, they are arguments between and among the religious and Theists … unless one looks at non-conformists and non-Christians as Godless.]

    Evolution is not limited to biology. It applies to everything – religion not exempted – social evolution in general. Christianity is gradually evolving, we are there or not, some like it or not, by one name or another. And we already saw some initials of this evolution. And there is infinity of time ahead to say that things will stay the same forever.

    That man was no better than ape? It is in fact obsolete. It shows man near where he is at present lifted out of the context that God created [life form] no better than bacteria where everything started, which Darwin’s discovery is just a small part of.

    That is Theism backed by scientific discoveries and theories based on jigsaw of hard facts. And it, very much, perfectly fits Theism as it is one argument between and among Theists.

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