Independent Thought in an Evolution-Soaked World (Part 2)
Release of Darwin’s 1859 work On the Origin of Species had a tremendous impact on public discourse about science and faith. The discussion continues in full force to this day! There have been—and are—many who try to hold to both God and Darwin. Belief in supernatural creation is, they say, compatible with naturalistic evolution. But the consistent evolutionist will inevitably arrive at an atheistic understanding of the universe. British scientist Richard Dawkins, seen by many as a sort of “guardian of orthodoxy” regarding evolutionary theory, unapologetically articulates his belief that everything ultimately came from nothing. Dawkins asserts: “Life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved literally out of nothing.”1
Praised or ridiculed, the anti-supernatural implications of Darwin’s theory cannot be ignored. Some pro-evolution thinkers believe that Darwin didn’t go far enough. Darwin could have/should have more forcefully demolished any possibility of a reality beyond this physical world, they reason: “Darwin pointed the direction to a thoroughly naturalistic—indeed a thoroughly atheistic theory of phenotype formation; but he didn’t see how to get the whole way there. He killed off God, if you like, but Mother Nature and other pseudo-agents got away scot-free. We think it is now time to get rid of them, too.”2
During Darwin’s own lifetime, the former theology student was accused of atheism. Darwin was not a Christian, though in personal correspondence and even in print, he would occasionally appear to refute the charge of atheism: “When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look for some First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”3
Was Darwin sincere in this recognition of God? Or was he simply trying to placate religious people of his day who were unnerved by On the Origin of Species? We may never fully know. But we can clearly see that many, influenced by Darwin’s work, landed firmly in the camp of atheism.
Evolution: The Current Debate
During Darwin’s lifetime the belief was that mounting geologic evidence and other scientific discoveries would only continue to affirm evolution. But in 1859 Darwin couldn’t have known that of the millions of fossils that would be discovered over the next century and half, none would conclusively display transitional/intermediate forms of life. He had no way of anticipating that the complexities of DNA and the cell would lead many scientists to abandon completely naturalistic explanations of life.
Darwin would not live to see the discoveries of 20th-century physicists proving that the universe appears “finely tuned” to support life (in particular: human life). Over 100 “anthropological constants” would be discovered that, together, make life on planet Earth possible.4
Darwin might be surprised at the scant physical evidence that has been brought forward as constituting “proof” of evolution. He had been influenced by Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (released in 1833), but even pro-evolutionists have pointed out problems with this book. Evolutionist Stephen Gould admitted that Lyell was a lawyer (not a geologist) and his work relied more heavily on argument than on evidence. He said, “Lyell won with rhetoric what he could not carry with data.”5 Lyell denied the existence of any past global catastrophe (i.e., the flood of Genesis 6-9). Even Gould recognized that Lyell’s and Darwin’s works would ultimately cause competing theories to be stifled.
Conclusion: Open Minds and Academic Freedom
Why devote so much space to a history lesson about the rise of Darwinism? Because over the past 150-plus years, evolutionary theory has become a cultural juggernaut. Court cases are fought over whether public school curriculum can even mention that competing theories exist.6 In secular universities (and at even at many Christian colleges), history, religion, politics, psychology, and more are all studied from an evolutionary perspective— not to mention the sciences. As a teacher (and especially as a minister), I have become convinced that students need to understand that a very complicated, multilayered debate surrounds evolution.
In the concluding pages of Origin, Darwin himself advocated for something that is not allowed in American school classrooms: That evidence for competing theories be weighed against evidence for his theory. Even in his day, Darwin recognized that facts are sometimes found which “ . . . apparently lead to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived.” He went on to say, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”7
Youth (and especially students who are Christian) should understand that much of what they hear in the classroom will be skewed in favor of evolution (and inevitably against Scripture). Note the admission of evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller: “A presumption of atheism or agnosticism is universal in academic life. The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”8 Any and every biology class that your child will take in grade school through college will presume the truth of neo-Darwinism, which is a meshing of Darwin’s theory in light of modern discoveries in genetics.
I am not a scientist, but the research I have done in this area has led me to reject the claims of Darwinism. Twenty-eight years of studying the Bible and theology convinces me that Scripture does not in any way make room for evolution. Yet the fact remains that there are people who love Jesus and yet believe that evolution was the tool God used in creating. Christians, like myself, who reject Darwinism in any form should, nevertheless, show love and grace to those who believe in evolution.
Perhaps Christians who accept evolution do so because of having been raised in a culture so thoroughly affirming of Darwinism. The main point of life is to accept that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and to know Him in a personal way. We can’t point people to Christ if we are condescending and unloving to those who— for whatever reason—currently hold a position that is unbiblical. What we can do is to build relationships, earn the right to be heard, and share truth when opportunities to do so arise.
So how should students navigate the sometimes-rough waters of a Darwin-saturated world? I say, “Encouraged!”— knowing that the mounting evidence for design and creation is not going unnoticed. There is growing boldness among many scientists and educators who question Darwinism, and these together are working to erode the stranglehold the theory has had on academia.
We can’t point people to Christ if we are condescending and unloving to those who— for whatever reason—currently hold a position that is unbiblical. What we can do is to build relationships, earn the right to be heard, and share truth when opportunities to do so arise.
Innovation takes time, and innovators have always faced resistance. Perhaps you will be an agent of change—a revolutionary who will be used to bring open up the academy to points of view that question current evolutionary orthodoxy! Regarding our response to those who accept evolution (or any other worldview competing with God’s authority), it is important to balance our zeal for truth with grace and patience. Scripture is our authority; our recognition of this is best displayed when we extend love to others, even to those with whom we disagree.
Scripture is our authority; our recognition of this is best displayed when we extend love to others, even to those with whom we disagree.
Reflection Questions for Group or Family Discussion
1. Darwin assumed (and his defenders continue to assert) that masses of evidence will eventually be discovered that unquestionably support his theory. Would it be accurate to call this faith? Is it significant that his theory was based more on extrapolations and assumptions than on hard, existing evidence? Why?
2. Why is it significant the Charles Lyell (who influenced Darwin significantly) was an attorney and not a scientist?
3. Darwin seemed open to allowing frank discussion about his theory, pro and con. On the Origin of the Species even opens with Darwin encouraging debate about the issue of life’s origins. Why do you think many pro-evolutionists today are adamantly against allowing dissent in the classroom? Have you witnessed examples of this? If there is legitimate evidence against evolution, should students (and the public) be told?
4. How would you handle a situation in which things you were required to learn in a classroom conflicted with your religious beliefs? How do you interact when talking with those who hold opinions different than yours?
5. What is your plan to stay informed about issues related to God and science, Christianity and evolution?
1. Dawkins, Richard. The Ancestor’s Tale. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 2004, p. 613.
2. Fodor, Jerry, and Piattelli-Palmarini, Massimo. What Darwin Got Wrong. New York: Farar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010, p. 163.
3. Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. Cambridge, UK: Icon Books, Ltd., 2003, p. 149.
4. For more on this, see: Behe, Michael J. The Edge of Evolution. New York: Free Press, 2007, pp. 205-219. For a scientist who argues on completely secular grounds that earth was intentionally designed to support life, see: Gribben, John. Alone In the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2011. Gribben is one of a growing number of scientists who conclude that our universe is intentionally structured for life. The default position of evolutionary scientists has been to assume that given enough time (like billions of years), any necessary ordering of the universe is possible.
5. Gould, Stephen J., quoted in: Berggren, W.A., and J.A. Van Couvering, editors. Catastrophes and Earth History: The New Uniformitarianism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984, pp. 13-16.
6. See: Dembski, William A., and Jonathan Witt. Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2010. An interesting trend in recent years has been the emergence of many scientists and physicians who question Darwinism and who also advocate open discussion (and teaching) about other theories in the classroom. Two related websites are: www.dissentfromdarwin.org, and www.doctorsdoubtingdarwin.com .
7. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray, 1859, p. 1.
8. Miller, Kenneth R. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999, p. 19.
Alex McFarland grew up on a farm in North Carolina, living among horses, cows, and 20,000 chickens—none of which (as far as we know) evolved. He serves as Director of Apologetics and Christian Worldview for North Greenville University (www.ngu.edu). Alex speaks to youth and church groups frequently. His website is: www.alexmcfarland.com .