Much controversy has swirled around the man, Charles Darwin, and his revolutionary theories of evolution and the process of natural selection. Church leaders have both condemned and applauded the theory. So it is easy to see why so many Christians today are confused on the topic. In this and subsequent posts, I will take a look at the theory as well as differing theories it in an attempt to put the debate in plain language and draw some initial conclusions.
Charles Darwin: A Brief History
Darwin’s Beginnings: Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, in the United Kingdom. He was apart of a newly emerged, newly wealthy, and newly influential family. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a china manufacturer named Josiah Wedgwood. His grandfather on his father’s side was Erasmus Darwin, a leading intellectual of 18th century England. Darwin studied at Edinburgh University at first to follow his father in medicine, yet later switched to divinity and attended Cambridge.
Darwin witnessed the rich variety of animal life and the geological features of the Galapagos Islands
Aboard the HMS Beagle: In 1831, Charles Darwin joined the crew of the HMS Beagle for a five year scientific expedition. While on the voyage, Darwin witnessed the rich variety of animal life and the geological features of the Galapagos Islands, an island chain 500 miles west of South America. He noticed that each island had its own form of finch which were related, but adapted to the specific islands individual ecology.
Having Fun as a Celebrity: On returning to England in 1836, Darwin spent much of his time examining and disseminating the extensive collection of specimens from the voyage. He quickly established a reputation as an accomplished naturalist on the London scene. He also set to work on solving the riddles on how species evolve. He proposed a theory of evolution occurring by the process of natural selection.
Darwin Makes His Announcement: Darwin worked on his theory for 20 years. After learning that another naturalist working in south Asia, Alfred Russel Wallace, had developed similar ideas, and at the urging of friends, he prepared a brief paper. He and Wallace made a joint announcement in which each of their papers was read before the Royal Society in 1858. In 1859 Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’.
During the remainder of his life Darwin continued his research, publishing three additional books on evolution related topics. “The Origin of the Species’ was extremely controversial, with Darwin himself being vigorously attacked by detractors. However, despite such fierce academic and social attacks, Natural Selection and Biological Evolution quickly gained currency and has become prevalent theory in the scientific community.
Darwin died on 19 April 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
When mainstream scientists speak of the theory of evolution, although they refer to it as a theory, they do not mean that it is a simple hypothesis. Most scientists regard evolution as a theory backed with proof just like the theory that the earth is round or that our bodies are made of atoms. As a result of the evidence that they feel they have for biological evolution, they have concluded that evolution is the mechanism by which life has grown and persisted on earth. Although there are pockets within the scientific community that dissent from the prevailing view, they are in the minority.
In the cultural landscape, the theory of evolution has had varying degrees of acceptance among religious, political, and scientific leaders in the last century and a half. As stated earlier, for most in the mainstream scientific community, it is the dominate theory and the only theory to really taken seriously. Among religious leaders in Christianity, however, there are few that take the theory of evolution wholesale. If it is to be considered in light of Scripture, it is accepted with some modifications.
For example, the Catholic view of evolution is that “Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.” For the Catholics and others, evolution is not a proof against God, but an explanation of His creative acts.
But for many Christians, such as most Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, evolution is in direct contradiction to a literal reading of the Creation Texts of Genesis One and Two. Since evolution takes millions of years to transpire, a six day creative process would simply not be enough time. In a statement of faith by the creationist website Answers in Genesis, they state, “The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.” (bold and italics mine) Thus the Creation account in Genesis One and Two, for them and others, are to be taken literally and serve as a guide for all scientific endeavor.
Natural Selection, as a theory by itself, is not in disagreement with any religious doctrine.
For those that disagree with the tenants of evolution, it is not that they disagree with all facets of the theory. Natural Selection, for example, states that traits of a particular mutation may prove beneficial or harmful to a species depending on environmental factors. If it is beneficial, the organism may live long enough to pass this mutation onto the next generation through procreation. Thus, through time, this mutation may spread and the mutation may become a dominant trait in the species. This is a process called Adaptation.
The problem for those in the Christian community is not the process of Natural Selection or Adaptation, but of Macro Evolution. For many Fundamentalist Christians, to say that a species can adapt to a point to which it no longer is considered the same species, is in direct contradiction with the teachings of the Bible. While other Christian traditions disagree with this assessment, it still remains a hot button issue with many Christians, both within single denominations and within interdenominational relations.
For most Christians, the major point of contention is that Biological Evolution states that life evolved from inorganic material from purely naturalistic means and diversity of life was brought about without any Intelligent manipulation. To hold to a purely naturalistic view of Biological Evolution is to take God out of the equation entirely. This is untenable to most Christians. But, for a small minority, their does exist a Deistic view, in which God is a grand clock maker that made the universe in the beginning and then let nature, as it where, take its course. They see little to no need for God to intervene with nature, but instead, remains completely detached from the process as Cosmic, Geologic, and Biologic Evolution takes its course.
This topic is not going away for the Christians. Biological Evolution has become orthodoxy for the scientific community. For those religious leaders that ignore its implications to their doctrine are doomed to a sneak attack of epic proportions. It is time to be informed and speak your views. I have tried to maintain a veneer of objectivity as I wrote the post in order to hear your thoughts and reactions. I will be using this post as a reference for later posts, but don’t wait to tell me what you think. Take the poll and leave a comment, your voice counts.
These, and other websites, used in reference for this post: