Evolution and Religion: Dialogue or Dispute?
On Tuesday, June 8th 2010, Rodney Ward spoke about “Evolution and Religion: Dialogue or Dispute”. This is the full text of his talk.
Evolution and religion: dialogue or dispute?
Introduction) Is the relationship between evolution and religion to be one of dialogue or dispute?
The subject is an important one in view of the resurgence of creationism and the publicity that is given to those who are called the new atheists(1) – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens(2).
For them the issue is settled – no dialogue can be established because “they alone are in possession of truth”(3).
Karen Armstrong says “it is difficult to see how theologians could dialogue fruitfully with Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, because their theology is so rudimentary” (Armstrong p294).
Similar points can be made about creationists.
In this paper I will be asking if there are grounds for a more creative relationship.
1) Signs that the relationship between evolution and religion would be one of dispute were there from the beginning.
Perhaps the first blows were struck in the town of Lichfield where Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, lived and practiced as a doctor.
Erasmus Darwin formulated the theory of evolution(4) from huge fossil bones “found during the cutting of the Harecastle Tunnel on the Grand Trunk Canal”(King-Hele pamphlet p173) sent to him by Josiah Wedgewood.
At first, Erasmus made a joke of it but a bad accident in 1768 (King-Hele 87) gave him time for thought and as a result in 1769 he formulated “the theory of common descent, the belief that all life as we see it today is descended from one microscopic ancestor” (King-Hele page p88). A consequence of this is that
“species have undergone change down the ages, as shown by the fossils of unknown species”. (King-Hele p88). Being a sceptical Deist, Erasmus was not shocked but realising that this went against the current orthodoxy that God created species, and not wanting to suppress his discovery of the idea completely, added to the three scallop shells, that made the family coat of arms, the motto E conchis omnia or “Everything from shells”, which was a rough and ready expression of evolutionary development.
Canon Seward, at the Cathedral realising what the motto signified, attacked him in verse.
“He too renounces his Creator,/And forms all sense from senseless matter./Great wizard he! by magic spells/Can all things raise from cockle shells…/O Doctor, change thy foolish motto,/Or keep it for some lady’s grotto./Else thy poor patients well may quake/If thou no more canst mend than make” (King-Hele p89).(5) So Darwin not being able to openly insult the church, on his medical rounds, painted out the motto on his carriage, though he kept it as a bookplate, making sure I imagine that he didn’t lend his books to Canon Seward(6).
It is useful to be reminded that tension between the church and evolution goes back beyond Charles Darwin himself(7).
However the conflict around the middle of the 19th century is more celebrated. The American John William Draper (1811-82) who took part in the famous debate between Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley in 1860, wrote his “History of Conflict between Religion and Science” so the word “conflict“ became uppermost in people‘s minds (Hannam p2). Huxley showed what he thought of theologians when he declared,
“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science, as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules” (Hannam p2).
Some celebrated people lost their faith in this period giving rise to the term “The Victorian crisis of faith”, Darwin’s name frequently appearing in books about the period(8). 2) But it wasn
’t all conflict. Among those who accepted evolution we can highlight Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1896-1902; Charles Kingsley, Anglican priest, famous as author of “The water babies”; George Matheson, perhaps best known to us as author of the hymn “O Love that wilt not let me go” (R & S 511); and Frederick Denison Maurice, who started a Working Man’s College in London and was a Christian Socialist(9).
One I would like to focus on is Henry Drummond, who was a Scottish evangelist, associated with the Moody and Sankey campaign in Scotland in 1873-75 and lecturer in Natural Science to theological students at the Free College, Glasgow (Smith p29).
Drummond was most famous for writing “Natural Law in the Spiritual World” published in 1883, selling 40,000 copies within 18 months, and going into thirty editions in the next ten years (“The greatest…” p6).(10)
What Drummond set out to do was to show that the same Law operates in the Spiritual World as in the world of biology and physics.
Later on Drummond wrote a book “The Ascent of Man” in which he again sought to overcome the dualism between reason and religion(11).
In face of the critics Smith says “it might be urged that the book is the work of a poetic translator of the science of his time, rather than of an original scientific thinker” (p105). (12)
Whatever the final assessment of Henry Drummond is it is least evident that there were many people like Drummond and his readers who were ready to take evolution seriously and see how religion could be reconciled to it.
3) But conflict there has been and on the religious side we particularly associate this with the fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism wasn’t a term that was around at the time of Darwin. It is described in the 1933 Supplement to the “Oxford English Dictionary” as “a religious movement which became active among various Protestant bodies after the war of 1914-18, based on strict adherence to traditional orthodox tenets (e.g. the literal inerrancy of Scripture) held to be fundamental to the Christian faith: opposed to liberalism and modernism” (Herbert p9).
Fundamentalism has a bad press but we may have some sympathies with it.
Harnack in his book “What is Christianity?” (1901) summed up Christianity as “the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Infinite Value of the Individual Soul”, the original Gospel perverted by Paul (Herbert p21).
Here the note of tragedy is entirely absent and fundamentalism was a reaction to such reductionism.
This reaction was also against scientific and critical theories “inconsistent with faith in God’s revelation” (Herbert p19).
Of the series of pamphlets that began to appear in 1909, under the heading “The Fundamentals” (Herbert p17), some dealt with science with such titles as “The decadence of Darwinism”, “Evolutionism in the Pulpit”, and “The Passing of Evolution” (Herbert p19).
We can see then that fundamentalists are not likely to have a dialogue with Darwinists.
Such reluctance is not always to their discredit.
Today we usually associate fundamentalism and anti-evolutionism with the religious right in America, one landmark in that being the Scopes trial in which the State of Tennessee “asserted its right to forbid the teaching of Darwinism in the public schools” (Robinson p63) but Marilynne Robinson in her essay, “Darwinism”, says that William Jennings Bryan, lawyer for the prosecution, “was a pacifist, an anti-Imperialist and a progressive, and a rapturous Presbyterian” (p64), coming from a tradition of idealism and social reform in the Middle West which “appealed freely to the Bible to give authority and urgency to its causes” (p64).
His argument against Darwinism was largely political, associating war “with the enthusiasms of the intelligentsia” (p65). (13)Whilst we may regret the attacks of fundamentalists on evolutionary theory we can see that its aim is at least partly at Darwinism,
“the philosophical or ethical system that has claimed to be implied by evolution” (p65). (14)
In the dialogue with evolution we need to distinguish between the theory of natural selection and this “social Darwinism” (Miller p171) as it is called, which is basically using the idea of the survival of the fittest to support naked capitalism’s ruthless economic competition and the racist policies of imperialism. This was not Darwin’s intention but is something that we owe to T.H.Huxley who interpreted
“’ the struggle for existence’ in Hobbes’s sense as ‘the struggle of all against each’” (Moltmann p195).
We may note that in nature survival also depends on mutual help those beings that live symbiotically proving the strongest(15).
Mary Midgley has shown in her “Evolution as a religion” how “the notion of evolution becomes distorted by strange myths” (back cover), e.g. that of “the
Selfish gene” (chapter 15), importing moral terms into nature as Macalister said (see footnote 8).
Science, too, has its tendency to fundamentalism – or perhaps it is more accurate to refer to “fundamentalist atheism” (Ian Markham p7), or “evangelical atheism”(16).
As with other forms of fundamentalism there is no real attempt to listen to the other side – in the case of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, to study theology for instance(17).
It involves “an unambiguous assertion of a worldview in which the authors are entirely confident that they are right” (Markham p7). (18)
Once again we may have a certain sympathy.
Religious people may close their minds to knowledge coming from unexpected quarters, as for example Christians who refuse to acknowledge the evidence for evolution.
We can understand Dawkin’s frustration in the face of blind prejudice.
We can also admit such blots on the history of the church as the Holocaust with its roots in the anti-Semitism of the Christian tradition, the Inquisition torturing people in order to root out heretics and witches, and the crusades.
Again there is the lack of toleration some Christians display lagging behind in the advocacy of progressive causes (though we may note that what is progressive is in the eye of the beholder, to some extent) .
Such facts, however, don’t satisfactorily account for the current hostility to religion.
John Gray sees this as a reaction to the fact that “Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times” (Gray p2). (19)
4) None of this makes for a satisfactory dialogue.
In order for such a dialogue to take place there must be a mutual respect and a willingness to learn from either side(20).
Darwin himself would have supported a courteous and respectful attitude to people of religious belief.
He himself moved from a formal orthodoxy to agnosticism, the death of his daughter Annie in 1851, and the consequent experience of suffering playing an important part in the loss of his faith (Spencer 118).(21)
All of this is argued at some length in “Darwin and God” by Nick Spencer(22).
John Gray gives some indications of what might make for a dialogue.
“Science is the best tool we have for forming reliable beliefs about the world, but it does not differ from religion by revealing a bare truth that religions veil in dreams.
Both science and religion are systems of symbols that serve human needs – in the case of science, for prediction and control.
Religions have served many purposes, but at bottom they answer to a need for meaning that is met by myth rather than explanation” (Gray p4).
Science and religion then serving human needs but in different ways(23).
Both will have to feel that they owe something to the other side.
In the case of science, this may be that Christianity provided the framework of an ordered universe in which science was able to flourish, (“Rescuing…“ 51) and that scientists as human beings are equally in need of meaning.
In the case of religion, that science does form reliable beliefs about the world
which are revisable in the light of further knowledge, this revision of science coming about for scientific rather than for religious reasons(24).
5) One way of interpreting the different domains of science and religion is to see a strict boundary between them.
This is the line that has been pursued by some theologians, Moltmann referring to it as “the indifferentist solution” (Moltmann p192).
The fact that neither side can interfere in the other means that there is no dialogue and no solution to the problems.
Karl Barth was an exponent of such a position emphasising that God can only be known through self-disclosure.
“He cannot be known by the powers of human knowledge, but” can be known “solely because of His own freedom, decision and action” (from “Dogmatics in outline” quoted in Polkinghorne p2).
Barth here is setting his face against “natural theology” – “the search for the knowledge of God by the exercise of reason and the inspection of the world” (Polkinghorne p2).
Against this we may argue that though natural theology(25) won’t lead us to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ we can discover something of God through his creation, God being found in the general as well as in the particular (Polkinghorne page 3). (26)
John Keble in his hymn “There is a book (who runs may read)” sees creation as a book in which we may read the works of God (“Hymns and Psalms” 340).
6) We may look then at one or two of the questions that arise in the dialogue between religion and evolution.
a) The creation stories in Genesis are not a scientific account of how life developed, seeing creation finished and complete in a few days.
Church Fathers such as Augustine(27) saw the figurative role of language in the early chapters of Genesis and early Jewish commentators favoured symbolic readings, one rabbinic view being that “God created everything instantaneously rather than in any particular period of time” (“Rescuing…” p47).
Philo, at the time of Jesus and Paul argued that “the days of creation, the ‘image of God’, Adam and Eve, and the garden of Eden” were all “modes of making ideas visible” (“Rescuing…” p48).
It is interesting that with regard to the Fall, Steve Taylor, a psychologist at Manchester University, has written a book, “The Fall”, in which he seeks to show that around 4,000 B.C. there was an “ego explosion”, “A sense of selfishness which opened up the chatter in our heads: a relentless bombardment of demands for self-gratification”, triggered by the desertification of the Sahara.
Perhaps the Genesis story represents some kind of reflection on this? (28)
b) The question of the length of time involved in the history of the universe and the evolutionary process and the vastness of the universe is seen as a problem, the accusation being that it is wasteful.
However, “the universe needs to be this old (and therefore this vast) in order for elements such as carbon and oxygen, essential for life to be formed…complex life needs billions of years to evolve.
It takes 3.8 billion years, years of extraordinary fruitfulness and diversity, to make a human being” (“Rescuing…” p55).
In any case what does “waste” mean?
God is more like a creative artist than the manager of an industrial plant (“Rescuing…” p56).
c) There is the question of pain.
Part of the answer is that we need pain to stay alive, but this is only an aspect of it(29).
What about predators?
Tennyson raises it in “In Memoriam”.
He is speaking of ”Man…Who trusted God was love indeed/ And love creations final law -/Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw/With ravine, shrieked against his creed – “ (Tennyson p261).
Barbara Kingsolver in her novel “Prodigal Summer” has a chapter on “Predators”.
She trained as a biologist before becoming a novelist and apart from the people, coyotes figure largely in this novel.
Deanna Wolfe, the chief character is speaking to Eddie, who has shot a turkey.
She is a wild-life biologist, a lover of the coyotes, and he expects to be reprimanded but she says, “It’s just a turkey”.
“What do you mean, ‘just a turkey’? You won’t even let me squash a spider in the outhouse with my shoe.” “A spider’s a predator. You kill that gal and we’ll have a hundred flies in there, which is not my idea of a good time” (p319).
The conversation goes on and then she says of the turkey, “It’s a prey species.
It has fallen prey to us. I can deal with that. Predation’s a sacrament, Eddie; it culls out the sick and the old, keeps populations from going through their own roofs. Predation is honourable” (p320).
And later, “What about spiders and turkeys? You know about that as well as I do, It’s not complicated. Removing a predator has bigger consequences for a system” (p322).
And then later, “Even if you never touch meat, you’re costing something its blood,” she said. “Don’t patronise me. I know that. Living takes life” (p326).
Of course this doesn’t prove anything, but it shows we can be sentimental about nature.
Evan Eisenberg contrasts predation with mutualism – the latter sounds cosy but it may be at the expense of a third party.
“Predator and prey control each others’ numbers in a rough, fluctuating balance of power; mutualism, on the other hand, can give a group of species an edge on those around them – an edge that slices through ecosystems” (p16).
d) There is the question of design.
Old arguments for design (known as teleological arguments) such as were put forward by William Paley are made redundant by natural selection which explains why it is that things look as if they are designed(30).
However, design arguments have reappeared in a different form.
This is partly through the idea of “convergence”, which is “the recurrent tendency of biological organisation to arrive at the same ’solution’ to a particular need” (Spencer p115 quoting “Life’s solution: Inevitable humans in a lonely universe” by Simon Conway Morris).
Thus “Eyes (both camera and compound), wings, legs, claws, teeth, brains, tool-use, agriculture and much else besides have evolved time and time and time again” (Spencer p115-6).
“The evolutionary routes are many, but the destinations are limited” (Spencer p116 quoting “Life’s solution…”).
Another idea is the anthropic principle which points to the fact that the universe came into existence at some point in the past (the Big Bang), but “that the mathematical constants that underpin the universe are fine-tuned to an almost inconceivable degree.
Detune them even slightly and the universe would collapse in on itself, or heavier atoms would not form, or stars would burn out too quickly, or the universe would be sterile in some other way.
Either way there would be no earth, no life and no humans” (Spencer p115). (31)
I realise that there is much untouched, but time is limited.
There I rest my case for dialogue between science and religion.
“Hymns and Psalms”
“Rejoice and Sing”
“The case for God – What religion really means” by Karen Armstrong
“Charles Darwin/Thomas Henry Huxley – Autobiographies” edited by Gavin de Beer
“A half century of theology – Movements and motives” by G.C.Berkouwer
“The Expression of the emotions” by Charles Darwin
“The greatest thing in the world” by Henry Drummond
“Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflections on the God debate” by Terry Eagleton
“The ecology of Eden” by Evan Eisenberg
“Bully for Brontosaurus – Reflections in natural history” by Stephen Jay Gould
“Father and Son” by Edmund Gosse
“The atheist delusion” by John Gray<www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/mar/15/society/print>
“God’s philosophers – How the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science” by James Hannam
“Fundamentalism and the Church of God” by Gabriel Herbert
“The portable atheist – Essential readings for the nonbeliever” selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens
“The expansion of God” by Leslie Howard
“Erasmus Darwin – A life of unequalled achievement” by Desmond King-Hele
“Erasmus Darwin 1731-1802 Master of Interdisciplinary Science” by Desmond King-Hele
“Charles Kingsley – His letters and memories of his life” edited by his wife
“Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver
“Freedom, Fame, Lying and Betrayal – Essays on Everyday life” by Leszek Kolakowski
“Mutual Aid – A factor of evolution” by P. Kropotkin
“NI culture minister asks museum to reflect creationist views” by Henry McDonald, The Guardian, Thursday 27 May 2010
“Mere Theology” by Alister McGrath
“The Life of George Matheson” by D.MacMillan
“Against Atheism – Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are fundamentally wrong” by Ian S. Markham
“The life of Frederick Denison Maurice chiefly told in his own letters” edited by Frederick Maurice, Volume II
“The Metaphysical Club” by Louis Menand
“Evolution as a religion” by Mary Midgley
“Darwin for beginners” by Jonathan Miller
“God in creation – An ecological doctrine of creation – The Gifford Lectures 1984-1985” by Jurgen Moltmann
“Darwin – A life in poems” by Ruth Pavell
“Science and Creation – The Search for understanding” by John Polkinghorne
“The death of Adam – Essays on Modern Thought” by Marilynne Robinson
“The Life of Henry Drummond 1851-1897 – A shortened version of the biography” by George Adam Smith
“Darwin and God” by Nick Spencer
“Rescuing Darwin – God and evolution in Britain today” by Nick Spencer and Denis Alexander
“The Fall” by Steve Taylor
“The works of Alfred Lord Tennyson”
“The philosophical approach to religion” by Eric S. Waterhouse
“Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein
1. “New atheism” is particularly associated with the year 2006 when Richard Dawkins’ “The God delusion” and Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the spell” were published (McGrath viii).
2. These two parties came together in a Guardian article in which it is reported that Nelson McCausland, Northern Ireland culture minister has asked Ulster Museum to include “creationist and intelligent design theories of the universe’s origins”. Dawkins retort is that they should include flat earth theory and the stork theory of where babies come from.
3. Armstrong 290. She argues that they mirror “the fundamentalism on which they base their critique“.
4. “Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), was a man with a remarkable array of interests: a physician, poet, philosopher, botanist and naturalist who formulated one of the first formal theories of evolution. His Zoonomia (1794) is one of the first authorities cited in ‘The expression of the emotions”’ (‘The Expression…’ with photo facing 328).
“(Dr Grant) one day, when we were walking together burst forth in high admiration of Lamarck and his views on evolution. I listened in silent astonishment, and as far as I can judge, without any effect on my mind. I had previously read the Zoonomia of my grandfather, in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless it is probable that the hearing rather early in my life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species. At this time I admired greatly the Zoonomia; but on reading it a second time after an interval of 10 or 15 years, I was much disappointed, the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given” (“…Autobiographies 26-7).
5. Before Darwin Christians reckoned that the world was created in 4004 BC and stocked “with a wealth of clearly distinguishable living forms” (Miller 10). This meant that creation had the shape given it by God in the beginning though spoiled by the Flood (Miller page 12). The evidence of geology (fossils and layers of rock) were accounted for by the “theory of intermittent catastrophes” – many floods rather than just one, God replenishing the globe afresh after each flood (Miller page 13). One geologist who struggled with the evidence and sought to explain it away was Philip Gosse. The story is told in the book “Father and Son” by his son Edmund Gosse.
On the Continent, Plato’s philosophical idealism was also a contender with evolution, his doctrine of Forms meaning that the physical world was only a shadow of the eternal world (Miller page 21).
6. I wrote the following poem which was published in “Folio Magazine”, 2010
“Joseph Wright portrayed you large in body
but your mind was large too,
knowing more “than any other man in Europe” –
so Coleridge thought!
Here in the portrait your quill pen is poised to write
and your gaze is penetrating.
Some are curious, others are active
but you brought curiosity and activity together,
such harmony proving creative.
You showed what can be achieved
when the mind is applied.
Visiting the sick in outlying farms
you bumped over rutted roads.
Wouldn’t a steam carriage be better?
A thought too early for other minds
preoccupied with manufacturing
but an inventive mind seeks for outlets.
Improve the springs then and the steering.
That struck the right note,
falling within the bounds of possibilities.
There was much more to invent.
Add to these a genius for friendship
and then add poetry,
“The Botanic Garden”, most famously. We’ve seen your impact on Coleridge
but Wordsworth too fell under your spell.
You were a doctor , an inventor, a poet and writer
and finally a scientist, discovering evolution before
your more famous grandson.
Too much, I’m afraid, for the church in those days,
but our idea of God has grown bigger
in the light of these origins.
Erasmus, son of the Midlands,
known to Chesterfield, Lichfield and Derby,
we salute you. “
7. There were various precursors of Darwin including the geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell, the French naturalists Comte G.L.L. de Buffon, and J.B.A.P. de Monnet Lamarck; Alfred Russell Wallace: the Czech monk Gregor Mendel: Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase “Survival of the fittest”. The theory of evolution has also developed since Darwin with the discovery of “the molecular sequences of DNA which together make up the genetic code“. (Miller 163). Darwin is the focal point in a long process rather than an isolated phenomenon. Stephen Jay Gould draws a distinction between the theory of evolution which “means only that all organisms are united by ties of genealogical descent” and the “mechanism of evolutionary change”, in Darwin’s theory “natural selection” (426).
8. See “Faith and Doubt – Religion and Secularization in Literature from Wordsworth to Larkin“; “Faith and Doubt in Victorian Britain” by Elizabeth Jay; “God’s funeral” by A.N.Wilson.
9. Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1896-1902 was an early accepter of evolution (Spencer 129).
His book “The relations between religion and science” (1885) was his Bampton lectures at Oxford University in 1884.
Charles Kingsley, Anglican priest, famous as author of “The water babies”, was another accepter of evolution.
In a lecture at Sion College, London in 1871, he spoke on “The theology of the future” , urging “on the clergy the necessity of facing the scientific facts of the day, and the great work of reconciling Science and the creeds” (“Charles…“ 309).
“I sometimes dream,” he says “of a day when it will be considered necessary that every candidate for ordination should be required to have passed creditably in at least one branch of physical science, if it be only to teach him the method of sound scientific thought” (“Charles…“ 309). George Matheson was a Scottish minister (1842-1906) who wrote a book, “Can the old faith live with the new?, “a profound study of the doctrine of evolution and its bearing on religious belief” (MacMillan 205) and gave an address to the Pan-Presbyterian Council meeting at Belfast in June 1884 on “Religious bearings of the doctrine of evolution“. Matheson argued “that the doctrine of evolution originated in the Christian Church itself,“ (MacMillan 209) witness the controversy between Creationist and Traducianists in the first centuries, Creationist arguing for the separate creation of each soul, whereas the Traducianists saw each soul deriving from its parents going back in a line to “the primeval Adam”, this being in line with modern evolution, “The reduction of the many to the one” (MacMillan 210).
Frederick Maurice says of his father, Frederick Denison Maurice, “Every discovery made by Mr Darwin or Mr Huxley was a discovery of a truth which had been true in itself, ages before it was discovered…He believed the thing itself to be, when discovered, just in so far as it was true, a revelation to man by God whether the discoverer accepted it in that sense or not” (452).
“His whole sympathies had been with the scientific men when they were asserting what they had humbly, patiently investigated, and found out to be true. He was never tired of quoting the spirit of Mr Darwin’s investigations as a lesson and a model for Churchmen” (608). 10. Drummond had become sympathetic to science and had grown to see, through Biblical criticism, that “No one now expects science from the Bible. The literary form of Genesis precludes the idea that it is science” (Smith 34).
For him “Natural Science corroborates the Scriptural assumption that behind the visible universe there is a creative mind” (Smith 36 commenting on Drummond). In a letter he wrote,
“’How near Science has come to God’ will be the watchword of the most thoughtful and far-seeing” (Smith 366).
Critics reckoned that he had made two unproved assumptions.
One concerned the gulf between matter and mind: in assuming a line of a continuity of law between them he had “simply begged the question” (Smith 37).
He had also used the term ‘life’ in the areas of the spiritual and the material as if it meant the same thing.
11. One example is his treatment of altruism: “To affirm that Altruism is a peculiar product of religion is to excommunicate nature from the moral order, and religion from the rational order” (Smith 103).
He wrote, “If nature is the Garment of God, it is woven without a seam throughout…For to break up Nature is to break up Reason, and with it God and Man” (Smith 103).
12. Professor MacAlistair’s criticism has a modern ring about it. “In its origination cell division is really selfish, and solely for self-interest, as far as this language of moral import can be applied to a biological process” (Smith 104). Shades of Dawkins’ “selfish gene”!
13. Marilynne Robinson comments, “And how can we now, when the fragility of the planet is every day more obvious, be giving ourselves over to an ethic of competition and self-seeking, a sort of socio-economic snake handling, where faith in a theory makes us contemptuous of very obvious perils” (67).
14. Stephen Jay Gould has a sympathetic account of Bryan in his essay “William James Bryan’s last campaign” (“Bully for…” 416ff). He shows that Bryan was reacting against uses of Darwinism to justify the doctrine of force, industrial exploitation, and Germany’s doctrine of war. He says of Bryan, “We may question the quality of his argument, but we cannot deny that he rooted his own justifications in his lifelong zeal for progressive causes” (422). 15. See “Mutual Aid” by Peter Kropotkin published in the “Nineteenth Century” from 1890-96. His chapter headings are “Mutual aid among animals”, “…among savages”, “…among barbarians”, “…in the medieval city”, “…among ourselves”. In the “Introduction” he says that in his travels in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria, “I failed to find – although I was eagerly looking for it – that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution” (vii).
Stephen Jay Gould in “Bully for Brontosaurus – Reflections in natural history” puts Kropotkin in context in his chapter “Kropotkin was no crackpot”. He says “An Englishman (e.g Darwin and Wallace) who had learned the ways of nature in the tropics was almost bound to view evolution differently from a Russian nurtured on tales of the Siberian wasteland“ (333) and “I would hold that Kropotkin’s basic argument is correct. Struggle does occur in many modes, and some lead to cooperation among members of a species as the best pathway to advantage for individuals. If Kropotkin overemphasised mutual aid, most Darwinians in Western Europe had exaggerated competition just as strongly” (338).
16. John Gray in “The atheist delusion” refers to “evangelical atheists” (page 5). 17. William James showed a different attitude to Darwin. “James had the same attitude about Darwin that he had, toward the end of his life, about Freud: he liked the ideas but hated seeing them treated as the exclusive truth. He was Darwinian, but he was not a Darwinist. This made him truer to Darwin than most nineteenth-century evolutionists” (Menand 141).
18. A.C.Grayling has sought to parody the idea of “fundamentalist atheism” in his book “Against all Gods”. An excerpt from this appears in “The portable atheist” under the heading “Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?”
19. Atheists like Dawkins don’t take enough account of the loss of meaning with the loss of God. Kolakowski writes, “It is plausible to maintain that our reason naturally aspires to encompass the totality of being; and that our will for order and our need to make sense of existence lead us instinctively to seek that which is both the root and the keystone of existence , and gives it its meaning. Even atheists, Nietzsche among them, knew this: order and meaning come from God, and if God really is dead, then we delude ourselves in thinking that meaning can be saved. If God is dead, nothing remains of our lives and our labours; there is only the meaningless dance of protons and electrons” (117).
Dostoevsky was another writer who drew attention to this. In a letter he wrote to Nikolai Ozmidov in 1878, he says, “Now assume that there is no God, or immortality of the soul. Now tell me, why should I live righteously and do good deeds, if I am to die entirely on earth?…And if that is so, why shouldn’t I (as long as I can rely on my cleverness and agility to avoid being caught by the law) cut another man’s throat, rob and steal?” (quoted by McGrath 129).
20. Nick Spencer and Denis Alexander argue for such a “courteous and fruitful dialogue” in their book “Rescuing Darwin” (63).
21. Ruth Pavell, Darwin’s great-great-grand daughter has written “Darwin – A life in poems”. One poem is entitled “She writes him a note about salvation” based on the letter Emma wrote to Darwin expressing the worry that if he did not believe, he would not be saved. In the second verse we read
“she’d love him to be right in everything. She’s very afraid/he’s not. ‘Faith is beyond our comprehension,/ not provable in the scientific way you like./ I believe you sincerely wish to learn the truth. / But there are dangers in giving up Revelation/ and Christ’s offer of eternal life…” (Pavell 79).
22. Alister McGrath also gives evidence for this in his essay “Religious and Scientific faith: the case of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species” in “Mere Theology.
23. Stephen Jay Gould, the American zoologist, has “insisted that science was not competent to decide whether God did or did not exist, because it could only work with natural explanations” (Armstrong 289). For him religion and science are in different magisteria or domains. “The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)? The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry” (“Rocks of Ages” by Gould in Armstrong 290).
24. “Contemporary scientists including Bounoure, Caullery, Lemoine, Dewar and Grant Watson have criticised evolution. It is not necessarily reasonable because of the following considerations. The hypothesis of evolution is contrary to the law of entropy. The observed gradation of fauna is inadequate proof since each species of fauna has arisen with all essential characteristics. Both the categorization of species and the methods of dating them are much more open to question than scientists officially admit. There is no explanation why some species have survived since the earliest geological age without evolution. Transformation of one species into another has never been achieved under any laboratory conditions. Demographic patterns would have to be very different . If men were as old as stated, even given war and natural disaster, population would be much higher. Philosophically, spirit and mind could not have evolved from matter unless anteriorly present to it, just as objects are not lifted against a gravitational field unless there is already a reserve of energy in the mover” (Howard 424-5).
See also Gordon Rattray Taylor, “The mystery of evolution”.
25. The Bible is not inimical to natural theology as is often assumed, witness the Wisdom literature (Polkinghorne 4-6) and Romans 1:19-20 – “His invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things he has made” (NEB).
26, Isaac Watts’ hymn shows the relation between natural and revealed theology.
“Nature with open volume stands,/ to spread her maker’s praise abroad;/ and every labour of his hands/shows something worthy of a God.
“But in the grace that rescued us, /his brightest form of glory shines;/ ‘tis fairest drawn upon the cross/ in precious blood, and crimson lines” (“Rejoice and Sing” no 219).
27. See Alister McGrath “Augustine of Hippo on creation and evolution” in “Mere Theology”.
28. These paragraphs are from website reviews of “The Fall“. “The Fall is a major work that overturns mainstream current thinking on the nature of civilization and human nature. It draws on the increasing evidence accumulated over recent decades that prehistoric humanity was peaceful and egalitarian, rather than war-like and crude. It is not natural for human beings to kill each other, for men to oppress women, for individuals to accumulate massive wealth and power, or to abuse nature. The worldwide myths of a Golden Age or an original paradise have a factual, archaeological basis.”
“It is not “natural” for human beings to kill each other, for men to oppress women, parents to oppress children, for individuals or nations to accumulate massive wealth and power, to abuse nature, to even despise our own bodies and feel guilty for experiencing natural desires. The roots of our current malaise lie in an “ego-explosion” that happened several thousand years BC. “Primitive” pre-civilization men and women lived longer, healthier, happier and more productive and fulfilled lives than we do. We need to learn from their approach to life rather than dismiss it. This is the revolutionary thesis of this well-researched, highly praised volume, overturning the accepted wisdom of the last few centuries.”
“The Fall is a psychological and spiritual overview of human history, which tries to explain why so much human behaviour – both individually and collectively – seems to be insane. Our insanity can be traced back to “ego explosion” which occurred several thousand years ago. The powerful sense of ego this created is the root of warfare, male domination, environmental abuse, materialism and other human pathologies. This intensively-researched, highly praised book explains the origins of our psychological and social problems and suggests what we can do to return to a state of harmony. Indeed, Steve Taylor suggests that for the last three centuries or so we have been in the midst of evolutionary movement which is returning us to sanity. “
29. The problem of pain can never be solved metaphysically. As Berkouwer says, “And whatever route we follow, we will have to keep the content of the gospel within the quest; if we abstract the quest for reasonableness from the content of faith we will always end up with bleak abstractions of a religious metaphysic that multiplies rather than solves questions” (177). This must include the theology of the cross (McGrath 43-4).
30. Neverthless as Waterhouse says, “Whilst the teleological argument does nor prove God’s existence, it does put into words an impression that none of us wholly escape” (76).
Darwin himself would have sympathised. In 1860 he wrote, “I know that I am set within a simply hopeless situation. I cannot believe that the world we observe is the result of accident and yet I cannot consider that everything is the product of purpose” (Berkouwer 176).
31. We need to remember what Wittgenstein said, “It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists” (6.432 in “Tractatus…”). As Terry Eagleton says, “God for Christian theology is not a mega-manufacturer. He is rather what sustains all things in being by his love, and would still be this even if the world had no beginning. Creation is not about getting things off the the ground. Rather, God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, the condition of possibility of anything whatsoever” (7).
Rodney Ward for Wymington Conference Centre on June 8th 2010