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Darwinism's theological agenda

In his recent book God & the Biologist (Apollos, 1996), Professor R.J. Berry argues that the theory of evolution is complementary (rather than contradictory) to creation and states his belief that there are no barriers between real science (evolution) and real faith. He writes: 

The message communicated by this quotation is that Darwinian evolution has no adverse theological implications; it is no threat to Christianity. This harmonisation is often expressed athus: evolution deals with mechanism; it answers the question "how?"; it belongs to the domain of science; science and faith are complementary approaches to truth. However, there is another aspect of the problem of origins which Professor Berry mentions but does not discuss: Darwin and the Darwinists have consistently used arguments to promote evolutionary ideas which are set in oppositionto biblical creationism. In essence, evolutionists have also used arguments of a theological nature, saying that the data supports evolution "and makes no sense in terms of special creation" (Berry, paraphrasing the views of Darwin and Darwinists, p.33). Statements such as these are the subject of this short essay: they reveal that a strict demarcation between science and theology is not part of Darwinian thinking - and there are many implications for understanding the contemporary debate regarding origins.

In what follows, I have drawn extensively on a paper by Paul Nelson, presented to the Conference on Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise, held at the University of Texas at Austin, February 20-23, 1997. Most of the papers from this conference have been published electronically on the World Wide Web; to access Nelson's paper, click here

In the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin drew attention to features that would not be apparent, in his opinion, in a world constructed by an omnipotent and wise Creator. 

The argument is (a) that the design is not optimal and it is foolish to think that God would have created things that way, and (b) that the design points to a history of descent, whereby an organ or structure has become adapted to perform a different function.

Stephen Jay Gould has made much of Darwin's argument: 

In his analysis, Paul Nelson summarises the logic of the argument and then shows that each step is fundamentally flawed. This Darwinian argument is totally lacking in intellectual coherence. In the discussion below, two specific issues are highlighted for comment.

1. It is said that an organic design must be produced either by a wise Creator or by descent with modification, but these are not the only alternatives. If creation is `static' (with no variation since creation, as suggested in the Darwin quote above) then there would be some rationale for the logic. However, the concept of `fixity of created species', from Darwin's day to the present, has only been held by opponents of creationism, not by its advocates! Contemporary creationists work with a model of original created design subsequently modified by secondary causes (linked to natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, etc). Thus, many of the cases of imperfect design (blind cave fish, for example) are rightly interpreted as degenerative descent with modification.

2. The Darwinian argument utilises the concept of a "wise Creator", although discussion of the character of this Being is remarkably superficial. God is introduced only to eliminate Him from the discussion: yet the argument is presented as a serious and significant part of developing the science of origins. The ability of human beings to be so authoritative regarding optimum design suggests that the evolutionary scientists who indulge in this kind of argument are completely out of their depth.

Whatever the demerits of this style of argument, Darwin employed `imperfection' as a tool for demolishing special creation and promoting descent with modification. Many Darwinians today do exactly the same thing. This has an important bearing on the philosophy of the science of origins. According to Nelson: 

For Darwin, `special creation' was a possible explanation of origins, but when examined it was found to fail. It followed that, for Darwin, the strict division of knowledge into "science" and "theology" domains was impossible. There are areas of overlap, and Darwinian explanations of origins do have theological ramifications.

At this point, we need to recall the harmonising approach of theistic evolutionists like R.J. Berry. Darwin, and all who follow in his footsteps, cannot allow a consistent complementarity to exist - otherwise the logic of the `imperfection' argument falls apart. `Evolution' can only be presented as an alternative to `Creation' if both concepts have validity when developing a scientific account of origins. Clearly, the theistic evolution approach requires modifications to the philosophy of science held by Darwin and many of his successors. Failure to recognise this challenge has resulted in some serious weaknesses emerging in the theistic evolution position.

(a) Darwinism's `acid' is just as corrosive of the Theistic Evolutionist's approach as it is said to be of the Special Creation position. This is because the means of creation reflects on the character of the Creator. Instead of creating in wisdom, God's intelligent design input is replaced by blind, directionless forces which mould and form organic life in ways that are governed by contingency, not intent.

(b) Theistic Evolutionists consistently underestimate the problem presented by Darwinism. It is not a `purely scientific' theory of origins. There is a theological agenda. The roots of Darwinism are not traced (by theistic evolutionists) to metaphysical presuppositions which are alien to the Christian world view, but to a positivistic `objective science', which leaves theistic evolutionists wide open to deception about real philosophical trends in the academic world.

The quality of debate between Christians who differ over origins will only be lifted when these fundamental issues of world-views and the philosophy of science are addressed more rigorously than they have been in the past.

David J. Tyler (April 1997)

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