Science in Christian Perspective



An Extended Book Review Essay

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From: JASA 34 December 1982): 24-29.

Based on The Post-Darwian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900, by James R. Moore. London, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1979. This is part one of a four-part essay.

"Some books are to be tasted," declared Francis Bacon, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." You would think that by now nothing much could be found out about Darwin that we might regard as entirely new, especially on matters religious. Surely, some will say, during the last 120 years theologians, biologists, and critics alike have written books on every conceivable aspect of the religion controversy that erupted when Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859. "The Protestant struggle to come to terms with Darwin"-what? Hasn't everything been said on that topic? But every generation feels the urge to make its own contribution to the continuing stream of publications on evolution, indicating the lasting importance of Darwin's historic work. Of course, some books may be swallowed summarily as restatements of what has been know for a long time. Yet Bacon's worldly wisdom reminds us that now and again we might happen on originality. When we do, we should sit up and take notice.

This book is not light fare. A mere tasting will not do. The author's source materials are a broad range of once influential articles and books by twenty-eight Christian scholars who wrote, during the period from 1870 to 1900, on their own religious responses to Darwin. His assessment is not at all polemical; it is a model of dispassionate scholarship. The difficulty is that the source materials are really theological ideas that are alien to our secular age. So we must follow the closely-knit arguments with our wits about us. Yet the prose style is entirely accessible and the theme, thoroughly arresting, is consistently intriguing. No doubt some will find it disquieting, With its novel point of view, the book flows well, and if we allow time for digestion, the theology brings us right back into a fresh understanding of Darwinian biology, which is the main thing.

The book already has been reviewed in Faith and Thought (1979, vol. 106, no. 1), New Scientist (Aug. 9, 1979), Observer (Aug. 26, 1979), Times Higher Education Supplement (Jan. 25, 1980), Reviews in American History (March, 1980), Nature (April 24, 1980), Journal of Eccesiastical History (April, 1980), Isis (Sept. 1980), and Annals of Science (Nov. 1980). James R. Moore, the author, holds the doctorate from the University of Manchester and is now developing courses in the history of science at the Open University in England. In 1979 he wrote and narrated a television program, "The Tennessee Evolution Trial," for the Open University in conjunction with the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC crew came to Tennessee to produce the film on location. Because of its subject, the Scopes Trial of 1925, the program ought to be seen widely in this country.

An Arresting Theme

The main theme of Moore's book can be stated generally as follows. During the final three decades of the nineteenth century, those Protestant clergymen and Christian laymen who most readily accepted Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection were decidedly orthodox and traditional in their theology (Chapter 11). They were church leaders who today might call themselves conservatives, evangelicals, or, in some quarters, even fundamentalists, as strange as that may seem. Their view was called "Christian Darwinism," the term having appeared in 1867 (p. 252), and in England and America they did much to pave the way for the new theory of evolution, even during the time when men of science were putting forward telling arguments against Darwin's theory. A second group, also orthodox, rejected Darwinism by falling back on two philosophical assumptionsthat genuine science offers certain knowledge, and that biological species are fixed (Chapter 9). A third group of Christians rejected Darwinian evolution but favored an alternative theory of evolution; they were liberal in theology; they were most inclined to turn away from the established and ancient creeds of the traditional church, and in so doing they came up with evolutionary doctrines that were not derived from Darwin's thought (Chapter 10). The author uses the term "Darwinisticism" (p. 15, passion) to denote any such misunderstanding or modification of Darwinian evolution. This term, "Darwinisticism," was coined by Morse Peckham as an amalgam of "Darwinism" and "romanticism," and Peckham, editor of the variorum text of the Origin of Species, used it for this kind of adulteration. Moore sets out to "plain how and why these three groups, the "Christian Darwinians," the "Christian Anti-Darwinians," and these practitioners of "Christian Darwinisticism," responded to Darwin as they did.

Moore has brought us the sense and feel of a large and diverse body of scholarship-120 publications by twentyeight Christian leaders among the clergy and laity, plus a host of other publications. In so doing, he might have trod the easy path of sprinkling his pages with paragraphic quotations strung together with his own comments. This is not the case. He himself does the talking throughout, in a style that is elegant and urbane, at times magisterial. Nevertheless, with the benefit of judicious integrations of small excerpts from the heaped-up writings of his Protestants, we seem to be eavesdropping on those gifted people, as they pondered and argued and worried, fastening on this and that idea in Darwin's Origin of Species, and dwelling on one point or another of theology, seeking all the while to relate their Christian faith to the great issue of the day.

On the whole, these Christian writers were rather calm and deliberate, and Moore construes this point as significant in his interpretation of responses to the Darwinian challenge. They did not line up in hostile opposition to the theory of evolution. Rather, each assessed the impact of Darwin on his own understanding of the main tenets of Christian theology and belief, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the immanence and transcendance of God, or the concept of Design. Such religious concepts are mere words to many people today. But Moore takes us a step further. Some of the conservatives managed to cast fresh light on what Darwin meant by natural selection precisely because they clearly saw the uniqueness of Christian theology and its significance for the emergence of modern science. They understood what Darwin meant, and in some cases Darwin heartily agreed with their published statements of his views.

A Dual Paradox

How did it happen that even while men of science in England and America were finding all manner of objections to evolution, during a time when the age of the Earth and the mechanism of heredity were still in dispute, the learned among the clergy and laity were putting forward altogether unusual propositions that actually supported

Those Protestant clergymen and laymen who most readily accepted Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection were decidedly orthodox and traditional in their theology. They were church leaders who today might call themselves conservatives, evangelicals, or, in some quarters, even fundamentalists.

Darwin: a theory of biological origins was consistent with belief in the "Maker of heaven and earth," logic united the implication that man was related to the beasts of the field with faith in his unique creation, the survival of the fittest paralleled the doctrine of a benevolent Providence, Darwin had indeed quite done away with chance. How, on the other hand, did it happen that liberal theologians, whom we might expect to have been most open to all that was new in biology, came out against the new in evolutionary theory, on the grounds that liberal theology was incompatible with Darwinian presuppositions?

This is the dual paradox that Moore elaborates before us: the ancient creedal faith promoted the new in biology, while liberal theology shunned the Darwinian mode. How Moore explains this paradox is novel and intriguing, to say the least. He does so by exploring the orthodox theological tradition that spawned Darwinian thought, suggesting an affinity that will probably be surprising and unsettling to some readers, and by interpreting the responses made by his Protestant writers to their own conceptions of that tradition. Perhaps we can understand this paradox in terms of a thesis that by now ought to be well known, if not always well regarded, in the history of science: the Judaeo-Christian view of God and the world helped to make possible the rise of modern science during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed, Moore explains in his preface that his interpretation is but an extension of this view into nineteenth century biology.

Moore resolves this paradox as he discusses the responses to Darwin by the twenty-eight clergymen and laymen whose writings are his source materials. He shows that peace and tranquillity, rather than outright "warfare," characterized their responses to Darwin (Chapters 1-4). The non-violent character of their deliberations is surprising when we recall the frequent declarations among historians and biologists that church leaders were all obscurantists who are said to have arrayed themselves in heated and vulgar opposition to progress, only to be bloodied and vanquished by the forces of scientific light. This, too, seems less surprising when we take a look at how the opinions on evolution were communicated during the period in question. An emphasis on how this occurred is rather beyond the purview of Moore's interpretation. But in identifying the writers and the avenues open to them for making known their views, he casts further light on the important question of why any scientific idea is accepted or rejected. I should like therefore to discuss this communication in the three sections that follow.

How Science was Communicated

Things were rather different in those days, and we can feel only a sense of remoteness and loss as we contemplate that remarkable time when theologians and scientists still talked to one another. Scientists, for their part, were still able to use the language of theology, and they often did so with seriousness of purpose and with no condescension. This is certainly the case among Moore's twenty-eight writers, of whom the following are examples.

Enoch F. Burr, a Congregational Minister in Connecticut, having studied astronomy and mathematics, lectured at Amherst College, where he declared against the philosophy he thought Darwinian evolution implied. John W. Dawson, at McGill University, was a prominent geologist and a Presbyterian, who wrote that Darwinian evolution could never produce the certainty that science required. An exception to Moore's finding of peace and tranquillity was Francis Morris, Anglican clergyman in Yorkshire, ornithologist, and ardent anti-vivisectionist, who for many years spoke out heatedly against evolution, beginning at the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1868 and 1869; "ineffable contempt and indignation" and "childish absurdities" were among the epithets he hurled at Darwinism (p. 197). George Henslow in England was a botanist and Anglican clergyman who came out for evolution but not by natural selection. An especially interesting figure was Henry Drummond, a Scottish naturalist and explorer in Africa, who was enlisted in a revival campaign of Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey, and who wrote the immensely popular book, The Greatest Thing in the World (1890; on I Cor. 13), which is frequently re-published today; he became a lecturer at the Free Church College in Glasgow, where in his evangelical writings he favored a brand of evolution based on the teachings of Herbert Spencer. Joseph Le Conte was a professor of geology at the University of California; his books on Lamarckian evolution were eagerly read among the clergy. In Scotland, James Iverach, with training in mathematics and physical science, became a Free Church minister and strong advocate of Darwin. The most prominent proDarwinian in America was Asa Gray, the renowned botanist at Harvard University; an orthodox Christian believer and member of a Congregational church (Calvinist at that time), he declared himself to be "a convinced theist, and religiously an acceptor of the 'creed commonly called Nicene' " (Quote on p. 304, from Gray's Darwiniana, 1876, 1973, p. 5). Gray's friend and collaborator in advocating Darwinian evolution was the remarkable and many-sided George F. Wright, a geologist at first by avocation, who, while serving Congregational pastorates in Vermont and Massachusetts, studied the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, made himself a translation from the German of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and identified the peculiar ridges in the neighboring countryside as glacial in origin, rather than alluvial, and with his success in following the final terminal moraine from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi River, became a leading American authority on glacial geology; at Oberlin College in Ohio he was for many years the editor of Bibliotheca Sacra, the prominent conservative theological journal, wherein he carried many of his articles favoring Darwinian evolution, some of which Darwin read and praised, and he wrote a biography of the revivalist Charles G. Finney (1891). The other clergymen and laymen in Moore's collection were equally accomplished. For instance, George T. Curtis was a constitutional lawyer who argued the defence before the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott fugitive slave case; he then turned his legal talents against Darwin in a philosophical critique that had a large audience.

The boundary between science and theology was by no means sharply defined in the lives and writings of these extraordinary men; they were unique hybrids, in whom both branches of inquiry combined to form a single unity almost unknown in our day. Most of the twenty-eight clergymen and laymen, of whatever persuasion in Moore's three groups, possessed in abundance the breadth of learning and fluency of expression requisite for discussing the question of Darwinian evolution. They certainly were prolific writers, and they must have enjoyed themselves. Pens flew, and printing presses rolled. Moore's bibliography lists forty articles and books written in the British Isles and eighty in North America. These publications sailed the Atlantic in both directions, and the ambitious authors travelled around on speaking tours. With respect to religion and science, as he points out, Victorian England and post-Civil War America formed a single community in which the theological issues raised by Darwin were repeatedly examined during the debate over evolution.

Of Metaphors and Conflicts

To a large extent, these writers operated within the professional circles of the time while developing their respective views. They communicated first with their own peers among both scientists and the clergy, who had made special studies of Darwin, and second with the public at large, who had not. They did not organize themselves into a common front against evolution; they were not enemies of one another in a conflict between religion and science. This "military metaphor," argues Moore, has been an unfortunate choice among writers to the present day as an interpretation of the post-Darwinian controversies, for it does not correspond to the facts. Scientists and theologians were not polarized in relentless opposition or in antagonism to one another; they could hardly have been so when scientists were still in doubt about the method and metaphysics of evolution, when many scientists were Christians, and when many clergymen were men of science.

Another point that may strengthen Moore's view that theologians and scientists were not separately united on opposing flanks has to do with the psychological motives of his Protestants in publishing all those articles and books. The Christian writers acted independently when they published, even while no doubt they often communicated informally with one another. The scientists did likewise. Each regarded his publications as personal property, as a means of selffulfillment, and as a measure of his own success in life. For each, publishing an article or book was rather like acquiring land, a house, or silverware-the more the better. Those Christians were prudent about making known their views in advance of publication, and at times we might have seen them rushing into print with unseemly haste, lest someone else take credit for work they considered their own. Such behavior might be considered not to be consistent with profession of Christian faith, especially by men of the cloth. Yet to act that way is perfectly reasonable. The desire to communicate is not the only worthwhile reason to publish. To the extent that these Protestants acted independently to promulgate their views in print, they did not have time to hatch plots against any ungodly scientists. As in the scientific enterprise, concern for reputation and priority prevented much in the way of conspiracy, and aborted any successful cooperation of a "military" character.

In Moore's view, undue emphasis on various dramatic episodes, such as the celebrated confrontation between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley (pp. 58-68), has encouraged the illusion of this polarity between evolution and Christianity. Moore finds (Chapter 1) that this military metaphor, with its vivid imagery of warfare and pitched battles, with evolution and theology lined up on opposing flanks, arose with the publication of two books. One was by John W. Draper, in 1874, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, the other by Andrew Dixon White, in 1896, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. While Draper said little or nothing about evolution and religion, and White used only twenty pages out of nine hundred to settle the question of origins, the unintended and ironic effect of their efforts has been to extend the military metaphor to accounts of the debates over evolution. "Historians have found little but 'conflict' and 'warfare' in the postDarwinian controversies," he finds (p. 41).

Misconception of Fundamentalism

As an example of the deleterious effects of such imagery, Moore cites the widespread misuse and misunderstanding today of the term "fundamentalism" (pp. 68-76). Historians, in describing the responses to evolutionary theory in America, often tell us that the orthodoxy known as Fundamentalism raged against evolution until the close of the nineteenth century, and that Fundamentalism itself persisted into the twentieth. But the word "Fundamentalist" was not coined until 1920 (p. 70). Before that date, Fundamentalism was not a coherent movement, notwithstanding the publication in 1909 of the Scofield Reference Bible, the adoption in 1910 of the so-called "five fundamentals" by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and the issuance of the influential series of pamphlets, The Fundamentals, from 1910 to 1915. Moreover, at least four Christian writers, who were identified with the conservative wing of theology which later became known as Fundamentalism, early on came to terms with evolution. The first, Baptist theologian Augustus H. Strong, in his Systematic Theology, in 1907, conceded the partial truth of Darwin's theory as a method used by God (in 1946 edition, p. 76, 470 passim). The other three published in The Fundamentals. Princeton Theologian Benjamin B. Warfield in 1910 accepted evolution as a possible "theory of the method of divine providence" (p. 71). James Orr, Scottish theologian and still well-known author of The Christian View of God and the World, in 1893, also agreed that evolution might be regarded as a new name for creation. And George F. Wright, the talented glacial geologist, in 1911 asserted that Darwinian evolution was no threat to Christian faith. The views of Warfield, Orr, and Wright were already well known when they were asked to write for The Fundamentals. Fundamentalism should not be extended back into the last three decades of the nineteenth century in order to interpret the debate over evolution. "Therefore we shall have to look to the decade after the First World War to find a movement militantly opposed to evolution," Moore writes, "a Fundamentalism that supplied the imagery to reinforce the metaphor in which the post-Darwinian controversies had been cast" (p. 73).

Nor did wars and rumors of war characterize religion and science in late-Victorian England (Chapter 3). Famous scientists were men of Christian commitment, among them astronomer John Herschel, physicists Michael Faraday, James P. Joule, James Clerk Maxwell, and Lord Kelvin, and geologists Charles Lyell and Roderick Murchison. In 1864, several members of the Royal College of Chemistry circulated a statement that "it is impossible for the Word of God as written in the book of Nature, and God's Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another" (pp. 83-84); they readily obtained signatures of 717 individuals, of whom 420 were Fellows of prominent medical and scientific societies. In 1874, the proto-statistician Francis Galton, who was Darwin's cousin, submitted a questionnaire 

Richard P. Aulie holds the doctorate in the history of science from Yale University, the B.S. from Wheaton College and the M.S. from the University of Minnesota. Formerly a high school biology teacher, he has published frequently in the professionaljournals on the history of science, including articles on the nonbiblical and pre-Christian origins of the doctrine of special creation. Continuing his interest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he is now writing a book on the scientific results of the voyages of Captain James Cook. He is cited in Who's Who in the Midwest.

The dual paradox. the ancient creedal faith promoted the new in biology, while liberal theology shunned the Darwinian mode.

on religious beliefs to the Royal Society of London, to find that a majority of the Fellows were church members. And theologians were hardly pugnacious toward evolution. On the day after the epic Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation at the University of Oxford, the Rev. Frederick Temple, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1896, in a sermon at the same University gave a fair and quite calm appraisal of the problems raised by religion and science. A very interesting group called the Metaphysical Society was composed mostly of religious leaders of various hues. From 1869 to 1880 Arians, atheists, deists, freethinkers, Protestant bishops, and even Roman Catholics met over drinks and dinner for sprightly and learned discussions of timely issues, including evolution. Huxley and John Tyndall, who are both often credited with fulminations against Christianity, were members of this conglomeration. Indeed, Huxley in 1863 found that he was "pleasantly disappointed" by the accommodating attitudes of churchmen (p. 94). While many scientists were divided about Darwin's theory, theologians did not stand in opposition, "It was a few theologians and many scientists who dismissed Darwinism and evolution," Moore writes (pp. 88, 89).

Even that old gladiator, Thomas Henry Huxley, apparently did not think the military metaphor sufficient when in 1887 he fell back on the Bible for his metaphor of wine and wineskins. He obliquely credited his generation for recognizing that, in his words, "The new wine is exactly of the same vintage as the old, and that (rightly viewed) the old bottles prove to have been expressly made for holding it" (p. 1). What Huxley thought his contemporaries correctly realized, as Moore explains, was that the "new Darwinian wine was of the same vintage as the older causo-mechanical explanations" of nature, and that orthodox theology, Huxley's "old bottles," was sufficient to account for Darwin. In other words, the Darwinian theory of evolution embraced the same assumptions about nature that gave rise to modern science, assumptions that owed their origin in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to a reaffirmation of the Judaeo-Christian view of God and the world.

Huxley lived in a day when people still read their Bibles. He could use a scriptural allusion without hesitation, knowing that his readers would apprehend his meaning without difficulty; they did not require the precise explanation that Moore is obliged to give. So far have we advanced from that age!

Huxley's pungency reminds us again of the central theme of this book, that the Protestant writers responded to Darwin in terms of their own respective conceptions of Christian theology. "With but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution" (p. 92). Of course, this coming to terms did not always mean completely accepting evolution by natural selection. Some did, some came up with another brand, and in some cases Darwin evoked outright rejection.

A Crisis of Faith

But all these Protestant writers did experience a crisis of faith, and this is the basis on which Moore builds his reinterpretation of the post-Darwinian controversies (Chapter 4). As they worked through Darwin's Origin of Species, they saw rising before them dire challenges to their personal faith in the Creator and in Providence, challenges to their conviction that design could be seen in nature, and to their belief in the benevolence of the divine character. Moore depends on Leon Feistinger's "theory of cognitive dissonance" in his analysis of how they resolved this crisis of faith. He identifies four steps in their formation of an independent opinion: (1) a personal, inner conflict, as the new theory challenged long-held conceptions; (2) a decision-making, as they settled the conflict by a personal commitment to one alternative or another; (3) a recognition of discrepancies, or a feeling of tension, called "dissonance" (P. 14, 111, passim), between the chosen alternative and the view that was left behind; (4) a reinterpretation, in order to reduce the "unpleasant state of mind" (p. 112) brought on by this "dissonance."

In each case, the resolution of the crisis of faith resulted in books and articles, Moore's source materials, to which he applies this ingenious scheme. To provide an example of how this theory works, Moore examines the strange case of St. George Jackson Mivart, "Darwin's most influential Christian critic in Great Britain," showing that the military metaphor cannot explain the personal travails of this deeply religious biologist and lay-theologian as he grappled valiantly with the portent of natural selection and human evolution for his faith (pp. 117-122).

The Darwinian Milieu

Part II of the book is called "Darwinism and Evolutionary Thought." Here we have a lucid discussion of what the Darwinian theory is all about (Chapters 5 & 8)-the concepts to which the Protestant writers responded, and which vex Christians still, such as natural selection, the struggle for existence, the question of human evolution. Moore analyzes the reception given the new theory by the leading scientists, some of them little known today, such as Edward Drinker Cope, Fleeming Jenkin, Lord Kelvin, St. George Mivart, Karl NKgeli, George Romanes, Alfred Russel Wallace, and August Weismann. We are reminded that the responses made by these scientists were every bit as challenging as those of the Protestants. Some Protestants, liking evolution but not natural selection, took to Lamarckian evolution, which for a time prompted rave reviews in American science (Chapter 6). In the discussion of the Lamarckism of Herbert Spencer (Chapter 7), we have an analysis of some so-called baneful aspects of society that are always blamed on Darwin, such as the doctrine of laissez-faire, and the cults of inevitable progress and rugged individualism. (Features of twentieth century life that are likewise heralded in certain quarters today as Darwin's doing include communism, city riots, Hitler, juvenile delinquency, modern art, and the Vietnamese war; these are beyond the scope of Moore's inquires, and are not mentioned.) In the nineteenth century the vogue of Herbert Spencer provided an evolutionary rationale for the American way of life, forming a kind of secular religion. This always vexed Darwin, who certainly was too much of a humanitarian to be a "social Darwinist" (p. 161). Such a misrepresentation of Darwin's thought, found in Spencer, is one kind of "Darwinisticism." Part 11 therefore looks at two main currents of evolutionary thought: one is the elaboration of ideas derived from Darwin's Origin of Species, and the other is the influence of primarily Lamarckian conceptions of evolution-hence the respective designations, that Moore employs, "Darwinism" and "Darwinisticism."

The Protestant writers, in dealing with their respective crisis of faith, did not find themselves at odds either with science or with theology, but in a rather more personal encounter with Darwinian thought, to which they often replied with theological language. Moore divides their  responses into three groups, "Christian Anti-Darwinism," this "Christian Darwinisticism," and "Christian Darwinism." To these I now turn.

(to be continued)