Science in Christian Perspective
Approaches to Evolutionary Theorizing:
Some Nineteenth Century Perspectives
D. GARETH JONES
Department of Anatomy and Human Biology
University of Western Australia
From: JASA 35 (June 1983): 72-79.
What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look, this is new?" No, it has already existed, long ago before our time. The men of old are not remembered, and those who follow will not be remembered by those who follow them (Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11, New English Bible).
However we may interpret these words of Quoheleth in Ecclesiastes, however cynical and disillusioned we may consider them, we dare not overlook them. And yet, repeatedly we do ignore them; as a result we are consigned to fight battles that have already been fought. We grapple with problems as though they were new, problems that have been tackled at inordinate length in previous generations. Such is the case with the creation-evolution controversy; the essential arguments central to the controversy today were thoroughly worked through over the period 1830-1900. Indeed, in many regards, the issues were far more thoroughly debated then than now. Unfortunately, little heed is paid today to those mid-nineteenth century debates, and in the process much of value has been lost.
The appearance over the past few years of a number of
books on historical aspects of the Darwinian and postDarwinian controversies is therefore, a welcome occurrence.
They serve to place people such as Darwin, Chambers, Lyell,
Huxley, Mivart, Gray, Agassiz, Romanes and Spencer within
the interrelated theological, scientific, sociological and political perspectives of their respective times. They highlight the
nuances of the myriad forces at play in the shift from a
predominantly creationist paradigm to a predominantly evolutionary one. In demonstrating the reasons behind this major
transformation of outlook, they throw light on fundamental
principles in the relationship between Christianity and biology and on the significance of these principles for contemporary thinking.
Creationism and Positivism
Neal Gillespie's concern in Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation is to analyze the conflict between creationist and positivist theories of science, and to trace the way in which a move from the former to the latter proved critical in the general acceptance of evolutionary thinking. According to Gillespie, positivism limited scientific knowledge to the laws of nature and to processes involving secondary or natural causes. By contrast, creationism regarded the world as being the result of direct or indirect divine activity; as a consequence science was inseparable from theology (p. 3).
The issue at stake is not whether positivism led to antisupernaturalism or atheism-it did in some instances, but not
in others. Rather, the difference between positivism and
creationism lay in the range and kind of scientific questions
they engendered. Positivism in the middle years of the
nineteenth century began to ask questions, about, for
instance, the origin of species, to which creationism could not
provide answers within the domain of natural causes. More-
over, the answers given by creationism were not meaningful within the positivist understanding of what constituted a scientific solution, namely, uniformity of law and natural causes (Gillespie, p. 10).
The transformation meant that science, and in particular biology, developed into a completely natural system of understanding the world. Religion was eliminated from within science, leaving no room for theology within scientific thinking. Not surprisingly, this movement had profound repercussions for a Christian understanding of the world, as well as for religious conceptions of reality, biblical interpretation and apologetics.
The implications of this are graphically depicted by James Moore in The Post-Darwinian Controversies, in which the diverse reactions of representative groups of Protestants are sketched and analyzed. What emerges as of principal significance is the response of Christians to positivism, rather than their grappling with the nature of positivism itself.Biblicism and Special Creation
Before proceeding further with this analysis, it is necessary to consider Gillespie's use of terms, in particular biblicism and special creation. By biblicism, he means "the continuing employment of biblical, especially Old Testament, images and language in science, and of explanations directly or indirectly grounded in Christian theology" (p. 20). This attitude did not, of necessity, engender a belief in special creation although there was often a connection between the two. But what of special creation? This, according to Gillespie, was "the belief that God in some way directly intervened in the order of nature to originate each new species" (pp. 20, 21). The creative act may signify a miraculous event or an unknown lawful process; no matter which it was, God was purposefully and directly involved. Closely associated with a belief in special creation was the related belief that intelligent design can be appreciated in the natural world. Yet a third related belief was the stability of species.
Gillespie sketches four ways in which the concept of special creation was interpreted by naturalists in the middle of the nineteenth century. These were: (1) God creates species miraculously; (2) species arise as the result of divine action, and yet the means of their creation accords with the laws of nature; (3) species arise in a purely natural way, with no theological overtones, and yet creationist language was still employed; (4) creation referred to the body of laws originally established by God, each new species reflecting divine action and yet requiring no special intervention on God's part (pp. 22-25). The term creation therefore, meant different things to different people, and was even used with different connotations by the same person.
What is of particular significance is that in 1859, the year of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, most of the then scientific opponents of the transmutation of species (for example, Lyell, Owen and Sedgwick) held to a belief in special creation, but not in miraculous creation (Gillespie, p. 26). The reason for this was that special creation was thought to be supported by the fossil evidence, which pointed towards a sudden appearance of fully-formed species. On the other band, the fossil record gave no clue regarding the mechanism by which species were formed.
An exception to this generalization was Agassiz, who held to miraculous creation and who went on to advocate an extreme catastrophic view of the earth's geological past coupled with successive subsequent creations. Unfortunately, his position required so many creations that it was something of a reductio ad absurdurn and probably served to drive other scientists away from miraculous creation.
What is crucial is the realization that all those involved in this debate were scientists-geologists, palaeontologists and biologists. For special creationists, whatever their theological position, scientific ideas had implicit within them the acceptance of ignorance. To postulate a lawful, but mysterious, means of creation left room for God at the expense of scientific ignorance. But was this satisfactory as science? Increasingly, a negative answer was given, because special creation precluded a natural explanation of the origin of species. In so far as it did this, it was unscientific and was even a hindrance to increased understanding within the scientific domain. Freedom to hypothesize within a natural framework was, and still is, central to scientific positivism. This was recognized by Darwin, but not by others such as Lyell and Owen, and it proved the reason why Darwin attacked special creation with such vigor.
For Darwin special creation was a scientific dead-end, because the causes of speciation postulated by special creationists
D. Gareth Jones is currently Associate Professor and Head of the Department Of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia. Later this year, he is moving to New Zealand to take up the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Otago. His research interests are in neurobiology, in which his major concern is with developmental aspects of the synaptic connections between nerve cells. Other areas in which he has a particular interest include creation/evolution issues, ethical concerns in biomedicine, Christian perspectives in neurobiological and genetic realms, and general theological questions relating to evangelicalism and church life.
were beyond conceptualization. The origin of species was not, in Darwin's eyes, a mystery; it was amenable to natural explanation which, in his view, was provided by natural selection. What Darwin strove for, therefore, was two-fold: a complete separation of biology and theology, and a new understanding of the nature and practice of science (Gillespie, p. 40).
The real conflict revolved around the continuing use of biblical themes and ideas in scientific thought; this was the hallmark of biblicism, and it was anathema to positivism. For biblicism, science could never be autonomous; for positivism it had to be. Hence, the issue was not the validity or otherwise of biblical literalism or scriptural geology, but the nature of science (Gillespie, p. 47).
Lyell, in his influential Principles of Geology, emphasized what be regarded as the obstructing influence of theological and biblicist pre-suppositions in science. He argued that the biblical flood and a short age of the earth prevented accurate observation and the formulation of sound theory. What is interesting is that Lyell was not hostile to theology; rather his aim was to protect science from what he saw as the misdirections of theology. This, in turn, resulted in a dilemma between "the positivism of his science and its methodological requirements, versus a desire to maintain a viable theism containing the possibility of some sort of divine activity in the world" (Gillespie, p. 50).
The contention between religion and science therefore, was a contention between two sorts of science: one that was theologically-grounded and one that was not. Of these, the first had reached the limits of its development and could neither ask nor generate new questions. The second, by contrast, was free to pursue new questions and seek new frames of reference (Gillespie, p. 53). The religion-science divide was not inevitable and did not affect scientists uniformly, as Moore brings out in his book. But it did force into the open searching queries about the methodology of science. Chief among these were the separation of science and theology, the uniformity of nature, and the role in science of theories based on actually or potentially observable causes. Such ideas were basic to Lyell's geological concepts, and proved revolutionary for geological research. What is intriguing about Lyell is that, while he so vigorously put forward these positivist ideas in science, he was reluctant to surrender creationist beliefs.Natural Selection as Theory
Essential for the newly-emerging scientific positivism was a reliance on theory. Darwin saw very clearly that working theories were as important to science as were data. Theories may only be approximations of the truth, but if they lead to useful generalizations they are valuable. For instance, in 1868 Darwin wrote: "I believe in the truth of the theory (of natural selection), because it collects under one point of view, and gives a rational explanation of, many apparently independent classes of facts" (Gillespie, p. 63). In these terms, all of nature must be open to scientific inquiry, and it was at this point that Darwin's approach was incompatible with that of special creation. Indeed, the two were, philosophically, diametrically opposed to one another.
Darwin repeatedly rested his case for natural selection on its wide explanatory power. It was, in his eyes, at the center of what was termed by Whewell, a consilience. Whewell, in the 1840s, had argued that the mark of the best kind of science comes when different areas of science are brought together and demonstrated to arise from the same principles. When this is the case, one has a consilience, a guarantee of truth, because the explanations are not inherent in the hypotheses (Ruse, pp. 58, 59). The significant feature of this approach to science is that a consilience explains experience rather than being derived from it.
Two positions on scientific theorizing were paramount therefore, in the mid-nineteenth century: the rationalist position, with its reliance on consilience, and the empiricist, with its dependence upon analogy from direct experience. Darwin argued rationalistically that a consilience is vital for confirmation of a scientific theory, whereas others such as Huxley looked to empiricism (Ruse, pp. 235, 236). While neither position completely excluded the other, each represented a distinct philosophical position.
Because Darwin relied on consilience as a method of theory confirmation, he was justified in concluding that the theory of natural selection had been largely confirmed-not as a theory for which absolute empirical evidence had been obtained, but as the most probable explanation of the greatest number of facts relating to the origin of species (Moore, p. 195). For many, this was the most offensive aspect of Darwin's work; he had deserted the sure ground of induction for the slippery slopes of hypotheses. Until the latter could be established, the traditional view of creation would stand. This was enunciated, for instance, by the Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge who, in the early 1870s, argued that science deals in facts, not in untested and perhaps untestable hypotheses.
Conflict resided in differing conceptions of science, a conflict brought to a head in biology and highlighted by the question of origins. While this is true, the influence of philosophical and theological premises on scientific theorizing cannot be ignored. Those clinging to special creation and a biblicist viewpoint readily adopted a science-equals-facts position, as it posed no threat to their viewpoint. On the other band, those with no concern to maintain such a viewpoint found scientific positivism in one of its guises far more amenable.
Although Darwin repeatedly sought to demonstrate that special creation leads to elaborate rationalizations and to theories incapable of empirical verification or falsification, he found great difficulty in throwing off the tbought-forms of biblicism and creationism. The idea of design in creation was a particularly pervasive influence. Gradually, however, the sufficiency of law and natural causes alone as scientific explanations of natural processes rendered design causally redundant (Gillespie, p. 85). Natural selection came to replace design within science, not because God was being rejected but because scientific positivism had no room for theological explanations as a part of scientific method.
The design issue proved to be a crucial one for midnineteenth century scientists. Many could not follow Darwin's positivism to its logical conclusion, with its absence of any conscious purpose (Gillespie, p. 108). Providential evolution was an option espoused by Owen, Argyll and Mivart who, while differing among themselves, saw a role for God at some point in the evolutionary process. They clung to divine purpose in nature, distinguishing between physical cause and overriding purpose. By contrast, Darwin was not prepared to concede that natural laws were predetermined by divine will; there could be no place within science for theological explanations that are beyond the reach of science. Neither design nor purpose was required to make sense of nature; neither was scientifically comprehensible; therefore, neither could be countenanced. While people such as Lyell and Gray strove to reconcile design and transmutation, this was a non-issue for Darwin.
rationality and meaningfulness of science (Gillespie, p. 144). This was Darwin the positivist, rather than Darwin the materialist. Later on in his life however, positivism acquired materialist overtones, as theism and Christianity were relinquished.
This transformation became inevitable for Darwin because, while his base was a Christian one, his undue reliance on secondary causes and on law gradually isolated God from his own creation. What had been a Christian universe was left to function increasingly on its own. In the long term, Darwin's view of God was too small. Unable to reconcile the character of God with the complexities and tragedies of nature, Darwin sought refuge in designed laws the details of which were left to chance. Consequently God was replaced by secondary causes, and the "Being" behind the universe by "nature." And yet this was not an inevitable
Darwin sought and found solace in secondary forces as the direct cause of evil seen in the world. This was accomplished at the expense of God's control over the universe and perhaps, in the end, of God's concern for the universe.
In spite of this, Darwin was unable to dispense completely with God, for the simple reason that God was required to bestow rationality upon the universe. Science was made possible by the reality and consistency of the universe, and this stemmed from God. The Origin of Species therefore, bore marks of Darwin the theist as well as of Darwin the positivist (Gillespie, p. 124).Darwin and Theism
In spite of the influence of theism on Darwin's earlier thinking, he experienced problems with many contemporary beliefs about God. Darwin's approach to God rested on a number of premises: God cannot be the author of the cruelties and waste seen in nature; God cannot be the creator of a world that deceives and misleads honest enquiry; God has created through general laws alone; God does not stoop to minor aspects of natural engineering (Gillespie, p. 125). Darwin therefore sought and found solace in secondary forces as the direct cause of the evil seen in the world.
This was accomplished at the expense of God's control over the universe and perhaps, in the end, of God's concern for the universe. Unable to hold in conjunction God's omnipotence and the universe's evil, Darwin gave up the idea that God is active in nature. Gillespie expresses it thus: "In the final analysis, Darwin found God's relation to the world inexplicable; and a positive science, one that shut God out completely, was the only science that achieved intellectual coherence and moral acceptability" (Gillespie, p. 133).
Darwin's thought reveals a glaring tension between theism and positivism. Initially, his positivism had a metaphysical base-the rationality and character of God underlay the end-result of Darwinism. God could still be conceived as playing an active role in the world, although for Darwin himself this vista disappeared.
Darwin's road to unorthodoxy and ultimate rejection of Christianity lay in his inability to integrate the phenomena he saw in nature and divine providence. By aligning God too closely with the many examples in nature of profligacy and variations, Darwin felt that God becomes the author of 11 many injurious deviations of structure" and the "redundant power of reproduction." Increasingly therefore, he introduced a wedge between God and the universe, and finally separated God completely from the universe. In doing this, he laid the foundation of an irreligious approach to the world (Moore, p. 333).Reactions to Darwin
James Moore in The Post-Darwinian Controversies is concerned with Protestant reactions to Darwin after 1870. In particular, he considers the "warfare" so frequently considered to exist between religion and science. This was summed up in Andrew White's influential book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology first published in 1896. As long as a military metaphor persisted, only two possibilities remained for those aspiring to intellectual honesty-strict orthodoxy or agnosticism. Fight or surrender were the two options, and it was in this spirit that T.H. Huxley waged war against vacillating Christians.
The anti-evolution crusade was more a phenomenon of the 1920s than of the late nineteenth century. This is strikingly illustrated by the Fundamentalism of these respective periods. For instance, Benjamin B. Warfield, the outstanding Reformed theologian, who contributed an article to The Fundamentals, accepted evolution. Warfield went as far as to assert that Calvin's doctrine of the creation, including even "the bodily form of man" is a "very pure evolutionary scheme" (Moore, p. 71). Yet another contributor to The Fundamentals, James Orr, contended that no religious interest is imperilled by evolutionary theory, when the latter is viewed as a method of creation.
By contrast, the Fundamentalist anti-evolutionism of the 1920s in the United States was a delayed reaction to the trends of the 1880s. Bereft of the intellectual leadership of people such as Strong, Warfield and Orr, Fundamentalism panicked in the face of moral and spiritual decay. All too readily, the cause of such decay was diagnosed as evolution.
As Gillespie so ably demonstrates, polarization-such as it was-in the latter part of the nineteenth century was not between science and theology. Most scientists were religious, and theologians were also scientists. Dilemmas there were, but these were complex; there was confusing polarity, divisions and uncertainty, but these could not be glibly slotted into a "science versus religion" classification.
Perhaps there was a spiritual crisis; an anxiety in response to growing atheism, immorality and a collapse of established traditions. Darwinism was associated with this threat. A way of life and a view of man intimately linked with Christianity were being replaced by a new era characterized by a changed philosophical framework. Beliefs and cherished ideals appeared to be under assault, and the resulting tension was inevitable among the general public. Moore depicts this transition as a "shaking of the foundations" (p. 110), but he sees the upsurge of biological evolution as just one facet among the diverse intellectual currents then raging.
For Christians, there were broadly three alternatives: to be anti-Darwinian and hence anti-evolutionary, or to accommodate an evolutionary position in one of two forms. These latter forms are what Moore depicts as Christian Darwinism and Christian Darwinisticism (p.116). Of these, Christian Darwinians accepted Darwin's theory as it stood, leaving it substantially intact. Christian Darwinists, on the other hand, modified Darwin's theory by adulterating it with nonDarwinian ideas.
For Christian anti-Darwinians, Darwin's chief offence was not against the Bible, but against the methods and truths of established science. This was based upon the premise that science should lead to certainty and that scientific theories should be capable of explaining all facts. Self-evidently, Darwinism, based upon an hypothesis, was incapable of achieving certainty in these terms. This dilemma emerges in both Gillespie and Moore, and is critical to an understanding of opposition to evolutionary ideas and the mechanism of natural selection.
Moore, however, traces an additional difficulty for anti-Darwinians, namely, that evolutionary schemes demanded change in the facts of nature and in the interrelationships of natural phenomena. Change of this order can be expressed only in theories of greater or lesser probability (Moore, p. 206) By contrast, the immutability of species demands fixity and the uncliangeableness of data, which lend themselves to absolute certainty.
The concept of fixity had enormous attraction for scientists such as Cuvier and Agassiz. For them, the world had been constructed by God utilizing rational plans which could be understood through induction. Within this framework, the unity and stability of the creation lay ultimately within the mind of God, whose plan of creation bad been laid out over time and had as its object the introduction of humans. Consequently, animal species had no more material existence than the transcendental plan they manifested; each was a discrete act of the divine intellect (Moore, p. 208).
Ideas such as these were little more than Platonism, and Agassiz assiduously propagated an idealistic world-view characterized by repeated catastrophes and re-creations of the created world order. Others, who can more properly be described as Christian anti-Darwinians, largely embraced Agassiz's philosophy of nature and used it as support for a traditional reading of the early chapters of Genesis (Moore, p. 211). Even Charles Hodge took Agassiz as his authority in scientific matters, arguing that the whole vegetable and animal world had been constructed on one comprehensive plan.
An issue that has to be faced is whether the desire for fixity is Christian. Moore cogently argues that the belief in fixity represented an amalgam of biblical literalism and NeoPlatonism (p.215). As we have seen, the latter owed much to the views of Agassiz. Far from representing the biblical perspective represented by the scientific renaissance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it stemmed from a philosophy of ideal types.
This was the philosophy associated with Plato, and according to it species have an inviolable extrasensory existence (Ruse, p. 237). Agassiz contended that species, genera, families and orders exist only as categories of thought in the Supreme Intelligence and, as such, have an independent existence. The species is, according to another idealist biologist, an ideal unit which, in its turn, is a unit in the work of creation. Species in the Platonist view, are real and immutable "essences." This, like other forms of idealism such as Aristotelianism, leads to the idea that species are uniform and is specifically opposed to the notion of gradual change and hence of ancestral forms. Other biologists such as Owen and Whewell were also Platonists, whereas Huxley was a staunch empiricist and Darwin an amalgam of rationalist and empiricist.
The quest for certainty was equally unchristian, striving as it did for a degree of competence that ignored human creatureliness, finitude and sin. Full and final verification in science and a ponderously predictable Creator have little to do with the world-view enshrined in the Bible. Faith at the human level, and sovereignty as a prime feature of God's person are essential for an orthodox Christian framework (Moore, pp. 214, 215).Christian anti-Darwinism therefore, was not essentially Christian, as it had been degraded by a sub-Christian philosophy. Moore writes:
In the name of Christian and biblical teaching they (the anti-Darwinians) set the static world of antiquity over against a theory that helped to resolve the enigmas of natural history which the old world had merely enshrined. The fixity and certainty banished from the heavens by Christian philosophers-Galileo and Newton .... they domesticated on the earth, where Darwin found nought but process and probability (pp. 215,216).
Christian Darwinists, in general, looked to Lamarckian evolution for the "spiritual" dimensions by which Darwinism could be transformed. Having abandoned special creation and the fixity of species, they turned to evolution as a description of the divine method of creation both in the biological world and throughout the universe (Moore, p. 236). In this, they went beyond Darwin and sought refuge in the far-reaching evolutionistic ideas of Herbert Spencer. Some argued that anything less than universal evolution cannot be worthy of an omnipotent Creator.
Christian Darwinists contended that God created everything by evolution and wrought his designs by evolutionary means. Such beliefs however, went beyond Darwin and his limitation of evolution to the biological world. Moreover, his emphases on natural selection (rather than design), the lowly origins of mankind (rather than creation in God's image) and a struggle for survival (rather than a finished creation) all appeared to exclude God from the world. The Christian Darwinists, therefore, were forced to seek for a modified Darwinism congenial to the purposes and character of God (Moore, p. 220). Understandingly, a variety of attempts was made by people, such as Frederick Temple, Henry Ward Beecher, the Duke of Argyll, St. George Mivart and Henry Drummond, to view natural selection within some form of Christian framework.
For many Christian Darwinists, evolution was regarded as an essential ingredient of inevitable material, social and spiritual progress (Moore, p. 239). The world was improving; the human race was gradually ascending; progress was a reflection of God's great designs for mankind. God, in short, was the key that unlocked the mysteries of evolution (Moore, p. 250). What was perhaps not so obvious at the time was that accommodation of this order demanded a modified view of God as well as a modified view of Darwinism. Again, the question has to be raised whether the interpretation of the doctrines of providence and progress implicit within Christian Darwinisticism was essentially Christian. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the all-consuming character of evolutionistic progress was achieved only at the expense of a biblical view of the fall and evil, and only by bestowing upon God an impersonal facade.
Nevertheless, there were exceptions to these views, even
among some who did not completely oppose evolutionary
theory. One such was Charles Hodge's son, Archibald Alexander Hodge, who succeeded his father as Professor of Theology
at Princeton Theological Seminary. In the late 1880s Hodge
made the distinction between evolution as a scientific account of natural phenomena and as a philosophy. On the scientific level, Hodge did not consider that evolution was antagonistic
to the Christian faith; but he warned that once it assumed the
status of a philosophy, supplying the ideas, causes and final
ends of existence, Christians would have everything to fear.
(Moore, p. 241).
In his attitudes Hodge was a forerunner of the Christian Darwinians. While the foremost examples of this position are not well-known today, their contribution to Christian thought was a crucial one.
A Scottish theologian, James Iverach, writing in the 1880s and 1890s, regarded Darwin's theory as a good working hypothesis in spite of many difficulties. By contrast, Spencer's grand synthesis was rejected as untenable. To Iverach, evolutionary theory was a strictly scientific postulate and should be treated as such. Nevertheless, he was prepared to use it within a religious context, believing that Darwin's theory strengthened the argument that order within nature must be the consequence of an intelligence behind nature (Moore, p. 255). Of even greater significance to Iverach was continued belief in the dependence of all creation on its Maker.
Iverach believed firmly in the immanence of God in the world, by which he meant the rational and conscious immanence to which the Apostles first bore witness, that is, Christ himself. Modern science and philosophy would have done a great service, Iverach thought, if they drove theologians back to the New Testament to discover afresh its teaching on the relation of God to the world.
Another influential voice in the latter half of the nineteeth century was an English clergyman, Aubrey Lackington Moore. He refused to link the Christian faith necessarily with evolution or its denial. For him, evolution or creation is a false antithesis. Faith is not dependent on any particular understanding of organic origins; whatever science may reveal in this sphere is only a revelation of God's method of creation (Moore, p.261).
Aubrey Lackington Moore was perceptive in his realization that evolution is a scientific theory and should be regarded as such. Linked with this was his resolute questioning of the status of "creation." In order to press home his point, he was prepared to distinguish between "supernatural evolution" and "natural creation," the latter alternative underlining the unconscious deism into which many Christians had relapsed. His concern was with the belief-stated or unstated-that once God had created the world, he withdrew from his creation allowing it to unfold by itself. Whether this unfolding was by an evolutionary or non-evolutionary mechanism was not of prime importance-the self-unfolding contradicted belief in God.
Another distinction of Aubrey Lackington Moore's was between "creation" and "special creation." He recognized all too clearly that evolution was a foe of special creation, as it was one mechanism against another. Special creation, according to Moore, is found neither in the Bible nor Christian antiquity; it is not a religious view at all, although it had become an integral facet of much Christian orthodoxy. This appalled Aubrey Lackington Moore, because to him it represented the dead hand of an exploded scientific theory resting upon theology. Christians, therefore, were being forced to defend belief in organic fixity, which had been destroyed by Darwin and which had neither biblical, patristic nor medieval authority (Moore, p.263).
To Aubrey Lackington Moore the Darwinian theory was infinitely more Christian than the theory of special creation, because it implies the immanence of God in nature and the omnipresence of his creative power. By contrast, any theory of occasional intervention by God (as in at least some forms of special creation) implies as its correlative a theory of ordinary absence. He was not unreasonable therefore, in his conclusion that: "Cataclysmic geology and special creation are the scientific analogue of Deism. Order, development, law, are the analogue of the Christian view of God" (Moore, p. 264).Aubrey Lackington Moore was always careful to maintain the separateness of theology and science, and his one major crusade was against the absent-God concept of deism. It was Darwinism which, in his view, forced a choice between two alternatives: either God is everywhere present in nature, or he is nowhere. Darwinism was the catalyst which stirred Moore to condemn the prevalent unmetaphysical ways of thinking that had lost sight of God's immanence in creation (Moore, p. 269). Such thinking was frequently, so Moore contended, a characteristic of special creationism.
Two further examples of Christian Darwinism were Asa Gray and George Frederick Wright. Both were orthodox Christians, Wright being an ardent Calvinist. Gray was a prominent naturalist, and well-known for his advocacy of Darwin's cause.
Gray argued strongly for the metaphysical neutrality of scientific knowledge, a neutrality he recognized in Darwinism but which was lacking from the positions of both Agassiz and Spencer. While Darwinism gave no proof of theism and left the question of design untouched, Gray thought it did coincide with a theistic view of nature by permitting the construction of a broader teleology than possible with any previous approach (Moore, p.273).
Wright, for his part, was critical of special creationism for its unwillingness to find an explanation of the origin of species in secondary causes. This, Wright considered, was to abandon the method by which alone science can survive and Christianity can establish its basis in historical fact (Moore, p. 287).
Perhaps Wright's foremost contribution to the evolutionary debate lay in his attempts to relate Calvinism and Christian Darwinism. He maintained that Darwin's work allies itself with Reformed theology by discouraging romantic, sentimental and optimistic interpretations of nature, and by illustrating the lawfulness of nature. The fundamental principle held in common by Darwinian scientists and Calvinistic theologians is the sovereign rule of law throughout nature (Moore, p. 295). Not surprisingly, therefore, Wright could contend that Calvinism is comprehensive enough to shelter any reasonable system of evolution within its scope.Darwinism and Christian Orthodoxy
Moore's conclusion, in the light of these nineteenth century attempts at coping with Darwinism, is that only those with a distinctly orthodox theology were able to embrace it. The theologically liberal, perhaps surprisingly, were unable to accept it. Christian Darwinism, Moore concludes, was a phenomenon of orthodoxy, whereas Christian Darwinisticism was an expression of liberalism (p. 303). Those other Christians who remained implacably opposed to Darwinism were epitomized by a devotion to pre-Darwinian natural philosophies allied to a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Nonetheless, those who, if anything, were the most orthodox theologically, lived relatively easily with Darwinism.
The theological consequences of positivism are just as prominent in the physical and social sciences, in psychology and in biomedicine as they are in mainline biology, and yet are perceived by ardent anti-evolutionists to be less of a threat to theological orthodoxy. This, I suggest, is an illusion.
The triumph of Darwinism was essentially the triumph of a Christian way of picturing the world (Moore, p. 308). Darwin's base was a Christian one, but his dependence upon secondary causes inevitably led him away from any dependence upon God. The question that arises is why Darwin went in this direction, while Christian Darwinism went in the diametrically opposite direction. For an answer, Moore looks to Calvinism and its expression in people such as McCosh and Wright.
Moore argues: "The outstanding feature of this tradition was its ability to bold in tension the doctrines of free will and predestination, to reconcile 'chance' and providence, 'second causes' and a prima causa omnium. With Calvin it could ascribe all things to the 'directly upholding and governing hand of God,' even those events which seemed independent of or irreconcilable with divine purposes" (p. 334). The result was that a Calvinistic theology, by grounding providence in a high view of the sovereignty of God, enabled Christians to dilute the dissonance arising from the conflict of teleolgy and natural selection (p. 336). Linked with this was an emphasis on the immanence of God in the world, so that God was seen to be active in the universe through all time. This served to protect Christians of this tradition from the deistic tendencies of some other Christians and from the agnostic tendencies of such as Darwin.
Darwinism Dever provided a dynamic for individual and social action; in that sense, it was never a philosophy (Moore, pp. 346, 347). In this, it has to be contrasted with Herbert Spencer's version of social Darwinism, with its grandiose vision of evolutionism, universal progress, free enterprise and individual rights. For Spencer, biological evolution was soon transmuted into social evolutionism, which controlled life and history in all its facets. Darwin, however, was a specialist, whose aim was metaphysical neutrality for his scientific conceptions. The fact that such neutrality is rarely attained is a reflection of the impossibility of existing in a philosophical vacuum, and far more has frequently been asked of Darwinism than the non-committal stance of neutrality. Darwinism, of necessity, has created conflicts for those intent on upholding a Christian conception of the purposes and character of God in the world. Nevertheless, the theological affinities of Darwinism were recognized by a number of prominent figures in the latter part of the nineteenth century, including Thomas Henry Huxley. What is more, these affinities were with theological orthodoxy, especially Calvinism.
By contrast, theological liberalism cut itself off from Darwin's world in its attempt to transform Darwinian evolution into a philosophy of progress, By resorting to a pot pourri of divine immanence, human goodness and socio-religious progress, liberal theologians ensured that a world dominated by Darwinism would not be a Christian one.
Darwinism itself was superseded by evolutionary naturalism and evolutionary liberalism, philosophical vistas having nothing in common with orthodox theology. Christian Darwinism, unfortunately, never succeeded in gaining a popular following. The popular mind, at least in fundamentalist circles never rose beyond the anti-Darwinism of the midnineteenth century. Being wedded to concepts of fixity and stability, it clung to a pre-Darwinian world in the hope that Darwinism would be vanquished. In struggling against Darwinism, it allowed the modern world and modern biological concepts to pass by; as these did pass by, so did the minds of successive generations.Some Contemporary Perspectives
The central issue of the creation-evolution debate today, as in Darwin's era, is the nature of science. For the scientific community at large positivism is the only acceptable methodology. Moreover, positivism has been at the heart of scientific advance in both the life sciences and the physical sciences.
For some Christians today, there is an implicit rejection of positivism in biology and geology at those points where evolutionary issues are at stake. Unfortunately, arguments against evolution are rarely framed in this way, criticism being grounded instead in alleged flaws in the data supporting it. As a result, the central theological issues are rarely tackled.
One question needing to be faced is why positivism appears to pose few problems for Christians in the physical arena, or even in the biological sphere when evolution is not under discussion. For instance, difficulties within evolution (phylogeny) may be of much the same order as difficulties within the development of individual organisms (ontogeny). For Darwin, phylogeny was no more irreligious than ontogeny. He expressed his feelings thus, at the conclusion of the Descent Of Man: "Few persons feel any anxiety from the impossibility of determining at what precise period in the development of the individual, from the first trace of a minute germinal vesicle, man becomes an immortal being; and there is no greater cause for anxiety because the period cannot possibly be determined in the gradual ascending organic scale." If the growth of individuals is not seen as a threat to Christian theology, neither should the development of species. Scientific positivism applies in both instances or neither.
The theological consequences of positivism are just as prominent in the physical and social sciences, in psychology and in biomedicine as they are in mainline biology, and yet are perceived by ardent anti-evolutionists to be less of a threat to theological orthodoxy. This, I suggest, is an illusion. The challenge of scientific positivism is all-pervading, requiring a Christian analysis and response on all scientific fronts. To elevate evolutionary considerations above others is to misunderstand that particular area, and to fail to provide a Christian contribution to debates on nuclear power, therapeutic abortion, artificial insemination by donor, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, mood-controlling drugs, behaviorism, and many others.
Finally, there can be little doubt from a historical survey of nineteenth century thought that Christian premises aided the coming of evolutionary theory, and even of Darwinism. The emphases of particular importance were those on the significance of law in the universe, the progressive nature of the fossil record, and the design argument with its dependence on the role of adaptation (Ruse, p. 272). If this is the case, we have to ask where the same premises lead today.