Dear Donagh
May we have the hindsight to know where we have been, the foresight to know where we are going, and the insight to know where we are at!

As 2009 is the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth ,my question is how is a Christian in all conscience to reconcile the obvious truths of Darwin's theories with Christian beliefs and those who claim that evolution disproves the notion of a supreme creator. great web site , keep up the good work


Dear Gerry,

When Darwin’s On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859 it caused a furore, especially among Christians, who saw it as a rejection of the Biblical account of creation.  It was also difficult for anyone, Christian or not, at that time to imagine any kind of kinship between humans and animals – even though Darwin was careful in the Origin of Species to avoid that topic.  (He addressed it later in The Ascent of Man.)  That era provided a lot of anecdotes, including the famous dialogue between Huxley, who championed the case for evolution, and Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford who asked him, at a public meeting, whether it was on his father’s or his mother’s side he was descended from monkeys.  Huxley replied that he would rather be descended from apes (not monkeys) than use his intelligence in the defence of ignorance and obscurantism. 

The style of Darwin’s book made it difficult to dismiss it out of hand, as if it were just crazy speculation.  His style was slow and painstaking and factual.  It didn’t try to convince by speculation but by the slow accumulation of facts. 

But others were no so cautious.  As soon as the idea of evolution gained currency in language it went wild.  People began to apply it in every kind of area: medicine, sociology, business, just about everything.  This was a fatal move.  Evolution is not Evolutionism.  Evolutionism is the idea of evolution removed from its context in biology and applied wholesale in any and every context.  It could claim to be scientific in its own context, but not in any other.  Yet it was evolutionism that had the more immediate effect.  Imagine how welcome to big business the theory of survival by natural selection of the fittest!  It was already what the business world did quite well, so they read Darwin as a prophet who told them what they wanted to hear.  He was seen as a sort of high priest of Nature, blessing business sharks.  Or imagine that your doctor was an evolutionist.  If your symptoms were not immediately recognisable he or she was likely to conclude that you were just on the downside of evolution.  You were “degenerating,” and there was nothing to be done for you; you happen to be on the down slope. 

But when you read Darwin carefully you see that the mechanism of evolution as he described it – natural selection by survival of the fittest – is more subtle than it appears.  In the contexts in which he was writing, ‘survival of the fittest’ meant survival of the fittest to survive.  It doesn’t guarantee that the more ‘noble’ or the ‘higher’ forms of life will survive, nor the wealthier, nor the more beautiful, nor the more famous…. A rat or a black beetle could just have what it takes to survive in some situations where a human being does not.  Evolution doesn’t guarantee what we call progress.  But the 19th century went very high on the idea of progress, believing that it was underpinned by Darwin’s theory of evolution. 

The 20th century put paid to the equation of evolution with progress.  So did developments in biology.  There is still some questioning, among naturalists today, of the accuracy of Darwin’s theory.  Darwin himself would not have been surprised by this, I think.  I remember that he said the evidence was very sparse: like trying to read a book where most of the pages were blank, and most of the others gave you only a few words.  In our time, of course, genetics has taken over that field and is slowing filling in the picture.  At any rate, nobody is likely now to confuse evolution with evolutionism. 

But the question of Scripture remains.  Or does it?  Pope John Paul II announced that the evolution of species was not in contradiction with the Scriptures.  This would have surprised most Christians even a generation ago.  The fact is that there has been a lot of development in the understanding of Scripture – some of it driven by scientific challenges.  It came to be accepted that the Bible was not a scientific handbook and should not be read as if it were.  When it says in Genesis that God created the sun and moon on the fourth day, you have to ask what marked the first three days, since it is the sun and moon that mark day and night.  That’s just a detail, but it shows that this was not meant to be read literally.  Some theologians attempted to get over this by saying that ‘day’ meant ‘era’.  But this was not accepted as an honest solution.  When sensible people read Genesis now they see it as a religious document, written in a language that is rich in poetry and imagination.  It has profound truths in it: it says that God is the origin of all things, including ourselves.  It says we are objects of God's special care.  The breath in us is the breath of God.  It says woman is man’s companion and his equal.  It says our present life is flawed through rejection of God’s way for us…. Genesis is a profound religious book, not a scientific handbook. 

I hope this is of some interest or help to you, Gerry.

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