THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION CONCERNING EVOLUTION
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION CONCERNING EVOLUTION
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to show the conflicting opinions of science and
religion towards Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to comment on it myself.
I. Historical background of the controversy between science and religion
concerning Darwin's theory of Evolution
A. In 1858 Darwin was asked to submit his thesis to the Linnean Society.
B. The effect that Darwin's book had on the public.
C. The argument between Wilberforce and Huxley as the climax of the conflict at the British Association.
D. The parts that the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations played in the conflict with science and religion.
E. There were two big battles in the 1930's, one was when Harry Emerson Fosdick refused to take the oath of a fundamentalist, and the other was the Scopes Trial in which John Scopes was accused of violating the "monkey bills".
F. The conflict between science and religion would probably have developed even if Darwin didn't present his theory of evolution.
II. Description of the origin of man according to Darwin and religion.
A. The Darwinian theory of natural selection, what is it?
B. What is the Darwinian theory of the descent of man?
C. The religious belief of the origin of man in creation.
III. The conflicting beliefs towards the Darwinian theory of evolution.
A. To Louis Agassiz, an opponent of Darwinism, the theory was a crude and rebellious challenge to "the eternal veritier, objectionable for its religious blasphemies."
B. Agassiz was convinced that Darwinism was a fad.
C. According to Charles Hodge, Darwinism could not be reconciled with theism.
D. Dr. William Newton Clark says that man has a position among living things and no theory which has to do with his origin can make himanything except what he is.
E. Charles Lyell believed that there is a close affinity between man and his place in nature.
F. Alfred Russel Wallace believed that people who are willing to accept the existence of pious world can look upon the universe as a wonderful consistent whole adapted in every part to the development of spiritual beings capable of indefinite life and perfectibility.
G. Asa Gray, an American botanist, labored tirelessly to indicate that natural selection had no bearing on the argument for design and that Darwin himself was explicitly theistic.
H. Joseph Le Conte followed Asa Gray in the belief that "the argument from design could not only be changed by any possible answer to the question whether there had been transmutations of species or what the process of evolution might be."
IV. My personal opinion of the origin of man and evolution.
A. I believe that man was descended from the ape and I also believe that he was
created by the Prime Mover.
B. In my opinion the basic conflict between evolution and religion concerns the assertion of the Catholic Church that the soul is something spiritual, immaterial, and as such could not have been in any way evolved from matter.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION CONCERNING EVOLUTION
In 1858 Charles Darwin was asked by his friends and fellow scientists, Charles Lyell and Joseph D. Hooker, to submit his thesis on The Origin Of Species By Means Of Natural Selection to the Linnean Society. This was to be done on July 1, 1858. It was not until November 24, 1859 that The Origin Of Species was published.1
The effect of Darwin's book on the British public was like the stimulation of an electric current. It was seen immediately that his theory struck at the traditional presumption that all living creatures had been created by GOD as they are today. Most of the people in England could not believe that they who were the descendants of conquering Normans were also scions of apes.2
Though a scientist, Darwin was a religious man. He must have presumed that there would be repercussions to his theory because he concluded his book not with a denial of a divine creator but with a tribute: "There is grandeur in this (evolutionary) view of life with its severed powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, while this planet has been circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been, and are being evolved."3
This tribute was not adequate to satisfy the defenders of the religious belief, however, and within a few months a high point appeared between the Darwinists and the supporters of Genesis.
The high point occurred at a meeting of the British association in June 1860, when Darwin's claims were challenged by Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. Precipitated by Sir Richard Owen, who was a critic of Darwin and one of the leading biologists of the time, Wilberforce set out to disprove Darwin's theory. He defended the religious belief that man had been created by GOD and at the same time tried to belittle the theory of evolution hoping that the people would not believe in something that they derided. With this attitude in mind he asked the advocates of evolution sardonically if they were descended from monkeys through their grandfathers or grandmothers. It was at this point that Thomas Huxley, replied for the Darwinists that to be a descendant of a monkey would be better than being connected with an individual who used great gifts to obscure the truth.4
This exchange between Wilberforce and Huxley was the beginning of the religious battle of the past century. This battle has been called a kind of "spiritual cold war".5 For the past century the conflict has been following the same basic feelings as the debate between Wilberforce and Huxley. The scientists have accepted Darwin's hypothesis as a proven fact and have regarded the critics of Darwin as narrow-minded individuals. The Defenders of religion are wrangling against evolution not so much with scientific reasons as with appeals to the Bible, and laughing at the advocates of evolutionism as heretics.6
Though the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most prominent forms of Christianity, the most vigorous battles of the war have been fought by the Protestant denominations. One of the prime issues in the Roman Catholic Church for thirty years after the Wilberforce-Huxley debate was a controversy which was based on the debate. Besides changing the public opinion about nature, Darwin's book led people to study life by applying the scientific method and interpreting everything according to evolution. Some theologians that believed in this doctrine tried to study the Scriptures in this way. Eventually the views of these theologians were silenced in the Roman catholic Church after Pope Leo XIII had issued a special encyclical requiring all clergy and professors to take an oath renouncing what he called "modernism".7
The Protestant denominations proved to be vehement opponents to evolution and mainly in the United States. In the beginning the attitudes of the Americans was a strong rejection, but slowly Darwin's theory attracted converts. There was one incident in the late nineteenth century when James H. Nichols, leader of the Protestant ministry ceased to oppose the theory of evolution.8
In the 1930's this "spiritual cold war" reached its final stage in two great battles. One of these battles was an attempt to make a very eminent preacher of the time, submit to a loyalty oath which would make him a fundamentalist. Harry Emerson Fosdick left his Presbyterian pulpit in New York and then became the pastor of a church in Riverside with the condition of a free and unprejudiced pulpit.9
This was the turning point in the "spiritual cold war" in the United States, because most of the official strength of the churches up until then had remained fundamentalist. the refusal of Reverend Fosdick to accept the oath as a fundamentalist resulted in a transference of power in the Protestant denominations to the exponents of liberal religion.
The second big battle of the 1930's took place in the Scopes Trial of Dayton, Tennessee. In this trial John Scopes, a high school teacher was accused of violating the state law against teaching evolution. At that time the State of Tennessee and a few other southern states had in effect what they called "monkey bill" prohibiting the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools. It was these bills that Scopes was accused of violating.
The real interest of the trial was not whether Scopes was innocent or guilty but in the debate between two great lawyers. The attorney for the prosecution was William Jennings Bryan. When Bryan was away from politics he was crusading for fundamentalism. He was also a leader in the movement to rid the theory of evolution from schools. Clarence Darrow was the attorney for the defense. the best criminal lawyer at the time, he was a self-confessed agnostic who loved to talk about religious views.
During the trial Darrow called Bryan to the stand as a master of the Bible. Bryan had no objections to this procedure and he accepted the call which he should never had done. He was shown to be as ignorant of the theory of evolution as Wilberforce was in 1860.10
The conflict between the religious belief of fundamentalism and the scientific belief, which was given the name modernism, would presumably have developed even if Darwin didn't present his theory of evolution. the conflict may have been started by the impact of the scientific achievements on religious thinking. But, it was Darwin's theory that caused the conflict.
Now that I have sketched a history of the conflict between science and religion concerning evolution I think it would be most appropriate to show the scientific and the religious view-point of how man came to be on this earth.
First of all let me explain a small portion of Darwin's theory of evolution. In his book The Origin of Species, Darwin presented the evidence which he believed showed that the multitudinous species of life in the world at present had not been here in the same shape in the beginning but had evolved from much simpler forms. He also stated the species that are now in existence not only evolved from lower forms but had developed by a process of natural selection. According to Darwin natural selection meant that the species that are able to survive through time are those which are able to cope with the demands of their environment, while all others die out and perish.I other words the species that are on earth today are here not by design but simply because of the survival of the fittest. The mistake that is made by most of the opponents of the doctrine of evolution is that they confuse the Darwinian theory of natural selection, or the survival of the fittest , with evolution itself.11
The conflict that religion has with the Darwin's theory isn't with his theory of natural selection but with his theory of descent of man. It was this theory, in which Darwin states that man has evolved from the ape and was not created by some Prime Mover, that caused the Christian church to go against his theory of evolution. Darwin's belief that man descended from the ape is completely different and practically impossible to believe, if one believes in the religious origin of man.
According to Genesis GOD created the world in six days. I believe that this cannot be taken literally, because we don't know what the Jewish interpretation of a day was. Their meaning of a day may have meant the coming of the full moon once a month or even the coming of spring once a year. Genesis says that GOD created man on the sixth day in his own image and likeness. This is the Christian belief of creation.
There have been many arguments for and against the Darwinian belief but as the years go by many intelligent people still hold that Darwin's theory of the descent of man is true. However, there are also many other intellectuals who believe just the opposite. Where does this leave us? The answer is right back with a conflict. But, these intellectuals have a better understanding of one another.
To Louis Agassiz, an opponent of Darwinism, the theory was a crude and rebellious challenge to "the eternal verities, objectionable for its religious blasphemies." He said that all of the evolution that is know to man is onto genetic. Beyond this he said it would be impossible to go; evidence of the later species from the earlier species, or of the animal ancestry of man was totally lacking. Agassiz said that the classification of animals misrepresented the idea of progression from the lower forms of life to the higher. The history of geological succession showed that the lowest form of structure is not necessarily the first in time.12
Agassiz was convinced that Darwinism was a fad and that it wouldn't last long. He also said that he would "outlive the mania", which he called the theory. Agassiz was wrong when he said he would outlive Darwinism because he died in 1873. 13
According to the popular exposition of the anti-Darwinian views, the most significant clerical objection was that Darwinism could not be reconciled with theism. This was the central theme of What is Darwinism? (1874) written by Charles Hodge, editor of the Princeton Review. In his book Hodge reminded his readers that " the Bible has little charity for those who reject it. It pronounces them to be either derationalized or demoralized or both."14 With no regard for Darwin's work, Hodge charged that Darwin had carefully excluded any possible mention of design from nature, and he finished his book by saying that Darwinism and atheism are synonymous.15
Another theologian, Dr. William Newton Clarke stated "...the origin of mankind as all else is in GOD. If GOD is one, what he has taught in one place is to be received as loyally as what He has taught in another.... there is a testimony from the sciences that investigate the origin of mankind, so definite and well-established as to demand recognition in the intelligent world at large."16 In addition Clarke said that man has a position among living things, and no theory which has to do with the manner of man's origin can make him anything except what he is. Also Dr. Clarke believes that man is not brought down to the low and inferior level that is occupied by nature, but that nature is brought up to a higher level by having man for its supreme outcome. Man, according to Clarke, who is the crown of this world in which we live in is not an animal, but a spiritual being, whose life in GOD is religion.17
I have presented a few of the religious attitudes towards Darwin and his theory of evolution in the preceding paragraphs. Now I wish to give the opinion of Charles Lyell, a friend of Darwin and a scientist, toward evolution. Lyell believed that there is a close affinity between man and his place in nature. He believed that man is a subject of the same general laws as the lower animals, which are reproduction, growth, increase, decrease, and death. He felt that if natural selection and progressive development have directed the changes in the lower organic world for millions of years, we cannot expect to find that the human race has been the only species that this process of evolution has not affected.18
The co-formulator of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, was a supporter of the Darwinian theory. But as time went by his later writings indicated that he had different views than Darwin. He believed that people who are willing to accept the existence of a pious world, can look upon the universe as a wonderful consistent whole adapted in every part to the development of spiritual beings capable of indefinite life. The complete purpose was the development of the human spirit in connection with the human body. Wallace stated "...Darwinian theory even when carried out to its extreme logical conclusions not only does oppose but lends a decided support to, a belief in the spiritual nature of man. It shows us how man's body may have been developed from that of a lower animal form under the law of natural selection; but it also teaches us that we possess intellectual and moral faculties which could not have been so developed, but must have had another origin: and for this origin we can only find an adequate cause in the unseen of Spirit." 19
When Darwinism first came into existence it seemed that there could be no possible solution of the conflict between religion and science. but in 1871 the collapse of the uncompromising opposition to evolution occurred when James McCosh, the semi-official voice of American Presbyterianism acknowledged the acceptance of the Darwinian theory of natural selection and conceded that it was a part of the truth.20
In trying to ease the transition to Darwinism many liberal clergymen received the utmost aid and comfort from men of science. Asa Gray, an American botanist, worked tirelessly to indicate that natural selection had no bearing on the argument for design, and that Darwin was himself very theistic, though it may not have seemed so. When some people said that the origin of the species should be left in the kingdom of the supernatural, Gray answered that they were only limiting the fields of science without enlarging that of religion.21
Joseph Le conte, in his book Religion and Science, followed Asa Gray in the belief that the argument from design could be changed. he felt that science should not be looked on as the enemy of religion, but as a complimentary study of how the Prime Mover operated in the natural world. He said that no matter what science learns, it always assumes the existence of the First Cause.22
I have presented up to this point; the history of the conflict between religion and science, a brief idea about the scientific and the religious beliefs of creation, and the conflicting ideas on evolution. In conclusion I am expressing my own opinion toward the origin of man.
I believe that man descended from the ape and I also believe that he was created by GOD. You may wonder how I could possibly believe in two completely different concepts of man's origin. Through the millions of years that the earth has existed changes have occurred. I feel that if the lower classifications of animals have been able to change in their form, it is possible that man may have evolved from the ape. I believe that man was created but not until the material body which had evolved had infused within it the SOUL.
In my opinion the basic conflict between evolution and religion concerns the assertion of the Catholic Church that the soul is something spiritual, immaterial, and as such could not have been in any way evolved from matter. For simply matter cannot beget spirit.
1 Bernard R. Kogan, ed., Darwin and His Critics (New York. 1959), p.7.
2 R. Stackhouse, "Darwin and a Century of Conflict," Christian Century (8/19/59),
3 Loc. cit.
4 Kogan, op.cit., p.4
5 Stackhouse, op. cit., 76:945
6 Loc. cit.
7 Loc. cit.
8 Loc. cit.
9 Loc. cit.
10 Stackhouse, 76:946
11 H. H. Lane, Evolution and Christian Faith (Princeton, 1923), p.193
12 Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, Revised ed. (Boston,
13 Loc. cit.
14 Hofstadter, p.24.
15 Loc. cit.
16 Lane, op. cit., p.209
17 Loc. cit.
18 Kogan, op. cit., p.61.
19 Kogan, p.72.
20 Hofstadter, op. cit., p.28.
21 Loc. cit.
22 Hofstadter, p.29
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