Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” in 1859. It was a watershed moment in scientific history. Darwin’s impact is still very much with us today.
Darwin’s father and grandfather were physicians. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a an adamant deist who believed in the nonintervention of God in nature and human affairs. Darwin grew up studying biology in this environment. He later opted to study theology but abandoned that and returned to biology.
One of his professors secured a position for him on a naturalist expedition aboard the HMS Beagle from 1831-1836. Shortly after returning, Darwin began formulating his ideas of evolution through natural selection. By the mid-1840s, he had written up many of his ideas although they were not published. Darwin struggled with illness and a number of other obstacles through his life and it wasn’t until 1859 that he published his revolutionary findings.
I showed in my last post that many of the elements that fed into Darwin’s model had been around for years before his publication. But it was Darwin who brought them into a coherent model. Three essential features of the model included:
• Origin of all life from one source.
• Evolution of one species into another by natural selection.
• Expansive eons of time.
All of this was directly contrary to the traditional understanding of the church at the time.
• Each species was created as it now is.
• God involved himself in the natural world and created the species, especially humanity.
• The earth was maybe 6,000 years old.
Darwin’s theory was not the first to raise a direct challenge to traditional Christianity nor would it be the last. Galileo’s insights were very unsettling and later quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity would send shock waves. Still, when we look at the focal point of friction between science and Christianity it seems often to center on the issues of origins and creation. We also have to remember that the Church's understanding of its own story was fractured at this time.
The two major challenges for me are about the participation of God in the natural world and why a loving God would create a world with such violence and destruction. For others, Darwin’s model raises issues about the authority and reliability of scripture. There is also the issue of evolution as a model for scientific research versus Darwinism as an ideology for interpreting all physical and metaphysical issues. Many Christian scientists have little problem embracing the former without the latter.
I want to start my relfections by first asking what the Genesis 1 creation story actually says.