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Articles - Miscellanea

Laying the Foundations: Evolution vs Design - Part 3

In the last article (Part Two of “Laying the Foundations”) the development of the scientific approach was shown to have theological foundations as most students of the sciences had been educated by the Christian churches of that time.  The inquiry into life and the cosmos was a natural outcome of biblical studies.  Since the Bible asserted that God was creator, naturally men so inclined to agree should look for His signature in all that is made.  The apparent design of the world and its habitants beg for a designer.  The Bible repeatedly claims that God exists and that He is the beginning of all things that can be known in the physical universe. We left off with the dark ages and began to enter the scientific revolution and the age of reason.  We continue this historical narrative to more fully understand the development of science and in particular its movement from a theological perspective to a secular, even atheistic perspective today.

The Renaissance and the Age of Reason: The European Renaissance, which lasted from the 14th to the 17th century, was a cultural reformation in education, a revived dependency on scientific observations, a general movement to empirical studies and an increased focus on art, architecture, and self-awareness. Debate was generally encouraged but many authors published their thoughts anonymously, particularly when doubting the established religious philosophies of the day, including Christianity and the Bible in particular.

Thomas Paine had a disdain for churches of the day (mid-to late 1700) and the Bible in particular. He penned the book The Age of Reason, published in 1794, as an effort to elicit a reaction from the French and American public. That he did indeed. However his arguments concluded that there is a God who is discernible through nature, He is good, and that there must be an afterlife; this in spite of his mockery of biblical revelation. He saw the book as a fraud of men. He determined this early in life. His theology tainted through his negative childhood religious experiences. His childlike misunderstandings of complex theological lectures carried his disdain for both organized religion and the Bible in particular into adulthood. Unfamiliar with the book itself he spent half his work on butchering inaccurate memories of the Bible and saw the Scripture as a tool used by greedy clergy to enslave the men of the Christian faith, and to justify war and crime in the name of God. In the second section of his ravings he admits to having finally procured a Bible and the New Testament only to remark (not surprisingly) that: “I have found them to be much worse books than I had conceived. If I have erred in anything in the former part of ‘The Age of Reason’, it has been by speaking better of some parts of those books than they have deserved.” Anyone familiar with the Bible will note that Paine read the Bible and failed to apply simple hermeneutic principles. So poorly aware of Jewish semantics and the Jewish legal system that Paine's remarks reveal him to be a prejudiced student of the Scriptures.

Nevertheless, he was convinced that God's word could be found in the observation of nature, the study of mathematics, astronomy, and mankind. That by simple observations of life, geography, the order of the cosmos one could demonstrate the genius of a God who is good.  He came to believe that by the deliberate act of creating man, God must have done so for the purpose that we acknowledge and enjoy His creation. God’s creation of mankind must have been for the purpose of an afterlife for all.

Paine may have considered himself a deist but he speaks of God and the afterlife with a passion of one enamored by a supernatural personality. He saw creation as the Word of God speaking to man. He saw God as distinct from the creation.

Another student of nature, William Paley, born in England July 1743, studied to become an Anglican priest. A brilliant thinker and student of nature and the Bible he wrote books on both philosophy and Christianity. In the same year of Paine's book, Paley published A View of the Evidence of Christianity. In this work he dealt with the personal character of those that were eyewitnesses to the Christ, the consistency of the New Testament writings both in their presentation of the man Jesus Christ and the miracles that validated His ministry. He further develops the history of the Jews with their preconceptions that looked for a military Messiah as contrary to the purpose and revelation of God in Jesus as a spiritual mediator who came to destroy those things that stood between the Jew and the Creator.  Paley saw these contradictions being the cause of the hatred and the mistrust of the Christians by the Jews. Some of the most potent arguments Paley made for the necessity of the miracles of the Christ were first to demonstrate that this lowly carpenter's son, born in the city of ill repute, who had never contributed to literature, science, or invented any artifact essential to the betterment of mankind was indeed the “Chosen One” of God. The second purpose to miracles was to convince the Jews and to promote faith in Jesus as the Christ as a liberator not of political slavery but from the slavery of the sin. Without the miracles of Jesus upon what other credible evidence would kings, priests, judges, and the common man abandon their hope of a worldly kingdom and abandon their sinful ways of living?

Paley also wrote Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearance of Nature. This later book was an exposition on the belief that through an understanding of nature one could arrive at a greater understanding of the nature of God; that nature reveals God's nature, He is genius, His omnipotence. He saw that in creation and order and complexity, the Maker is revealed. Using the analogy of a watch and watchmaker, Paley saw that it was purpose that fit organisms into their environments. Indeed, environments were designed for habitation. The structure of living things were deliberate in design not chance adaptations.  Living things were designed to walk, run, swim, and fly by design and not by chance.

It is of interest that in his autobiography Charles Darwin had this to say of Paley's work: “The logic of this book and, as I may add, of this “Natural Theology,” gave me as much delight as did Euclid, the careful study of these works without attempting to learn any part by rote, was the only part of the academical course which, as I then felt and as I still believe, was of the least used to me in the education of my mind. I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley's premises; and taking these on trust, I was charmed and convinced by the long line of argumentation.” This tone was in opposition to the developing arguments against super-naturalism and Christianity in particular as Paley's first work was a direct response to David Hume's popular works opposing the Christian miracles, the Bible itself and therefore the existence of God. All of this against a backdrop of a growing trend to the pandering of materialistic philosophies. Both the rejection of the biblical God and the pandering to materialism drove good science using testable hypotheses to bad science using philosophical story telling. Later in life Darwin retracted his respect for Paley's work concluding that he had discovered natural selection as a law in biology; a statement that no modern biologist would dare to make.

Towards the end of the 17th century many philosophers and naturalists freely publish their doubts or directly refuted the reasonableness of the Bible as a source useful either to support Christian theology or to serve as an incentive to define their research of nature within the framework of design. But this freedom of inquiry and opinion did not starve the pure naturalists of the day who found design in nature as proof of the wisdom and intelligence of what they termed the “First Cause.”

Darwin's Day:  Current with the life and times of Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth, a zoologist and most recognized for his contributions to ornithology, had written 3 published articles on the variation of species and the effects of selection, both artificial and natural, on creating stable forms of the same kind of organism. In fact, Blyth had written most of the concepts for natural selection 20 years before Darwin published his treaties. The difference between their positions is that Darwin hypothesized that natural selection when extrapolated to great ages could have been the driving force for the development of every living being on the planet. Blyth observed that the variety in living forms could be selected for only to maintain or restore organisms in the wild to their ancestral form or archetype as he termed them. Though he never used the term natural selection in his articles he clearly demonstrated through observation and argument that selection and the struggle for existence were natural mechanisms that had endowed all creatures with the robust but limited ability to maintain through these adaptive changes the successful but permanent identity of their form.  In fact, this is the only kind of evolution empirically established by science, either before or after Darwin's publication.  Worded another way, natural selection assures a constant and unchangeable character of the created form by removing through struggle and death those extreme variations and or individuals who are less fit by their deviation from the original kind. No improvement in the kind of being was to be expected by this form of natural selection. Only a genetic plasticity in the life form which gives rise to variations and combinations of the same form and this only to ensure survival of the species, not the origin thereof.

Blythe was not the only naturalist who held that natural selection had a limited effect on the variation within a species.  Asa Gray, an American botanist, professor at Harvard University and a church member of the First Church of Cambridge was a significant collaborator of Darwin's evolutionary concepts in so far as to admit that varieties of plants were the product of natural means of selection. However, for Gray the product of this natural order was established without doubt by a designer’s preconception and not by natural means alone. The best of friends, Darwin relished the support of Gray and his contributions to the science of botany. Gray however held fast to a Divine hand in design and tried to convince Darwin that design was inherent in nature and not a random phenomenon, a fact proven through rigid experimentation to this day. Yet Darwin was not convinced and could not conceive that a man could “… be an ardent theist and an evolutionist” at the same time, though he also admitted that not all of his own theories were necessarily atheistic.

There are many other scientists, philosophers and theologians who argued for or against the new hypothesis of Charles Darwin. In fact the times were right for this argumentation. In his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis Dr. Michael Denton spends a chapter noting that the revolutionary movement from theistic perspective to a materialistic one of biology in the space of 20 years was not due to any convincing scientific evidence presented either by Darwin or other advocates of the theory. Rather, it was the social, psychological, and philosophical momentum within Western culture and its growing mistrust of the biblical narrative and the authority of the Bible in particular that seduced many hard-line empirical scientist to engage in the debate and yield to evolution’s naturalistic “creativeness” as though any meaningful studies had proven it as fact.

In summary, the times in which scientific materialism arose were filled with open debate and obvious disagreement, particularly as to the validity of the Bible as a reliable revelation of God to man and therefore a questionable artifact by which to interpret scientific discoveries. Whether one was a theological naturalist or what we might now consider a secular scientist was not determined primarily by the use of an objective scientific method but rather a philosophical bias.

In future articles I hope to show that the debate has continued between the two philosophical worldviews. The rejection of the metaphysical foundations of science and the abandonment of empirical and objective assessment in biology yielded to evolutionary thought.  This was as much to do with a philosophical decision as psychological one. The political movements in the United States to take control of the Nation's educational system has given rise to new perspectives that raise old objections to evolution as a meaningful science.

Yet the presentation of real scientific discoveries that have truly revolutionized our modern world will be fascinating to discuss.  However, these discoveries are being force-fit into an evolutionary philosophical paradigm; now claimed to be a fact of nature. Concurrent with the growing acceptance of an unproven philosophy, i.e. evolution, I hope to show the cultural, political, and logical ramifications of accepting evolution as a fact.  There is a growing political and social movement to protect evolution from being questioned by the public, the church, the educated, or even those scientists who specialize in the field.

It must be admitted that the prior commitment to either materialism or super-naturalism determines the bias in the approach that scientists take to interpret the facts of life. Obviously, conclusion will either be a natural phenomenon or a design phenomenon. I hope to demonstrate that when objective reason and honest inquiry are made into the facts of life, one will reach the conclusion that intelligent design is at the root of the matter. Who the designer is becomes a study separate from the sciences but just as Paine discovered, even in his hatred of the Christian God, intelligence rules the Universe.