On July 1, 1858, papers were read to the Linnean Society of London by A. R. Wallace and Charles Darwin on the subject of natural selection. These lectures were followed by the publication on November 24, 1859, of the first edition of Darwin’s monumental work, The Origin of Species.

This forthcoming centenary is the subject of a paper by Dr. A. J. Friend, senior lecturer in chemistry of the University of Tasmania, in The Reformed Theological Review (June, 1958).

Dr. Friend is a graduate of Sydney, Australia, and Cambridge, England, and he was organizing secretary of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Australia prior to his present appointment. He is an able scientist and a competent theologian.

He points out that Darwin’s doctrine that “species undergo modification, and that the existing forms of life are the descendants by true generation of pre-existing forms” was not original. What Darwin did was to describe a plausible mechanism, that of natural selection, supported by much evidence, to show how the changes might have taken place. Writers, such as Lamarck, had adopted the hypothesis that acquired characteristics were transmitted.

At first, opposition came largely from scientists, notably Richard Owen and Adam Sedgewick. The attitude of clerics was not unsympathetic and T. H. Huxley was forced to confess himself “pleasantly disappointed; there has been far less virulence and much more just appreciation of the weight of scientific evidence than I expected.”

The situation, however, soon altered. Many scientists and philosophers (e.g., Huxley and Herbert Spencer) carried Darwinism further, and erected a complete world view which had no need of a Creator. (It is no coincidence that in the U.S.S.R. Darwinism and Marxism are taught together as one of the foundations of its philosophy.) On the other hand, many Christians adopted an attitude of uncompromising hostility to any view which departed from the doctrine of the fixity of species. (And yet this view was only developed in the eighteenth century by Linnaeus.)

It is not clear just what Darwin’s own understanding of the Christian faith was. Dr. Friend makes Darwin’s position clear:

“He has been represented as a sincere Christian, and also as a man to whom Christianity meant little in his later life.

It is known from his own words that much of his earlier religious belief deserted him towards the end of his life; but it is another question whether he was deliberately seeking to undermine the teachings of the Scriptures as they were accepted. He certainly added many passages to later editions of ‘The Origin of Species’ which gave the impression that he was a believer in what has come to be called ‘theistic evolution.’ … He was never as anti-clerical as Huxley, who was very conscious of the low regard in which scientists were held by the community as a whole compared with the clergy, and could never resist an opportunity for a jibe at what he considered the absurd teaching of the Old Testament.”

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This whole question was the theme of an important conference recently arranged by the graduate fellowship of the I.V.F., at which a paper was read by F. I. Andersen (before his departure for America). In this paper he points out the dangers of a “negative apologetic.” For example, he cites those who would discredit and “debunk” all scientific investigation by saying “after all, they are only theories,” “they are not proved,” etc. Andersen comments: “An apologetic of this kind is well-suited to counteract the less cautious spokesman of science who makes inflated claims about the sure conclusions which contradict Christianity, but more often this criticism is aimed at discrediting science as a whole, and making what are solid achievements appear very uncertain.”

Over against this “negative apologetic,” Andersen points out the value of a more positive approach:

“Much good would be done if Christians were to shake off a feeling of inferiority and hostility towards science, and seek to use it positively in the interests of evangelism.… Instead of looking upon science as hostile territory to be attacked, it should be regarded as one of God’s realms, to be rightfully claimed for His lordship. Instead of regarding the scientist as an enemy, we should look on him as a servant of God, obeying (usually unwittingly) the primaeval command to subdue the earth.” Nevertheless, there are dangers arising from the “tentative and transitory nature of most scientific theory.” Andersen concludes by making certain observations: “We may note this basic difference between the attitude of the Bible and the attitude of positive science to the universe. Biblical descriptions of nature are phenomenonological, whereas those of science are ordered in the light of some hypothesis. Hence biblical descriptions are permanently true, and universally and directly understandable. For example, the statement that the sun rises in the east is true, and will always be true for all men, in spite of the overthrow of Ptolemaic astronomy.

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“On a more metaphysical level we find another important distinction. Biblical descriptions of nature explain most things immediately by the ultimate cause—the will of God. He makes the wind blow, the grass grow, etc. Positive science, on the other hand, is wholly occupied with secondary causes, or to speak more precisely, with those antecedent circumstances which habitually precede (and are presumed to cause) phenomena. Hence the two points of view are largely mutually exclusive. No statement about secondary causes can be turned into a denial of the operation of the will of God as an ultimate cause. The Bible is not concerned with the processes God uses to govern nature, whereas science is wholly concerned with such processes. Hence its discoveries make no difference to the truths of the Bible unless scientists overstretch the bounds of their subject and move into metaphysical questions, as in the argument that since science postulates universal regularity in nature, therefore irregularities (miracles) never occur, or in the inference that since science studies proximate causes, an ultimate superphenomenal cause has no reality.

“Finally, on a positive note, the point must be most emphatically made that only a vigorous biblical faith can afford a stable basis for sound science and that therefore Christianity and Science should be the closest of friends.”

He says, in conclusion, that the Bible gives a specific charter for Science. “Man was created to be a scientist! Man was placed in charge of this work (Ps. 8), as lord of all creatures (Gen. 1). He was instructed to subdue the earth, and at the very first exercised that power of identifying, distinguishing, classifying and naming objects, that is the basis of all science.”

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