Conflicts between science and religion are not phenomena confined to the present day; they have been with us for a long time. It was not, however, till the epoch-making work of Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century that the biological assault upon Christian belief really began. Since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 and his Descent of Man in 1871 this assault seems only to have increased in size and power, and, in the opinion of many scientists and large numbers of informed people, it has discredited entirely the traditional Christian understanding of man’s origin and his dignity and of the character of his environment. Whether any such discrediting has in fact taken place is another matter; suffice it to say that a great many people believe it has.
But the biological assault upon Christian belief is not confined to a conflict over the historic circumstances of man’s appearance on this earth; it has spread to include our analysis and understanding of man as he now is and as he may become in the future. Since Darwin’s day, the biologist, along with other scientists in neighboring areas of specialized knowledge, has been hard at work, and a great many puzzles about the human person have been solved. Our contemporary knowledge has reached such a point that it is conceivable that within the foreseeable future man may exercise an astonishing degree of control over the future development of the human species. “The revelation of the molecular basis of heredity, protein synthesis, enzyme action and even learning and memory,” says one commentator, “is one of the truly remarkable achievements of science, providing us not only with answers to long-debated problems but also holding out the possibility of practical control of many aspects of life.”Current Affairs Bulletin, 15 January, 1968, p. 64.
This matter of man’s future and of our increasing ability to affect it in radical and far-reaching ways obviously raises some urgent and very disturbing questions to which answers are sorely needed. It is the intention of this paper to come to terms with this challenge, albeit in a general rather than specific way, and to do so first by seeing what is the biblical understanding of man and his future and then by seeing whether this view needs any modification in the light of biological studies.
The Biblical View Of Man
The biblical understanding of man and his future comes before us in the form of a historic and dramatic record of man’s beginnings, his defection from the path of his intended destiny, and the way by which that mistake with all its consequent misfortunes has been—and will be—rectified. It is a record of astonishing magnitude, and its capacity to excite the imagination, to humble the proud soul, and to revive the disillusioned spirit is almost without limits. It plunges the reader into the depths of despair by confronting him with the awful truth about himself, and it lifts him at the same time to lofty heights of anticipation as he learns of his recovery and of the restitution of all things in Christ.
The biblical view of man is seen, then, at two points: In Adam and in Christ. The Adamic narratives have been the center of considerable discussion and controversy, but their central truths are easily recognized. Firstly, so far as man is concerned, he was made as the summit of the created order to exercise dominion over the environment in which he was placed. Secondly, he was made, and this is uniquely true of him, in the image of God to enjoy his created role in fellowship with God his Maker. Thirdly, he was made in a heterosexual mode not only for the purpose of procreation but also for the purpose of enjoying satisfying companionship.
This description of man in creation is, however, significantly qualified. The intended pattern of existence has not, in fact, been realized. Man, from the beginning, has chosen to ignore the true character of his existence and has asserted his autonomy. The results of this original moment of madness have been catastrophic. The central relationship with God has suffered a breach, and consequent upon this, tensions have arisen both within the human fellowship and between man and his environment. Opting for a mode of existence other than that of being consciously dependent upon God, man alienated himself from the one context which rendered life meaningful and made it fully satisfying, and he has become enmeshed in a world of egocentric tensions located within a natural environment which accepts him reluctantly and which will ultimately reclaim him with decisive finality (Gen. 3:16–19). Creation, with man at its center, is a disfigured ideal. It is not to be thought of, as Leibniz would have it, as “the best of all possible worlds,” nor is it to be idealized as Hegel’s Absolute Spirit-in-otherness standing in dialectical tension over against its eternal Thesis. It is not even simply “just what’s there,” free from all attempts at interpretation; it is a disfigured and restless reality sharing in and contributing to the misfortune of its appointed lord but, at the same time, awaiting its deliverance and reconstitution (Isa. 11:1–10; Rom. 8:18–23).
In so far as the created order exists at all, albeit in its distorted and penultimate form, it testifies to the eternal power and godhead of its Author. In so far as it has its present character (by which it contributes decisively to the frustration of man’s autonomous existence), it testifies to man’s alienation from the ground of his being and that God is not only Creator but also Judge.
Our human condition in Adam is full of pathos. Augustine’s description could hardly be improved upon:
For we all were in that one man, since we all were that one man who fell into sin by the woman who was made from him before the sin. For not yet was the particular form created and distributed to us, in which we as individuals were to live, but already the seminal nature was there from which we were to be propagated; and this being vitiated by sin, and bound by the chain of death, and justly condemned, man could not be born of man in any other state. And thus, from the bad use of free will, there originated the whole train of evil, which, with its concatenation of miseries, convoys the human race from its depraved origin, as from a corrupt root, on to the destruction of the second death, which has no end, those only being excepted who are freed by the grace of God.The City of God xiii 14 (tr. M. Dods, New York: Random House).
But the biblical view, as was just hinted, must also include the difference made by Christ. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:21–23). In these verses there is the great theme of the recovery of what was lost—a looking back to the inauguration of man’s salvation and a looking forward to its consummation.
About this dramatic reversal of fortune we will say only three things: Firstly, it was not an after-thought! The restitution of all things in Christ was a divine intention which antedated creation (Eph. 1:3–10; 3:8–11; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10; Rom. 16:25; 1 Pet. 1:19, 20). Karl Barth is right when he says that God’s covenant with man in Christ was the ground of creation itself and not a consequence.Church Dogmatics III i, ch. 9, 41 (Eng. tr., London: T. and T. Clark). Secondly, the recovery of our fallen world was achieved historically, within and through the conditions of the fall. God in Christ through the incarnation bound himself into the conditions of our human frailty and vulnerability. He took upon himself, by being born “outside Eden,” the form of judgment under which all mankind lives and dies. Despite his own capacity for dominion (to which his miracles bear witness), he moved obediently along the path of human alienation and felt within himself that final consequence of divine disapproval as he slipped into the jaws of death. Without ever desiring man’s sinful autonomy (Phil. 2:5–8) he ultimately underwent God’s judgment upon that sin. But, and this is the cry of joy from the New Testament, in this great act of “identification”—he with us—there is an even profounder “substitution”—he instead of us (Mark 10:45). In a way that passes our understanding he has carried our alienation and condemnation into his own grave with him, and in his resurrection he has broken through the sphere of estrangement and judgment and leads creation back to its original and ultimate destiny. Thirdly, this recovery has two historic phases or “moments,” one in the past, one in the future; and they coincide with his resurrection, upon which we look back, and the open manifestation of his person and power, towards which we still look. Hence the tension of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 8:18 ff. We who believe yearn for the culmination, knowing that its timing, and certainly its content, lie not in the hands of men but in the hands of God. Hence also our present need of the Spirit’s ministry within our lives as we await this event (Rom. 8:1–30).
Now this is an analysis of the message about the human situation which is at once coherent and expansive; we must now ask whether it should be modified, or perhaps dismissed altogether, in the light of scientific and especially biological researches. This is a big question, but we will confine ourselves to examining those achievements which are associated with the problem of the origin of the human species and those current researches in molecular biology and biochemistry which affect our understanding of mental activity, the origin of life itself, and the prospects for the evolutionary future of man.
The first of these topics we have already alluded to in the earlier references to Charles Darwin. Professor I. G. Barbour has suggested four problems which the hypothesis of biological evolution has raised for the Christian faith: It has challenged design, human dignity, the basis of ethics, and the relevance of the Bible.Issues in Science and Religion, London: SCM, 1968, pp. 80–114.
There have been two main kinds of reaction to this hypothesis and the challenges which it offers, neither of which can be studied now in any detail. The first reaction has been to discredit the validity of the hypothesis altogether. It would be a mistake to think that this response has come only from a narrow-minded and obscurantist element within the Christian Church or that it is to be found only among unthinking “fundamentalists.” We have only to compare Arnold Lunn’s Revolt Against Reason (1950)London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, chs. 11, 12. with B. Ramm’s The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1955)London: Paternoster, ch. 7. or Professor de Wit’s A New Critique of the Transformist Principle in Evolutionary Biology (1965)Kampen (Netherlands): J. H. Kok N.V. Professor de Wit held the chair of zoology at the Free University of Amsterdam. or to examine the critique of Professor A. Fleischmann in K. Heim’s The World, Its Creation and Consummation 1962, Eng. ed.)London: Oliver and Boyd, pp. 38–48. to realize that this is far from the case. In the opinion of these writers, the thesis of macro-evolution or monophylactic evolution has just never been proven and is not likely to be. In the view of Arnold Lunn, the noted Catholic apologist, the only explanation for its wide acceptance is that the hearts of men are gripped by a “theophobia”!
This line of reply is far from typical, however, for there are many biblical scholars who would insist that there is no real tension between Darwinianism and the biblical narratives rightly understood. The evolutionary route to human existence leaves untouched, according to this point of view, the biblical estimate of man and the fact of “design” in man’s environment. Once again there is no one single type or pattern of Christian experience characteristic of these writers. Professor J. Lever’s Creation and Evolution (1958),Grand Rapids (Michigan): Grand Rapids International Publications. Professor J. Lever held the chair of zoology at the Free University of Amsterdam. coming from a Dutch Calvinist background, may be compared with the Roman Catholic P. G. Fothergill’s Evolution and Christians (1958)London: Longmans. Dr. P. G. Fothergill writes as senior lecturer in botany at Newcastle upon Tyne. or with the Anglo-Catholic Professor E. Mascall’s Christian Theology and Natural Science (1956)London: Longmans, ch. 7. or, on the other hand, with the Cambridge ornithologist D. Lack’s Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief (1957)London: Methuen. David Lack’s enthusiasm for evolutionary theory has within it an important qualification: “the Christian view is compatible with the theory of evolution, but only provided that the attributes regarded as peculiarly human … are considered to be spiritual, and hence outside biology” (p. 90). and W. R. Matthew’s sustained treatment of the teleological argument in his The Purpose of God (1935).
The particular problem of the evolutionary basis of ethical judgments can, perhaps, be treated separately, for it has not necessitated a specific reply from Christian thinkers and moralists. Evolutionary ethics has been widely attacked since the days of Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), and not least by G. E. Moore in his Principia Ethica (1903). The debate still continues, however, and amongst modern writers G. G. Simpson in his Meaning of Evolution (1949) and C. H. Waddington’s The Ethical Animal (1960) both affirm a connection while E. Mascall’s The Secularization of Christianity (1965)London: Nisbet, pp. 205–11. and I. T. Ramsey’s Biology and Personality (1965)Oxford: Blackwell, ch. 8. both offer important critiques.
This enumeration of positions and names could continue almost indefinitely, but there is one aspect of the debate which has not always received the attention which it deserves: namely, the significance of the nature of the evolutionary process itself. To argue that creation through evolution is like getting oaks from acorns is surely to oversimplify the matter. Charles Kingsley said, for instance:
Of old it was said by Him, without whom nothing is made, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Shall we quarrel with Science if she should show these words are true? What, in one word, should we have to say but this: “We know of old that God was so wise that He could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that He can make all things make themselves.”Quoted from Asa Gray’s Darwiniana (1876) in J. Dillenberger’s Protestant Thought and Natural Science, London: Collins, 1960, p. 235.
But is it so simple? The actual evolutionary history appears to be one of repeated efforts, frequent failures, random variations, and occasional movements of progress! It is this fact which led Julian Huxley to insist that:
Nowhere in all its vast extent is there any trace of purpose, or even of prospective significance. It is impelled from behind by blind physical forces, a gigantic and chaotic jazz dance of particles and radiations, in which the only overall tendency we have so far been able to detect is that summarized in the Second Law of Thermodynamics—the tendency to run down.Evolution in Action, London: Penguin, 1953, p. 14.
On the other hand it has stimulated a popular writer like L. C. Birch to interpret the evolutionary data in the light of the process philosophies of Alexander, Whitehead, and Hartshorne. To Birch, God “achieves by persuasion such order as is possible in the occasions of experience that make up the creative advance of the universe.”Quoted in J. C. Greene’s Darwin and the Modern World View, New York: Mentor, 1963, p. 75. Cf. L. C. Birch, Nature and God, London: SCM, 1965, pp. 34, 72–3, 91–117. The God of Whitehead and Hartshorne is “on the move.” He is, according to Whitehead, in process of passing from his “primordial nature” to his “consequent nature,” and this latter state, we are informed, is “consequent upon his actualization in the world.”Birch, p. 110. The creation of which these writers speak is, in part, the creation of God himself! “His consequent nature,” says Birch, “endlessly acquires richer and newer content with the world’s creative advance.”Ibid. “If the divine consciousness,” says Hartshorne,
is conceived not as eternally the same but as perpetually growing in content by virtue of additions from the world, each addition being strictly permanent, once for all, then the ever growing sum of realities and goods can be real and good for someone, for one personal consciousness. From this consciousness, the process version of omniscience, nothing is ever subtracted, but to it all novelties are added.C. Hartshorne, “Process Philosophy as a Resource for Christian Thought” in P. LeFevre (ed.), Philosophical Resources for Christian Thought, New York: Abingdon, 1968, p. 52.
One is reminded of Hegel’s Absolute coming to self-realization in this description of God’s involvement in the agonizing thrust of creation upwards in the process of actualizing values. But regardless of its Greek or Teutonic antecedents, we must recognize that this theological alternative to a biblical theology of nature has, to a large extent, been prompted by the very nature of the evolutionary process itself. The erratic patterns of development, the pain at its center,Cf. Heim, pp. 105–9, and his The Transformation of the Scientific World View, London: SCM, 1953, pp. 253–6. and the apparent futility which seems so characteristic of individual phenomenal happenings—all these things cry out for explanation, and, in the opinion of Hartshorne, constitute “fatal objections” to a traditional Christian theism.Hartshorne, p. 65. They convinced Huxley of “blind chance”; they persuade these theistic process philosophers that “God is the great companion—the fellow sufferer who understands.”Quoted from A. N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality in Birch, p. 112.
Littered and spoiled
by a tide of undone things
and memories washed ashore
sand, empty shells, and more
have taken toll
where great waves roll
heave and deposit for me
empty tokens of serenity.
Wetness and wind
spin hold of me
in this second’s turning
to witness the nations churning
taking turbulence to the shore
depositing with a roar
What should I say
that no one has said
words whether spoken or dead
issued against an unguarded sea
unfolding demanding of me
and a reason why
it was left unsaid
as doom shadows spread
D. R. UNRUH
But both these alternatives are mistaken. Seriously mistaken. A godless interpretation and “Panentheism” (Hartshorne) are both unnecessary and misleading.I. G. Barbour favors a process-type solution but not without criticism, pp. 439–63 (esp. 457–8). Cf. E. Mascall’s review in J. Theol. St. XVIII, 2 (Oct., 1967). The biblical view is that the character of things “outside Eden” is as it is because we are as we are. It is the form of existence appropriate for the sinful man to live and to die within. It is shot through with ambiguity. It is, as we have seen, distorted, and this is because of the action and subsequent state of nature’s overlord! To object and say that its character was set long before man’s appearanceD. Lack, pp. 76–7. is to overlook the earlier truth that salvation is the basis of creation, and that just as the (initial) consequences of Christ’s historic redemption 1,900 years ago stretch from the beginning of human history to its end, so the effects of Adam’s sin are present from the beginning of creation to its end. The size and character of a building’s foundation are determined by the size and character of the building which is to be built upon it. The effects of Adam’s fall, though chronologically prior to, are to be considered as consequent upon the fall itself. We are intimately linked with our environment, as the Bible and biological evolution constantly remind us, and our human defection has had the effect of plunging nature itself into the abyss of our sorrow. But Romans 8:18–23 leaves us in no doubt that the redemption of man will bring its own “release” to nature.Cf. Heim, Creation and Consummation, pp. 110–21.
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