Early evolutionary science and the Christian community

(David Schwartz) #1

@teddavis Just wondering if you know what the Christian responses were to early evolutionary ideas from Lamarck, Wallace, and other early promoters of the concept.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #2

That’s an excellent question, David, but one that I can’t answer adequately in a few minutes. I’d need to do some research to be confident about my answer, and unfortunately I can’t find time now to do it properly. As a very poor substitute, I’ll say just a little bit about Christian responses to a third early evolutionist, namely Robert Chambers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestiges_of_the_Natural_History_of_Creation.

I’ve not studied this systematically, but I can tell you that there were some prominent Christian scientists who condemned the work theologically, in addition to some other prominent scientists who condemned it on purely scientific grounds–Darwin, e.g., thought Chambers’ book was rubbish. In England, Darwin’s early mentor Adam Sedgwick (a geologist who took Darwin on field trips) told a friend, “If the book be true, the labours of sober induction are in vain; religion is a lie; human law is a mass of folly, and a base injustice; morality is moonshine; our labours for the black people of Africa were works of madmen; and man and woman are only better beasts.”

Likewise, geologist Hugh Miller said, “If, during a period so vast as to be scarce expressible by figures, the creatures now human have been rising, by almost infinitesimals, from compound microscopic cells … until they have at length become the men and women whom we see around us, we must either hold the monstrous belief, that all the vitalities, whether those of monads or of mites, of fishes or of reptiles, of birds or of beasts, are individually and inherently immortal and undying, or that human souls are not so. The difference between the dying and the undying—between the spirit of the brute that goeth downward, and the spirit of the man that goeth upward—is not a difference infinitesimally, or even atomically, small. It possesses all the breadth of eternity to come, and is an infinitely great distance."

On our side of the pond, geologist Edward Hitchcock said, “the production of new forms of animal and vegetable life must be regarded, as it ever has been, as the highest and most astonishing exercise of creative power: and if that power can be supposed to reside in the laws of nature, it seems to us that there is no phenomenon in the universe that will require a higher power: and we are reduced at once to materialism and atheism.”

Those were pretty big names at the time, and they all basically agreed that Chambers was unacceptable to suggest common ancestry of humans and other organisms. This was pre-Darwinian stuff; Chambers’ scheme was highly teleological, highly “designed.” The problem, apparently, was common ancestry itself.

(system) #3

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