Monday, 21 September 2009

Darwin's theory of evolution: does it destroy the foundations of Christianity? - Telegraph

Published: 3:13PM BST 04 Sep 2009

David Quammen

Science writer, academic and author of The Reluctant Mr Darwin

In the age we inhabit, everyone seems to feel free to place his or her own definition upon the word “Darwinism.” Evolution means, for many, what they want it to mean – whether they take themselves to be for it, or against it.

Answers to the question “Is Darwinism compatible with religion?”, therefore, vary with the chosen definitions of “Darwinism” and “religion.”

So, let’s be specific. Is the idea of evolution by natural selection – that is, changes in gene frequency yielding adaptation and diversity, sculpted by differential reproductive success upon randomly varying populations – compatible with, say, Christian theology?

My thought is: no. This has nothing to do with the matter of whether God exists. This question challenges not the existence of God but the supposed semi-divinity of Man.

Christian theology, as I understand it, holds that Man (by which I mean, of course, not a gender but the species Homo sapiens) is created in the image and likeness of God, with an immortal soul utterly different in its responsibilities and its potentialities from any spiritual essence possessed by an orchid, a barnacle, a tortoise, or a chimpanzee.

Darwinism, as propounded by Darwin, holds, contrarily, that Man is not unique, not disjunct from nature, but continuous with it, evolved from primate ancestors by natural selection upon random variations. Darwin himself saw the irreconcilability of these two views, I believe; saw it with excruciating clarity.

There is no other explanation for the dyspeptic tensions and pinched discretions he manifested in his life as a scientist, a Victorian squire and a husband. Personally, I take his lead on this. I venerate his reluctant materialism.

If he found himself unable to be a theistically relaxed Christian evolutionist, who am I to say his discomfiture was frivolous and unnecessary? He recognised: these cogs do not mesh.

George Pitcher

Religion editor, Telegraph Media Group

Those, such as Professor Richard Dawkins, who try to co-opt Charles Darwin as a cheerleader for atheism don’t just do Darwin a disservice: they also undermine the status of the science that they revere with almost religious fervour.

The idea that reason is the polar opposite of faith is only a relatively recent, post-Enlightenment development in human history. A more consistent historical narrative is that science and theology are partners in exploring the nature and fulfilment of the human condition.

As Darwin recognised, setting them against each other is a category error. You might as well argue over whether Mozart or Brunel contributed more to humanity.

Whatever the nature of Darwin’s own spiritual journey, he’s no knockout champion for atheists. But just as they don’t own him, nor do creationists own Genesis. As Darwin would be the first to acknowledge, life’s a lot more complicated than that.

Terry Sanderson

President, National Secular Society

Darwin has delivered a fatal blow to religion. What we are seeing now are its death throes, with the creationist movement desperately trying to convince the world and, I suspect, itself, that the biblical explanation of creation is anything other than a metaphor and a myth.

The founder of the National Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh, who was a contemporary of Darwin, once said: “No man sees a religion die.” But religions do die, and their corpses are scattered throughout history.

Christianity in Britain was already losing its grip by the time Darwin published On the Origin of Species. His theory of evolution simply accelerated the already existing decline.

Colin Humphreys

Goldsmiths Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, and past chairman of Christians in Science

Central to my beliefs, as a scientist and as a Christian, is that the God who created all life is the same God as he who reveals his creation to us through scientific study.

Science shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that our world is very old and that life has emerged over millions of years. Hence, this is the timescale over which God has created life on Earth. It follows that the early chapters of Genesis should not be interpreted literally.

There are strong clues to back this up within the Genesis creation story itself. For example, there is a serpent that talks, and there is a “tree of life”, both clearly symbolic.

Thus, there is no conflict between Darwin and Christianity: evolution is the way God chose to carry out his creation. If life emerged from a primeval soup, then God was the master chef.

Tony Watkins

Managing editor of for Christian educational charity Damaris

American philosopher Daniel Dennett calls evolution by natural selection “Darwin’s dangerous idea” because he thinks it undermines religion. It really doesn’t. It may explain mechanisms, but it says nothing about meaning.

So it cannot solve biology’s most fundamental problem, which is the origin of life itself (and neither can theories of life coming from space - that just relocates the problem). Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here?

Why do we intuitively feel that it matters – that we matter? If your starting point is “God cannot exist”, the only explanatory tools available to you are accidents and evolution, so you must make them account for absolutely everything.

But what if there is a God? There are strong reasons for believing so, and it changes one’s perspective on everything. It means that life itself, and especially, human life, has meaning at a very profound level.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous


  1. I don't think Darwin "killed" God or disproved his existence, but his theory challenged the existence of practically all gods worhsipped in human civilisation, including of course the Abrahamic God. Not because the Genesis did not happen (creationism was a twisted road taken by fundamentalist Christians in relatively recent history), but because the perception of man given by Abrahamic religions has been shattered by evolutionism. Even if Genesis has to be taken as a provider symbolical truth, where is the Fall of Man in evolution? Where did he go from innocent but morally pure to intelligent but morally corrupted? Where was he cut away from God?

  2. I've always thought of the 'Fall' as representing the transition from a hunter-gatherer society, where people took what they needed from a bountiful natural world, to an agricultural society of near constant toil. Agriculture supports a larger population than hunting-gathering but whereas hunting-gathering only occupied 25% of the day, subsistence farming occupied near 100%. (I stand to be corrected on the figures). In the middle east this transition is believed to have taken place 40,000 years ago. It was a relatively fast cultural change not a slow evolutionary one.

  3. I was never sure of the real meaning of the Fall. Taken literally, it makes no sense whatsoever, even before Darwin's time. Adam and Eve absorbing physically knowledge/sin from a fruit? Being punished because of a simple act of disobedience that might not have happened had they not been fooled by a snake, who in fact was telling the truth? God securing the obedience of his creation by lying to it? Their descendant being bound by this first sin? That people still believe such crude, naive tale as being real is baffling. On a symbolical/metaphorical level, however, one can find some emaning to it.

    Maybe it was inspired by oral tradition and meant a change from hunters/gatherers to herders/farmers. There are equivalent of such tale in other cultures, myths of Golden Age when mankind was blissed/blessed and in communion with God. One of the most famous of these myths is of course the Greek story of Pandora, pretty close to the account of the Genesis. But for the Greeks, Pandora was sent by the gods to punish mankind for their progress, which were due to a transgression. In the Genesis story, the transgression gives knowledge and in itself triggers the Fall. My take on it is that the Fall tells us that 1)man needs knowledge to acquires a capacity to sin. 2)hence, knowledge can be dangerous 3)when God lies to you he has his reasons and he is right for doing so 4)when someone tells you the truth, it is not always for your own good. I think it is quite revaling that in this episode God lies and the serpent simply states the truth. The moral is dubious at best. I am still not sure what the consciousness of being nude means.