The towering figures of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln rarely receive mention in the same breath. Yet because of a quirky coincidence—their births on the same day, February 12, 1809—the two are perpetually linked in our consciousness.
This year massive bicentennial celebrations are being launched for both. Clearly the more controversial for Christians is Darwin. He became the father of modern evolutionary theory when he argued that nature knitted together the living world through an all-powerful mechanism of creation—natural selection. This legacy, the center of praise in Darwin celebrations, reigns supreme in biology under the name “neo-Darwinism.”
Neo-Darwinism is a theory that says all biological complexity and diversity—from beetles to zebras and mosses to sequoias—arise from unintelligent forces in nature rather than from an intelligent agent such as God. Over a million species of plants, animals, and microbes, they say, have been sculpted through a long process of “macroevolution.” Darwin’s prime sculptor, tweaked with modern understandings, is nothing more than random genetic glitches filtered by natural selection.
Christians, on the other hand, observe the beauty of the natural world, take note of the gigabytes of coded DNA information packed within living cells, and see the fingerprints of God. To those with a biblical perspective, biology confirms that “since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).
As “Darwin’s year” continues, we must ask, “Is there a creative, redemptive way to participate in the celebration of Darwin to the glory of God? Could a great opportunity be staring us in the face?”
To address these questions we need to understand that Darwinian celebration won’t rapidly fade as we move through 2009. It will roar on, building to a second climax on November 24—a date that marks the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species.
At darwinday.org one can follow the cascade of festivities in dozens of countries. Historians, scientists, and educators are seizing this moment to trumpet Darwin’s achievements and to bash intelligent design. By the end of 2009, millions will be influenced through TV specials, historical exhibits, conferences, books, and films.
In an odd twist Darwin enthusiasts have tied Darwin to Lincoln and given the nod to Darwin. Robert Stephens, the American who founded the annual Darwin Day Celebrations, told the BBC that “Feb. 12, 1809, was a very good day for our planet because Lincoln became the great emancipator of the slaves in America, and Darwin became the great emancipator of the human mind!” Stephens added that a “poignant” relationship exists between Lincoln’s great achievement and “Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection . . . that freed the human mind from superstition, thus permitting the interpretation of scientific data through the lens of naturalism instead of through the lens of theology.”
The irony in Stephens’s comment seems to escape him. His preferred philosophy of naturalism is itself a theological and metaphysical doctrine, not a finding of science. Naturalism declares that the universe is a “closed system of material causes and effects” which cannot be affected by anything outside such as God. The great Oxford-trained journalist Thomas Bethell saw this irony when he described naturalistic Darwinism as the great “intellectual superstition” of our time.
Freeing the Mind?
Darwinists like Stephens preach passionate sermons, arguing that science must build on naturalism’s firm foundation or perish. The upshot is clear: Any biblical notion of creation is to be discarded with other outmoded myths.
As a historian of the ongoing “Darwinism vs. Design” controversy, I am frequently shocked by how mainstream science has become unguarded in pushing a theology. It was trumpeted brazenly at a Darwin Day event at the University of Tennessee when William Provine of Cornell University boasted, “Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism that has ever been invented.”
More than a decade later, in lectures, essays, and in the film Expelled, Provine says that Darwinism tells us there is no detectable god or designing force in the universe; no purpose in life; no life after death; no foundation for ethics; and no free will. Provine emphasizes that Darwin agreed with these conclusions.
Provine’s message is recast into an evangelistic appeal by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. Dawkins said that Darwin made it possible to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Daniel Dennett at Tufts University was even more blunt. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea Dennett wrote that Darwinism is like a “universal acid; it eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview.”
Confronted by this atheistic chorus, Christians wonder if it makes sense even to interact with Darwinian celebrants and celebrations. To add to the confusion, some religious leaders draw theological lessons from evolution and salute Darwin’s theory as a map of how God created by using forces of nature. Evangelical Christian and geneticist Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, pushed a pro-Darwin stance and dismissed intelligent design in The Language of God. (Collins’s book is excellent in many other respects.)
So, to celebrate or not to celebrate? That is the question. Oddly the focus on Darwin presents us with a teachable moment, a year-long window of ministry we may never again see. So as the world focuses on Darwin and design, this is the year to study, learn, preach, and teach about God as Creator. Here are some suggestions:
- Schedule one or more movie nights in home or church settings to show high-quality DVDs that dispel the confusion about Darwinism and design. (See below.)
- Host a reading program or a book club to benefit from the rich literature that probes Darwin and the evolution/design debate. Consider reading Darwin’s own Origin of Species, and then balance that with the intelligent-design classic Darwin’s Black Box by biochemist Michael Behe.
- Individually or in a group develop a chart or balance sheet listing both the positive things discovered in Darwin and his writings as well as the flaws and fallout from his life and legacy. Keep adding to this as your research expands.
- Do a study and share your findings on what the Bible says about Creation. Remember to include the forgotten Creation verses such as Zechariah 12:1 and passages such as Job 38–40 and Isaiah 40–46. Emphasize Christ’s role in Creation (John 1; Col. 1; Heb. 1). To claim that a creaturely thing—raw matter and energy, unassisted by intelligence—gave rise on its own to the complexity of life is to worship that creature as a creator-substitute.
- Adopt as a motto these words from the Introduction of Origin of Species: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” Darwin’s immediately preceding words are significant: “For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived.” Those who say that only Darwin’s side should be presented are not following Darwin’s own counsel.
- Note that Darwin had the courage to confront problems with his theory. His chapter on “Difficulties with the Theory” grew longer as his book passed through six editions.
- Study the many lines of evidence that oppose naturalistic-creation theories. Focus on the most embarrassing new development, the meltdown of Darwin’s cherished mechanism (natural selection acting on random mutation) as an engine of change.
- Now is the time to focus on Darwin and the history of the controversy he inaugurated. Plunge in, learn, read on both sides, and build the big picture of Darwin—both good points and bad—and his theory with its modest successes and massive problems.
Here lies a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is too great to miss.
The following are books, videos, and websites Dr. Woodward recommends for those wishing to become more conversant with their neighbors about Darwinism.
Unlocking the Mystery of Life
The Privileged Planet
The Case for a Creator
Woodward notes, “Two documentaries, Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet, both from Illustra Media, are extraordinary. Some of this material is combined in a DVD from La Mirada Films, Lee Strobel’s hour-long The Case for a Creator. Watch for a forthcoming Illustra documentary, Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.
Visit these sites each week for the latest:
Source that provides summary with links for headlines relating to the subject of Creation-evolution
Website that provides an analysis of news coverage about evolution as well as original reporting that accurately delivers information about the current state of the debate over Darwinian evolution
The official site of Access Research Network (ARN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing accessible information on science, technology, and society
The intelligent-design weblog of William Dembski, Denyse O’Leary, and friends
Beginner: What’s Darwin Got to Do with It? A Friendly Conversation about Evolution (2000)
Cartoon book by John L. Wiester, Jonathan Moneymaker, Janet Moneymaker, and Robert C. Newman. Takes about an hour to read. Recommended for ages twelve and older.
Intermediate: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwin and Intelligent Design (2006)
Jonathan Wells, who holds doctorates in biology and theology, speaks in clear, nontechnical language about Darwinism, explaining who is fighting whom, the root of the conflict, and the evidence for and against Darwinism and intelligent design. He also explains what is ultimately at stake for liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-Christians, educators, policymakers, and scientists.
Advanced: The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (2007)
William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells lay out the main lines of evidence and argument in the current dispute between the Darwinists and the growing body of intelligent-design theorists.
For a balanced treatment on Darwin himself see Gertrude Himmelfarb’s classic Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. Himmelfarb, a renowned historian, has produced a work that is meticulous, gripping, and extremely fair.
For a great analysis and critique (with heavy doses of humor) of Richard Dawkins’s arguments, check out The Devil’s Delusion, by agnostic David Berlinski.