Is Darwinism Atheistic? Is it Science?

I am sharing in two parts an examination of the beliefs and practices of Charles Darwin. The beginning of this post is from an article by Bill Johnson which is unavailable, to my knowledge, on the internet.

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Synopsis: During the nineteenth century Charles Darwin introduced his theory of evolution by natural selection. His goal was to show that life was not the result of divine intervention, but the work of blind naturalistic processes. Darwin claimed to have arrived at this truth by working strictly from the facts without having any preconceived ideas., and this is exactly how most people today perceive Darwinism. Dissenters have argued that Darwinism is not science, but that Darwin superimposed an atheistic/materialistic world-view on nature, then searched for the facts to support his theory. Darwinians responded that Darwin’s own writings show that he was not an atheist, but always believed in some form of deity. A careful study of Darwin’s writings, especially his posthumously published private notebooks and personal communication, reveals that Darwin was indeed an atheist and his theory of natural selection was formulated to replace a creator with naturalistic processes.

The concept of biological evolution is almost as old as life itself

Many men through the centuries expressed the belief that all living things evolved from a common ancestor. Some attributed this evolutionary process to God, and others to nature, but until the nineteenth century, no one had posited a mechanism by which it could have occurred that was remotely plausible.

In 1859, however, Charles Darwin published what is commonly called The Origin of Species, or Origin. His theory of natural selection working on chance variations revolutionized the world.

Today Darwinism is accepted by many people as genuine scientific theory. The popularity of his theory is such that anyone who questions it is suspect and “inevitably attracts the speculative psychiatric eye to himself.” (Garrett Hardin). Dissenters, such as Adam Sedgwick, have argued from the beginning, however, that Darwinism is not science, but is founded on a philosophy of atheism and materialism.

Many Darwinians have denied this assertion, believing that Darwinism is not atheistic. They claim that Darwin was always a believer in God, or that he became an unbeliever many years after he developed his natural selection theory. They argue that religion and evolution can be reconciled and that neither atheism nor naturalism influence belief in evolution.

The truth is that natural selection was Darwin’s attempt to provide atheism with its much-needed “creation story”. Scientist Richard Dawkins maintains that because evolution made God unnecessary, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” The first step in connecting Darwinism with atheism is to examine the evidence that the theory’s founder was an atheist and that the theory was formulated to make God unnecessary.

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Father, Son and the Universities (from Robert E. Kofal, Ph.D.)

Charles’ father envisioned for his son a career in medicine, and he sent him off with his older brother, Erasmus, to the University of Edinburgh in October, 1825, at the age of sixteen. This was the university open to religious Dissenters, Independents and freethinkers. It was a hotbed of anti-religious, social and political radicalism. Evolutionary theories were in the air and embraced by many. Young Darwin had read and admired his grandfather’s book in which a theory of evolution similar to Lamarck’s was described a decade before the French zoologist published his own more famous theory. Charles saw that the advocates of evolution were usually violently anti-Christian, politically radical, and opposed to the established Church and the conservative Tory government. This is one reason that he did not publish his theory until he was forced to when another naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, conceived the same theory.

At Edinburgh Charles came to hate medicine and grew in his devotion to natural history. His closest and most influential friend in Edinburgh was Robert Edmund Grant. Grant was an atheistic evolutionist and a leading authority in invertebrate zoology. Young Charles went on field trips with Grant, collecting marine specimens and absorbing the older man’s materialistic philosophy of science. Grant believed in the original spontaneous (chance) origin of life and the grand evolutionary history from single cells to man. Young Darwin listened and kept his own counsel. He learned a great deal about zoology, geology and other fields of science at Edinburgh, but he came to abhor medicine. He also took valuable instruction in such practical arts as taxidermy and the preservation of specimens. In April, 1827, he left Edinburgh without a degree and headed for home, forever turning his back on the medical profession.

What was a wealthy English father to do with a son who was devoted to horsemanship and the hunt, a dabbler in insects, geology and barnacles, and seemingly without direction or a future? He could send him to Cambridge to prepare for a tax-funded “living” as a minister in the Anglican Church! So Charles signed the required paper affirming acceptance of the 39 Articles of the Church of England and entered Christ’s College, Cambridge University. There Charles managed to cover the requirements for a degree in theology, but his real love was geology, entomology, botany and zoology. He became a protege of Adam Sedgwick, professor of geology, an orthodox Anglican opponent of evolution. Though studying for a theology degree, Charles devoted his major energy to geology and other sciences. Sedgwick took him on a geological field trip to the hill country of southern England. The Professor was impressed with the young man and predicted that he would make his mark in science. Charles learned how to make long-lasting friendships with men of science, such as Adam Sedgwick, who would help him in his career. He saw that among the university professors, many of them ordained clergy and all of them church members, virtually all devoted to their Christian faith, not a single one was committed to the traditional grammatical-historical-literal understanding of the Scriptures. They accommodated the Scriptures to fit the reigning secular scientific conclusions. Some even accepted theistic evolution (the idea that God somehow used evolution to accomplish His work of creation). Darwin observed that among the ostensibly theologically orthodox scientists on the university faculties, not one upheld the literal biblical doctrine of creation or the Genesis flood. For the plain meaning of Genesis many substituted the compromise idea of a series of special creations interleaved with a series of extinctions.

While at Cambridge Darwin also learned that if one engaged openly in political radicalism or exposed his belief in a materialistic form of evolution, his career could be endangered. Du ties by engaging in a riot against the school authorities. Charles observed from a distance was careful not to become implicated in the disorders. Furthermore, Darwin pretty much kept his liberal Whig political ideals and sympathy for social reform private within his family immediate social circle. He was careful never to make public his religious views, and he concealed his materialistic evolutionary ideas from public view until the publication of his book in 1859. In particular, he kept his idea of evolution from apes to humans under cover for over thirty years until the publication of his book. The Descent of Man, in 1871.

Charles read the required theology texts by Arch-deacon William Paley and others. On his own he read Paley’s classic book on natural theology, the argument for God based on the evidence for intelligent, purposeful design in the structures and relationships of living things. Impressed, he nevertheless devoted his entire professional career to the difficult task of over- throwing Paley’s case. As graduation drew nearer, confronted by the prospect of examination for ordination to the Anglican ministry, Charles read a standard text on theology. He concluded that he could give intellectual assent to the arguments for Christianity. Some time later, however, in a frank and intimate discussion with a fellow student, he agreed with his friend that he, too, could not affirm an inner calling to the Christian ministry. As biographers Desmond and Morris suggest, Darwin’s interactions with theology characteristically were limited to the intellectual level. He finally opted out of the ministerial gravy train. His father had co-operated by paying for his education, concerned not at all with his religion or irreligion. The son without question recognized the hypocrisy in an atheist father’s financing the fitting of his son for a career in the Church. It was merely a convenience arranged with a view to assuring a comfortable, government-sponsored career for the son.

Charles had read with great interest the books by Alexander von Humboldt, the famous German naturalist, and other naturalists who traveled to the far corners of the earth collecting new data for geology, zoology and other sciences. He yearned to follow their example and to experience for himself the spectacular green mysteries of the tropics. So his future after graduation was uncertain. He reasoned about the advantages of a “living” in the Church to en- able him to carry on with his scientific studies with tax funding as a country clergyman. Upon graduation he was looking for some opportunity to travel and do science. While planning with a friend for an overseas expedition, he was surprised by the arrival of an invitation from the British Admiralty. He had been chosen to serve as the official naturalist for the voyage around the world of the Royal Navy’s ship, the Beagle. After some negotiations with the government and with his father, Charles accepted. His appointment with destiny was sealed.

When he embarked on the Beagle Darwin had with him the first volume of Charles Lyell’s new three volume set. Principles of Geology, given to him by Captain FitzRoy. He devoured the book and within five months was sold on Lyell’s uniformitarian view of geology. It became the lynch pin of his interpretation of all geological and fossil observations. Lyell’s theory of earth history provided Darwin with the time needed to make any theory of evolution at all plausible. Lyell worked from the a priori assumption that the biblical young-earth chronology was false and that the Genesis flood never occurred. Lyell was determined completely to discredit the biblical record of earth history. This was his agenda for science. But he cannily refused publicly to espouse evolution until after Darwin’s Origin had conquered the scientific world. Then Lyell went public with his acceptance of evolutionary theory, after such a step no longer seemed dangerous to his reputation.

Charles Darwin was never a Christian. The influences which made him what he became– family, religious, educational, social–combined to turn him against biblical Christian faith and to open his mind to the secular materialistic understanding of the world. Brought up as a gentleman of the well-to-do upper middle class, trained to value reputation and respectability, naturally a likeable person with an innate ability for making friends, and possessed of a keen mind and natural curiosity, Charles had the attributes needed for success in the scientific establishment of 19th century England. Naturally bent toward skepticism by two generations of family practice and belief, and for the most part experiencing only the formal religiosity of a degenerating Anglican Church, he was repelled by the gospel of Christ. The principal counter- influence was that of his pious sisters and later on his wife, but these sincere women apparently did not comprehend the biblical faith. Young Darwin with his college diploma realized that to argue against the gospel required the discrediting of the God of creation who is sovereign Lord over all His creatures. Aware of the force of the evidence for an intelligent, purposeful God to be found in the complex designs of living things, Darwin had to find another explanation for those designs. Evolution was the means for disposing of the evidence and for making the God of creation either non-existent or an irrelevant cosmic wimp in the “real world” that science investigates.

Darwin’s Faith (Bill Johnson)

It appears that Darwin had a deep and abiding faith in atheistic materialism. The controversial question I now wish to address is, Did Darwin’s atheistic and materialistic beliefs play any part in the development of his theory, or was Darwin led strictly by the facts? Darwin would have us believe that the facts alone led him to his theory: “My first notebook was opened in July 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions , by printed enquiries, by conversation with skillful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading.”

Darwin’s writings also demonstrate, however, that the facts played a very small part in the formulation of his theory. His early notebooks show that he entertained two other theories of evolution before finally arriving at his final theory. George Grinnell, in his study of Darwin’s first theory of evolution, asks this question: “Were these three theories complementary or were they mutually exclusive? If they were complementary, then the implication is clearly in favor of the importance of empirical data in shaping Darwin’s thought, but if they were mutually exclusive, the implication is that Darwin approached the data with a prior world view which he attempted to superimpose on the data by means of various hypothetical models and mechanisms.”

Grinnell has come to believe that Darwin’s three models were indeed mutually exclusive. Darwin rejected theory number one (variation by isolation) because it contained too many anomalies. Darwin then turned to theory number two (variation by habit), but soon abandoned it for a third model ( variation by domestic breeding) which turned out to be the most fruitful. “The extent to which he was willing to push one model,” argues Grinnell, “and after its collapse, to entertain new models suggests that he was philosophically inclined to transmutation theories for reasons that transcend the empirical data with which he originally worked.”

That Darwin had a philosophical inclination toward evolutionary thinking is further supported by his response to evidence that contradicted his theory, including: (1) lack of transitional forms, (2) sudden appearance of Cambrian fossils, (3) the problem of coordinated development, (4) persistent types (i.e. species that do not change), and (5) the existence of nonadaptive structures. Rather than allowing contrary evidence to falsify the theory, as a good scientist would, Darwin offered a plethora of ad hoc hypotheses to save the theory from falsification. (for example, imperfect fossil record, functional shift {today it is called preadaption}, less severe competition, correlations of growth, and sexual selection -i.e., female choice.) Later, he even embraced theories he once ridiculed, such as Lamarckism (the theory that evolution occurs through the inheritance of traits acquired through the use or disuse of body parts) and group selectionism, to solve special problems that natural selection could not solve.

Further, when pressed on why there are persistent types, Darwin admitted that his theory must be based entirely on general considerations (i.e., the struggle for survival) and when it gets right down to it, the theory requires faith: “When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed…nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Now can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.” Darwin’s theory was not scientific, as he claimed it to be. He had such a blind faith in materialism that he was willing to ignore or bend observations, and resort to ad hoc reasoning on an unprecedented level.

Why did Darwin lie about how his theory was formulated? The advice he gave to John Scott in 1863 may provide the answer: “I would suggest to you the advantage, at present, of being very sparing in introducing theory in your papers…let theory guide your observations, but until your reputation is well established be sparing in publishing theory. It makes people doubt your observations.” (emphasis in original). Darwin recognized that people are more apt to accept a new theory if it arose from the facts rather than from a preconceived idea, especially one that is inherently atheistic.

“I have done a great deal of work on Darwin and can say with some assurance that Darwin also did not derive his theory from nature but rather superimposed a certain philosophical world-view on nature and then spent 20 years trying to gather the facts to make it stick.” – George Grinnell

(Bill Johnson’s entire article is found in the Christian Research Journal, volume 29, number 2, 2006.)

Much like Darwin, modern macroevolutionary scientists continue to try to find facts to support their beliefs. The belief came first and the evidence is being sought to support it. Meanwhile, fruit flies remain fruit flies, bacteria remains bacteria, and a host of monumental questions go unanswered. Where did life come from? How did so many complex systems simply come from nothing? Explain with some form of rationality the idea of convergence? The questions far outnumber the answers.

(original link)

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