"Light Will be Thrown on the Origin of Man and His History" - Charles Darwin
Humankind’s argument in favor of a great creator or God has always been tenuous because of its circular reasoning. It cannot be proved that there is no god, so there must be a god. As major scientific discoveries have occurred, controversy has followed. Widely held beliefs do not fade easily, even with scientific evidence. With all new discoveries, lives are changed. Earlier beliefs are replaced with more logical and provable theories. New discoveries have largely resolved unanswered questions, improved the human condition, and created more questions. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution “Origin of the Species” is still controversial today, 150 years after publication.
Darwin’s theory of “Natural Selection” attributed gradual change in life forms as the forms adapted to environment was widely accepted and non-controversial until Darwin and his supporters saw that humans are also life forms and natural selection would apply to man also. Darwin’s theory was in conflict with “creationism” in which God created the Universe and man in six days.
The Book of Genesis which is the biblical interpretation of creation was taken literally by Darwin’s opponents. A number of opponents were threatened by Darwin’s theory and were vociferous in their protests. They could conceive of no way that the theory of creationism as presented by the bible and the theory of “Natural Selection” could co-exist. Other opponents were more hushed and hopeful this science could be treated as another of God’s creations.
Samuel Wilberforce, at one time the Bishop of Oxford and also the Dean of Westminster and a staunch opponent of Darwin. Wilberforce attacked Darwin’s theories with arguments based on emotion and faith. Wilberforce believed men of science who were faithful needed to justify scientific explanations with religious doctrine. Wilberforce observed that scientific truth continued to change as new discoveries were made and belief in God and God’s creations remained the same. Knowledge that refuted God’s word made God less believable. Wilberforce also used the fear of losing the belief in God because belief in science and exploration will “banish from the mind most of the peculiar attributes of the almighty.” This statement implied that belief in science would cause a person to no longer believe in God. Additionally, opponents argued that morality, good works or any positive behavior done in the name of God was threatened. These faith-based arguments fueled fears of threats to Christianity and the stability of the church. These fears were powerful and still have significant impact on many followers of Christianity today.
In 1871, St. George Jackson Mivart argued in "On the Genesis of the Species" that we have “direct or supernatural action, physical action and hyperphysical action.” Physical action and hyperphysical action belong to the order of nature and were not in conflict with Darwin’s theory. Mivart’s argument supported the difference between “absolute creation” (God) and “derivative creation” (natural selection). He suggested that derivative creation and absolute creation had nothing to do with one another and could prove or disprove one another and so could co-exist.
Another opponent that suggested both absolute creation and natural selection coul exist was the Rev. Baden-Powell(Baden- Powell was also the originator of the Boy Scouts) who said: “Science demonstrates incessant past changes, and dimly points to yet earlier links in a more vast series of development of material existence; but the idea of a beginning, or of creation, in the sense of the original operation of the divine volition to constitute nature and matter, is beyond the province of physical philosophy.’’ In this statement, Baden-Powell says that God cannot be proved or disproved by physical science. This does not dispute natural selection and allows for belief in the possibility of divine creation. Baden-Powell was an opponent, but a more agreeable opponent than Wilberforce.
In the 19th century, “natural selection” posed a threat to the origin of “Christianity.” Christianity promised a loving God, an afterlife, and provided order and comfort to any person who believed. It is perfectly understandable that Darwin’s good science would not be allowed to threaten Christian believers.
Today, many Christians still cannot accept “Natural Selection.” There is not a logical argument supporting “Creationism.” The reluctance to embrace something that is supported by scientific theory over a spiritual belief says that the promises of Christianity are still the pathway to security for many people.