have presented a quick sweep of the challenges that can be placed before
theology when the case for special providence is considered to have been
seriously weakened by evolutionary theory. While simplistic, I believe they are
defensible thumbnail sketches of arguments that could be developed further.
Special providence is an embattled
notion and this has real implications for theology.
were sufficient space allocated to a discussion of each of the challenges, it
could also be shown that stressing the link between evolutionary theory and
each challenge is often a very inadequate first approximation of the issues
involved. In many cases the challenges come from multiple sources, some of
which substantially predate Darwins theory.
example, writing twenty-five years before the publication of William Paleys Natural Theology David Hume had provided
full-bore critiques of both the argument from design and miracles. By the
time Darwin published the Origin the
great age of the Earth had been established through geological findings and
largely accepted. It is simply incorrect to characterise all pre-Darwin
believers as committed to a purely literal-historical reading of the Genesis
creation account and so ill-prepared for his subsequent refutation of
scriptural truth. Serious challenges to the authority of scripture were already
in discussion in the form of higher criticism, principally from Germany,
although critical reflection on the interpretation of scripture dates back to
Augustine and beyond.
challenges are real, but it is not appropriate to tie them all to evolution in
retrospect. Bertrand Russell famously challenged the claim that humans are the
central purpose of Creation. From an evolutionary point of view, humans appear
to be far from central. In fact, they are a very late addition. Why would God
wait so long to get around to the main task, Russell had asked? Note,
however, this critique does not flow from Darwins work, but from prior
geological findings. This type of critique was in turn a restatement of the
challenge to human status posed three hundred years prior when a geocentric
cosmology had been questioned and rejected.
on extra-terrestrial life can be traced back to antiquity and to Giordano
Brunos proposal in the sixteenth century that other stars had planets with
their own inhabitants. This, of course, prompted heated debate within the
church, and an equally fiery end for Bruno. Even the suggestion that the
features of our world are ultimately due to chance can be traced back to the
Greek Atomists; materialism and determinism were very much live philosophical
options before Darwin, and they were potentially no friend to Christianity. It
should also be noted that forms of evolutionary thinking predate Darwin, most
notably in the writings of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), and Robert
Chambers Vestiges of the Natural History
of Creation (1844). In short, Dawkins overstates the case; it was quite
possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist before Darwin.
set the scene and shown a little of the complexity behind the issues, I shall
next review the current state of the evolutionary sciences, attempting to
represent them independent of any philosophical or theological inferences. Once
this appraisal is in place, the question Does evolution do the work of a
friend for the Christian religion? can be better assessed.
| Feedback | Contributed by: Adrian Wyard