The theory of evolution, long taught in schools and assumed to be true by many in the scientific community, is increasingly questioned by scientists and university professors in various fields. Why do questions arise? It is because as scientific knowledge has increased, researchers have not been able to confirm basic assumptions of the evolutionary theory—and, in fact, some have been outright refuted.
As more scientists and educators become aware of flaws in the theory, they are more carefully assessing it. In the United States some states' educational boards have become aware of the mounting scientific evidence against evolution and have begun to insist the theory be emphasized less or treated more evenhandedly in the classroom.
Yet there is a powerful insistence by many in the scientific community that the theory not be questioned, for much is at stake.
Phillip Johnson, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has written several books about the evolution debate. He approaches the evidence for and against evolution as though evaluating a legal case. He notes the strong vested interests involved in the debate: "Naturalistic evolution is not merely a scientific theory; it is the official creation story of modern culture. The scientific priesthood that has authority to interpret the official creation story gains immense cultural influence thereby, which it might lose if the story were called into question. The experts therefore have a vested interest in protecting the story . . ." (Darwin on Trial, 1993, p. 159).
Professor Johnson critically examines the logic and reasoning evolutionists use in the debate. He likens the carefully protected theory to a warship that has sprung a leak: "Darwinian evolution . . . makes me think of a great battleship on the ocean of reality. Its sides are heavily armored with philosophical barriers to criticism, and its decks are stacked with big rhetorical guns ready to intimidate any would-be attackers.
"In appearance, it is as impregnable as the Soviet Union seemed to be only a few years ago. But the ship has sprung a metaphysical leak, and the more perceptive of the ship's officers have begun to sense that all the ship's firepower cannot save it if the leak is not plugged. There will be heroic efforts to save the ship, of course . . . The spectacle will be fascinating, and the battle will go on for a long time. But in the end reality will win" (pp. 169-170).
But what is behind the debate? How did an unproven theory gain such wide acceptance? How did alternate theories come to be summarily dismissed without a hearing? How did the biblical account of the origin of the universe and man lose so much credibility?
The roots of the battle between evolution and the Bible go back centuries.
Differing interpretations of the Bible
It is a shame that scientists and religious figures alike have perpetuated many myths about creation and nature. In the past few centuries, science has refuted some religious notions about nature and the universe that religious leaders mistakenly attributed to the Bible. Sadly, this has caused some religious leaders and institutions to take unnecessarily dogmatic stands that were only harmful in the long run.
At the same time, misunderstandings about what the Bible does and does not say have led some on all sides of the debate to accept wrong conclusions.
For example, in late 1996 Pope John Paul II shocked both Catholics and non-Catholics when he mused that the theory of evolution seemed valid for the physical evolution of man and other species through natural selection and hereditary adaptations. How did this startling declaration come about? What factors led to this far-reaching conclusion?
Time magazine commented on the pope's statement: "[Pope] Pius [in 1950] was skeptical of evolution but tolerated study and discussion of it; the statement by John Paul reflects the church's acceptance of evolution. He did not, however, diverge at all from Pius on the question of the origin of man's soul: that comes from God, even if 'the human body is sought in living material which existed before it.'
"The statement is unlikely to influence the curriculum of Catholic schools, where students have studied evolution since the 1950s. Indeed, taking the Bible literally has not been a hallmark among Catholics through much of the 20th century. Asked about the pope's statement, Peter Stravinskas, editor of the 1991 Catholic Encyclopedia, said: 'It's essentially what Augustine was writing. He tells us that we should not interpret Genesis literally, and that it is poetic and theological language'" (Nov. 4, 1996, p. 59).
The Catholic theologian Augustine lived A.D. 354-430. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes him as "the dominant personality of the Western Church of his time, generally recognized as the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity." It adds, "He fused the religion of the New Testament with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy" (15th edition, 1975, Micropaedia, Vol. 1, "Augustine of Hippo, Saint," pp. 649-650).
Little did Augustine realize he was doing his followers a grave disservice by viewing parts of the Bible as allegorical while simultaneously incorporating into his teaching the views of the Greek philosophers. For the next 1,300 years, covering roughly the medieval age, the view of those pagan philosophers became the standard for the Roman church's explanation of the universe.
Furthermore, ecclesiastical leaders adopted the earth-centered view of the universe held by Ptolemy, an Egyptian-born astronomer of the second century. "It was . . . from the work of previous [Greek] astronomers," says The Encyclopaedia Britannica, "that Ptolemy evolved his detailed description of an Earth-centered (geocentric) universe, a revolutionary but erroneous idea that governed astronomical thinking for over 1,300 years . . .
"In essence, it is a synthesis of the results obtained by Greek astronomy . . . On the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, Ptolemy again extended the observations and conclusions of Hipparchus—this time to formulate his geocentric theory, which is popularly known as the Ptolemaic system" (15th edition, 1975, Macropaedia, Vol. 15, "Ptolemy," p. 179).
The Bible and the universe
Thus it was not the biblical perspective but the Greek view of the cosmos—in which everything revolved around a stationary earth—that was to guide man's concept of the universe for many centuries. The Roman Catholic Church made the mistake of tying its concept of the universe to that of earlier pagan philosophers and astronomers, then enforced that erroneous view.
Although the Greeks thought the god Atlas held up first the heavens and later the earth, and the Hindus believed the earth rested atop four gigantic elephants, the Bible long revealed the true explanation. We read in Job 26:7 an astonishingly modern scientific concept, that God "hangs the earth on nothing." Science has demonstrated that this "nothing" is the invisible force of gravity that holds the planet in its orbit.
Centuries passed before Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1500s calculated that the earth was not the center of the universe. However, he was cautious about challenging the Roman church on this belief.
In the 1600s, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei observed through a telescope the moons orbiting Jupiter—clear evidence against the idea that the heavenly bodies all revolve around the earth. After further observation of the planets, he came to agree with Copernicus' view that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. Catholic authorities considered this idea heretical, and Galileo was threatened with death if he did not recant. Finally he did, although legend has it that, as he left the presence of the pope, he muttered under his breath regarding the earth, "And yet it moves."
"When the Roman church attacked Copernicus and Galileo," says Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, "it was not because their teaching actually contained anything contrary to the Bible. The church authorities thought it did, but that was because Aristotelian elements had become part of church orthodoxy, and Galileo's notions clearly conflicted with them. In fact, Galileo defended the compatibility of Copernicus and the Bible, and this was one of the factors which brought about his trial" (How Should We Then Live? 1976, p. 131).
Ironically, these first battles between scientists and the Bible pitted scientists against biblical misinterpretations, not against what the Bible actually says.
The Bible and scientific advancement
Several centuries later, a better biblical understanding actually furthered scientific advancements and achievements. The English scholar Robert Merton maintains that the values promoted by Puritanism in 17th-century England encouraged scientific endeavors. A Christian was to glorify God and serve Him through participating in activities of practical value to his community. He wasn't to withdraw into the contemplative life of monasteries and convents.
Christians were to choose a vocation that best made use of their talents. Reason and education were praised in the context of educating people with practical knowledge, not the highly literary classics of pagan antiquity, that they might better do their life's work. Puritanism also encouraged literacy, because each believer had to be able to read the Bible for himself and not depend on what others said it meant.
Historians note that the invention of the printing press and subsequent broader distribution of the Bible in the 1500s played a large role in the emergence of modern science. "The rise of modern science," says Francis Schaeffer, "did not conflict with what the Bible teaches; indeed, at a crucial point the Scientific Revolution rested upon what the Bible teaches.
"Both Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view . . . As far as I know, neither of the two men were Christians . . . Because the early scientists believed that the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason" (pp. 132-133).
As this more biblically based science expanded, ecclesiastical leaders had to admit that some long-held positions were wrong. With the esteemed position that the earth was at the center of the universe proven false, the church lost both prestige and credibility to emerging science. As time went on, scientific study grew increasingly apart from the dominant religion, which was mired in its Greek and medieval thought.
Evolution's early roots
Although evolution wasn't popularized until 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, the roots of the idea go much further back in history.
"The early Greek philosophers," explains British physicist Alan Hayward, "were probably the first thinkers to toy with the notion of evolution. Along with many other ideas from ancient Greece it reappeared in western Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries . . . But one great difficulty stood in the way. Nobody . . . could explain convincingly how evolution could have taken place. Each species seemed to be fixed. There seemed no way in which one species could give rise to another . . .
"Darwin changed all that with his theory that the way evolution worked was by 'natural selection.' He proposed that small variations in each generation—the kind of natural variations that enable breeders to produce new varieties of dogs and cows and apples and roses—would eventually add up to very big differences, and thus, over hundreds of millions of years, could account for every species on earth" (Creation and Evolution: Rethinking the Evidence From Science and the Bible, 1985, pp. 4-5).
Thus, in the late 19th century, scientists and educators were sidetracked from discovering the truth about the origin and meaning of life when they adopted Darwin's reasoning. Their widespread acceptance of an alternative explanation for the existence and diversity of life on earth that discounted the account in Genesis soon led to a general distrust of the Bible. This massive shift of thought has had far-reaching consequences. "Darwinism," says Dr. Hayward, "begins to look more like a huge maze without an exit, where the world has wandered aimlessly for a century and a half" (p. 58).
Meanwhile the churches, having centuries earlier incorporated unscientific, unbiblical Greek philosophical concepts into their views, could not adequately explain and defend aspects of their teachings. They, too, were ultimately sidetracked by their mixing of pagan philosophy with the Bible. Both science and religion built their explanations on wrong foundations.
Acceptance of evolution
Some of the reasons for the acceptance of Darwin's theory involved conditions of the time. The 19th century was an era of social and religious unrest. Science was riding a crest of popularity. Impressive discoveries and inventions appeared constantly. This climate was conducive to people embracing revolutionary concepts.
Furthermore, Darwin himself had an impeccable reputation as a dedicated naturalist. And though his theory contained many obvious weaknesses, these were hidden by the length and tediousness of his book. (He described his book as "one long argument.")
At the same time, the Roman church was being affected by its own cumulative mistakes about science as well as the critics' onslaughts against its teachings and the Bible. The church itself began to accept supposedly scientific explanations over divine ones. A bias against the supernatural slowly crept in.
The momentum grew in the 20th century until many Protestants and Catholics turned to theistic evolution. This is the belief that God occasionally intervenes in a largely evolutionary process through such steps as creating the first cell and then permitting the whole process of evolution to take place or by simply waiting for the first man to appear from the gradual chain of life and then providing him with a soul.
"Darwinian evolution to them," says Dr. Hayward, "is merely the method by which God, keeping discreetly in the background, created every living thing . . . The majority of theistic evolutionists have a somewhat liberal view of the Bible, and often regard the early chapters of Genesis as a collection of Hebrew myths" (p. 8).
Darwinism and morality
The implications for the trustworthiness of the Bible are enormous. Is it the inspired and infallible Word of God, or are parts of it merely well-intentioned myths? Are sections of it simply inaccurate and unreliable? Were Jesus Christ and the apostles wrong when they affirmed that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, created directly
by God (Matthew 19:4; 1 Corinthians 15:45)?
Was Christ mistaken, and did He mislead others? Is 2 Timothy 3:16 true in stating that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine [teaching] . . ."? Clearly, the implications for Christian faith and teaching are profound.
Perhaps the effects of his theory on Darwin's own faith can illustrate the damage it can do to religious convictions. Darwin started as a theology student and a staunch respecter of the Bible. But as he formulated his theories, he lost faith in the Old Testament. Later he could no longer believe in the miracles of the New Testament.
There is great danger in following in Darwin's footsteps. We should remember the old saying: If you teach a child that he is only an animal, don't complain when he behaves like one. Can we not lay part of the blame for rampant immorality and crime on society's prevalent values and beliefs—derived to a great extent from evolutionary theory?
Without the belief in a just God who will judge the actions of men, isn't it easier for people to do as they please? Aldous Huxley, a fervent advocate of evolution, admitted why many quickly embraced evolution with such fervor: "I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning . . . The liberation we desired was . . . from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom" (Ends and Means, 1946, p. 70).
Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous Huxley and also a leading proponent of evolution, later wrote, "The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a super-human being is enormous" (Essays of a Humanist, 1966, p. 223).
Could this kind of thinking have something to do with the immorality rampant in so many schools and universities where God is banned from the classroom and evolutionary theory is taught as fact?
It's time to gain some proper perspective. Is the Bible a reliable guide for understanding? If so, then how can the Genesis account be reconciled with the idea of an ancient earth? What about evolution? How strong is its case? Let's carefully weigh the evidence.