Charles Darwin’s slide toward agnosticism

Francis Schaeffer gave a great talk on Charles Darwin’s slide toward agnosticism. I will see if I can dig up the notes from Schaeffer’s talk. I have talked about evolution a lot in the past on this blog. Here are some of the same points that Schaeffer made below in this article by Dr. John Morris.

“Natural” Selection versus “Supernatural” Design

by John D. Morris, Ph.D.

Few Christians realize the extent to which the evolutionary world view conflicts with the Biblical world view. While many attempt to keep a foot in each camp, acknowledging Christ as Savior yet holding evolution to be a fact of history, Christianity and evolution cannot both be true. Evolution is, at its very essence, an atheistic explanation of the world around us. Not all adherents of evolution are atheists, but certainly the leading proponents of evolution recognize that the concept leaves no room for the workings of God in nature.

Consider the following oft-repeated quote from Sir Julian Huxley, who, until his recent death, was perhaps the world’s leading spokesperson for evolution and who, from his position as head of UNESCO at the United Nations, did much to unite the world under an evolutionary, humanistic banner.

Darwin pointed out that no supernatural designer was needed; since natural selection could account for any known form of life, there was no room for a supernatural agency in its evolution … we can dismiss entirely all ideas of a supernatural overriding mind being responsible for the evolutionary process.[1]

On the other hand, Scripture, in many places and in many ways, identifies God as Creator, and claims that His creation was an act of forethought, of planning, of design. Supernatural processes were used to accomplish this design, not just natural processes. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

These two concepts, supernatural design versus natural processes operating by chance, represent the two views of origins, and are opposite. They cannot both be true. Nobel Prize-winning zoologist Jacques Monod said it this way:

” … it necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of every innovation…. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.”[2]

The recent edition of the authoritative Encyclopaedia Britannica informs us that:

Darwin did two things: He showed that evolution was a fact contradicting literal interpretations of Scriptural legends of creation and that its cause, natural selection, was automatic with no room for divine guidance or design.[3]

Many Christians believe in evolution, but they must come to realize that the evolutionary way of thinking, conflicting as it does with the facts of science, is a logical necessity, if, and only if, there has been no supernatural input in nature.

Furthermore, if evolution is true, the entire Christian faith is a sham. Dr. William Provine, Professor of History and Biology at Cornell University and author of many anti-creation articles, wrote recently that Darwin recognized:

… if natural selection explained adaptations, and evolution by descent were true, then the argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely: 1) the existence of a personal God, 2) free will, 3) life after death, 4) immutable moral laws, and 5) ultimate meaning in life.[4]

But evolution is not a fact! Evolution is not even in a category of things that could ever be a scientific fact! It is a world view about the past — an historical reconstruction. It is a way to interpret scientific data, such as rocks, fossils, and complex living systems which exist in the present. It is a potential answer to the question, “What happened in the unobserved past to make the present get to be this way?”

As we have seen, this answer encompasses far more than merely a scientific proposal. As currently understood by leading evolutionists, it embraces strict naturalism, an anti-God philosophy, and results in a denial of the major doctrines of Scripture.

Darwin, in his writings, letters, and memoirs, promoted natural selection as a means by which the incredible design obvious in every living system could be derived through purely mechanistic, naturalistic processes. He devoted great energy to refuting the writings of William Paley, in which Paley reasoned that one can infer from the functional complexity of a system that intelligence was necessary in its formation. Just as a complex watch necessarily implies a watchmaker, so living systems, much more complex than a watch, demand that a Creator was involved in their origin. His position was eminently logical, but necessarily implied a Creator-God.

And this helps explain why Darwin and his modern disciples combat the concept of design with such vigor. If such a Creator exists, He has the authority to set the rules for His creation, and the authority to set the rules for breaking His rules. Accountability for our actions to a holy, Creator-God is not easily accepted by the natural man.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

If no supernatural agency has been at work throughout history, then creation is dead. But if evolutionists even allow a spark of supernatural design in history, then evolution is dead, for evolution necessarily relies on solely natural processes.

But design in living things is obvious. Even the single-celled organism is complex beyond the ability of scientists to understand, let alone duplicate. All of life is governed by the marvelously complex genetic code, which contains not only design and order, but what is equivalent to written information. This DNA code must not only be written correctly, the rest of the cell must be able to read it and follow its instructions, if the cell is to metabolize its food, carry out the myriad of enzyme reactions, and, especially, to reproduce. This code had to be present at the origin of life. How could it have written itself? And how could all the various organelles learn how to read and obey it?

Carl Sagan, the modern-day evolutionary spokesperson has admitted:

The information content of a simple cell has been established as around 1012 bits, comparable to about a hundred million pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.[5]

And yet he believes the code wrote itself, by purely random, natural processes, as non-living chemicals sprang to life!

Is this view really credible? Is it really scientific to ascribe to natural processes functions and products which clearly are the result of intelligent design? The Bible tells us that even “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

A favorite example of obvious design has always been the human eye. With its many functioning parts — the lens, cornea, iris, etc., the controlling muscles, the sensitive rods and cones which translate light energy into chemical signals, the optic nerve which speeds these signals to a decoding center in the brain — and on and on. The eye was unquestionably designed by an incredibly intelligent Designer who had a complete grasp of optical physics.

Darwin was frustrated by the eye’s complexity, even though he knew only a fraction of what scientists have now discovered about the eye. In his book, Origin of Species, he included a section entitled, “Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication,” in which he declared:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.[6]

Yet in the next several pages, he discussed how he thought it might have happened.

One may wonder why Darwin was forced to adopt and defend what he admitted was an absurd conclusion. His reasoning is made plain in the following quote. Keep in mind that Darwin was raised in a nominally religious home, but whose extended family had a well-established anti-Christian perspective. Darwin, himself, studied for the ministry, as was common in those days for individuals of a scholarly bent, but eventually rejected the Christian faith.

In a May 22, 1860 letter to Professor Asa Gray of Harvard, propagator of evolution on the American continent, Darwin wrote, evidently to answer Gray’s advocacy of “theistic” evolution:

I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence (or goodness) on all sides of us. There seems to me to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the ichneumonidae (parasites) with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed [parenthesis added].

Notice that Darwin was not looking at the eye and concluding an evolutionary origin. He looked at the pain, suffering, misery, and death in the world, and concluded that there must not be a God as revealed in the Bible. If there was such a God, He wouldn’t have created the world as we encounter it.

You see, Darwin had a theological problem. He had rejected the Biblical doctrine of the entrance of death into the world as the result of sin. Adam and Eve had rebelled against the Creator’s authority, resulting in the distortion of God’s original, deathless, “very good” creation. Darwin rejected the doctrine that the Creator had, Himself, died to pay sin’s penalty, and had conquered death by rising from the dead, one day to abolish pain and suffering and misery and death forever.

Having rejected the God of the Bible and the possibility of supernatural input into the universe, all Darwin had to work with were natural processes. These led to admittedly absurd conclusions, but if there is no God, there remains no other choice.

The existence of suffering and death has led many to abandon the concept of God. But to one who accepts the Bible’s teachings on these foundational issues, there is no need to embrace solely natural processes as creator.

— References —

  1. 1] Julian Huxley, in Issues in Evolution, Sol Tax, ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1960) p. 45.
  2. 2] Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), pp. 112-113.
  3. [3] The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, “The Theory of Evolution,” 1986, Vol. 18, p. 996.
  4. [4] William Provine, in First Things, (“Responses to Phillip Johnson’s article, `Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism,'” October 1990), p. 23.
  5. [5] Carl Sagan, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, “Life,” 1986, Vol. 22, p. 987.
  6. [6] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859 (Sixth Edition, 1872) (New York, Mentor Books, 1958), p. 133.
    * Dr. Morris is President of the Institute for Creation Research.


Doug Linder wrote in 2004:

There is a hint in Darwin’s autobiography that he recognizes that a natural world governed solely by fixed laws loses some of its magic.  He quoted how, in the journal he wrote while on the Beagle’s voyage, he had described the grandeur of a Brazilian rainforest: “It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.” (CD, 91)  Darwin remembered being filled with “conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.”  His understanding of natural selection and the passing years emptied this feeling.  “But now,” he lamented, “the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in the my mind.  It may truly be said that I am like a man who has become color-blind, and the universal belief by men of the existence of redness makes my present loss of perception of not the least value as evidence.”  (CD, 91)

Darwin’s theory, by implication, suggested that evolution might also explain morality.  Indeed, he saw in animals the types of empathy that underlie moral systems.  (R&L, 41) A belief in God, he speculated, is “perhaps an inherited effect on [children’s] brains” and that it “would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of the snake.”  (CD, 93)  When Charles Darwin’s son, Frank, edited his father’s autobiography in 1885, the quoted portion of preceding line was one that prompted a concerned letter from Darwin’s wife, Emma Darwin, who had reviewed Frank’s compilation.  She called it “the one sentence in the Autobiography which I very much wish to omit.”  In part, she acknowledged, she objected to it because “your father’s opinion that all morality has grown up by evolution is painful to me.”  She complained that the sentence “gives one a sort of shock” and worried how readers might react to the equating of spiritual beliefs and “the fear of monkeys toward snakes.”  (CD, 93n2)  The sentence that so shocked his wife, is also, it turns out, one that goes to the heart of a controversy that remains heated to this day: Is there something in our epistemological make-up that makes us ask the God Question?

Charles Darwin understood better than anyone how his theory on the origin of new species threatened prevailing religious beliefs.  He referred to himself as “the Devil’s Chaplain” and complained that publishing the theory felt “like confessing a murder.”  He knew especially well how his ideas troubled his pious wife.  (BB, 388)

Darwin’s view left no place for God–or so it seemed to those who would take up the fight against evolution.  Morality, his religious critics would maintain, had to have a transcendent source or all was lost.  (SP, 52)  Not only would Darwin’s naturalizing of the mind attract the fire of Fundamentalists, but also many other religious leaders who accepted other aspects of his theory.


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