Darwins Challenge to Theological Positions
It is important to an understanding of the development of
the special relationship between evolutionary theory and theology to
understand what it was about Darwins scheme which challenged 19th Century
Firstly: it refuted, virtually at a stroke, the notion
that creatures had been individually designed by God, and hence any suggestion
that one could argue directly from
the ingenuity of their design, or the exquisite nature of their adaptation to
their environment, to point to the existence or the ingenuity of such a Being.
Secondly: it cohered with the geological proposal of
Lyell that the Earth was very old, compared with the chronology suggested by
Genesis, and that therefore no literal reading of Scripture could accord with
the scientific account.
Thirdly: it implied that apes and humans share a common
ancestor; rather than humans arising by any distinct act of creation which
might guarantee their theological uniqueness. This received little emphasis in The Origin of Species but is very clear
in Darwins later The Descent of Man
These three conclusions now form the accepted background
from which most theology reflects on the biosphere.
Readers may want to consider to what extent these challenges
remain problems for a contemporary faith. How might Christian theological
schemes address these problems?
(If it is simply asserted that God has used the processes of
evolution to further divine purposes of creating a world in which there could
be creatures like ourselves, then a further problem arises which was already
known to Darwin, namely that evolution seems to contain such cruelty, waste and
ugliness as to make it hard to defend as the means to a divine end. One of the
strengths of Darwins theory was that it explained, without the need for any ad hoc hypotheses, both aesthetically
appealing adaptations, such as the beak of the woodpecker, and the ugliness
of species like the ichneumonidae -
wasps whose larvae are implanted within the body of a caterpillar and eat it
alive from the inside.
See also the rhetoric of Darwinism, and from Darwinism to
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)