Darwin's Real Message: Have You Missed
By Carl Wieland
Answers in Genesis
Harvard's renowned Professor Stephen Jay Gould [ 1 ] is a vigorous anticreationist
(and Marxist), and perhaps the most knowledgeable student of the history
of evolutionary thought and all things Darwinian.
I'm glad he and I are on the same side about one thing at least —
the real meaning of 'Darwin's revolution'. And we both agree that it's a
meaning that the vast majority of people in the world today, nearly a century
and a half after Darwin, don't really want to face up to.
He knows the real
message of Darwin to be that "there's nothing else going on out there
— just organisms struggling to pass their genes on to the next generation.
Gould argues that Darwin's theory is inherently anti-plan, anti-purpose,
anti-meaning (in other words, is pure philosophical materialism). Also,
that Darwin himself knew this very well and meant it to be so.
By 'materialism' he does not mean the drive to possess more and more material
things, but the philosophical belief that matter is the only reality.
In this belief system, matter, left to itself, produced all things, including
the human brain. This brain then invented the idea of the supernatural,
of God, of eternal life, and so forth.
It seems obvious why Christians who wish to compromise with evolution,
and especially those who encourage others to do this, would not want to
face this as the true meaning of Darwinism.
Such 'theistic evolutionists' believe they can accept the 'baby' of evolution
(thus saving face with the world) while throwing out the 'bathwater' of
materialism. I will not here go into the many reasons why the evolution/long
geological ages idea is so corrosive to the biblical Gospel [ 2 ] (even
if evolution could be seen as the plan and purpose of some 'god').
My purpose is (like Gould's, but with a different motive) to make people
aware of this very common philosophical blind spot, this refusal to wake
up to what Darwin was really on about. Why is it true, as Gould also points
out, that even among non-Christians who believe in evolution the vast
majority don't wish to face the utter planlessness of Darwin's theory?
Because they would then no longer be able to console themselves with the
feeling that there is some sort of plan or purpose to our existence. 3
The usual thing vaguely believed in by this majority of people (at the
same time as they accept evolution) is some sort of fuzzy, ethereal, oozing
god-essence — more like the Star Wars 'force be with you' than the
personal God of Scripture. They usually obtain some comfort from a vague
belief in at least the possibility of some sort of afterlife, which helps
explain the success of recent movies like Flatliners and Ghost. [ 4 ]
Gould appears to deplore these popular notions as unfortunate, illogical
and unnecessary cultural hangups. He, of course, starts from the proposition
that evolution is true. He knows the real message of Darwin to be that
'there's nothing else going on out there — just organisms struggling
to pass their genes on to the next generation. That's it.' In which case
it is time for people to abandon comforting fairytales and wake up to
this materialistic implication of evolution.
To explain apparent
design without a designer — that was the key to Darwin's theory,
not the idea of 'evolution' (common descent) itself.
I also regard such notions (of cosmic purpose in a Darwinian world, of
life-after-death without belief in the existence of the holy God of the
Bible) as tragic fables, for different reasons. They lead people away
from the vital revealed truths of Scripture, the propositional facts communicated
by the Creator of the universe. It is also tragic that professing Christians
can be deluded into embracing a philosophy (evolution) which is so inherently
opposed to the very core of Christianity, and has done so much damage
to the church and society.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
As evidence for this widespread desire to see purpose and plan in the
planlessness of evolution, Professor Gould points to the overwhelming
tendency among evolution-believers of all levels of education to see the
message of Darwin as progress. Evolution is usually illustrated (even
on the cover of some foreign translations of Stephen Gould's books, much
to his chagrin) as a 'ladder of progress' or similar.
Why is this?
Think of this. If the evolutionary scenario is true, then man's arrival
on the scene has come only at the end of an unspeakably long chain of
events. For example, it would have taken 99.999% of the history of the
universe to get to man. After life appears, two-thirds of its history
on earth doesn't get past bacteria, and for half of the remainder it stays
at the one-celled stage! In order to escape the obvious (which is that
in such an evolutionary universe, man has no possible significance, and
just happened to come along), our culture, he argues, has had to view
these vast ages as some sort of preparation period for the eventual appearance
of man. This works if the idea of progress is clung to. The universe,
then organisms, just got 'better and better', till finally we came along.
However, there is no hint of this popular mythology of 'evolution-as-progress'
in Darwin's 'grand idea'. Variations happen by chance.
Those organisms which happen, by chance, to suit their local environment
more effectively and thus have a better chance to pass their genes on
to the next generation, are favoured by natural selection. That's all.
In the theory, the giraffe that develops a longer neck is not a better
giraffe — just one with a longer neck. Given a certain change in
the environment, that long neck can just as easily be a disadvantage.
There is therefore nothing 'inevitable' about the appearance of man, or
intelligent self-aware beings, for that matter. I would add to Gould's
comments my opinion that it is this belief in evolution as having been
an 'onwards and upwards' force leading to us, and then to greater intelligence
as a historical inevitability, which makes many dedicated evolutionists
so sure that there must be intelligent aliens out there somewhere.
But isn't Gould going a bit far to suggest that Darwin knew how radically
anti-God his philosophy was? After all, wasn't he a kindly, doddery naturalist
who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, who was
persuaded by what he saw in the Galpagos?
Wrong on all counts. If what follows sounds too revisionist, remember
that Gould (an undisputed intellectual giant who has made a very careful
study) is not alone in his conclusions, and has had access to unpublished
notebooks of Darwin from when Darwin was a young man. It appears that:
1.The myth of the 'kindly slow-witted naturalist stumbling across evolution'
was fostered by an autobiography Darwin wrote as a deliberately self-effacing
moral homily for his children, not intending it to be published. It was
a common Victorian thing to do. His notebooks tell a different story,
of an ambitious young man who knew he had one of the most radical ideas
in the history of thought.
2.Darwin did not get his idea from Galpagos finches — Gould even
says 'he clearly did not know that they were finches'. About the Galpagos
tortoises, he says Darwin 'missed that story also and only reconstructed
it later.' Did he get it from observing the results of animal breeding?
Peter Bowler, writing in Nature (vol. 353, October 24, 1991, p.
713) says that 'many now accept that Darwin's analogy between artificial
and natural selection was a product of hindsight'. So where did the ideas
Just prior to his famous 'insight', Darwin spent months studying the economic
theories of Adam Smith. In Smith's extreme free-market view, the struggle
of individuals competing for personal gain in an unfettered marketplace
(by eliminating inefficient participants, for instance) is supposed to
give an ordered, efficient economy. Although nothing is guiding it, it
is as if there is an 'invisible guiding hand'. The 'benefits come as an
incidental side-effect of this selfish struggle.'
Of course, it is not hard to see where Darwin applied this idea to nature.
The apparent design and order in nature is an incidental side-effect of
the selfish struggle to leave more offspring.
3.Why did Darwin wait 20 years before publishing? It was not because of
his modesty (another common myth which Gould debunks), so it is clear
that he was afraid to reveal something.
Was it his belief in evolution itself? No. Evolution was quite a common
concept in Darwin's day. It was because of the bombshell he knew lay behind
his theory, namely its rank, radical materialism. He knew as a young man
that he had 'the key to one of the great reforming ideas of history and
systematically [went] out to reformulate every discipline from psychology
to history.' [ 5 ] To explain apparent design without a designer —
that was the key to Darwin's theory, not the idea of 'evolution' (common
4.It is likely that this assault on design had a lot to do with a reaction
against Captain Fitzroy [ 6 ] on the Beagle. The captain's views on almost
all political subjects were diametrically opposite to Darwin's. For instance,
Darwin was an ardent abolitionist, whereas Fitzroy believed that slavery
was benevolent. Apparently, the good captain would wax long and eloquent
on Paley's argument from design [ 7 ], which was used to justify many
of his ideas. Nothing could possibly have taken deadlier aim at Paley's
argument than Darwin's persuasive concept that design is an incidental
side-effect of otherwise random change. [ 8 ]
5.Darwin knew that his notion, being utter planlessness, could not possibly
involve any sort of purposive progress, which is the romanticized notion
of evolution held by so many of its believers today (especially theists).
In fact, it is likely that this is why he did not, himself, use the word
'evolution' until his last book in 1881, when he gave in to the by then
popular term applied to his concept. The common meaning of 'evolution'
at that time implied progress. In a letter to the paleontologist Hyatt,
'… I cannot avoid the conclusion that no inherent tendency to progressive
6.Darwin's casual aside about a 'creator' in earlier editions of The
Origin of Species seems to have been a ploy to soften the implications
of his materialistic theory. Ernst Mayr's recent book on Darwin, One
Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Evolutionary Thought,
Harvard, 1991, also acknowledges that Darwin's references to purpose were
to appease both the public and his wife. His early, private notebooks
show his materialism well established. For instance, in one of them he
addresses himself as, 'O, you materialist!' and says, 'Why is thought,
being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity as a property
of matter?' He clearly already believed that the idea of a separate realm
of the spirit was nonsense, as is further shown when he warns himself
not to reveal his beliefs, as follows:
'To avoid saying how far I believe in materialism, say only that emotions,
instincts, degrees of talent which are hereditary are so because brain
of child resembles parent stock.'
Darwin knew, and
virtually all the world's foremost students of his idea know, that belief
in his concept quite simply spells materialism with a capital 'M'. The
idea of no designer, no purpose, no guiding intelligence, no progressive
plan — these are not afterthoughts to Darwin's evolution, but form
the very core of it.
In 1837, when Darwin was only 28 years old, he wrote in a private notebook,
responding to Plato's belief that the ideas of our imagination arise from
preexistence of the soul, 'read monkeys for preexistence'. He seems to
have violently opposed Alfred Wallace's suggestion of a 'divine will'
behind the evolution of man, at least. [ 9 ]
In summary, then, Darwin was fully aware that his idea was a frontal assault
on the very notion of an intelligent Designer behind the world. In fact,
he might very well have formulated it precisely for that purpose. The
idea of a spiritual realm apart from matter seems to have been anathema
to him as a young man already. The primary inspiration for his theory
of natural selection did not come from observation of nature. Perhaps
not incidentally, his writings also reveal glimpses of specific antipathy
to the God of the Bible, especially concerning His right to judge unbelievers
Darwin knew, and virtually all the world's foremost students of his idea
know, that belief in his concept quite simply spells materialism with
a capital 'M'. The idea of no designer, no purpose, no guiding intelligence,
no progressive plan — these are not afterthoughts to Darwin's evolution,
but form the very core of it. Accept Darwin's 'baby', and this 'bathwater'
has a nasty habit of coming along, as the drastic decline in belief among
evolution-compromising churches attests.
One can only pray that more and more of the evolution-compromisers in
the church begin to see the poisonous core of the fruit they not only
swallow, but encourage others to accept. And that many of those outside
of Christ will realize that there is no purpose in an evolutionary world.
In any case, there is so much evidence stacked against evolution nowadays.
True meaning to life can be found only through Jesus Christ, the non-evolutionary,
miracle-working Genesis Creator, whose eternal Word is 'true from the
Answers in Genesis, a Christianity.com
network partner, exists to provide answers from Genesis to make Jesus
Christ, our Creator and Redeemer, relevant to the Church and world today.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. Much of the information (and all unreferenced quotes) in this article
come from the transcript of a talk given by Dr Gould on June 6, 1990,
at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, titled 'The Darwinian
Revolution in Thought'.
2. See Ken Ham's book, The Lie: Evolution, Master Books, El Cajon
CA, 1987. See also Some questions for theistic evolutionists.
3. In my experience, among those who would really be called unbelievers
by any common definition, the true atheist is nevertheless very rare.
Most people are of course very quick to reject the holy God who is Creator
and Judge (see Romans chapter 1) and they readily seize upon evolution
as an excuse to do so. It lets them be their own judge, do their 'own
thing'. However, they are very reluctant to take evolution to its logical
conclusion which would mean rejecting all belief in any purpose to their
existence, as this article contends.
4. Where the suggestion of some sort of afterlife judgment is allowed
to come into the popular culture, it is a distortion of the biblical teaching
that all are born sinful, and that repentance and faith in Jesus Christ
is the only way to avoid the future judgment. Thus in the film Ghost,
for example, we are given the strong impression that the hero is going
to some heaven (despite blasphemy, fornication, and no hint of any Christian
rebirth), whereas the one dragged off in post-mortem terror by ominous
shadowy beings has already been revealed as an arch-villain. The message
is that you have to be a really, really bad guy, commit murder even, to
pay any penalty.
5. This description of Gould's could easily lead to a caricature of Darwin
as an extrovert, which overlooks other sides of his character. That he
was timid as well as ambitious is shown by this 20-year delay (which might
have been longer if not for Wallace's impending publication of the same
idea). His mysterious illness (long believed to be some form of anxiety
neurosis) might have been contributed to by the conflict between these
sides to his nature. In addition, of course, there was the psychological
enormity of unleashing an idea upon the world which, as is clear from
this article, he must have known would wipe out the whole concept of the
biblical God from the minds of millions.
6. Contrary to another common misconception, Darwin was not the ship's
naturalist — that was the ship's surgeon, called McCormack. Darwin
was employed as the gentleman companion to the captain (with scientific
work as an accepted sideline) because he was of sufficient social standing
for the aristocratic Fitzroy, who would otherwise have had to eat alone
and suffer great solitude, according to the conventions of the time. The
price Darwin would have had to pay was to be continually regaled by the
opinions of the overbearing Fitzroy for all those years. It was not the
done thing to contradict the captain openly, either.
7. William Paley was a most influential thinker in that time, famous for
his classic Natural Theology. His most renowned argument involved
a comparison between the machinelike precision of living things and machines
made by man. Thus, if a watch demands an intelligent watchmaker, how much
more must nature demand an intelligent Creator? Unfortunately, such arguments
were also used to justify deistic views of the universe which in turn
justified all manner of social repression as having divine inevitability.
Paley was not defending Genesis or the Bible as such.
8. This scenario is generally admitted in the theistic evolutionary opus
Portraits of Creation, by Van Till, Snow, Stek, and Young, William
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990, p. 22.
9. William Fix, The Bone Peddlers, Macmillan Publishing Company,
New York, 1984, p. 213. Fix states that Darwin wrote to Wallace, 'I differ
grievously from you … I hope you have not murdered too completely
your own and my child.' (Wallace was the co-proposer of natural selection
as a mechanism for evolution.)
2000 Answers in Genesis Used by permission.
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