119 Darwin’s God

In Darwin’s God (Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, c. 2001), Cornelius G. Hunter argues that Darwinism is preeminently a “negative theology,” a theodicy–a metaphysics developed to explain “the less-than-perfect side of nature” (p. 10)–rather than a rigorously scientific theory driven by empirical evidence.  The author, now completing a Ph.D. in biophysics at the University of Illinois, explores Darwin’s correspondence and personal life, finding therein personal explanations for his better-known published work.  Darwin repeatedly struggled with the tension between his Victorian image of God, as omnipotent and omni-benevolent, and the ruthless, bloody, imperfect natural world he observed.  His argument rests in a logical fallacy:  argumentum ad misercordium.  To appeal to pity–as when pro-abortionists lament unwanted pregnancies–obscures the issue with emotional mist.                  But the argument says:  if God were me, He’d have done things differently!  That, conviction drives Darwin’s desire to remove God from nature, leaving it the product of unguided natural selection.  Though he had no idea how to improve “the design of the crustacean or the flower,” he insisted God should have found a better way.  “God, according to Darwin, would not have made the brain or the bat that we find in nature, though he had little idea about how they actually worked” (p. 47).  A study of other evolutionists’ writings reveals equally facile shifts from metaphysical premises to “scientific” conclusions.  So the theory of evolution, Hunter thinks, relies less  upon proven predictions than the premise that a good God would ever create the world we see.

To demonstrate his hypothesis that natural selection, rather than God explains the world, Darwin relied extensively on “homologies” that suggest shared ancestry.  He (ignorantly) thought, for example, that certain vestigial organs we share with other primates–such as the appendix and coccyx–no longer serve any purpose and thus demonstrate an evolutionary process.  Ontogenetic parallels, from the zygote to the embryo to the adult creature, demonstrated (in Haeckel’s words) that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  Neo-Darwinians uphold the same claim, pointing to the universal genetic code, indicating that all creatures are composed of the same genes, differently arranged.  But their claim that DNA demonstrates this has little basis.  Granted, all creatures are made up of basic genetic materials–just as they share the same atoms, reducible to subatomic particles.  The real question about DNA is its origin.  If tiny molecules are packed with incredibly complex information, where did it come from?  The genetic code is manifestly something received, so what or who sent it?  Precisely how did it develop?  Various highly speculative theories have been advanced to deal with this question, but no one really knows how information-less matter could inform complex living organisms.

Describing such “homologies,” all too many biologists think they have proven the evolutionary paradigm.  But there are, Hunter says, serious problems with the evidence!  And the argument is generally so general that it retrospectively explains everything, conforming to all kinds of disparate data.   It rarely makes falsifiable–and thus testable–predictions.  Homologies are trumpeted, but no clear, standard procedure is in place to actually compare specific creatures.  At times biologists compare structures which look alike.  Then, when the structures look different, they compare adjacent, positional similarities.  If neither of these work, they point to comparable developmental  patterns, even if the final results differ markedly.  Many alleged homologies are better understood as analogies.  Indeed many of them are false analogies–one of many logical fallacies subverting the Darwinian case!  Lots of things look alike.  Sharks and dolphins have broad tails, but that by itself hardly demonstrates common ancestry!  Nor does the fact that flies and crabs and zebras have eyes!

Yet another problem with the Darwinian argument flows out of the fallacy of equivocation.  The word “evolution” is variously used, taking on different meanings as the situation demands.  The word “species” may be based on physical similarity, niche adaptation, alleged evolutionary lineage, or half-a-dozen other factors.  It all depends on the biologist’s purpose.  The favorite move slips from documenting small-scale minor changes within a species, never denied by anyone, to large-scale assertions concerning the evolutionary nature of all of nature.  To move from a discussion of animal breeding, as Darwin did, to assertions concerning evolution through natural selection, is to use the word “evolution” equivocally.  It also subtly begs the question (the petitio principii fallacy).

Yet another fallacy endemic to much evolutionary discussion is post hoc ergo propter hoc–declaring that because something follows something it is caused by it.  A recent National Academy of Sciences publication asserts that the fossils demonstrate “evidence of systematic change through time–of descent with modification.”  Indeed the fossils reveal change through time.  But that hardly proves the Darwinian explanation of why things change.  In truth, the many “big bangs” of biology, especially evident in the abrupt appearance of all major phyla within a five million years during the Cambrian Era, and the “‘persistence of species once they appear'” (in the words of the noted paleontologist Niles Eldridge), seriously undermine one of the main evolutionary dogmas of gradual development over long periods of time.

To understand the dogmatic defense of  evolutionary theory, Hunter provides an overview of  “one long argument” which has sustained it for a century and a half.  It is metaphysical rather than scientific, most deeply an effort to deal with God rather than the world.  It was, interestingly enough, preceded by the theological “modernism” we recognize as an offshoot of the Enlightenment.  From David Hume to Rudolph Bultmann there’s been a determined effort to eliminate God from the natural world, thus excusing Him from any responsibility for its evil.  What Milton did for moral evil in Paradise Lost–to justify the ways of God to man–Darwin wanted to do for physical evil.  A good, wise God simply could not have made such a messy world!

Theological Liberalism, or Modernism, internalizes God.  He’s no longer the Creator of all that is–He’s a spiritual power within us.  Ancient Gnosticism and natural theology congealed in the Victorian modernism that ironically still shapes the views of Howard Van Till (something of a guru in evolutionary evangelical circles) and process thinkers such as John Haught.  Victorians like Darwin “could not believe that Christ the Savior could become involved with creation any more than the Gnostics could” (p. 130).  They imposed a metaphysical construct on the oft-incongruous data of the world.  Darwinism is not so much anti-religious as deeply religious.  It demands that God be the God we want Him to be–and if He’s not we banish him from creation.


Jonathan Wells earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in religious studies and a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California at Berkeley, where he has also done post-doctoral work.  In Icons of Evolution:  Science or Myth?  Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2000) he looks at some favorite textbook illustrations, “proofs” for evolution, and shows how “students and the public are being systematically misinformed” (p. xii).  They’re being misled by scientists like Ernst Mayr, who asserted (illustrating the fallacies of ipse dixit and argumentum ad hominem) in the July 2000 issue of Scientific American:  “‘No educated person any longer questions the validity of the so-called theory of evolution, which we now know to be a simple fact.'”  Indeed, he averred:  “‘most of Darwin’s particular theses have been fully confirmed, such as that of common descent, the gradualism of evolution and his explanatory theory of natural selection'” (p. 229).

Critiquing such assertions, Wells looks first at the Miller-Urey Experiment, routinely cited to show how life emerged from a lightning-charged pre-biotic chemical soup.  In 1953, Stanley Miller, a graduate student, and his Ph.D. advisor, Harold Urey, sent some electrical current through a gaseous mixture they thought resembled the earth’s ancient atmosphere producing some organic compounds, including glycine and alanine, simple amino acids found in proteins.  Thenceforth, textbooks have declared that this experiment proves life could have spontaneously emerged from lifeless chemicals.  Despite such claims, however, geochemists now seriously doubt the earth’s early atmosphere resembled that Miller used in his experiment.  They think the atmosphere came from active volcanoes rather than drifting in as interstellar gas clouds, as Miller and Urey assumed.  Early earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere was quite unlike the gaseous mix Miller used.  “The conclusion is clear:  if the Miller-Urey experiment is repeated using a realistic simulation of the Earth’s primitive atmosphere, it doesn’t work” (p. 22).  Turning to a newer origin of life theory that relies on RNA, Wells argues that neither RNA or DNA could have resulted from entities that lacked them.  Esteemed researchers, such as Salk Institute’s Leslie Orgel, acknowledge that “‘we are very far from knowing whodunit'” (p. 24).  But Stanley Miller still trumpets his claim to fame.  And popular periodicals like National Geographic and biology textbooks repeat his claims.  A 1999 National Academy of Sciences cites the Miller experiment as proof that life evolved from lifeless matter.  When evidence discredits theory, ignore the evidence!  It’s an icon impossible to dethrone.

Wells then considers Darwin’s “tree of life,” the only illustration used in The Origin of Species, one of the most famous textbook illustrations of his theory of common ancestry.  Neo-Darwinians like Ernst Mayr insist all living organisms (fruit flies and human beings) must have come from a single original organism.  But the nicely shaped Darwinian tree, branching ever upward through time, cannot bear current data.  The record shows quite the opposite!  There’s no tree!   “Instead of starting with one or a few species that diverged gradually over millions of years into families, then orders, then classes, then phyla, the Cambrian starts with the abrupt appearance of many fully-formed phyla and classes of animals.  In other words, the highest levels of biological hierarchy appeared right at the start” (p. 35).  Darwin knew this, and admitted it contradicted his theory, but he believed subsequent geological investigation would unearth evidence for the gradual evolution of simple creatures in the Precambrian layers.  Eminent paleontologists now declare that “‘the single most spectacular phenomenon evident in the fossil record is the abrupt appearance and diversification of many living and extinct phyla’ near the beginning of the Cambrian” (p. 39).  Since that dramatic explosion, some phyla have become extinct, but no new phyla have evolved.  What we actually have is more a “tangled thicket” than a tree of life!  So an article in the 2000 Scientific American, entitled “Uprooting the Tree of Life,” concluded:  “Now new hypotheses, having final forms we cannot yet guess, are called for'” (p. 53).  But the tree still grows in textbooks!

One of the most frequentlyreproduced illustrations for Darwin’s hypothesis is “Haeckel’s embryos,” showing how the embryos of a fish, salamander, tortoise, chick, hog, calf, rabbit and human look alike in various stages of development.  Amazingly, for decades biologists knew that Haeckel, had faked his drawings!  Soon after the drawings appeared more than a century ago, biologists criticized them for their inaccuracies.  But the pictures met a need to visually persuade naive viewers.  Even the celebrated Stephen Jay Gould knew the truth but fed the fraud to his students until 1999, when another biologist called him to account.  Wells carefully demonstrates the drawings’ distortions.  And he also shows that college textbooks still print Haeckel’s pious fraud.

Other chapters deal with “Archaeopteryx:  The Missing Link,” England’s peppered moths, Darwin’s finches, fruit fly research, fossil records for horses, and the link between apes and man.  The peppered moths routinely appeared in evolutionary textbooks, allegedly showing how they adapted by to industrial pollution.  Now we know that the moths didn’t really change, but the population of lighter colored moths declined for a while and has now resurged.  We also know that evolutionists manipulated the evidence to “prove” their theory–pasting dead moths on tree trunks when they never rested thereon in the wild!  Textbooks still point to Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos as great demonstrations of his theory.  Recent research seriously discredits this view.  Finches’ beaks do oscillate, responding to droughts, but they return to a basic pattern.  It also seems that there may have been more, not fewer, finch species in the Galapagos and they may be merging rather than diverging.  Intensive research with fruit flies has demonstrated that strange flies (like two-headed calves) result from induced mutations.  Yet, Wells argues, nothing like “evolution through natural selection” has been demonstrated.

Finally, Wells looks at “the ultimate icon,” the evidence connecting man and ape-like ancestors.  What we actually find is a tiny collection of bones used to portray human evolution.  “‘One anthropologist has compared the task to that of reconstructing the plot of War and Peace with 13 randomly selected pages'” (p. 220).  Henry Gee, Chief Science Writer for Nature, noted in 1999 that “‘the intervals of time that separate fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent'” (p. 220).  No one really knows, for example, where to put Neanderthals into the human story.

Having discussed the “icons” of evolution, Wells then provides an appendix that evaluates currently used biology textbooks, most of which promote the evolutionary agenda.  Another appendix suggests these texts carry warning labels, such as:  “WARNING:  The Miller-Urey experiment probably did not simulate the Earth’s early atmosphere; it does not demonstrate how life’s building-blocks originated” (p. 259).  Then he fills 60 pages with extensive and detailed “research notes” that provide access to his sources and document the careful, current nature of his endeavor.

In Icons of Evolution, says Dean H. Kenyon, long a Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University who co-authored Biochemical Predestination, “Jonathan Wells has done us all–the scientific community, educators, and the wider public–a great service.  . . . .  he has brilliantly exposed the exaggerated claims and deceptions that have persisted in standard textbook discussions of biological origins for many decades, in spite of contrary evidence.  These claims have been so often repeated that they seem unassailable–that is, until one reads Wells’s book'” (backcover).


Taking a totally different approach, John F. Haught, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, has written God After Darwin:  A Theology of Evolution (Boulder, CO:  Westview Press, c. 2000), arguing for a form of theistic evolution rooted in process theology.  Haught finds in the vision of  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a master key to the cosmos–a key with some haunting Hegelian configurations.  He insists the Darwinian paradigm is absolutely true and, accordingly, we must redesign our image of God to comply with it.

Haught’s thesis is clear, though riddled with contradictions.  “Darwin has gifted us,” he says, “with an account of life whose depth, beauty and pathos–when seen in the context of the larger cosmic epic of evolution– expose us afresh to the raw reality of the sacred and to a resoundingly meaningful universe” (p. 2).  But just a few pages earlier he declares that Darwin has delivered us from concern with “order and design,” . . .  “that we must look beyond design” (p. x).  He later sees an “obvious directionality” (p. 129) in the cosmos, though how one can see the direction unless it’s intended he fails to make clear.  He finds the messy world of evolution so appallingly wasteful and cruel that he cannot believe God would have designed it, but then he later declares there’s a “beauty” everywhere evident bearing witness to God’s tender wooing.  To declare that the universe is meaningful, directional, beautiful, but to also declare there is no order and design anywhere, leaves one wondering at Haught’s illogical wandering!

Subsequently we read that Darwin’s “dangerous idea” dissolves pious illusions concerning a reasonable universe pre-planned by any Divine Designer.  The ancient creedal confession that “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” no longer holds in Darwin’s world.  But we need not toss out God, as do strictly naturalistic evolutionists such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.   We just need to redesign Him, taking as our key the “kenosis” text in Philippians and the Taoist understanding of the Tao as an ultimate void which mysteriously draws things into the future.  God, Haught says, suffers with creation, develops with it, enticing it to develop in rich and rewarding directions.

Haught’s God is not the Prime Mover, the First Cause, from which all comes.  Rather He is an Omega Point toward which everything goes (though never quite reaching).  Haught proposes a “metaphysics of the future” rooted in personal experience, which he assures us reaches out to an absolute reality of some sort.  It’s what the French Marxist Ernst Block called “not yet being.”  So we find God variously described as both evident and hidden, powerful and powerless.  Consequently:  “The ‘power of the future’ is the ultimate metaphysical explanation of evolution” (p. 90).  To the extent we have any clue concerning it, the future stands revealed in the victims, the poor and oppressed of our world.  In passages such as this, one realized how much of Haught’s treatise is a species of utopian Modernisn, a “vision” designed to align us with his socio-political convictions.

Haught’s at his best refuting the claims of the mindlessly materialistic version of evolution espoused by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.  Drawing upon Whitehead, he shows the importance of “subjectivity,” of non-material realities we cannot avoid observing in the marvelous world around us.  He also makes a cogent case for an ecological ethic, rooted in a Christian worldview, to rectify the alarming environmental deterioration we confront.  From the standpoint of orthodox Christianity, however, Haught represents the same threat ancient Gnostics posed the Early Church.  We find no “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”  Christ’s Incarnation is portrayed as God becoming immersed in the physical world, deifying it through suffering.  Resurrection, for both Jesus and us, means plunging more fully into and being absorbed by the marvelously evolving cosmos.  Anyone familiar with Teilhard’s thought understand Haught’s.  And it’s clear why Pope Pius XII and the Vatican proscribed Teilhard’s musings.

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