What is Darwin’s evolutionary theory in religion?

What is Darwin’s evolutionary theory in religion?


Although both Hodge and Van Dyke tackled Darwin’s theory of evolution from Christian viewpoints, they had vastly different trains of thought regarding its content and religious implications. Hodge viewed Darwin’s work as atheistic as his main objection to Darwinism is its exclusion of design. Van Dyke does not find that issue because he is of the opinion that Darwin’s theory does not reject the idea of intelligent design.

In regards to how these writers believed Darwin’s theory and future developments in biological sciences threatened Christianity, they held almost opposite opinions. Based on his reaction to Darwinism, Hodge believes that developments in biological sciences can threaten Christianity, especially when teleology is ignored. In contrast, Van Dyke does not seem to feel that Christianity is being threatened at all by Darwin’s work or any findings in the biological sciences because evolution and intelligent design can exist in harmony.  

Hodge’s response to Darwinism is extremely critical, and his central point is that Darwin’s rejection of all teleology is the theory’s most distinctive and greatest flaw and deviation from previous theories of evolution. The lack of teleology or intelligent design in any organism that Hodge sees in Darwin’s theory of evolution is enough for him to reduce it to utter atheism. 

A big reason why Hodge expresses such frustration with Darwin’s theory is that he recognized that “to account for the existence of matter and life, Mr. Darwin admits a Creator,” yet Darwin fails to mention “[the Creator’s] relation to the world” and the role that He clearly played in designing life and evolution (Hodge, 27). Hodge believes that if a Creator is assumed to be the origin of the existence of everything at the beginning, it is necessary, when explaining the development of life, to include the role the Creator must have played all the way down to individual species. 

Additionally, by rejecting the intelligent design of many organisms and their anatomies, Hodge cannot understand, for example, how Darwin can teach “that the eye was formed without any purpose of producing an organ of vision” (Hodge, 52). Hodge later explains the sheer complexity of the science of the eye, claiming that it would be “absurd in the highest degree” that such an organ developed from natural selection, all the while denying the teleology of it (Hodge, 58). This absurdity makes Hodge wonder why Darwin doesn’t just say that the eye and ultimately every organ are products of intelligent design since it would still make no difference to the science behind the process of evolution – it would simply address the teleology of the matter. Hodge believes that instead of stating what is a trivial point, Darwin “laboriously endeavors to prove that [the organs] may be accounted for without any design or purpose [whatsoever]” (Hodge, 58). 

In Darwinism, Hodge identifies and writes about three distinct elements. The first element is evolution and the assumption that all organic forms have “evolved or developed from one, or a few, primordial living germs” through the second element, which is that evolution is “effected by natural selection, or the survival of the fittest” (Hodge, 48).

The third and final element, which is most concerning to Hodge, is the idea that “natural selection is without design” and is “conducted by unintelligent physical causes” with simply eliminates any room for teleology in the theory (Hodge, 48). As a result of these points, Hodge summarizes that “[Darwin’s] doctrine involves the denial of all final causes” and that his theory works to prove that all organisms and their instincts are “accounted for by the blind operation of natural causes, without any intention, purpose, or cooperation of God” (Hodge, 64). 

 In contrast with Hodge’s viewpoint, Van Dyke reasoned that establishing evolution as a generally accurate idea does not weaken the argument or evidence of intelligent design in nature. He states that someone is “at liberty to maintain that evolution is a possible explanation of a large class of phenomena, while he still maintains that it cannot account for man’s origin…” (Van Dyke, 36). Van Dyke believes that Darwin’s theory of evolution and intelligent design are not mutually exclusive because simply explaining evolution as a science does not reject all teleology.

To further explain this point, he adds that even if it is later proved that “instead of creating species God merely created… three or four cells” that produced every species, “it does not follow that the foundations of belief in the being of God are destroyed” (Van Dyke, 38). If humans come to discover that these progenitor cells indeed produced every known species, this finding still provides no evidence that intelligent design is at odds with the evolution of these cells. 

Van Dyke goes on to further claim that Darwinism may not be “incompatible with the idea of design in the universe” because Darwin’s theory relates, “not with the cause of the phenomena, but with the mode of their manifestation,” which leaves the question of design completely untouched (Van Dyke, 41).

Furthermore, Van Dyke does not see evidence that Darwin denies all teleology. So he sees it as possible for intelligent design and Darwin’s theory to co-exist. Van Dyke later reveals the decisive point that, even if humans continue to gather specifics on the science of the entire descent of all species, it is simply “cannot be proved that this complicated series of events results independent of a continued divine agency” (Van Dyke, 43). He uses the example of the eye, saying that when it is eventually shown that the ingenious mechanisms have indeed been constructed under the operation of natural selection, continued variation, etc., it will not be able to be claimed that it developed without the design of a divine being. 

From all the reasons that Hodge gave in his writing, it is clear that he finds very little compatibility with the biological sciences and Christianity if writers refuse to give any credit within their findings to intelligent design. He reveals that a big “cause of the alienation between science and religion, is the failure to make the due distinction between facts and the explanation of those facts” (Hodge, 130). When analyzing Darwinism, Hodge is very focused on if Darwin is trying to establish scientific facts or the final cause, and it is clear that Hodge believes that the theory is intentionally disregarding intelligent design and overstepping into the final cause of evolution, which he ultimately sees as undermining the basis of theism and Christianity. 

Van Dyke writes that he agrees with Laplace who said that Darwin’s theory and other future scientific discoveries can only “‘throw final causes further back’” since they believe the argument for a Creator embedded in the evidence of design cannot be weakened by those findings (Van Dyke, 40). Van Dyke declares that the misguided notion that “the doctrine of evolution destroys the foundations of the teleological argument for the being of God, leaves no alternative but an unqualified denial of the theory” (Van Dyke, 42). He concludes that even if evolution is true, certainly not all of theism is lost, thus Christianity should not feel at all threatened. According to Van Dyke’s logic, no discovery in evolution will ever be able to dismantle the involvement of intelligent design, meaning that the Christian faith is completely safe from further biological findings. 

In conclusion, even though Hodge and Van Dyke were both Christians, they had very different interpretations of Darwinism. Hodge held his opinion that Darwinism continuously rejected all teleology and intelligent design while Van Dyke sees Darwin’s theory of evolution to remain compatible with the idea that a divine Creator may have guided the process of evolution. Both writers also had vastly different ideas on how works like Darwinism would affect Christianity. Hodge felt that Darwin’s clear rejection of intelligent design rendered the entire essay as a work of atheism and ultimately worked to threaten the fundamentals of Christianity while Van Dyke did not feel that Christians should be concerned with Darwinism or any further discoveries in the biological sciences. 

Written by Jiming Xu

What is Darwin’s evolutionary theory in religion?
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