What is the theory of evolution in Christianity?

What is the theory of evolution in Christianity?

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A chalk drawing of the seven-year-old Darwin in 1816. Wth a potted plant, by Ellen Sharples

Reverend James Orr and an anonymous member of the pulpit both speak on Darwin’s theory of evolution and its effect on Christian communities and viewpoints. Orr remains confident that although science and theology often appear at odds, the argument will be eventually resolved when the two fields are found to be compatible. However, the anonymous writer does not see this compatibility and disagrees by declaring that any scientific theory of evolution is an attempt to repudiate the Bible. Neither believes evolution has nearly enough evidence to support any intelligent theory nor the idea that the origin of man should be included in the same context as the origin of flora and fauna.

These are the primary reasons that the two authors are frustrated by and push back against liberalization, but they have additional, diverging explanations. Moreover, Orr is concerned about pushing a theory that has very little to no evidence which the pulpit member is more frustrated with the quick disregard for Scripture for a theory that directly contradicts the teachings of the church. 

Orr begins by introducing the apparent war of ideologies between science and religion that he believes will continue until “theology is destroyed and science holds sole sway in men’s minds” (Orr, 91). Furthermore, Orr states that, in recent times, the commonly assumed incompatibility of religion and science is too quickly taken for granted by writers. And too quickly accepted by readers. He believes that this assumption is gravely mistaken and attempts to explain why.

 Orr doesn’t dispute that there are fundamental laws of nature. Even though he doesn’t believe that evolution has been proved, he seems to acknowledge “the strength of the evidence for the fact of some form of an evolutionary origin of species” (Orr, 102). However, Orr claims that the general scientific community has put forth many cases too hastily and has eventually had to retract them causing them to be in even “more perfect harmony with revealed truth” (Orr, 93). Orr believes this is because forces like evolution are ultimately results of God’s work that shouldn’t be “viewed as having an independent existence” (Orr, 95). Based on this attitude towards evolution, it is easy to see how liberalization, a movement of individuals that are pushing unproven ideas without mentioning the involvement of God, is frustrating to him. 

To Orr, Darwin’s theory of evolution is simply bad scientific practice that lacks essential explanations. He provides his three biggest issues with Darwin’s theory followed by three factors necessary for the conception of a modified theory that he would even consider, which were the “transition from inorganic to organic existence,” the “organic development to consciousness,” and the “transition to rationality, personality, and moral life in man” (Orr, 103). Orr explains that each of the three factors would require the assistance of a Creator at some point, making it clear that he believes that any theory of evolution must be intertwined with the Christian story of Creation. 

Orr fears that both scientists and theologians have made mistakes in this particular debate over evolution, with the former pointing out “contrariety of the Bible with scientific results when none really exists,” and the latter “in demanding that the Bible be taken as a textbook of the newest scientific discoveries” (Orr, 97). In short, Orr fears that followers of Darwin’s theory are pushing a baseless claim. However, he also fears that some Christians appear to be taking an incorrect and too literal approach to the reading of Scripture, which leads to arguments that are just as harmful to the harmony of science and Christianity. 

The anonymous writer of “Evolutionism in the Pulpit” is a firm critic of evolution, who believed that the theories surrounding evolution, particularly Darwin’s, was seemingly accepted by many parts of the community, including theologians and Christian ministers “without a single known fact to support it” (Anonymous, 27). The author is frustrated that many members of the pulpit and Christian preachers could so easily be swayed to dismiss large parts of Scripture to support and spread the unfounded theories of evolution. They believe that “even a partial investigation of the subject” makes it clear that “evolutionism and Christianity are, essentially, intensely antagonistic” (Anonymous, 33). 

The author explains this conflict by claiming that even accepting a milder viewpoint of evolution “necessitates the giving up of the account in Genesis,” meaning their core belief is that the theory of evolution is in complete opposition with proper interpretation of Genesis and what Christians should believe (Anonymous, 32). He claims that evolution contradicts “what Genesis makes so clear” and that any intelligent reader of Scripture should reject such theories because “such a system can have no possible points of contact with Christianity” (Anonymous, 31). Thus, the occupant does not focus blame on the ordinary individual, but rather those that are preaching an incorrect reading of the Bible that allows people to accept evolution while unknowingly contradicting the teachings of Scripture. 

Darwin (right) on the Beagle‘s deck at Bahía Blanca in Argentina, with fossils; caricature by Augustus Earle, the initial ship’s artist.

Since the occupant has established that the entire premise of evolution is in direct conflict with Scripture, the liberalization taking place around the topic is a big concern for Christianity. After all, the Bible is of the utmost importance. The author believes that those who cast aside Scripture and advance or believe in Darwinism, must either “drop their materialism or leave the Christian pulpit” (Anonymous, 33). Additionally, if there’s any doubt that the writer is strongly against the proposed theories, they definitively state that the only operative sphere of evolution discusses “‘the sphere of the activities of fallen man,’” which, in short, is the law of human’s spiritual parting from God (Anonymous, 32). 

Since both pieces are included in The Fundamentals, the authors have similar points, such as the lack of evidence for a proper theory or any transition from animal to human. However, at the core, these two authors are in disagreement with each other. On the one hand, Orr is far more receptive to the theory of evolution and suggests that the evidence for an apparent “genetic connection of higher with lower forms” is getting clearer and stronger (Orr, 102).

Moreover, he gives logical criteria for potential theories of evolution so that, as long as the line is not crossed, he can consider those theories for further thought. On the other hand, the anonymous member of the pulpit gives a definitive answer that he is simply not open to any idea of evolution. The occupant’s reading of Scripture, particularly Genesis, has led them to believe that evolution is completely in contradiction to the Christian pulpit. 

It appears that when Orr mentions his fear for theologians that are interpreting Scripture too literally, the anonymous occupant is a clear example of what he is referring to. It also appears that when the anonymous writer expresses his frustration with Christians that are misinterpreting Genesis, Orr seems to fit the description of whom they are referring to. Initially, it is curious that these Christian authors have this considerable disagreement about evolution and its effect on Christianity.

However, upon closer reading, it is clear that it ultimately stems from the difference in the way that they interpret the Bible, which is the basis of all of Christianity. Because of this fundamental divergence in interpretation, it would be interesting to have Orr and the anonymous occupant debate their understandings of Genesis as well as how one should read the Bible. Perhaps, this debate would allow the two authors to find the exact passages or lines in Genesis where their interpretations begin to differ.

Written by Jiming Xu

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What is the theory of evolution in Christianity?