This is an edited version of three responses by "Leonardo," one of AW's most prolific commentators, a former member who now espouses an atheistic worldview, to an article by Rex Morgan in the New Zealand WCG magazine Inside Life. You can read the full, somewhat more disputatious text in the comments to the previous post. Replies are invited, but they need to be courteous and address the issues - either raised by Leo or in the article he reviews - rather than vacuous polemic.
I just carefully read through Rex Morgan’s article “Creation, Evolution or both?” – and while I applaud it in general, in terms of it being written by a GCI minister, still, there are many areas where the author’s knowledge is seriously lacking.
The general theme of the article attempts to produce a seamless integration of the mystical worldview of faith-based Christianity with the empirical fact-based methods of science. This is nothing new – fundamentalist creationist writers of every stripe and color try to do this all the time.
Morgan writes: “Christians and scientists haven't always been in conflict. In fact the Christian faith was instrumental in the early development of scientific observation from the 1200s onward, particularly in mediaeval Europe. People like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Bacon, Pasteur and many other leading early scientists were men of deep Christian faith and conviction. Galileo believed that he was revealing the laws of God in his work.”
Well, not quite. This is a complex subject that cannot be candy-coated so easily. Let me just say that it involves considerably more cultural factors than most are willing to consider. In reality, the many experimental procedures summarized under the umbrella term “scientific method” represented an extremely foundational and serious DEPARTURE from supernatural revelation as a means of gaining accurate knowledge of the natural world, which Christian faith had promoted up until that time, and still promotes to this day.
And the clear effects such supernatural methods had upon the societies it influenced when it had both widespread and powerful influence are a matter of history. Historians call it the Dark Ages for a reason, as it represented extremely serious declines in human well-being and progress in general.
The fact that many of the early forerunners of what eventually became known as modern science had theological beliefs doesn’t necessarily lead to the foregone conclusion that such beliefs actually inspired their research methodology. In some cases it no doubt did, but on the whole this is a myth heavily promoted by Christianity. Christianity and Islam both claim credit for practical real-world advances that benefit man’s life (in other words, the fruits of science) that they could have NEVER originated themselves within the stifling context of their supernatural ideologies. The Medieval Dark Ages, the period in which both Christianity and Islam grew and spread rapidly, and thus enjoyed significant cultural impact within, represented a time period of major cultural and academic decline, especially in Christian Europe.
Christianity and Islam, far from inspiring methods like science, often did all they could to suppress them, with few notable exceptions. St. Augustine was asked the question: “What was God doing before He created the world?” he answered, “Preparing hell for those who asked unnecessary questions!”
Augustine further wrote: “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity…It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing, and which man should not wish to learn.”
And yet Christianity wants to champion Augustine's writings ALONG SIDE the highly successful enterprise of science, and actually claim that the former actually inspired, promoted and served as a philosophical foundation leading to the latter?! This is not warranted by the actual historical record.
Morgan further writes: “Darwin himself presented his theory of evolution as a concept compatible with belief in God.”
Well again, sort of, at least at first, simply because he did not want to cause a public stir in general by directly confronting the religious sentiments of the time, nor offend the feelings of his dear and devout Christian wife specifically, because they shared a wonderfully close and intimate relationship together. The historical record is indisputable on this.
Darwin’s book (Origins) published in November of 1859 did not broach the subject of evolution as it pertained to human beings. This is perfectly true. Darwin was bright enough to fully realize the devastating body-blow his theory, if true, was going to deal to popular supernatural religious beliefs pertaining to the origins question.
However, by his 1871 book “The Descent of Man” Darwin WAS applying evolutionary thinking to man’s origins. So Morgan is not informing his readers of the ENTIRE historical story.
Morgan further states: “In the frontispiece to the first edition of The Origin of Species, he included a quote from the Anglican clergyman and philosopher William Whewell proclaiming that God doesn’t act by constant miracles but ‘by the establishment of general laws’. This was followed by a quote from Sir Francis Bacon stating that true understanding must be sought both ‘in the book of God’s word and in the book of God’s works’, referring to scripture and nature. The Origin of Species itself contains several references to the Creator, and the final sentence states ‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…’ ”
Morgan continues: “In the sermon at Darwin’s funeral, in Westminster Abbey, the Reverend Frederick Farrar said that Darwin’s theory posed no threat to belief in God, and that Darwin had enabled people to read “many hitherto undeciphered lines in God’s great epic of the universe.’ ’’
Again, technically true, however, Morgan fails to inform his readers about “the rest of the story”: the fact that a great stir arose among the clergy upon Darwin’s death over whether his body be interred at Westminster Abbey.
Morgan mentions the Clergy Letter Project. I know Dr. Michael Zimmerman, the man who started this project. But what the letter actually says - even though to date Zimmerman has accumulated over 12,000 clergymen signatures - is not what the vast majority of Christians believe (and most certainly not the COG ministry):
“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”
We’ve barely begun to analyze just the first few paragraphs of Morgan’s article and we observe that, while not totally false, it is nonetheless extremely incomplete in it’s initial assertions, ignoring many other facts that give the overall account an entirely different meaning.
Anybody can do this with an article if they are highly-selective in the facts they are willing to use. But the ENTIRE ARRAY of facts we have access to presents a very different, a more accurate, and a considerably more interesting story.
The bottom line is this: one can no more synthesize supernatural faith and empirical reason together any more than one can permanently bring oil and water together. The two represent diametrically opposite methods of knowledge acquisition.
One is mystical — the other is rational. One is based upon subjective feelings, pre-scientific ancient tradition and dogmatic rigidity — the other on tangible facts, empirical evidence, rigorous rationality and always willing to refine itself based upon further information. One has an extremely violent historical track record — the other has greatly alleviated the pain of the human condition. One is oriented toward death in this world — the other toward the promotion of life. Each is as alien to the other as war is to peace.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, could say lofty things like: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth….” — but the everyday reality of this conceptual integration is another thing entirely.