April 25, 2007

The Theology of Evolution

2007 1512 page17 capontrary to popular myth, evolution began as, and remains, as much theology as science. People had an idea of what they thought a world created by God should be like, and when it didn’t meet those theological expectations, they came up with something else. This is the story of Charles Darwin and evolution.
Darwin wasn’t in a metaphysically neutral zone when he proposed evolutionary natural selection as the explanation for different forms of life. Rather, he began with his own theological views about what the world should be like were it created by a beneficent God. When those views didn’t match up with the world, he felt compelled to look elsewhere.
“There seems to me,” he wrote, “too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice.” Or: “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horribly cruel works of nature.”
2007 1512 page17In short, Darwinian evolution didn’t start out as science but as theology. Something other than the loving God Darwin was taught about as a child had to be the explanation for the cruelty in nature because—in his theological understanding—that God couldn’t be it. Hence, in his mind, uncaring and amoral natural forces, not Yahweh, explained the world.
It didn’t end with Darwin, either. How often today do evolutionists argue their positions from a kind of negative theology: Why would a good God create vestigial organs? Why would a good and caring God create parasites that live off the organs of other creatures? Why would a good and loving God create animals that need to eat other animals in order to survive? Why would a loving God create such violence in nature?
All these questions presuppose certain traits about how God could or should have created the world. “A great irony reveals itself here,” wrote Cornelius Hunter (Darwin’s God, Brazos Press, 2001), “evolution, the theory that made God unnecessary, is itself supported by arguments containing premises about the nature of God.”
Was it just coincidental, too, that during the mid to late 1800s, as Darwin was revising and reworking his ideas of natural selection, God raised up a movement that, at its core, countered everything Darwin’s theology stood for—a movement that with its understanding of the great controversy between Christ and Satan had the answer to his misconceptions about the nature of God? How interesting that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose creationist underpinnings are revealed in its name itself (the Seventh-day is the Sabbath memorial of the six days in which “the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them”), started growing and expanding about the same time Darwin’s theory did.
Who knows, but had Darwin read, and believed, these few short lines from Ellen G. White, the world might have been spared (at least for a while) one of the grandest blunders of human thought since geocentricism and spontaneous generation: “Although the earth was blighted with the curse, nature was still to be man’s lesson book. It could not now represent goodness only; for evil was everywhere present, marring earth and sea and air with its defiling touch. Where once was written only the character of God, the knowledge of good, was now written also the character of Satan, the knowledge of evil. From nature, which now revealed the knowledge of good and evil, man was continually to receive warning as to the results of sin” (Education, p. 26).
As it was, he didn’t. Darwin devised his evolutionary speculations instead, all based on a false understanding of the nature and character of God and the fallen world in which we live.
Of course, one can start with a false premise and still arrive at a right conclusion. One could, theoretically at least, start with a false theology and wind up with good science. In Darwin’s case neither happened. Instead, bad theology led to even worse science.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He also hosts a television program on the Hope Channel called Cliff!