By Rodney Stark
Part One Here
Note: This is an article from American
Enterprise Online, a publication of The American Enterprise
Institute. For other excellent articles, visit their website.
The Origin of Species was published it aroused immense interest,
but initially it did not provoke antagonism on religious grounds.
Although many criticized Darwin's lack of evidence, none raised
religious objections. Instead, the initial response from theologians
was favorable. The distinguished Harvard botanist Asa
Gray hailed Darwin
for having solved the most difficult problem confronting the Design
argument – the many imperfections and failures revealed in the fossil
that Darwin himself "rejects the idea of design," Gray
congratulated him for "bringing out the neatest illustrations
of it." Gray interpreted Darwin's work as showing that God
has created a few original forms and then let evolution proceed
within the framework of divine laws.
religious antagonism finally came, it was in response to aggressive
claims, like Huxley's, that Newton and Darwin together had evicted
God from the cosmos. For the heirs of the Enlightenment, evolution
seemed finally to supply the weapon needed to destroy religion.
As Richard Dawkins confided, "Darwin
made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."
was central to the agenda of the Darwinians. Darwin himself once
wrote that he could not understand how anyone could even wish that
Christianity were true, noting that the doctrine of damnation was
itself damnable. Huxley expressed his hostility toward religion
often and clearly, writing in 1859: "My screed was meant as
a protest against Theology & Parsondom
... both of which are in my mind the natural & irreconcilable
enemies of Science. Few see it, but I believe we are on the Eve
of a new Reformation and if I have a wish to live 30 years, it is
to see the foot of Science on the necks of her Enemies."
historian J. R. Lucas, Huxley was "remarkably resistant to
the idea that there were clergymen who accepted evolution, even
when actually faced with them." Quite simply, there could be
no compromises with faith.
at the same time as Huxley, the leading Darwinian in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, drew this picture:
one side spiritual freedom and truth, reason and culture, evolution
and progress stand under the bright banner of science; on the other
side, under the black flag of hierarchy, stand spiritual slavery
and falsehood, irrationality and barbarism, superstition and retrogression....
Evolution is the heavy artillery in the struggle for truth. Whole
ranks of...sophistries fall together under the chain shot of this
... artillery, and the proud and mighty structure of the Roman hierarchy,
that powerful stronghold of infallible dogmatism, falls like a house
were not the natterings of radical circles
and peripheral publications. The author of the huge review of The
Origin in the Times of London was none other than Thomas
Huxley. He built his lectures on evolution into a popular touring
stage show wherein he challenged various potential religious opponents
by name. Is it surprising that religious people, scientists as well
as clerics, began to respond in the face of unrelenting challenges
like these issued in the name of evolution? It was not as if they
merely were asked to accept that life had evolved; many theologians
had long taken that for granted. What the Darwinians demanded was
that religionists agree to the untrue and unscientific claim that
Darwin had proved that God played no role in the process.
those drawn to respond was the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce,
who is widely said to have made an ass of himself in a debate with
Huxley during the 1860 meeting of the British Association at Oxford.
The relevant account of this confrontation reported: "I was
happy enough to be present on the memorable occasion at Oxford
when Mr. Huxley bearded Bishop Wilberforce. The bishop arose and
in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us that
there was nothing in the idea of evolution. Then turning to his
antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through
his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed descent from
a monkey? On this Mr. Huxley ... arose ... and spoke these tremendous
words. He was not ashamed to have a monkey for an ancestor; but
he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great
gifts to obscure the truth. No one doubted his meaning and the effect
marvelous anecdote has appeared in every distinguished biography
of Darwin and of Huxley, as well as in every popular history of
the theory of evolution. In his celebrated Apes, Angels and Victorians,
William Irvine used this tale to disparage the bishop's snobbery.
In his prize-winning study, James Brix
went much farther, describing Wilberforce as "naive and pompous,"
a man whose "faulty opinions" were those of a "fundamentalist
creationist" and who provided Huxley with the opportunity to
give evolution "its first major victory over dogmatism and
duplicity." Every writer tells how the audience gave Huxley
is, it never happened. The quotation above
was the only such report of this story and it appeared in an article
titled "A Grandmother's Tales" that was written by a non-scholar
in a popular magazine 38 years after the alleged encounter. No other
account of these meetings – and there were many written at the time
– made any mention of remarks concerning Huxley's monkey ancestors,
or claimed that he made a fool of the bishop. To the contrary, many
thought the bishop had the better of it, and even many of the committed
Darwinians thought it at most a draw.
as all of the scholars present at Oxford knew, prior to the meeting,
Bishop Wilberforce had penned a review of The Origin in which
he fully acknowledged the principle of natural selection as the
source of variations within species. He rejected Darwin's claims
concerning the origin of species, however, and some of these criticisms
were sufficiently compelling that Darwin immediately wrote his friend
the botanist J. D. Hooker that the article "is uncommonly clever;
it picks out with skill all the most conjectural parts, and brings
forward well all the difficulties. It quizzes me quite splendidly."
In a subsequent letter to geologist Charles Lyell, Darwin acknowledges that "the bishop makes a very
telling case against me." Indeed, several of Wilberforce's
comments caused Darwin to make modifications in a later revision
of the book.
tale of the foolish and narrow-minded bishop seems to have thrived
as a revealing "truth" about the incompatibility of religion
and science simply because many of its tellers wanted to believe
that a bishop is wrong by nature. J. R. Lucas, who debunked the
bishop myth, has suggested that the "most important reason
why the legend grew" is, first, because academics generally
"know nothing outside their own special subject" and therefore
easily believe that outsiders are necessarily ignorant, and, second,
because Huxley encouraged that conclusion. "The quarrel between
religion and science was what Huxley wanted; and as Darwin's theory
gained supporters, they took over his view of the incident."
then the Darwinian Crusade has tried to focus all attention on the
most unqualified and most vulnerable opponents, and when no easy
targets present themselves it has invented them. Huxley "made
straw men of the 'creationists,'" as his biographer Desmond
admitted. Even today it is a rare textbook or any popular treatment
of evolution and religion that does not reduce "creationism"
to the simplest caricatures.
tradition remains so potent that whenever it is asked that evolution
be presented as "only a theory," the requester is ridiculed
as a buffoon. Even when the great philosopher of science Karl Popper
suggested that the standard version of evolution even falls short
of being a scientific theory, being instead an untestable
tautology, he was subjected to public condemnations and much personal
tribulations illustrate an important basis for the victory of Darwinism:
A successful appeal for a united front on the part of scientists
to oppose religious opposition has had the consequence of silencing
dissent within the scientific community. The eminent observer Everett
Olson notes that there is "a generally silent group" of
biological scientists "who tend to disagree with much of the
current thought" about evolution, but who remain silent for
fear of censure.
I believe that
one day there will be a plausible theory of the origin of species.
But, if and when that occurs, there will be nothing in any such
theory that makes it impossible to propose that the principles involved
were not part of God's great design any more than such a theory
will demonstrate the existence of God. But, while we wait, why not
lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed
attempt as an eternal truth?
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