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Dr. Martin Luther King on creation, evolution and Intelligent Design


Yesterday (January 20) was Martin Luther King Day (h/t Joe). Dr. King was a great individual, who changed the course of history. In this post, I’d like to briefly discuss his views on creation, evolution and Intelligent Design.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s views can be summarized as follows:

1. Like many of his theological contemporaries in the 1950s, Dr. King accepted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, as a biological theory. He believed that human beings had animal ancestors, and he believed that churchmen who resisted Darwin’s theory were “misinformed.”

2. Dr. King also believed that Darwin’s theory had been warped and distorted by Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel into an ethical and sociological theory of inexorable human progress, built on the principle of ruthless competition.

3. Dr. King subscribed to the NOMA thesis: he believed that science dealt with facts and religion with values, and that the two pathways to truth were complementary, rather than being in conflict with one another.

4. Despite his acceptance of biological evolution, Dr. King was convinced that unguided evolution could never have given rise to man’s personality. He even used a common Intelligent Design metaphor to illustrate his point: “To believe that human personality is the result of the fortuitous interplay of atoms and electrons is as absurd as to believe that a monkey by hitting typewriter keys at random will eventually produce a Shakespearean play. Sheer magic!” Dr. King also rejected materialism as absurd, citing the philosopher Arthur Balfour’s dictum that “we now know too much about matter to be materialists.”

5. Finally, Dr. King explicitly taught that each human being possesses an immortal spirit, created by God and made in the image and likeness of God. As Dr. King put it: “Man is a being of spirit. This is ultimately that which distinguishes man from his animal ancestry.” The fact that Dr. King taught the creation of the human soul makes him what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls a “mind creationist.”

I’d now like to quote from Dr. Martin Luther King’s own writings, and invite readers to make their own comments.

Many readers will be familiar with the following quote, taken from a sermon called “Love in Action”, which was published as a chapter in his 1963 work, Strength To Love (see here for a draft version of the sermon):

The Christians who engaged in infamous persecutions and shameful inquisitions were not evil men but misguided men. The churchmen who felt they had an edict from God to withstand the progress of science, whether in the form of a Copernican revolution or a Darwinian theory of natural selection, were not mischievous men but misinformed men. And so Christ’s words from the cross are written in sharp-edged terms across some of the most inexpressible tragedies of history: ‘They know not what they do’.
– ‘Love in Action’, Strength To Love (1963, 1981), Fortress Press, First Edition edition, p. 43.

In the draft version, the word “evolution” was used in place of “natural selection.”

The following extract is taken from a sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King’s, titled, A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart (I have left the spelling as in the original; see here for a draft version), preached at Dexter Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on August 30, 1959, which centered on the Scriptural text, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16):

Soft mindedness has often invaded the ranks of religion. This is why religion has all too often closed its eyes to new discoveries of truth. Through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable stone wall in the path of the truth-seeker. So, many new truths, from the findings of Capernicus and Galileo to the Darwinian theory of evolution, have been rejected by the church with dogmatic passion. The historical criticism of the Bible is looked upon by the soft minded as a blasphemous act, and reason is often looked upon as the exercise of a corrupt faculty which has no place in religion. The soft minds have re-written the Beatitudes to read “Blessed are the pure in ignorance for they shall see God.’ All of this has lead to the widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this isn’t true. There may be a conflict between soft minded religionists and tough minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals with values. The two are not rivals. They are each other’s complement. Science keeps religion from sliding into the mores of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.

The excerpt below is taken from an exam paper (dated 5 July 1952) submitted by Dr. King, for a six-week summer course he took at Boston University in 1952, taught by Richard Marion Millard, on the History of Recent Philosophy. (I have left the spelling unaltered; very few people punctuate perfectly when they are composing an essay in a hurry. The paper, by the way, got an A.) In the paper, Dr. King discusses the impact of Darwin’s thought:

Metz statement that Darwin was no Darwinian is essentially true in the sense that Darwin never set out to establish any metaphysical or philosophical conclusions. He wrote as a biologist and not as a metaphysician. The one exception of a deviation from his biological interest was his attempt to delve into ethical theory. But certainly Darwin never set forth many of the philosophical theories that later became attached to his system. A case in point is Herbert Spencer. After Darwin published his Origin of the Species Herbert Spencer welcomed it and proceeded to apply its underlying theories to the whole of society. We find Haelkel attempting to define everything in terms of the Darwinian theory of evolution along with the law of substance. Many other examples could be cited. But these are adequate enough to show that many philosophical tenents developed from Darwins system that he never realized. So Metz is essentially right: “Darwin was no Darwinian.

There are mainly four reasons why Darwins evolutionary hypothesis raised such a furor.

(1) It seem to contradict the traditional view of the immutability of species.
(2) It contradicted those who accepted a literal account of the Bible.
(3) It seemed to take teleology from the universe. A first cause was also cast aside.
(4) It seemed to lessen man’s status.
So we can see the Darwin’s theory raised a deal of furor because it upset certan habits of mind. Of course most of the above accusation did not necessarily follow from the Darwinian hypothesis.

The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker, and Penny A. Russell (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), p. 154.

The following passage is taken from a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, titled, “The Man who was a Fool,” about Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the fool (Luke 12:13-21) (h/t Monsignor Charles Pope) and published in Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 anthology, Strength to Love, Fortress Press, First Edition edition, 1963, 1981. (See here, here and also here (Part 1) and here (Part 2)). [Readers please note: this is not the same as the later sermon delivered by Dr. King at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on 27 August 1967, titled, Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool, which says nothing about materialism or science]:

Jesus called the rich man a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. He talked as though he unfolded the seasons and provided the fertility of the soil, controlled the rising and the setting of the sun, and regulated the natural processes that produce the rain and the dew. He had an unconscious feeling that he was the Creator, not a creature. This man-centered foolishness has had a long and oftentimes disastrous reign in the history of mankind. Sometimes it is theoretically expressed in the doctrine of materialism, which contends that reality may be explained in terms of matter in motion, that life is “a physiological process with a physiological meaning,” that man is a transient accident of protons and electrons traveling blind, that thought is a temporary product of gray matter, and that the events of history are an interaction of matter and motion operating by the principle of necessity. Having no place for God or for eternal ideas, materialism is opposed to both theism and idealism. This materialistic philosophy leads inevitably into a dead-end street in an intellectually senseless world. To believe that human personality is the result of the fortuitous interplay of atoms and electrons is as absurd as to believe that a monkey by hitting typewriter keys at random will eventually produce a Shakespearean play. Sheer magic! It is much more sensible to say with Sir James Jeans, the physicist, that “the universe seems to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine,” or with Arthur Balfour, the philosopher, that “we now know too much about matter to be materialists.” Materialism is a weak flame that is blown out by the breath of mature thinking. Another attempt to make God irrelevant is found in non-theistic humanism, a philosophy that deifies man by affirming that humanity is God. Man is the measure of all things. Many modern men who have embraced this philosophy contend, as did Rousseau, that human nature is essentially good. Evil is to be found only in institutions, and if poverty and ignorance were to be removed everything would be all right. The twentieth century opened with such a glowing optimism. Men believed that civilization was evolving toward an earthly paradise. Herbert Spencer skillfully molded the Darwinian theory of evolution into the heady idea of automatic progress. Men became convinced that there is a sociological law of progress which is as valid as the physical law of gravitation…

Then came the explosion of this myth. It climaxed in the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and in the fierce fury of fifty-megaton bombs. Now we have come to see that science can give us only physical power, which, if not controlled by spiritual power, will lead inevitably to cosmic doom. The words of Alfred the Great are still true: “Power is never a good unless he be good that has it.” We need something more spiritually sustaining and morally controlling than science. It is an instrument that, under the power of God’s spirit, may lead man to greater heights of physical security, but apart from God’s spirit, science is a deadly weapon that will lead only to deeper chaos. Why fool ourselves about automatic progress and the ability of man to save himself? We must lift up our minds and eyes unto the hills from whence comes our true help. Then, and only then, will the advances of modern science be a blessing rather than a curse. Without dependence on God our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G.K. Chesterton called “cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

I found it interesting that Dr. King should quote G. K. Chesterton; apparently it wasn’t the only time that he did so, either (see here).

The final passage is taken from the hand-written text (which I have left unaltered) of Dr Martin Luther King’s sermon, What is man?, given at Dexter Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, and dated 9 July 1954 [the actual date may have been 11 July 1954 – VJT]. Dr. King later published a version of this sermon in his 1959 book, The Measure of a Man (Philadelphia Christian Education Press, 1959, pp. 1 – 18), and in his 1963 sermon collection (King, ‘What Is Man?” in Strength to Love, pp. 87-92):

“What is man that thou art mindful of him?” This question flowing from the lips of the Psalmist is one of the most important questions facing any generation. The whole political, social and economic structure of any society is largely determined by its answer to this pressing question…

Let us begin by stating that man is an animal with a material body…

This means that man’s body is significant. This is what distinguishes Christian from Greek thought. And so because man is an animal with a material body, we must forever be conserned about his material well being. To often have we talked about the primacy of the spiritual with little concern for the material…

Yet we cannot stop here. Man is more than an animal. Man is more than flesh and blood. Some year ago a chemist attempted to determine the worth of man in terms of material value. The results of the study revealed that in terms of the markets of that day man was worth only 99 cents in material value. This simply means that the stuff of man’s bodily make-up is worth only 99 cents (I guess now that the standards of living are a little higher man is worth a little more). But is it possible to explain the whole of man in terms of 99 cents. Can we explain the literary genius of a Shakespere in terms of 99 cents? Can we explain the artistic [genius] of a Micalangelo in terms of 99 cents> Can we explain the musical genius of a Beetoven in terms of 99 cent? Can we explain the spiritual genius of Jesus of Nazareth in terms of nighty nine cents? Can we explain the ongoing processes of our own ordinary lives in terms of 99c. My friends there is something in man that cannot be calculated in materialistic terms. Man is a being of spirit. This is ultimately that which distinguishes man from his animal ancestry. He is in time, yet above time; He is in nature, yet above nature. He is made to have communion with that which is eternal and everlasting. We cannot imagine an animal writing a Shakesperian play. We have never seen a group of animals sitting down discussing intricate problems concerning the political and economic structure of a society. We have never come across a group of animals speculating on the nature and destiny of the universe. But man, that being that God created just a little lower than the angels, is able to think a poem and write it, he’s able to think a symphony and compose it. He’s able to imagine a great civilization and create it. Through his amazing capacity for memory and thought and imagination, man is able to leap oceans, break through walls, and rise above the limitations of time and space. Through his powers of memory man can have communion with the past, through his powers of imagination man can embrace the uncertainties of the future.

Along with this strong intellectual capacity in man, there is a will. Man has within himself the power of choosing his supreme end. Animals follow their natures. But man has the power of acting upon his own nature almost as if from without, of guiding it within certain limits, and of modifying it by the choice of meaninful ends. Man entertains ideals, and ideals become his inspiration. Man can be true or false to his nature He can be a hero or a fool. Both possibilities, the noble and the base alike, indicate man’s greatness.

All that has just been said concerning the spiritual element in man gives backing to the Christian contention that man is made in the image of God. Man is more than flesh and blood. Man is a spiritual being born to have communion with the eternal God of the universe. God creates every individual for a purpose – to have fellowship with him. This is the ultimate meaning of the image of God. It is not that man as he is in himself bears God’s likeness, but rather that man is designated for and called to a particular relation with God. This concept of the image of God assures us that we, unlike our animal ancestry and the many inanimat objects of the universe, are priveledged to have fellowship with the divine.

I find it ironic that Dr. Martin Luther King’s views on evolution would have been considered “progressive” for a clergyman in his day, but if a student of biology or psychology at a secular American college were to voice the same sentiments now (I’m thinking especially of the statements made by Dr. King on the inability of matter to account for the human mind), that student would probably be given a failing grade and not allowed to graduate. What that tells me, first of all, is that many theologians and clergymen came to accept Darwinism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because the version they were sold was Darwinism-lite: a watered-down version which merely sought to explain the origin of the human body, while saying nothing about the human mind. In fact, Charles Darwin was convinced that the human mind could be accounted for in materialistic terms, as anyone who has read his Descent of Man will realize. On this point, Darwin differed sharply from his contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace, who maintained that the human mind was the creation of an Intelligence governing Nature.

The second take-home message from all this is that the scientific community has moved “hard left.” In a post of mine, Twenty-one more famous Nobel Prize winners who rejected Darwinism as an account of consciousness, I quoted from the writings of 21 Nobel Prize-winning scientists who believed that the human mind could not be explained in Darwinian terms. At the time when most of them wrote, such a view would have been tolerated within the scientific community; today, it is ruthlessly suppressed. It is science which has become dogmatic, and evidence taken from the biological sciences which points to the design of life is systematically discredited by orthodox biologists, who have become the new “guardians of truth.”

I cannot help wondering what Dr. Martin Luther King would think of the controversy generated by the publication in 1984 of The Mystery of Life’s Origin by scientists Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olson. What would he have made of the newly discovered evidence for design?

I think it would be presumptuous of me to comment any further on the writings of a great individual like Dr. Martin Luther King, so I’d like to throw the discussion open to readers.

You are welcome, Vincent. I just didn't want your detractors to run wild with that and ignore your post. Joe
Hi Joe, Thanks for the correction. I've amended the opening paragraph. Thanks again. vjtorley
"...the biological theorists don't know that Kant has analyzed why one cannot have an immanentist theory of evolution. One can have empirical observation but no general theory of evolution because the sequence of forms is a mystery; it just is there and you cannot explain it by any theory. The world cannot be explained. It is a mythical problem, so you have a strong element of myth in the theory of evolution." (Eric Voegelin, CW Vol. 33, The Drama of Humanity Conversations, III, Myth as Environment, p. 307) Both the “Seven Days Biblical Creation” and “Darwinian Evolution” are myths, because it is impossible to explain the mutation of forms. I seems to me that Martin Luther King was a very politically correct man. Furthermore, the argument of Galileo stinks already. The Catholic Church proceeded in relation to Galileo in the correct scientific way, because Galileo did not present is thesis as an hypothesis — as Copernicus did! Copernicus presented his thesis as an hypothesis and was NOT censored by the Catholic Church! Galileo did not want to formulate his thesis as an hypothesis, but instead affirming it as an absolute truth at a time that the hypothesis of Ptolemy could BETTER explain many celestial phenomena. In a modern perspective, the Catholic Church at that time defended the most modern scientific conception, although was wrong about the Ptolemy theory. Defending a scientific paradigm is rejecting another (Thomas Kuhn). Orlando Braga
Small correction- Yesterday was MLKJ day. His birthday is January 15 Joe

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