I commend to you Denyse O’Leary’s excellent post below concerning whether famous Darwinist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) was a Christian. O’Leary demonstrates that while there is certainly no doubt about the “Darwinist” part, there is plenty of room to be skeptical about the “Christian” part.
The problem with claiming that a Spinozan mystic like Dobzhansky was a Christian is that the claim does violence to language. The word “Christian” classifies. In other words some people are in the class “Christian” and some people are not. If this were not so, the classification would cease to classify and become meaningless. “Christian” is not simply a synonym for “agreeable fellow.” The word has substantive content and divides people according to their religious beliefs.
What I have said so far is uncontroversial. Some people are Christians and some people are not. Who could disagree with that? The problem comes when we try to sort people into or out of the class. Here we are faced with at least two problems: (1) where is the border of the class; and (2) how do we know which side of the border any particular person is on?
As to the first problem, O’Leary suggests the Apostles Creed marks the border. The Apostles Creed states:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Certainly the Creed contains the core of what I would call the “Historic Christian Faith” confessed by Christians everywhere for the last 2,000 years. But need one understand and confess every jot and tittle of the Creed to be a Christian? Consider someone who has just been told the story of how Jesus died and was buried and rose again victorious over death and instantly receives and believes that story and confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Is it really necessary for him to know the parts of the Creed that concern ecclesiology and eschatology before we can say he is a Christian? I think not. Correct belief concerning these doctrinal matters, as important as they are, does not define a Christian.
If the Apostles Creed is not the irreducible minimum of the Christian faith then what is? Let me suggest a very simple and bright line. Romans 10:9-10 states: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
This formula establishes two and only two criteria for a person to be a Christian: The person must (1) believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead; and (2) confess that Jesus is Lord. It is just that simple. Anyone who believes and confesses these things will, according to the scripture, be saved. This then is the essential core of the Christian faith, the border of the classification. According to scripture we can say with confidence that every person who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord is a Christian. Every person who does not do both of these things is not a Christian.
Having established the border of Christianity, we now move on to the second problem, sorting people into (or out of) the classification. As we have seen, the Romans 10 formula requires a person to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. The first part is easy enough. A person either confesses Jesus is Lord or he refuses to do so. But the second part presents a huge problem. How can we know what a person truly believes in their heart? I have a hard enough time attempting to fathom the depths of my own heart. Every other person’s heart is completely inaccessible to me. So we find that even if we are able clearly to define the borders of the class “Christian,” we still may not be able to know whether a particular person is a Christian.
While we must remain silent about many things, there are some things we can know with certainty. Those who do not meet the first part of the test (confess that Jesus is Lord) are by definition not Christians. On this basis we can say with confidence that Stalin, Mao and Richard Dawkins are not Christians. But what about those who meet the first part of the test? They have confessed that Jesus is Lord. How can we know whether they have met the second part of the test so we can sort them into or out of the class called “Christian”? The answer is, I believe, we cannot. For each person who has confessed Jesus as Lord, whether they truly believe in their heart is something about which we cannot have certain knowledge. Whether they truly believe only they and God can know, and we, who cannot know, must remain silent.
So at the end of the day, I find that neither I nor any other human has any part of the sorting process. At the first step we do not sort. People sort themselves if they refuse to confess that Jesus is Lord. And at the second step, we must remain silent, because we cannot know the true condition of a person’s heart.
What about a person who says he is a Christian and that he believes in Darwinism? Are they a Christian or not? As we have seen, for any particular person who has confessed Jesus as Lord, we must remain silent. We cannot know. The best we can do is make a few pertinent observations:
1. The phrase “Christian Darwinist” is not an oxymoron. Look at the Romans 10 formula again. The line is simple and bright. The scripture says that if a person confesses Jesus and believes in his heart, he will be saved. Even if we assume for the sake of argument that Darwinism is dead wrong, it makes no difference. The formula is confess and believe. It is not confess and believe and hold a correct view of evolution.
2. Many Christians who say they believe in “Darwinism” do not understand what they are saying. They believe that God created through evolution and was involved in the process and guided it through to completion. They do not understand that “Darwinism” properly understood rejects the very view they hold. A Darwinist believes that the combination of natural law and random variation are sufficient to account for the origin and diversity of life without any guiding intelligence from God or anyone else. They believe that the human body is the result of a process that did not need God any more than a stone rolling down a hill needs God. Very often, therefore, the issue is not whether a Christian can believe Darwinism, but whether a Christian can hold a mistaken belief about Darwinism.
3. Darwinism, properly understood, is dangerous to all religious belief. It truly is, in Dennett’s phrase, a universal acid, and faith is one of the things that acid dissolves. It is for a very good reason that Dawkins famously proclaimed that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. And we see a strong correlation between the rise of Darwinism and the decline of religious faith, especially among the so-called intellectual elite. Belief can be very inconvenient when that belief places constraints on the sovereign will. Darwinism helps people throw off those constraints.
Finally, we end where we began with the question of Dobzhansky’s status. Was he a Christian? First, as we have seen, the mere fact that he was a Darwinist does not settle the issue. It is possible for a person to be a Darwinist and a Christian. Let us consider Dobzhansky’s status in light of the Romans 10 test. Did he confess that Jesus is Lord? My understanding, and someone can correct me if I am wrong, is that Dobzhansky told people that he did not believe in a personal God. He believed in a sort of universal intelligence guiding the universe. In other words, he was a mystic similar to Spinoza.
If this is so, Dobzhansky was not a Christian. I did not sort him. He sorted himself. He told everyone that he did not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, because he did not believe in the existence of a personal God who could do any such thing. By his own word Dobzhansky affirmed that he did not meet even the simple two-step test of Romans 10.
What about Dobzhansky’s student and friend Francisco Ayala, who reported that Dobzhansky was a “religious man.” Being a religious person does not make one a Christian. Hindus are often devoutly religious; yet no Hindu is a Christian.
What about the fact that Dobzhansky was a communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church? Being a member of a church does not make one a Christian. My name may have been on the rolls of the First Baptist Church for decades, but if I do not confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, I am not a Christian. If for whatever reason a Spinozan mystic chooses to sit in the pew of an Orthodox church, he remains a Spinozan mystic. Sitting in that pew does not make him a Christian.