Earlier today, we noted the work of PhD student Seth Hart (science and theology) on the extent to which nineteenth century Christians in Europe generally accommodated Darwinism, rather than opposing it. So what happened among American Christians?:
Within 20 years of Darwin’s publication, the scientific community was all but completely committed to evolutionary theory (though, again, differing on the mechanism by which it occurred). According to scientific historian David Livingstone, by 1880 the sole exceptions seemed to have been Sir John William Dawson and Arnold Henry Guyot, and even they (as will be discussed below) wavered in their views.
Ronald Numbers, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the history of creationism, comes to a similar conclusion. Of the 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences between 1863 and 1900 who expressed their views, 51 accepted evolution of some sort. Only five or six remained creationists. Religion was apparently not a deterrent to evolution’s acceptance, either, since, among practicing scientists, orthodox Christians outnumbered agnostics/atheists two to one. Most tellingly, Numbers adds that he could find no evidence of any individual abandoning the faith over the issues posed by Darwinism.
Consequently, the tale of a great conflict between the Church and Darwin in the immediate aftermath of Darwin’s publication can be deemed one of the great myths of history. The statistical evidence is uncontroversial: the American scientists of faith offered virtually no resistance to evolution’s eventual acceptance, and much of the church acted as an eager cheerleader along the way. In other words, rather than deterring the spread of evolutionary ideas, theologically orthodox Protestants were often at the frontlines advancing them. By the time a significant a significant anti-evolution movement formed within American churches (well after the turn of the century), evolutionary theory was already deeply ensconced within the scientific community. Thus, the myth of scientific advance being stymied, resisted, and suppressed by a legion of radical, anti-intellectual religious fanatics is just that: pure myth—one worthy of taking its place next to the supposed “Dark Ages” and the “torture” of Galileo in the trash bin of bad history.Seth Hart, “Did American Christians Wage War on Darwin? (Spoiler Alert: No)” at Capturing Christianity
Perhaps Hart will explain in a later piece how evangelical Protestants came to reject Darwin so soundly despite the view of their earlier leaders.
Incidentally, he notes a coalescence among some Christian thinkers today between Darwin and the much-ridiculed William Paley (19th century design proponent). Yes?
That whirring sound you hear is Darwin spinning in his grave, reaching unthinkable speeds…
Here is a YouTube vid along those lines: “How Evolution Can Still Be Evidence of Design” (May 27, 2021)
In this video, Dr. Rope Kojonen (philosopher/theologian) and Dr. Zachary Ardern (evolutionary geneticist) explain how evolution can be evidence of design, based on Dr. Kojonen’s forthcoming book, “The Compatibility of Evolution and Design.”
You may also wish to read: Christianity vs. Darwinism: The war that never took place? Seth Hart has the story about the many Christian thinkers who embraced Darwinism early on. One guesses that by the time most Christian thinkers discovered what Darwinism really was (Social Darwinism undoubtedly helped them see… ), many were heavily compromised and it was too late to back out.
2 Replies to “The American Christians did not “wage war on” Darwin either — not at first”
Obviously ID people accept whatever evolution has been truly demonstrated:
– changes in species and populations through time – i.e. the fossil record
– minor shuffling of alleles within populations – e.g. moth colouration, bird beak sizes
– loss of genetic information over time (AKA devolution) – e.g. humans cannot make vitamin C
– minor neutral changes in genes – exchanging codons for the same amino acid
– spread of genetic info through a population via sex selection and mixing
– probably other sub-types of “evolution”
So clearly ID does not deny various meanings and mechanisms of “evolution”, and therefore evolution and design can go hand in hand quite happily. What ID denies is the Darwinian process producing new genetic information, new genes/proteins, new functions and features, and thus, new forms of life.
What happened was fundamentalism, which never took place in Europe. Fundamentalists went YEC, while the Christian left went theistic evolutionist.