Intelligent Design

United Methodist Church leadership contradicts Methodism’s co-founder, John Wesley, on Intelligent Design

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John Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism, would surely have been banned by the United Methodist Church leadership from presenting his views on Intelligent Design at the church’s General Conference in May 2016, were he alive today. His crime? Not only was he unapologetically pro-Intelligent Design, but he also denounced the theory of evolution as godless. In a recent post over at Evolution News and Views, Professor Michael Flannery alluded to Wesley’s pro-ID views. In this post, I intend to remove all possible doubt, by supplying chapter and verse from Wesley’s own writings. (For those readers who haven’t been following the controversy over the United Methodist Church leadership’s decision to bar the Discovery Institute from sponsoring an information table at the church’s upcoming General Conference, I would highly recommend the following posts at Evolution News and Views: here, here, here, here, here and here.)

What did John Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism, think of Intelligent Design? The question is no idle one. Even though the United Methodist Church (UMC) was created in 1968, John Wesley plays a pivotal role in the history of the Church, because Methodism (which he co-founded) dates back to 1736. As the Church’s own Website states:

The United Methodist Church shares a common history and heritage with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. The lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703–1791) and of his brother, Charles (1707–1788), mark the origin of their common roots. Both John and Charles were Church of England missionaries to the colony of Georgia, arriving in March 1736. It was their only occasion to visit America. Their mission was far from an unqualified success, and both returned to England disillusioned and discouraged, Charles in December 1736, and John in February 1738.

Both of the Wesley brothers had transforming religious experiences in May 1738. John’s heart “was strangely warmed” at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. In the years following, the Wesleys succeeded in leading a lively renewal movement in the Church of England. As the Methodist movement grew, it became apparent that their ministry would spread to the American colonies as some Methodists made the exhausting and hazardous Atlantic voyage to the New World.

Wesley’s spirituality has a profound influence on the United Methodist Church to this day, as the UMC freely acknowledges on its Website:

Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. They placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as “practical divinity” has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.

The UMC’s specious grounds for banning the Discovery Institute from its upcoming General Conference

As United Methodists Michael Flannery and Donald McLaughlin have explained in a post over at Evolution News and Views, the rationale for the United Methodist Church (UMC) leadership’s decision to bar the Discovery Institute from setting up a table at the upcoming General Conference in May was that: (a) the UMC supports the separation of church and State and opposes the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools; and (b) the United Methodist Book of Discipline contains the following resolution in its section on the Natural World: “We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues.”

As it turns out, both reasons are spurious: first, the Discovery Institute opposes the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools, just as the UMC does; and second, the Intelligent Design movement says nothing about the identity of the Intelligent Designer of life and/or the cosmos. In particular, ID theory do not identify the Designer with the God of the Bible, as the currently available scientific evidence does not warrant that conclusion. (Of course, many ID advocates, including myself, believe the Designer to be the same Being as the Biblical God, but we do so on philosophical rather than scientific grounds.) Consequently, it would be absurd to accuse the Intelligent Design movement of “making authoritative claims about theological issues.”

When I read about the decision made by the leadership of the United Methodist Church, I found myself wondering what John Wesley would have thought of it, so I decided to do a little digging and delving. The results of my research are clear and unambiguous: the views of the UMC’s leaders are so manifestly at odds with those of the co-founder of Methodism that they can no longer credibly call themselves his spiritual heirs. If they’re Methodists, then I’m a Dutchman.

Executive Summary: What did John Wesley have to say about Intelligent Design?

Wesley’s views on Intelligent Design

What did John Wesley have to say about Intelligent Design? Quite a lot, actually. It turns out that Wesley believed in the fine-tuning of the universe (and in particular, the solar system) for human needs, a 6,000-year-old Earth, the separate creation of each species of living creature (see also here), the special creation of the first man, Adam, from a lump of clay, and the supernatural creation of each human being’s soul (making him what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls a “mind creationist”). He also believed in the scala naturae, or Great Chain of Being, and he maintained that man was originally intended to be “God’s viceregent on Earth, the prince and governor of this lower world.” In addition, Wesley held that before the Fall, even the beasts were granted immortality, and that the animals were vegetarian in their original state. What’s more, Wesley believed that the existence of God could be rationally demonstrated, on purely scientific grounds, from the design of the universe and the design of living things: “modern discoveries” make the case for God so strong that if reason alone could prevail, “Atheism now would be utterly ashamed to shew its head.” Wesley declared that the “unerring constancy” in the movements of heavenly bodies afforded “incontestable proof of a divine architect“, and he also asserted that anyone who sees an “artfully contrived” device – be it an “engine” made by human beings, or the “admirably contrived” clockwork universe, or for that matter, such a “complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body” – mustimmediately acknowledge that it is the result of reason and understanding.” The similarities to Paley’s “watchmaker” argument are compelling. In other words, not only did Wesley believe in Intelligent Design, but he also thought that science could identify the Designer with God – that is, a Being of infinite wisdom, power, goodness and perfection (although not necessarily the God of the Bible). In other words, the position Wesley advocated was even more robust than that of the modern Intelligent Design movement, which refrains from identifying the Designer with God.

Wesley on the impossibility of evolution

In addition to teaching that the first man was specially created by God, Wesley also taught that the human body could not have arisen via a natural process, because no blind process would be capable of assembling so many bodily parts, in just the right proportions and in just the right sequence, over the course of time, generating “so complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body”:

But, to form it even as it is now, no less than a Divine power was requisite. No less could mix earth, water, air, and fire, in so exact a proportion, and then frame so many different parts, of so various figure texture and magnitude. God alone was able to form the original fibres; to weave those fibres into hollow tubes; to dispose these tubes, filled with their several humours and variously interwoven with each other, into different organs: and of those organs connected together in a continued series and due situation, to finish so complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body.
(A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy, Volume I, Part I, Chapter 4 (Of the Soul, and of the Origin of Man), section 14, page 138; London, W. Flint, 1809 edition.)

Additionally, Wesley was a Cartesian dualist; he argued that the human soul, being capable of self-motion (or voluntary movement), cannot be material, and must therefore be spiritual; and that being spiritual, it must have been created by God. He believed that the human soul resided somewhere in the head (possibly in the brain or pineal gland), and although he declared, “In my present state of existence, I undoubtedly consist both of soul and body,” he identified himself with his soul: “Unquestionably I am something distinct from my body. It seems evident that my body is not necessarily included therein. For when my body dies, I shall not die: I shall exist as really as I did before.”

Spiritual views like Wesley’s are anathema to Darwinists – and, indeed, to modern-day evolutionists of any stripe. Just as atomic theory claims to be a complete theory of chemistry, the modern scientific theory of evolution purports to be a complete theory of life on Earth: it claims to account for life on Earth, in all its infinite variety. That includes human beings. For evolutionists to acknowledge the reality of a spiritual soul would be tantamount to them admitting that evolution isn’t a complete theory, after all.

Wesley viewed evolution as an atheistic theory

Wesley was also well-acquainted with the modest (and scientifically crude) theory of evolution advocated by the Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), which he vigorously denounced when an abridged two-volume edition of Buffon’s Natural History was translated and published in 1782 (nine years before Wesley’s death). In a cutting review of Buffon’s work, which he wrote at the grand old age of 79, Wesley categorically rejected Buffon’s theory for what he saw as its implicit atheism. One very important theological reason for Wesley’s attack on Buffon was the latter’s “denial of any final causes in the world: (p. 69): this is Atheism barefaced.” “For,” Wesley continued, “if God did not create all things for determinate ends, he did not create them at all.” (The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VII; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; page 443.)

But what particularly incensed Wesley was the following brief passage in Volume II of Buffon’s book, in which he asserted that the bodies of humans and other animals contain many vestigial organs: “In most beings, there are fewer useful or necessary parts than those which are useless or redundant.” Wesley wrote in reply:

He that asserts this, must totally deny a wise Creator: consequently, he must either believe that chance created the world, or that it existed from eternity. In either case, he denies the being of a God. I cannot, therefore, but place the Count de Buffon as far beneath Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hume, (all of whom acknowledge the being of a God), in religion as in understanding.
(The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VII; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; page 445.)

Since Charles Darwin also maintained in his works, The Origin of Species (1859, 1st edition, pp. 450 ff.) and The Descent of Man (1871, 1st edition, pp. 17ff.), that the bodies of man and other animals contain numerous vestigial organs (or “rudimentary organs,” as Darwin called them), we may legitimately infer that Wesley’s verdict on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection would have been equally damning.

Even if Wesley had been an evolutionist, he would have rejected Darwinism

It might be objected that if Wesley had lived in the nineteenth century instead of the eighteenth, and if he had heard about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which was far more scientifically rigorous than Buffon’s outlandish theory, he would probably have come to accept the idea that living things evolved from a common stock, and that man could have evolved from an ape-like creature without the need for God to work any supernatural miracles. After all, Wesley himself remarked on the strong similarities between apes and human beings, and he seems to have viewed the scala naturae as a continuum, where each creature’s physical form grades imperceptibly into that of the creature directly above or below it. But even if Wesley had come to accept the common descent of man and other animals, the version of evolution that Wesley would have accepted would have been nothing like the blind, wasteful process envisaged by Darwin. Wesley insisted that the production of each and every species in Nature, as well as each and every organ in their bodies, was fore-ordained by God, as part of His grand plan: “To perpetuate the established course of nature in a continued series, the Divine Wisdom has thought fit that all living creatures should constantly be employed in producing individuals, that all natural things should lend a helping hand toward preserving every species, and lastly, that the destruction of one thing should always lead to the production of another.” And again: “Some [creatures] walk, some creep, some fly. But every one has all its members and its various organs accurately fitted for its peculiar motions.” To avoid the need for any supernatural intervention, Wesley’s version of evolution would have had to involve a massive degree of of front-loading, from the beginning (in other words, extreme fine-tuning), to ensure that it produced the creatures intended by God, without an ounce of waste (no vestigial organs, mal-designed organs, or new species arising by accident). Given this extraordinary level of fine-tuning, Wesley would have continued to maintain that the existence of God could be rationally deduced on scientific grounds, even within an evolutionary schema. Finally, since he firmly believed in the Divine creation of the human soul, Wesley would have insisted that God must have infused a spiritual soul into the body of the first human being, and into the body of every human being who has lived since then. This is not Darwin’s secular version of evolution: it is much more like Wallace’s “Intelligent Design” version.

Why Wesley would have strongly approved of the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools

How would Wesley have felt about Intelligent Design theory being taught in public schools? As we’ve seen, the Discovery Institute does not support such a proposal; however, it’s almost certain that Wesley would have warmly supported it. As I’ve documented elsewhere, the American freethinker Thomas Paine, whose views were far more radical than Wesley’s, held that Intelligent Design ought to be taught in schools: indeed, in a speech given to the Society of Theophilanthropists, in Paris, at what was probably their first public meeting, on January 16, 1797, Paine criticized the science curriculum in revolutionary France for teaching “astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin.” The sad result of teaching the natural sciences without any reference to a Creator was that students ended up becoming atheists: “The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools, in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only, has been that of generating in the pupils a species of Atheism.” If even a freethinker like Paine wanted the existence of God to be taught in science classrooms, then how much more would a Methodist preacher like John Wesley have done so!

While Wesley advocated toleration of other religions, there is no evidence that he believed the state ought to tolerate atheism – a very extreme view back in the eighteenth century, which was defended by only a handful of freethinkers in Wesley’s day. Indeed, even the English philosopher John Locke, whose political views were considerably more liberal than the conservative views of John Wesley, had forcefully argued in his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) that no state should tolerate either religions which teach that “no faith is to be kept with heretics” (Locke seems to have had in mind Catholics and Muslims here), or those “who deny the being of a God” – i.e. atheists. Locke’s reason was that neither group of people could be relied on to keep their promises: the former, because their first loyalty was to a foreign power (e.g. the Pope, or the Grand Mufti), and the latter, because “[p]romises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.” Locke felt that tolerating such people was a recipe for social anarchy. It is historically unlikely, to say the least, that Wesley (who was a convinced Tory and who was strongly opposed to the American War of Independence) would have advocated a wider degree of toleration than John Locke: on the contrary, he would almost certainly have agreed with Locke that atheism should be publicly suppressed, just as he agreed with him that Catholicism ought not be tolerated.

Wesley’s low regard for atheists is manifest in his sermon, On the General Deliverance (no. 60), in an astonishing passage in which he equates atheists with animals: “If it is this which distinguishes men from beasts, — that they are creatures capable of God, capable of knowing and loving and enjoying him; then whoever is “without God in the world,” whoever does not know or love or enjoy God, and is not careful about the matter, does, in effect, disclaim the nature of man, and degrade himself into a beast…. These sons of men are undoubtedly beasts; and that by their own act and deed; for they deliberately and wilfully disclaim the sole characteristic of human nature.” Since beasts are not granted political rights, it follows that Wesley could not possibly have granted political rights of any sort to atheists – especially not the right to propagate their views, thereby turning other men into beasts.

That being the case, Wesley would surely have endorsed the idea of public schools teaching students that there is a God – defined broadly as an infinitely wise and powerful Being – and presenting students with rational, scientific arguments for the existence of God. What’s more, as we’ve seen, Wesley believed that such arguments existed: he declared that the “unerring constancy” in the movements of heavenly bodies afforded “incontestable proof” of the existence of God, on purely scientific grounds, and he also asserted that anyone who sees a machine – especially such a “complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body” – must “immediately acknowledge that it is the result of reason and understanding.” It therefore follows that Wesley would have had no principled objection to the propagation of Intelligent Design theory, or to it being taught in public schools. And while Wesley praised the “total indifference” of the American government regarding “whether there be any religion or none,” leaving people free to publicly espouse Deism (as Paine did), there is no indication that Wesley believed atheists should be free to advocate their views in public. In short: there can be no reasonable grounds for doubting that John Wesley would have wanted Intelligent Design theory taught in public school science classrooms.

Where did John Wesley discuss Intelligent Design in his writings?

Picture of a small orrery. Courtesy of Kaptain Kobold and Wikipedia.

Not a lot of people know that John Wesley, in addition to doing quite a lot of preaching, wrote about science too. In fact, he was the author of a five-volume work, titled, A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy, originally published in 1763. Wesley made every attempt to keep abreast of the latest scientific research, which he frequently cites in his work. Here’s what he says in Volume 4, Part V (Of the System of the World, Heavenly Bodies, Properties and Causes of Natural Bodies), Chapter 4 (Of Those Things Wherein Natural Bodies Differ), section 11 (Reflections), on pages 39 to 46 of the (posthumous) 1809 edition of his work. This edition, which was published by W. Flint in London, was billed as “A new edition, revised and corrected,” so we can safely assume that it reflects Wesley’s mature thinking on the subject of Intelligent Design. Wesley writes:

11. I have now finished what I proposed. I have given as short and plain an account as I could, of all that is certain in Natural Philosophy: in order to direct the whole to its proper end, I have now only to add a few reflections.

If we cast our eyes up to the firmament, let us seriously ask ourselves, what power built over our heads that vast and magnificent arch, and spread out the Heavens like a curtain? Who garnished these heavens with such a variety of resplendent objects, all floating in the liquid ether, and regular in their motions? Who painted the clouds with such variety of colours, and in such diversity of shades and figures, as it is not in the power of the finest pencil on earth to emulate? Who formed the sun of such a determinate size, and placed it at such a convenient distance, as not to scorch or annoy, but to cherish all things with his genial heat? For a succession of ages he never failed to rise at his appointed time, or to send out the dawn as his forerunner, to proclaim his approach. By whose skilful hand is it directed in its diurnal and annual course, to give us the grateful vicissitude of night and day, and the regular succession of the seasons? That it should always proceed in the same path, and never once step aside: that it should go on, in a space where there is nothing to obstruct, but [page 40] turn at a determinate point: that the moon should supply the absence of the sun, and remove the horror of the night; that it should regulate the flux and reflux of the sea, thereby preserving the waters from putrefaction, and at the same time accommodating mankind with so manifold conveniences: that all the innumerable hosts of heaven, should perform their revolutions with such exactness, as never once to fail, in a course of six thousand years, but constantly to come about in the same round to the hundredth part of a minute: this is such an incontestable proof of a divine architect, and of the care and wisdom wherewith he governs the universe, as made the Roman philosopher conclude, “whoever imagines, that the wonderful order and incredible constancy of the heavenly bodies and their motions, whereon the welfare and preservation of things depend, are not governed by an intelligent being, is himself destitute of understanding. For shall we, when we see an artfully contrived engine, suppose a dial or sphere, immediately acknowledge that it is the result of reason and understanding: and yet, when we behold the heavens, so admirably contrived, moved with such incredible velocity, and finishing their anniversary revolutions, with such unerring constancy, make any doubt of their being the work, not only of reason, but of an excellent, a divine reason?

But if from that very imperfect knowledge of astronomy which his time afforded, even the heathen could be so confident, that the heavenly bodies were framed and moved by a wise and understanding mind: what would he have said, had he been acquainted with our modern discoveries? Had he known the immense greatness of that part of the world, which falls under our observation? The exquisite regulation of the motions of the planets, without any deviation or confusion: the inexpressible nicety of adjustment, in the velocity of the earth’s annual motion; the wonderful proportion of its diurnal motion about its own axis; the densities of the [page 41] planets, exactly proportioned to their distances from the sun: the admirable order of the several satellites, which move round their respective planets; the motion of the comets equally regular and periodical, with that of the other planetary bodies; and lastly, the preservation of the several planets and comets, from falling upon, or interfering with each other? Certainly could argument avail, Atheism would now be utterly ashamed to shew its head, and forced to acknowledge, that it was an eternal and almighty Being, it was God alone, who gave to each of the celestial bodies, its proper magnitude and measure of heat, its dueness of distance, and regularity of motion: or in the language of the prophet, who established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the Heavens by his understanding.

Let us pause here and take stock. In the passage above, Wesley evidently considers the “proper end” of “natural philosophy” to be the knowledge of God (whom he refers to as an “eternal and almighty Being,” and the “divine architect”). He is even clearer about this point in Volume I, Introduction, Section 1, page 2 of his five-volume work, A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation, where he declares: “Natural philosophy treats of both God himself, and of His creatures, visible and invisible.” Prior to the 19th century, the term “natural philosophy” was the common term used to describe the practice of studying nature; it was the precursor to the natural sciences as we know them today. The term “scientist” was not used until 1834, when William Whewell coined it. Wesley’s assertion that God falls within the scope of natural philosophy indicates that he would have utterly rejected methodological naturalism, which excludes God from science.

In the foregoing passage, Wesley declares that the “incredible constancy of the heavenly bodies and their motions” provides “incontestable proof of a divine architect.” He thinks that the evidence we have for God’s existence is far superior to the “very imperfect” evidence which was available to the ancients. Wesley would clearly be unimpressed by the modern argument that science is closing the gaps, and gradually explaining away the evidence for God. On the contrary, Wesley firmly believes that the evidence for God is getting stronger with every passing day, as science advances.

Wesley also believes the age of the Earth to be “six thousand years.” That makes him a Biblical literalist, as his commentary on Genesis 1 confirms. Wesley’s views on the age of the Earth were the same as those of Luther, Calvin and the authors of the Westminster Confession.

But Wesley hasn’t finished yet; he is just getting warmed up. Having identified proofs of God’s wisdom in the heavens, he attempts to identify signs of the Creator on Earth, which he regards as tailor-made to support life, in all its glorious variety.

If from the firmament we descend to the orb on which we dwell, what a glorious proof have we of the divine wisdom, in this intermediate expansion of the air, which is so wonderfully contrived, to answer so many important ends at once! It receives and supports clouds, to water the earth. It affords us winds, for health, for pleasure, for a thousand conveniences: by its spring, it ministers to the respiration of animals ; by its motion to the conveyance of sounds; and by its transparency, to the transmission of light, from one end of Heaven to the other. Whose power made so thin and fluid an element, a safe repository for thunder and lightning? By whose command, and out of whose treasuries, are these dreadful, yet useful meteors sent forth, to purify the air, which would otherwise stagnate, and consume the vapours that would otherwise breed various diseases? By what skilful hand are those immense quantities of water, which are continually drawn from the sea, by a natural distillation made fresh, sent forth upon the wings of the wind, into the most distant countries, and distributed in showers over the face of the earth ?

Whose power and wisdom was it that hanged the earth upon nothing, and gave it a spherical figure, the most commodious which could be devised, both for the [page 42] consistency of it parts, and the velocity of its motion? Who was it that weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, and disposed them in their most proper places, both for fruitfulness and health? Who diversified the climates of the earth into such an agreeable variety, that, remote as they are from each other, each has its proper seasons, day and night, winter and summer? Who was it that clothed the face of it with plants and flowers so exquisitely adorned with various and inimitable beauties? That placed the plant in the seed, in such elegant complications, as afford at once both a pleasing and an astonishing spectacle? That painted and perfumed the flowers, that gave them the sweet odours which they diffuse through the air for our delight, and with one and the same water dyed them into different colours, surpassing the imitation, nay, and the comprehension of mankind? For can the wisest of men tell,

“Why does one climate and one soil endue
The blushing poppy with a crimson hue.
Yet leave the lilly pale, and tinge the violet blue?”

The microscopic mite Lorryia formosa (Tydeidae). Wesley cited the mite as a splendid illustration of God’s intricate design of Nature.

In the following passage, Wesley defends a very robust form of Intelligent Design: he insists that each and every organ, in each and every creature, was designed for a purpose, and he appeals to the intricate design of even the smallest creature as evidence of an intelligent Creator.

Who replenished the earth, the water, the air, with such an infinite variety of living creatures, and so formed, that of the innumerable particulars wherein each creature differs from all others, every one is found upon examination to have its singular beauty and peculiar use. Some walk, some creep, some fly, some swim. But every one has all its members and its various organs accurately fitted for its peculiar motions. In short, the stateliness of the horse and the feathers of the swan, the largeness of the elephant and the smallness of the mite, are to a considerate mind equal demonstration of an infinite wisdom and power. Nay, rather the smaller the creature is, the more amazing is the workmanship. When in the mite, for instance, we see a head, a body, legs and feet, all as well proportioned as those of an elephant, and consider withal that in every part of this living atom there are muscles, nerves, veins, arteries, [page 43] and blood; every particle of which blood is composed of various other particles: when we consider all this, can we help being lost in wonder and astonishment? One cannot refrain from crying out on this account also, O the depth, of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his works and his ways of creation and providence past finding out!

Next, Wesley argues that animals’ unerring instincts afford further proof of the existence of a wise Creator:

Natural instinct is another thing in animals no less wonderful than their frame; and is indeed nothing else than the direction of an all-wise and all-powerful mind. What else teaches birds, to build their nests, hard or soft, according to the constitution of their young? What else makes them keep so constantly in their nest during; the time of incubation, as if they knew the efficacy of their own warmth, and its aptness for animation. What else causes the salmon every year to come up a river, perhaps hundreds of miles, to cast its spawn, and secure it in banks of sand till the young ones are excluded? To go no farther, can we behold the spider’s net, the silkworm’s web, the bee’s cells, or the ant’s granaries, without being forced to acknowledge the infinite wisdom which directs their unerring steps, and has made them fit to be an emblem of art, industry, and frugality, to mankind?

Having identified abundant signs of God’s design in the earth and its creatures, Wesley proceeds to argue that the oceans are also fine-tuned to support life, and especially human life:

If, from the earth, and the creatures that live upon it, we cast our eyes upon the water, we soon perceive that had it been more or less rarefied, it had not been so proper for the use of man. And who gave it that just configuration of parts and exact degree of motion, which makes it so fluent, and yet so strong as to carry and waft away the most enormous burdens? Who has instructed the rivers to run in so many winding streams through vast tracts of land, in order to water them the more plentifully? Then to disembogue themselves into the ocean, so making it the common centre of commerce, and thence to return, through the earth and air, to their fountain heads, in one perpetual circulation? Who replenished these rivers with fish of all kinds, which [page 44] glide through the limpid streams, and run heedlessly into the fisher’s net, for the entertainment of men? The great and wide sea is a very awful and stupendous work of God, Whose hands make it ebb and flow now with such exactness? A little more or less motion in the fluid mass would disorder all nature, and a small increase of a tide, might ruin whole kingdoms. Who then was so wise as to take exact measures of those immense bodies, and who so strong as to rule at pleasure the rage of that furious element? He who hath placed the sand for the bound of these, by a perpetual decree that it cannot pass. So that though the waves thereof toss themselves, they cannot prevail, though they roar they cannot pass over it.

Michelangelo’s statue of David. Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. John Wesley likened the improbability of human evolution to that of a statue of a man arising by chance. Image courtesy of Jörg Bittner Unna and Wikipedia.

Wesley now comes to the climax of his argument: the magnificent design of the human body. Wesley argues that regardless of whether the human body arose “immediately from the ground” or “by degrees… in some succession of time,” it must have been fashioned by an infinitely wise Creator. Additionally, human beings possess a “reasonable principle,” or spiritual soul, which distinguishes them from the beasts. The human soul could only have been created by God:

If, from the world itself, we turn our eyes more particularly on man, whom it hath pleased the Lord of all to appoint for its principal inhabitant, no understanding surely can be so low, no heart so stupid and insensible, as not plainly to see that nothing but infinite wisdom could in so wonderful a manner have fashioned his body, and breathed into it a reasonable soul, whereby he teacheth us more than the beasts of the field, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven.

Should any of us see a lump of clay rise immediately from the ground into the complete figure of a man, full of beauty and symmetry, and endowed with all the powers and faculties which we perceive in ourselves, yea, and that in a more eminent degree of perfection than any of the present children of men; should we presently after observe him perform all the offices of life, sense and reason; move as gracefully, talk as eloquently, reason as justly, and discharge every branch of duty with as as much accuracy as the most accomplished man breathing, how great must be our astonishment! Now this was the very case in that moment when God created man upon the earth.

But to impress this in a more lively manner upon the mind, let us suppose the figure above mentioned rises by degrees, and is finished part by part in some succession of time. When the whole is completed, the veins and arteries bored, the sinews and tendons laid, the joints fitted, the blood and juices lodged in the vessels prepared for them, God infuses into it a vital principle. The image moves, it walks, it speaks. Were we to see all this transacted before our eyes, we could not but be astonished; A consideration of this made David break out into that rapturous acknowledgment, I will give thee thanks, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made! Marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. Thine eyes did see my substance yet being imperfect, and in thy book were all my members written.

Wesley triumphantly concludes his discourse with a paean of praise for the Creator:

Thus, which way soever we turn our eyes, whether we look upward or downward, without us or within us, upon the animate or inanimate parts of the creation, we find abundant reason to say, Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.

Let us observe a little farther the terraqueous globe: how admirably are all things thereon chained together, that they may all aim at the ultimate end which God proposed in all his works! And how vast a number of intermediate ends are subservient to this! To perpetuate the established course of nature in a continued series, the Divine Wisdom has thought fit that all living creatures should constantly be employed in producing individuals, that all natural things should lend a helping hand toward preserving every species, and lastly, that the destruction of one thing should always conduce to the production of another.

The foregoing passages establish beyond all doubt that Wesley was a firm believer in Intelligent Design. First, he believed in a universe that was fine-tuned for life; second, he believed each and every organ in each and every creature had been specially designed by God; and most importantly, he believed that there was scientific evidence to support these claims, making atheism an untenable option for any reasonable person: “Certainly could argument avail, Atheism would now be utterly ashamed to shew its head, and forced to acknowledge, that it was an eternal and almighty Being, it was God alone, who gave to each of the celestial bodies, its proper magnitude and measure of heat, its dueness of distance, and regularity of motion: or in the language of the prophet, who established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the Heavens by his understanding.”

Wesley on man, the ape and the scala naturae: was he a proto-evolutionist?

In Volume IV, part V, page 50 of his work, A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation, Wesley proceeds to quote from an abridged version of a work by a scholar named Charles Bonnet, titled, “The Contemplation of Nature,” which deals with the scala naturae, or Great Chain of Being. Shortly before he does so, Wesley includes a final reflection of his own on the subject:

I shall add only one reflection more, with regard to the scale of beings. As the microscope discovers almost every drop of water, every blade of grass, every lea flower, and grain of earth, to be swarming with inhabitants: a thinking mind is naturally led to consider that part of the scale of beings, which descends lower and lower, from himself, to the lowest of all sensitive creatures. Among these some are so little above dead matter, that it is hard to determine whether they live or no. Others that are lifted one step higher, have no sense beside feeling and taste. Some again have the additional one of hearing: others of smell, and others of sight…

The whole progress of nature is so gradual, that the entire chasm from a plant to man, is filled up with divers kinds of creatures, rising one above another, by so gentle an ascent, that the transitions from one species to another, are almost insensible. And the intermediate space is so well husbanded, that there is scarce a degree of perfection which does not appear in some. Now [page 48] since the scale of being advances by such regular steps as high as man, is it not probable, that it still proceeds gradually upwards, through beings of a superior nature? As there is an infinitely greater space between the Supreme Being and man, than between man and the lowest insect.

This thought is thus enlarged upon by Mr. Lock [the philosopher John Locke – VJT]:

“That there should be more species of intelligent creatures above us than there are of sensible and material below us is probable from hence, that in all the visible and corporeal world we see no chasm, no gaps. All quite down from man, the descent is by easy steps: there is a continued series of things that in each remove differ the least that can be conceived from each other…”Now, when we consider, on the other hand, the infinite power and wisdom of the Creator, does it not appear highly suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the infinite goodness of the architect, that the species of creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upwards from us (as they gradually descend from us downwards), towards his infinite perfection? And if [page 49] so, is it not probable there are far more species of creatures above than beneath us? since we are infinitely more remote from the all-perfect Creator than from the lowest of all the works of his hands?

“But here our thoughts are lost. We may conjecture a little; but we know nothing. However, it is enough that we know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.

Taken together, Wesley’s assertions that “the transitions from one species to another, are almost insensible,” and that “the scale of being advances by such regular steps as high as man,” seem to suggest that he would have embraced Darwin’s theory of evolution, had he lived to read about it. In his 1871 work, The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some ape-like creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term “man” ought to be used.” (Volume I, Chapter VII, page 235. London: John Murray, 1st edition, 1871.) Wesley seems to be pre-figuring Darwin in the passage above.

Gregoire, a 62-year-old chimpanzee, pictured in 2006. Image courtesy of Delphine Bruyère and Wikipedia.

Wesley is even more explicit in Volume I of his five-volume work, A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy, originally published in 1763. In Volume 1, Part II (of Brutes), Chapter 1 (Of Beasts), section 10 (Of some particular sorts of beats), pages 181 to 183, where he remarks on the strong physical and mental affinities between man and other primates, especially the apes:

We now come to a numerous tribe, that seem to make approaches even to humanity; that bear an awkward resemblance to the human form, and discover the same faint efforts at intellectual sagacity.

Animals of the MONKEY class are furnished with hands instead of paws; their ears, eyes, eye-lids, lips, and breasts, are like those of mankind; their internal conformation also bears some distant likeness; and the whole offers a picture that may mortify the pride of such as make their persons the principle objects of their admiration.

These approaches, however, are gradual and some bear the marks of our form, more strongly than others.

In the Ape-kind, We see the whole external machine strongly impressed with the human likeness; these walk upright, want a tail, have fleshy posteriors, have calves to their legs, and feet nearly like ours.

In the Baboon-kind, we perceive a more distant approach; the beast mixing in every part of the animal’s figure: these generally go upon all fours; but some, when upright, are as tall as a man they have short tails, long snouts, and are possessed of brutal fierceness.

The Monkey-kind are removed a step further: these are much less; with tails as long as their bodies, and flattish faces…

The Baboon, is from three to four feet high, very strong built, with a thick body and limbs, and canine teeth, much longer than those of men. It walks more commonly upon all fours than upright, and its hands as well as its feet are armed with long, sharp claws, instead of the broad, round nails, of the ape kind.

At the Cape of Good Hope, they are under a sort of natural discipline, and go about whatever they undertake with surprising skill and regularity. When they set about robbing an orchard or vineyard, for they are extremely fond of grapes and apples, they go in large companies, and with preconcerted deliberation; part of them enter the enclosure, while one is set to watch.…..

The CHIMPANAZE [chimpanzee – VJT] is an animal found in Angola, nearly approaching to the human figure; but of fierce disposition, and remarkably mischievous. In the year 1738, one of these creatures was brought over to England. It was about twenty months old. [The parent had it in her arms when she was killed: she was five feet high.] It was of the female sex, naturally walked erect, was hairy on some part of the body and limbs, and of a strong, muscular make. It would eat any coarse food, but was very fond of tea, which it drank out of a cup, with milk and sugar, as, we do. It slept in the manner of the human species, and its voice resembled the human, when people speak very hastily; but without any articulate sounds.

There are two ways in which one might interpret the foregoing passages. One approach, which I shall call the “gradationist” approach, construes Wesley as arguing that there are no hard-and-fast boundaries between the various kinds of creatures, and that the difference between man and the apes is one of degree. On this approach, it would be natural to suppose that over the course of time, an ape-like creature could evolve into a human being.

The other approach, which I’ll refer to as the “hierarchical” approach, views the universe as a Great Chain of being, filled with creatures exhibiting every possible grade of perfection between the highest and the lowest entities. These grades of perfection, however, do not blur into one another; the boundaries between them are quite real. Even if the ladder of Nature ascends by small steps, as Wesley maintained, only God can elevate Nature from one level of perfection to the next. On this view, the existence of animals very similar to man carries no implication that they (or rather, their ancestors) evolved into man.

The first person who defended the gradationist approach was William H. Mills, in an 1893 lecture titled, John Wesley An Evolutionist, which was subsequently turned into a booklet and then published in the Popular Science Monthly in 1894. Mills attempted to argue that Wesley had actually endorsed a version of evolution, citing a key passage in Wesley’s work, A Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation, in which the ape is described as a “rough draught of man; this rude sketch, an imperfect representation which nevertheless bears a resemblance to him and is the last creature that serves to display the admirable progression of the works of God.” However, as Randy Maddox has pointed out in an article titled, “John Wesley’s Precedent for Theological Engagement with the Natural Sciences,” Western Theological Journal 44.1 (Spring 2009:23-54), the key passage cited by Mills comes not from Wesley’s own writing, but from Charles Bonnet’s Contemplation of Nature (which was included in an abridged form in Wesley’s Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation (1763). What’s more, Bonnet himself was not endorsing evolution, but rather the 18th century notion of a “chain of being”, which was static, rather than changing over time. Maddox’s careful scholarship strongly supports the second or “hierachical” approach to interpreting Wesley’s writings.

So, which approach is right? Fortunately, we possess other writings by Wesley which settle the matter, beyond all doubt.

The Two Smoking Guns that prove Wesley was no evolutionist

(a) Wesley on the impossibility of human evolution

Creation of Adam, fresco painted by Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508-1512), Rome, Vatican. Image courtesy of Jörg Bittner Unna and Wikipedia.

Proof that Wesley believed that only a supernatural miracle could have produced the human body can be found in his five-volume work, A survey of the wisdom of God in the creation; or, A compendium of natural philosophy. The passage below is taken from Volume I, Part I, Chapter 4 (Of the Soul, and of the Origin of Man), sections 13 to 15, pages 137-138 (London, W. Flint, 1809 edition). Wesley considers the possibility that humans have always existed, but rejects it, on the grounds that if that were so, the arts to have always existed, which is not the case. Next, he considers the possibility that the human body may have arisen spontaneously, but rejects it, arguing that only God could have assembled the various parts that make up the “machine” that we call the human body, and that only God could have breathed a spiritual soul into that body:

13. How mankind began, is another point, which is too hard for our reason to determine. That men always existed, is no way probable, were it only on this account, the late invention of arts. For since it appears, at what time the most necessary arts were invented, we cannot reasonably suppose, that men began to exist long before that period: seeing, if they had always existed, no reason can be given, why these, and many more arts, were not invented long before. And yet the accounts given of the origin of mankind, by the wisest of the heathen philosophers, are so above measure ridiculous, that they serve as a melancholy proof of the weakness of barely natural reason.

14. The scriptural account is this: God made the body of man out of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life; not only an animal life, but a spiritual principle, created to live for ever. Even his body was then perfect in its kind; neither liable to death nor pain. But what the difference was, between the original and the present body, we cannot determine.

But, to form it even as it is now, no less than a Divine power was requisite. No less could mix earth, water, air, and fire, in so exact a proportion, and then frame so many different parts, of so various figure texture and magnitude. God alone was able to form the original fibres; to weave those fibres into hollow tubes; to dispose these tubes, filled with their several humours and variously interwoven with each other, into different organs: and of those organs connected together in a continued series and due situation, to finish so complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body.

15. Nothing was wanting now, but that the immortal spirit should be sent into its habitation, to bear the image of its Creator, and enjoy his glory. But the manner wherein this was done we cannot tell: this knowledge is too wonderful for us.

The same passage can also be found in a shorter version of Wesley’s work, titled, A Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation: A Compendium of Natural Philosophy in Two Volumes (Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Printed and Published by William Hamilton, 1810; see here for the relevant passage, and scroll down to section 13).

In the passage above, Wesley puts forward two grounds for rejecting the possibility of human evolution. The first is that the human body is such a complicated machine, with so many parts that need to be made in just the right proportions and assembled in the right sequence, that no blind process could have possibly generated it; “God alone” could have done the job. The second is that man is distinguished by his possession of an “immortal spirit” which “bears the image of its Creator.”

The first reason is recognizable as an Intelligent Design-style argument, and I shall not waste time belaboring the point. It is the kind of argument that Richard Dawkins might dismiss as an “Argument from Incredulity” and which others might dismiss as a “God-of-the-gaps” style argument, but which Dr. Stephen Meyer correctly describes as an inference to the best explanation: intelligence is the only agency we know of which is capable of creating such complex contrivances as the human body.

What about Wesley’s insistence that the human soul must have been created by God? What needs to be borne in mind here is that Wesley was a dualist, whose views were much closer to those of Descartes than those of Aristotle, as can be seen from his sermon no. 109, What is Man?, where he rejects the Aristotelian definition of the soul as the principle of life in favor of a Cartesian definition of the soul as the principle of thought, sense, feeling and voluntary motion:

6. But by what means shall I learn in what part of my body this thinking principle is lodged? Some eminent men have affirmed, that it is “all in all, and all in every part.” But I learn nothing from this: They seem to be words that have no determinate meaning. Let us then appeal, in the best manner we can, to our own experience. From this I learn, that this thinking principle is not lodged in my hands, or feet, or legs, or arms. It is not lodged in the trunk of my body. Any one may be assured of this by a little reflection. I cannot conceive that it is situated in my bones, or in any part of my flesh. So far as I can judge, it seems to be situated in some part of my head; but whether in the pineal gland, or in any part of the brain, I am not able to determine.

7. But farther: This inward principle, wherever it is lodged, is capable, not only of thinking, but likewise of love, hatred, joy, sorrow, desire, fear, hope, &c., and a whole train of other inward emotions, which are commonly called passions or affections They are styled, by a general appellation, the will; and are mixed and diversified a thousand ways. And they seem to be the only spring of action in that inward principle I call the soul….

8. But what is my soul? … I cannot reconcile myself to the thought, that the soul is either earth, water, or fire; or a composition of all of them put together; were it only for this plain reason: — All these, whether separate or compounded in any possible way, are purely passive still. None of them has the least power of self-motion; none of them can move itself… But my soul has from Him an inward principle of motion, whereby it governs at pleasure every part of the body.

9. It governs every motion of the body; only with this exception, which is a marvellous instance of the wise and gracious providence of the great Creator: There are some motions of the body, which are absolutely needful for the continuance of life; such as the dilation and contraction of the lungs, the systole and diastole of the heart, the pulsation of the arteries, and the circulation of the blood. These are not governed by me at pleasure: They do not wait the direction of my will...

10. But what am I? Unquestionably I am something distinct from my body. It seems evident that my body is not necessarily included therein. For when my body dies, I shall not die: I shall exist as really as I did before. And I cannot but believe, this self-moving, thinking principle, with all its passions and affections, will continue to exist, although the body be mouldered into dust. Indeed at present this body is so intimately connected with the soul. that I seem to consist of both. In my present state of existence, I undoubtedly consist both of soul and body: And so I shall again, after the resurrection, to all eternity.

Wesley’s argument, in a nutshell, is that the human soul, being capable of self-motion (or voluntary movement), cannot be material, from which it follows (he thinks) that it must therefore be spiritual. Since the soul is spiritual, it must have been created by God.

It goes without saying that spiritual views of human nature like Wesley’s are fundamentally at odds with Darwinism and with any modern-day theory of evolution. The reason for this incompatibility is that the modern scientific theory of evolution purports to be a complete theory of life on Earth: it claims to account for life on Earth, in all its infinite variety, just as atomic theory claims to be a complete theory of chemistry. But the term “life on Earth” includes human beings. For evolutionists to acknowledge the reality of a spiritual soul would be tantamount to them admitting that evolution isn’t a complete theory, after all.

This tension between Wesley’s dualism and modern science is magnified a million-fold when we consider the fact that Wesley, in his sermon no. 60, On the General Deliverance, maintains that the animals also possess a rudimentary capacity for reasoning (or understanding), as well as “liberty, a power of choice”: only the knowledge of God separates man from the beasts. (Evidently, Wesley did not share Descartes’ dim view of animals’ mental capacities: he thinks it is as obvious that the brutes have understanding, as that they have sight or hearing.) Wesley further maintains that all of the animals will be raised to life again at the General Resurrection, and he speculates that they will be endowed with additional powers which they do not possess at present: they will become aware of God, as we are now, while we will become like angels.

Any modern-day evolutionist, upon hearing of Wesley’s spiritualized view of animal life, would laugh in scorn at the very notion that Wesley’s view could be reconciled with the tenets of evolutionary theory, which leaves no room even for the human spirit, let alone animal spirits.

(b) Wesley denounced Buffon’s theory of evolution as atheistic

The second piece of evidence showing that Wesley would have rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution comes from a review he wrote of an eighteenth century work, which put forward a modest version of the theory of evolution. It was far from being a full-fledged theory: for instance, Buffon considered but ultimately rejected the notion of the common ancestry of humans and apes. Neverthless, in volume 14 of the French edition of his work (see here for an English translation), Buffon contended that all of the world’s 200 species of quadrupeds had developed from an original set of just thirty-eight quadrupeds. (See Roger, Jacques 1989. Buffon: un philosophe au Jardin du Roi, Paris: Fayard, pp. 434–435.) For this reason, he is viewed by some authors as a “transformist” and a forerunner of Darwin’s.

Wesley vigorously denounced the theory of evolution advocated by the Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), when an abridged two-volume edition of Buffon’s Natural History was translated into English and published in 1782 (nine years before Wesley’s death). In a cutting review of Buffon’s work, which he wrote at the grand old age of 79, Wesley categorically rejected Buffon’s theory for what he saw as its implicit atheism.

After reviewing the first volume of Buffon’s two-volume work, and critiquing Buffon’s outlandish geological theories, Wesley shifts his attention to the second volume, which discusses the origin of the Earth’s living creatures. The first thing which Wesley takes exception to is Buffon’s denial of the reality of essential differences in Nature. Wesley insists that there is a fundamental distinction between animals, which are sentient and capable of voluntary motion, and plants, which are not:

Vol. ii. The Count’s theory of the Earth is wild and whimsical enough, but it is innocent. I cannot say so much for his theory of generation, which I take to be utterly inconsistent with both reason and Scripture. To prepare the way for it, he first endeavors to confound the distinction between animals and vegetables; between which all men but himself know that there is an essential, unalterable difference; every animal having a degree of self-motion and sensation; neither of which any vegetable has. Then he substitutes for the plain word generation a word of his own, reproduction, in order to level man not only with the beasts that perish, but with nettles or onions.
(The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VII; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; “Remarks on the Count de Buffon’s ‘Natural History’”, page 443.)

In his work, Buffon also proposed that every complex organism contained within its body an abundance of tiny particles, each of which was sufficient to generate the organism from scratch – a proposal which Wesley derided as fanciful and criticized as atheistic:

Show me, who can, any animal, but a polypus [a piece of coral – VJT], which has “a power of multiplying by all its parts.” Till then, the foundation for this whole theory totters. Till then, we cannot believe that “there exists in Nature an infinity of organic, living particles, of the same substance with organized beings” (p. 18): a position that leads directly to Atheism.
(The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VII; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; “Remarks on the Count de Buffon’s ‘Natural History’”, page 443.)

The reason why Wesley viewed Buffon’s “Russian-doll” theory of complexity as atheistic was that in endeavoring to account for the complexity of organic life, it substituted an infinite regress of smaller and smaller parts for a chain of explanation leading back to a Creator – thereby doing away with the need for God. (Of course, Wesley could have also pointed out that an infinite regress of explanations is no explanation at all.)

However, the principal theological ground for Wesley’s attack on Buffon appears to have been the latter’s “denial of any final causes in the world: (p. 69),” prompting Wesley to comment, “this is Atheism barefaced.” “For,” he continued, “if God did not create all things for determinate ends, he did not create them at all.” Wesley found the theological implications of Buffon’s non-teleological account of Nature profoundly offensive.

The question of whether Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is teleological is a complex one. Darwin certainly did not believe in the Paleyan notion of teleology, as something imposed on creatures from outside, by their Creator; on the other hand, Darwin warmly endorsed a letter by Asa Gray (“Scientific Worthies: Charles Darwin,” Nature 10 (June 4, 1874): 81), praising Darwin for having wedded morphology to teleology, writing to Gray in a letter dated June 5, 1874: “What you say about Teleology pleases me especially, and I do not think any one else has ever noticed the point. I have always said you were the man to hit the nail on the head.” (The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959, p. 367.)

Be that as it may, what particularly incensed John Wesley about Buffon’s crude theory of evolution was a brief passage in Volume II of Buffon’s work, in which he asserted that the bodies of humans and other animals contain a large number of vestigial organs. Buffon stoutly declared: “In most beings, there are fewer useful or necessary parts than those which are useless or redundant.” Wesley wrote in reply:

He that asserts this, must totally deny a wise Creator: consequently, he must either believe that chance created the world, or that it existed from eternity. In either case, he denies the being of a God. I cannot, therefore, but place the Count de Buffon as far beneath Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hume, (all of whom acknowledge the being of a God), in religion as in understanding.
(The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume VII; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; “Remarks on the Count de Buffon’s ‘Natural History’”, page 445.)

Judging from the foregoing passage, Wesley seems to have regarded the existence of vestigial organs in living things as a defeater for the belief in a Creator; no wonder, then, that he fought against it tooth and nail. To Wesley, it seemed self-evident that God is not wasteful, and that He creates nothing in vain. Which prompts us to ask: what would he have made of Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Charles Darwin also maintained in his works, The Origin of Species (1859, 1st edition, pp. 450 ff.) and The Descent of Man (1871, 1st edition, pp. 17ff.), that the bodies of man and other animals contain numerous vestigial organs (or “rudimentary organs,” as Darwin called them). Here, for instance, is what Darwin declares in his Descent of Man, Part I, Chapter I, p. 17 (London: John Murray, 1871, 1st edition): “Not one of the higher animals can be named which does not bear some part in a rudimentary condition; and man forms no exception to the rule.” Such a view would have been anathema to Wesley. Thus we are forced to conclude that Wesley’s verdict on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection would have been just as damning as his verdict on Buffon’s theory.

Even if Wesley had been an evolutionist, he would have rejected Darwinism in favor of divinely guided evolution

Photo of Charles Darwin, taken in 1854. Image courtesy of Henry Maull (1829–1914), John Fox (1832–1907) and Wikipedia.

Some modern-day Methodists might want to argue that if Wesley had lived in the nineteenth century instead of the eighteenth, and if he had read about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which was much more cogently defended than Buffon’s highly speculative theory, he would have finally come round to the idea that living things did indeed evolve from a common stock, and that human beings could have evolved from an ape-like creature without the need for and divine intervention. But even if Wesley had come to accept the common descent of man and other animals, the version of evolution that Wesley would have accepted would have been nothing like the blind, wasteful process envisaged by Darwin.

As we saw above, Wesley insisted that the production of each and every species in Nature, as well as each and every organ in their bodies, was planned and intended by God. Wesley asserts that every species has a vital role in God’s economy of Nature: “To perpetuate the established course of nature in a continued series, the Divine Wisdom has thought fit that all living creatures should constantly be employed in producing individuals, that all natural things should lend a helping hand toward preserving every species, and lastly, that the destruction of one thing should always lead to the production of another.” Additionally, Wesley teaches that every organ in an animal’s body is there for a reason: “Some [creatures] walk, some creep, some fly. But every one has all its members and its various organs accurately fitted for its peculiar motions.”

Were he alive today, Wesley could legitimately argue that in order to generate precisely those species (no more, and no fewer) which God intended, and precisely those organs in their bodies which God intended, without the need for any supernatural intervention, evolution would need to involve a massive degree of of front-loading, from the dawn of the first living cell (in other words, extreme fine-tuning). Only such a fine-tuned process could produce all of the organs and the creatures intended by God, and no more, without any theologically wasteful vestigial organs, mal-designed organs, or new species arising by accident.

In addition, Wesley could have pointed out that the existence of God could be rationally deduced on scientific grounds, even within an evolutionary schema. The fact that there are laws of Nature which permit the evolution of not only life, but also sentient life and even intelligent life, within our cosmos, is remarkable in itself. Given a mindless universe governed by chance, there is no reason why we would expect such a happy outcome.

Finally, since he firmly believed in the Divine creation of the human soul, Wesley would have insisted that God must have infused a spiritual soul into the body of the first human being, and into the body of every human being who has lived since then. This is not Darwin’s secular version of evolution: it is much more like Wallace’s “Intelligent Design” version.

Did John Wesley believe that a civil society ought to be tolerate atheism?

John Locke’s views on toleration

John Locke’s Kit-cat portrait by Godfrey Kneller, National Portrait Gallery, London. Image courtesy of Stephen C. Dickson and Wikipedia.

The Whig philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) advocated the public toleration of a very wide range of religious opinions, in his Letter on Toleration (1689). Nevertheless, Locke believed that there were two classes of people whose religious views were profoundly anti-social, and therefore ought not be tolerated. In both cases, the criterion Locke invoked was the same: can people belonging to these religious groups be relied upon to keep their promises – and in particular, promises made to outsiders? The first class of people whose views should not be tolerated were those whose religion required them to subject themselves to a foreign ruler, who could absolve them at will of any obligations they may have towards those outside their faith. In Locke’s view, Catholics and Muslims fell into this category. Both the Pope and the Ottoman Emperor (Locke believed) possessed absolute spiritual power over their followers, and could therefore order them to assassinate, or disavow loyalty to, any political leader, anywhere in the world, under pain of eternal damnation. What made these two faiths dangerous was not their beliefs or practices as such, but the simple fact that the promises of their followers could not be trusted. (The maxim, “No faith is to be kept faith with heretics,” was widely attributed to Catholics by Protestants in Locke’s day, on account of the Council of Constance’s treatment of John Huss, who was burned at the stake in 1415 after being guaranteed safe-conduct: for another point of view see here.) Second, atheists should not be tolerated, since they had no fear of Divine retribution if they broke their promises. Hence, argued Locke, “[p]romises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

I say, first, no opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate. But of these, indeed, examples in any Church are rare…

Another more secret evil, but more dangerous to the commonwealth, is when men arrogate to themselves, and to those of their own sect, some peculiar prerogative covered over with a specious show of deceitful words, but in effect opposite to the civil right of the community. For example: we cannot find any sect that teaches, expressly and openly, that men are not obliged to keep their promise; that princes may be dethroned by those that differ from them in religion; or that the dominion of all things belongs only to themselves… But, nevertheless, we find those that say the same things in other words. What else do they mean who teach that faith is not to be kept with heretics? Their meaning, forsooth, is that the privilege of breaking faith belongs unto themselves; for they declare all that are not of their communion to be heretics, or at least may declare them so whensoever they think fit. What can be the meaning of their asserting that kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms?

Again: That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince.… Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience; especially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the absolute authority of the same person, who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles of that religion according to his pleasure…

Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.

It is important to recognize that for his time, Locke was a liberal political thinker. The view, generally held today, that the state ought to tolerate atheism was a very extreme one, back in the eighteenth century, and it was defended by only a handful of freethinkers in Wesley’s day. As Jonathan Israel has documented in his book, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2011), such notions as freedom of thought and expression, the abolition of censorship, universal religious tolerance, and individual liberty in private matters, were the product of a clandestine fringe movement that Israel refers to as the Radical Enlightenment, which emerged on the Continent during the revolutionary decades of the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s, in opposition to the more moderate Enlightenment that was currently dominant in Europe and America. The philosophical hero if the Radical Enlightenment was not Voltaire, but the Dutch philosopher Spinoza, an apostate from Judaism.

How did John Wesley’s views on toleration compare with Locke’s?

The question which we have to decide here, then, is whether John Wesley shared the views of the liberal Whig thinker, John Locke, or whether he advocated toleration of all religious views, like the revolutionary thinkers who belonged to the Radical Enlightenment. The evidence available clearly suggests that Wesley shared Locke’s opposition to public toleration of either Catholics or atheists.

Certainly, Wesley was no narrow-minded sectarian. His Letter to a Roman Catholic (1749) is brimming with the spirit of charity. He writes: “I hope to see you in heaven… Then, if we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike… In the name, then, and in the strength of God, let us resolve, first, not to hurt one another; to do nothing unkind or unfriendly to each other, nothing which we would not have done to ourselves.” In his sermon no. 125, On Living without God, Wesley went even further: he declared that even “heathens” (a term used in Wesley’s day to denote pagans and idolaters) might be saved:

“From hence we may clearly perceive the wide difference there is between Christianity and morality. Indeed, nothing can be more sure than that true Christianity cannot exist without both the inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth; and this alone is given in morality. But it is equally certain that all morality, all the justice, mercy and truth which can possibly exist without Christianity, profiteth nothing at all, is of no value in the sight of God, to those that are under the Christian dispensation. Let it be observed, I purposely add, ‘to those that are under the Christian dispensation’, because I have no authority from the Word of God ‘to judge those that are without’. Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh’; who is the God of the heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.”…

15. Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, “no man shall see the Lord;” but I dare not add, “or clear ideas.”

(a) Wesley agreed with Locke in opposing the public toleration of Catholics

However, Wesley’s charity towards individuals did not always make him tolerant of their beliefs.
Wesley’s opposition to tolerating Catholics is a matter of public record. His reason for not tolerating Catholics was the same as Locke’s: he viewed them as untrustworthy:

“Let there be as ‘boundless a freedom in religion’ as any man can conceive…. yet I insist on it, that no government not Roman Catholic ought to tolerate men of the Roman Catholic persuasion.… That no Roman Catholic does, or can, give security for his allegiance, I prove thus: It is a Roman Catholic maxim, established bot by private men, but by a public council, that ‘no faith is to be kept with heretics.’
(The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume V; First American Complete and Standard Edition, edited by John Emory; New York, W. Naughton and T. Mason, 1835; “A Letter to the Printer of the Public Advertiser,” p. 817.)

(b) Why Wesley would never have publicly tolerated atheists

What did Wesley think about atheists? Some author have pointed to his sermon no. 102, Of Former Times (1787), in which Wesley praised the secular governments of France, Germany and North America, whose policies allowed true Christianity to flourish, alongside Deism. Wesley had especially warm words for the American government:

20. If it be said, “Why, this is the fruit of the general infidelity, the Deism which has overspread all Europe,” I answer, Whatever be the cause, we have reason greatly to rejoice in the effect: And if the all-wise God has brought so great and universal a good out of this dreadful evil, so much the more should we magnify his astonishing power, wisdom, and goodness herein. Indeed, so far as we can judge, this was the most direct way whereby nominal Christians could be prepared, first, for tolerating, and afterwards, for receiving, real Christianity. While the governors were themselves unacquainted with it, nothing but this could induce them to suffer it. O the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; causing a total disregard for all religion, to pave the way for the revival of the only religion which was worthy of God! I am not assured whether this be the case or no in France and Germany; but it is so beyond all contradiction in North-America: The total indifference of the government there, whether there be any religion or none, leaves room for the propagation of true, scriptural religion, without the least let or hindrance.

However, there is no indication that Wesley believed that atheists (as opposed to Deists) should be free to advocate their views in public.

What’s more, we know from Wesley’s own writings that Wesley’s regard for atheists was very low indeed: he equated them with animals. He says as much in his sermon no. 60, On the General Deliverance, in which he discusses the vital attribute which separates man from the animals. Wesley argues that it is the knowledge of God (and not reason or free will, both of which animals possess to some degree) that distinguishes man from the beasts. Atheists, in wilfully renouncing this knowledge, degrade themselves to the level of the beasts:

II. 4. But what blessings were those that were then conveyed through man to the lower creatures What was the original state of the brute creatures, when they were first created? This deserves a more attentive consideration than has been usually given it. It is certain these, as well as man, had an innate principle of self-motion; and that, at least, in as high a degree as they enjoy it at this day. Again: They were endued with a degree of understanding; not less than that they are possessed of now. They had also a will, including various passions, which, likewise, they still enjoy: And they had liberty, a power of choice; a degree of which is still found in every living creature. Nor can we doubt but their understanding too was, in the beginning, perfect in its kind. Their passions and affections were regular, and their choice always guided by their understanding.

5. What then is the barrier between men and brutes the line which they cannot pass? It was not reason. Set aside that ambiguous term: Exchange it for the plain word, understanding: and who can deny that brutes have this? We may as well deny that they have sight or hearing. But it is this: Man is capable of God; the inferior creatures are not. We have no ground to believe that they are, in any degree, capable of knowing, loving, or obeying God. This is the specific difference between man and brute; the great gulf which they cannot pass over.….

III. 11. From what has been said, I cannot but draw one inference, which no man of reason can deny. If it is this which distinguishes men from beasts, — that they are creatures capable of God, capable of knowing and loving and enjoying him; then whoever is “without God in the world,” whoever does not know or love or enjoy God, and is not careful about the matter, does, in effect, disclaim the nature of man, and degrade himself into a beast. Let such vouchsafe a little attention to those remarkable words of Solomon: “I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, — They might see that they themselves are beasts.” (Eccles. 3:18.) These sons of men are undoubtedly beasts; and that by their own act and deed; for they deliberately and wilfully disclaim the sole characteristic of human nature. It is true, they may have a share of reason; they have speech, and they walk erect; but they have not the mark, the only mark, which totally separates man from the brute creation.
(Sermon 60. Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.)

Since beasts are not granted political rights, it follows that Wesley could not possibly have envisaged granting political rights of any sort to atheists – especially not the right to propagate their views in public, thereby turning other men into beasts.

Would Wesley have supported the teaching of Intelligent Design in public school science classrooms?

Three beakers, an Erlenmeyer flask, a graduated cylinder and a volumetric flask. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since Wesley regarded atheism as a poisonous and dehumanizing philosophy, we can be reasonably certain that he would have viewed the instilment of belief in God – defined broadly as an infinitely wise and powerful Being – into the minds of children as one of the chief tasks of public education. By instilling such a belief, the State is protecting its young and impressionable citizens from the danger of back-sliding to the level of beasts, making them a menace to society.

Obviously, the best way of instilling belief in God into the minds of students would be to present them with intellectually compelling rational, scientific arguments for the existence of God. As we saw above, Wesley was firmly convinced that such arguments existed: he declared that the “unerring constancy” in the movements of heavenly bodies afforded “incontestable proof” of the existence of God, on purely scientific grounds, and he also asserted that anyone who sees a machine – especially such a “complicated and wonderful a machine as the human body” – must “immediately acknowledge that it is the result of reason and understanding.” It therefore follows that Wesley would have had no principled objection to the propagation of Intelligent Design theory, or to it being taught in public schools. In short: there can be no reasonable grounds for doubting that John Wesley would have wanted Intelligent Design theory taught in public school science classrooms.

The writings of Wesley’s radical contemporaries furnish us with an additional reason for believing that Wesley would have endorsed the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools. As I mentioned above, even the eighteenth century American freethinker Thomas Paine (pictured above, courtesy of Wikipedia), whose political and religious views were far more radical than Wesley’s, held that Intelligent Design ought to be taught in schools. In a speech given in Paris to the Society of Theophilanthropists (who simply believed in God and in a hereafter), at what was probably their first public meeting, on January 16, 1797, Paine criticized what he called the “error of the schools,” in teaching science without reference to the Creator. Since he was speaking to a French audience, the target of his criticisms would have been the secular science curriculum that was adopted in revolutionary France. Paine objected to this curriculum, on the grounds that teaching scientific principles without any mention of their Divine Author would dampen students’ intellectual curiosity and foster shallow thinking, which would inevitably lead to atheism:

It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles: he can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the author.

When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well executed statue, or an highly finished painting, where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation, we stop short, and do not think of GOD? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated the study of them from the ‘Being’ who is the author of them…

The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools, in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only, has been that of generating in the pupils a species of Atheism. Instead of looking through the works of creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of his existence…

If a Deistic freethinker like Paine wished for the existence of God to be taught in public school science classrooms, then we can be quite certain that a Methodist preacher like John Wesley have wanted the same. (I might point out in passing that some of the Founding Fathers opposed the theory of evolution – see here and here – but that is a topic for another post.

Conclusion

I have argued that the United Methodist Church leadership’s decision to ban the Discovery Institute from sponsoring an information table at the church’s upcoming General Conference in May 2016 places them at odds with the co-founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The UMC leadership faces a stark choice: it can either choose between succumbing to the prevailing intellectual Zeitgeist, riding rough-shod over free speech and banning the advocates of Intelligent Design from making their case on scientific grounds; or it can return to the spirit of John Wesley, and open its intellectual doors to the case for Intelligent Design. Let us hope that the UMC’s leaders will make the latter choice.

38 Replies to “United Methodist Church leadership contradicts Methodism’s co-founder, John Wesley, on Intelligent Design

  1. 1
  2. 2
    GaryGaulin says:

    In my opinion the Methodist leaders are aware that the Discovery Institute only promotes arguments against another theory, not a scientific theory of their own.

  3. 3
    mw says:

    As a Catholic, who believes at historic Sinai, God stated in a divine law that He created in six days, which He wrote in stone: meaning unalterable; what an enlightening overview on the scriptural foundational beliefs of John Wesley. Thank you.

  4. 4
    DonaldM says:

    First of all, I want to state a public THANK YOU to V.J. Torley for this well researched article. I’m sure it was no easy task to dig out all that background on Wesley. Vince has done a masterful job laying it all out in this article. Secondly, I quite agree that the UMC leadership is faced with a clear, stark choice: embrace their Wesleyan roots, or abandon them to the cultural elites trying to re-shape the UMC in their own image.

  5. 5
    News says:

    GaryGaulin at 2: That isn’t correct, but what if it were? If the other theory is bad, it may be enough to warn people away from it.

    After all, I could set up a table with info against child prostitution and female genital mutilation without being expected to have a definitive answer about what to do.

    This only further: After the Methodists have capitulated to the naturalist atheists, they will simply be kicked around for their pains. They will not have the honour of martyrdom in the Christian tradition.

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    Maybe the DI should apply to host a table on the teachings of John Wesley. 🙂

  7. 7
    larron says:

    The link above doesn’t work. So, once again, with feeling:

    OMG – The Discovery Institute is Committing Censorship!!!11!!1!

    The “Discovery Institute” trembles before the mighty powers of DiEbLog!

    (no, that isn’t meant seriously…)

  8. 8
    Barry Arrington says:

    Thank you Dr. Torley for yet another in a long series of fantastic posts.

  9. 9
    Bob O'H says:

    Not only was he unapologetically pro-Intelligent Design, but he also denounced the theory of evolution as godless.

    Really? Even though he died over half a century before it was published?

    We don’t know what Wesley would have thought of Darwin’s theory, because he was never aware of it. Science advanced a long way in those intervening years. That he did not like one particular theory of evolution (that has long since been abandoned) is hardly relevant.

  10. 10
    vjtorley says:

    Hi DonaldM,

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I hope many people enjoy reading my article.

  11. 11
    vjtorley says:

    Bob O’H,

    Please take the trouble to read what I’ve written. I said that Wesley denounced the theory of evolution; I didn’t say he denounced Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s theory of evolution was by no means the first.

    As for your claim that we don’t know what Wesley would have thought of Darwin’s theory: on the contrary, we can know that, once we are aware of his theological presuppositions. As I pointed out in my Executive Summary (which it seems you haven’t read), one of those presuppositions was that every organ in every creature has to have a purpose (which Darwin’s theory denied) and another was that man has a spiritual soul, and that there was a definite point in history at which the first human soul was infused into a living thing. Darwinism rejects the notion of a spiritual soul, too. The only version of evolution which Wesley might have countenanced is Wallace’s.

  12. 12
    Bob O'H says:

    vjtorley – I did read what you wrote. What other theory of evolution is there than the one that came from Darwin?

    You could have written that he denounced an old theory of evolution, which would be accurate, but you didn’t. You could have written that he denounced the theory of evolution current in his day, but you didn’t. Nowadays the theory of evolution is the one that came out of Darwin’s work.

    If Wesley were around now, he would have had a very different education: he was a product of his time and the world has moved on. Knowing what we know now, would his views be the same? How can we know?

  13. 13
    Flannery says:

    An outstanding post, Dr. Torley! You are quite correct in identifying Wesley and Wallace as kindred spirits on a thoroughly teleological form of evolution. Your learned and detailed exposition demonstrates precisely how the United Methodist Church has lost its Wesleyan compass. Very sad. If these “leaders” weren’t so clueless themselves, they’d be embarrassed.

    Some time back I posted a related piece: http://www.uncommondescent.com.....m-the-pew/. If nothing else it at least adds further support to Torley’s point that indeed we can have a pretty good idea of what Wesley would have thought of an evolutionary theory that, among other things, argued that God was a product of the mind of man stemming from his social development.

    Finally, to GaryGaulin #2, have you not read Meyer’s Signature in the Cell or Dembski’s Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology or Behe’s The Edge of Evolution? Each make clear, positive arguments for ID. It is precisely this lack of familiarity with the concept and the literature that form the basis of the problem.

  14. 14
    mw says:

    Bob O’H # 12.
    “How can we know.”

    We can only assume, that a man of firm faith in Judaeo-Christian scripture would not change, as God does not change (Mal 3:6): while Jesus said, besides “bread, we live by every word from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). He was, I believe, speaking to the self perfection of intelligent evil, Satan.

  15. 15
    Mapou says:

    To Torley, just wow.

    To Bob O’H, the ancient Greeks had a theory of evolution thousands of years before Darwin. Look up Empedocles. As an aside, here’s a little quote from Karl Popper that is relevant:

    “At the same time I realized that such myths may be developed, and become testable; that historically speaking all — or very nearly all — scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories. Examples are Empedocles’ theory of evolution by trial and error, or Parmenides’ myth of the unchanging block universe in which nothing ever happens and which, if we add another dimension, becomes Einstein’s block universe (in which, too, nothing ever happens, since everything is, four-dimensionally speaking, determined and laid down from the beginning). I thus felt that if a theory is found to be non-scientific, or “metaphysical” (as we might say), it is not thereby found to be unimportant, or insignificant, or “meaningless,” or “nonsensical.” But it cannot claim to be backed by empirical evidence in the scientific sense — although it may easily be, in some genetic sense, the “result of observation.”
    Source: Conjectures and Refutations [pdf] by Karl Popper. Emphasis added.

  16. 16
    Mung says:

    What other theory of evolution is there than the one that came from Darwin?

    LoL. Really?

  17. 17
    Ginger Grant says:

    mw said: “We can only assume, that a man of firm faith in Judaeo-Christian scripture would not change, as God does not change.”

    The Catholic church accepts evolution. I have to assume that some man with firm faith in Judaeo-Christian scripture, changed his mind at some time in the past.

    It is dangerous to presume to know what an historic figure would think of evolution (or physics or chemistry or astonomy) if they were alive today. If they were alive today they would have had a completely different upbringing and education. I am sure that I would not have the same world view that I have now if I was born in the 1400s. Or even if I were born today. I would like to think that I would be the same person, but given the changes in what is considered acceptable activity/behaviour over the centuries, I think the odds are against it.

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    Statue of John Wesley, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY

    My father was born in Wilmore, KY. My grandfather taught at Asbury.

  19. 19
    larron says:

    David Klinghoffer just endorsed this article on Evolution News and Views.

    He closes with the remark:

    For that reason it’s a disappointment that the UMC hierarchy chose to shut us out. Vincent Torley points out that, following this approach, they would likely shut out their founder too if he were alive. What that says about the quality of United Methodist leaders is a question that serious men and women in the pews of that church should consider.

    Nice to mention the pews! Especially the women sitting there should consider this question – and the answer is:

    It depends which John Wesley would try to put up his booth in the convention center: If he would use his booth to demand that men and women should sit separately in the pews, then he may be shut out. If its the John Wesley of 1742 who wanted separated church groups for men and women, ditto. If he is the later one, who allowed mixing the genders under certain circumstances, perhaps less so.

  20. 20
    vjtorley says:

    Barry?Arrington and Professor Flannery,

    Thank you both for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my article, and I’m glad also that what I wrote proved to be of some service.

  21. 21
    vjtorley says:

    Mapou,

    Thanks for your helpful note on Empedocles’ “chance-only” theory of evolution. Interestingly, in our own time, Dr. Eugene Koonin seems to be moving back to that kind of position, as he invokes the multiverse in order to overcome obstacles (such as the origin of life) which he realizes that modern evolutionary theory cannot.

  22. 22
    vjtorley says:

    Bob and O’H and Ginger Grant,

    Thank you for your posts. I guess you might say that my approach to reading and interpreting Wesley is “originalist”: I take their declared theological beliefs as a given.

    Both of you argue that Wesley might think differently, if he were alive today. But if you’re going to argue that, then any religion could, by the same token, reverse any position adopted by its founder, in the light of what we now know. So Buddha was against abortion? Not to worry: he would surely think differently, if he knew what we know now. So Mohammed was against homosexuality? Yes, but that was the homosexuality of the Arab world. If he’d had a chance to see how we’ve advanced since then, he’d surely change his views, too. So Jesus was against divorce? He wouldn’t be if he’d spoken to a group of modern-day couples, or some modern psychologists. You can relativize anything and anyone, like that. See what I mean?

    If a movement is going to nominate an individual as their founder, then that movement has to remain loyal to the individual’s stated principles. No two ways about it: the UMC leadership is being disloyal to John Wesley.

  23. 23
    vjtorley says:

    larron,

    Thank you for your post. All I’ll say here is that Wesley acknowledged the full equality of men and women. Of that fact, there is no doubt.

  24. 24
    mw says:

    Ginger Grant #17,
    “The Catholic Church accepts evolution.”

    In no way has the Catholic Church proclaimed evolution theory as dogma. Maybe because such theory cannot be conclusively proved or disproved in its core historic concepts. True, Pope Francis leans towards evolutionism; a sign of the times. However, the first Pope did not and neither did Jesus/Yahweh.
    If Jesus came back today, He surely would not and could not change what he said at Sinai in the Holy Trinity without casting out Himself and the Father who are One. In fact He told the biggest wopper in history at Sinai, if evolutionism from unintelligent common descent be true.

    Hence it is highly possible, in fact necessary, that a true man of faith would remain obedient to foundational teaching by a superior mind, who has the superior scientific biological knowledge to raise Lazerous from the dead and Himself included: the unevolved God/unevolved Man.

    Intelligent miracles affect scientific data. Darwin scoffed at miracles.
    The odds of God/Jesus changing His basic essance is zero. If God needed evolving, He would not be God throughout eternity. As such, His creation should not need common descent evolving from miraculous kinds, but be able to evolve or adapt within limits, to stress, the environment etc., through inbuilt design, and with an element of free will.

  25. 25
    Dean_from_Ohio says:

    Checkmate!

    [Chess master V.J. Torley stands up, shakes hand of befuddled opponent, and walks quietly from room]

  26. 26
    Dean_from_Ohio says:

    “Maybe the DI should apply to host a table on the teachings of John Wesley.” –Mung

    +10

  27. 27
    GaryGaulin says:

    News says: “That isn’t correct, but what if it were?

    A hypothesis is “an idea you can test”. US children now learn this from PBS Dinosaur Train.

    A theory explains how something works or happened. In this case it’s best to have a computer model and write a standard (also called How it Works) Theory of Operation.

    The premise of the theory in question is a hypothesis that states:
    “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    Testing your hypothesis requires a testable theory to explain how “intelligent cause” works and/or happened.

    Your theory should resemble what I wrote that now shows what the Discovery Institute does not really have, a useful “scientific theory” people want to know about.

    News also says: “If the other theory is bad, it may be enough to warn people away from it.

    In all honestly claiming to have a better theory when you really only have an untested hypothesis qualifies as a scam. Not liking your competition indicates motive, not justification.

    In the molecular trees vs Dawkins topic I explained how to properly scientifically antiquate Darwinian Theory. Not even caring about the science work that must come first has turned into a tragic comedy that I’m stuck in the middle of, due to guilt by association.

    It also just so happens that I was born and raised to be a Methodist leader. I always had a scientific way of interpreting Genesis, which makes it possible to classify both chapters/versions as the oldest known scientific origin’s theory. With that being a theological study in itself I have always been happy to leave the interpreting of all the rest of the Bible up to theologians, who would rather leave all the studying of science papers and experimenting up to me anyway.

    With all considered I have to both compliment and complement the decision of church leaders. They were polite but made it quick and to the point then ended discussion before getting themselves and others further dragged into an issue for science leaders at Southern Methodist University to figure out and report their findings back up to them on.

    In this case being ahead of the curve requires knowing about the ID theory I am willing to defend that serious researchers/experimenters are easily OK with, because of it NOT being from the Discovery Institute. Instead of boring everyone with what they already read over a 100 times already were into science galore even genomics that leads to chromosomal (all 46 not one or none) Adam and Eve who are defeating all challengers in the scientific arena. Talking about defeating the Darwinian mindset does not defeat it, only wastes time talking about it not doing anything real to make it so.

    A SMU educator who is responsible for giving students a scientific advantage over others while somehow keep Genesis scientifically relevant for generations to come only wants to see a better plan than mine. You are now up against like out of the future cognitive science models on into genetics that already made Darwinian theory based stuff relatively boring. With my dinosaur tracksite long helping carry on in the tradition of Reverend Dr. Edward Hitchcock my being able to turn the annoying protest into something for teaching the Discovery Institute a thing or two only shows what happens when you go against the (scientific) Methodism that I have faith in.

    With all said the question that gets you is: what do you have to add for theory for myself and others to test your hypothesis with?

    Either way ID theory still prevails. So it’s not the end of the movement, just control of the otherwise neglected theory going to those who can genuinely help develop one. Better that than a few fellows at the Institute forever trying to figure all this out on their own. What I pieced together was the result of hundreds of the most creative minds science minds supplying help and ideas. And you only have to be impressed by all else going on in ID theory these days, no love lost for you. It’s just a case where the power of science is more than a metaphor and the theory outgrows home and goes off on its own into universities where you never know what will next happen to them. You just hope they keep in touch and you can still understand what they’re talking about. Especially after their SMU experience that likely already brings some to this discussion at UD, to learn more about modern ID. You deserve a “Bravo!” for at least accomplishing that.

  28. 28
    Bob O'H says:

    vj @22 –

    Both of you argue that Wesley might think differently, if he were alive today. But if you’re going to argue that, then any religion could, by the same token, reverse any position adopted by its founder, in the light of what we now know.

    Well, yes. If their founder was human, then why not? I’m not saying it should be done willy-nilly, but I don’t see why religions shouldn’t evolve. Slavery strikes me as an obvious example where moral thinking has changed a lot within religions.

    When our knowledge of the world outside of religion (e.g. scientific, economic, psychological) advances, I don’t see why a religion shouldn’t change its views: to not do so would surely be odd indeed. Their response should obviously rely on what their founders taught them, but I don’t see why it would be sensible to deny any changes in knowledge.

  29. 29
    tjguy says:

    Bob O’h @12

    If Wesley were around now, he would have had a very different education: he was a product of his time and the world has moved on. Knowing what we know now, would his views be the same? How can we know?

    Of course, no one knows for sure what he would think today but I agree with VJ. If we say that, we can write off whatever we want to that was written in the past. It’s like the US Constitution. You have people who want to interpret it in light of today’s “enlightened” knowledge which means they want to change the meaning. But that is exactly why the Constitution was written and rules put in place to make it hard to change. The Founding fathers meant what they said and they intended for it to stand.

    Wesley’s firm view in the Bible as God’s inspired word would have been a huge influence on him – in my biased opinion. I too am a creationist like Wesley as are a fair number of other scientists and believers today. You can write his views off by saying that he would believe differently if he had been brought up today, but it’s just not that simple.

    Wesley believed the Bible was God’s inspired Word and he obviously wanted the church he began to stay true to that belief. He would NOT be happy with how far the denomination that he began has strayed from biblical teaching.

    Great article by the way, VJ! Well researched and enlightening.

  30. 30
    News says:

    Larron writes at 19: “It depends which John Wesley would try to put up his booth in the convention center: If he would use his booth to demand that men and women should sit separately in the pews, then he may be shut out. If its the John Wesley of 1742 who wanted separated church groups for men and women, ditto. If he is the later one, who allowed mixing the genders under certain circumstances, perhaps less so.”

    I have been part of organizing and hosting such groups for decades. Whether a church fellowship group should be mixed or single sex is a matter for judgment, and has nothing to do with equality of the sexes.

    Women will often not speak up in mixed groups, and those who do are often not representative. Men may not stay long in groups where women outnumber them. Worse, even if they do, they can’t talk honestly about – for example – problems with respect to sexuality, however critical it may be to address those problems before something happens!

    I’m guessing that Wesley, whose tradition sparked many social reforms, was sensitive to the need for different policies in different times, places, and circumstances.

    Why do people need to reach so hard to avoid the obvious – that the Methodist church has simply drifted from its roots?

  31. 31
    bb says:

    I agree with VJ. To speculate on what Wesley would believe today is foolish, especially when we know what he believed from his own words. There’s nothing special about Darwin’s hypothesis. It’s just as incoherent and evidence free as Buffon’s. Foolishly extrapolating that life forms are infinitely plastic in what they have and can become because we observe comparably minor variations and are able to breed to get some desired characteristics. Why should Wesley swallow, what was termed by John Herschel, the law of higgledy piggledy?

  32. 32
    larron says:

    News at 30: I can only hope that you are able to see the difference of a mandatory provision to have separate Church groups for men and women and the voluntary act to have some groups not mixed.

  33. 33
    larron says:

    The bottom line is simple: John Wesley was a very intelligent man. Naturally, we hope (and expect 😉 ) that very intelligent people act like ourselves, and we go to great length to show that they really, really would have acted our way.

  34. 34
    Ginger Grant says:

    I agree.

  35. 35
    News says:

    larron at 32: Sometimes, in well-run organizations it is a mandatory provision, especially when that rule protects the interests of women. If you don’t understand, I can’t explain.

  36. 36
    vjtorley says:

    larron,

    You yourself acknowledge that Wesley, in later life, allowed mixing of the genders in church under certain circumstances. Also, Wesley’s journal entry for December 24, 1787 (available online), indicates that the decision that men and women should sit in separate pews was made not by Wesley himself, but by a Committee, who “judged it best” that “men and women should sit separate still.” That wording indicates that the decision was not made on principle, but on purely prudential grounds.

    I might mention that Wesley ordained two women in his lifetime, and that he was far ahead of his time in his attitudes to women:

    In London, for example, some of Wesley’s followers tried to exclude women from a number of the society’s activities. Their actions infuriated Wesley, who told them that he did “exceedingly disapprove” of excluding women when the society met to pray, sing, and read the Scriptures.1 A clergyman accused Wesley of keeping women in Bristol so busy that they were not giving their families proper attention. “William Fleetwood dismissed the Methodists, or ‘Perfectionists,’ as he called them, as a group of ‘silly Women.’… Such attacks were unfounded but the response of women to Wesley’s liberating message was overwhelming indeed.”

    Bob O’H,

    You write: “Slavery strikes me as an obvious example where moral thinking has changed a lot within religions.”

    That was an unfortunate example. Wesley was a passionate opponent of slavery. Here’s what he wrote in his Thoughts upon Slavery (1778, p. 79):

    Long and serious reflections upon the nature and consequences of slavery have convinced me, that it is a violation both of justice and religion; that it is dangerous to the safety of the community in which it prevails; that is it destructive to the growth of arts and sciences; and lastly, that it produces a numerous and very fatal train of vices, both in the slave, and in his master.–Freedom is unquestionably the birth right of all mankind; Africans as well as Europeans: to keep the former in a state of slavery, is a constant violation of that right, and therefore also of justice.–

  37. 37
    larron says:

    News at 35: Do you believe that the UMC should be such a “well-run organization”, i.e., the UMC should not have any mixed church groups?

  38. 38

    I enjoyed your well-researched post. But I’m not persuaded that if Wesley were alive today he would reject biological evolution.

    In a letter to the Editor of London Magazine in 1765 Wesley wrote: “Permit me, sir, to give you one piece of advice. Be not so positive, especially with regard to things which are neither easy nor necessary to be determined. I ground this advice on my own experience. When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as before. At present I am hardly sure of anything, but what God has revealed to man.” Likewise, in the Preface to his first volume of sermons Wesley wrote, “But I trust, wheninsoever I have mistaken, my mind is open to conviction. I sincerely desire to be better informed. I say to God and man, ‘What I know not, teach thou me!’”

    Wesley had a lifelong fascination with science, stayed abreast of the latest scientific developments, and was an avid amateur scientist himself. In light of that, and his professed willingness to modify his beliefs when evidence required, we might reasonably conclude that with the benefit of Darwin’s work and the subsequent body of evidence confirming biological evolution, Wesley might modify his beliefs to accommodate that evidence.

    While it is true, for example, that Wesley ordained women to preach, beginning in 1761, in 1747 (at the age of 44) he criticized the Quaker’s practice of allowing women to preach, identifying it as one of the things that distinguished Quakers from “Christians.” Years later, Wesley completely reversed himself on that point, having determined that his original belief was incorrect.

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