Denyse O’Leary in “By Design or By Chance?” p. 75
Overall Mainstream Christian Views of Evolution In the 19th Century
Most scientists in the United States in the late 19th century were, themselves. Believing Christians, and the ones who accepted evolution, and that would be the majority, simply took it as God’s method of creation. So, although they may have wrestled with issues such as the mechanism of evolution, most of them didn’t think it was necessary to reject evolution in order to salvage their Christian beliefs. –Å“ Ronald Numbers, American historian
Why did the Christians at that time so easily accept Darwin’s idea of evolution? Cornelius Hunter in “Darwin’s God” p. 116
These sort of idea can be found in a variety of movements in the centuries leading up to Darwin’s time. Rationalism, the Enlightenment, deism, the nonconformists, and Unitarianism were all different movements contributing to this trend. For some thinkers, doctrines such as the fall and the Trinity were mysterious and unnecessary. More important for our story, the idea that God would use direct intervention or miracles was increasingly questioned in favor of the idea that God acts exclusively via natural laws. After all, modern science had found that the motions of everything from planets to apples are governed by the same simple laws. Perhaps all phenomena — even such things as the flood and God’s moral laws — could be explained by natural laws.
The age of enlightenment, reasoning, rationalism and empiricism begins with the Copernican revolution (14th –Å“ 15th century). Modernity arose with the triumph of the Enlightenment. The Renaissance and the Reformation had previously unleashed powerful forces toward liberty, civil rights, the freedom of the secular spheres to operate independently of the church, and had given birth to the rise of modern science, education, and universal literacy.
The seminal event came with the Kantian watershed, which blended rationalism and the empiricism of David Hume. For instance, he argued that there were two realms of knowledge: the “noumenal” and the “phenomenal.” To the former class belongs faith, since he believed that it could not be rationally or empirically demonstrated. Much of philosophy and especially science, however, belong to the phenomenal realm, since they rested on evidence or deductions that had something to do with reason or observation.
This gave modern men and women a tremendous confidence–indeed, arrogance–in their powers to rebuild the world from scratch on a universal foundation of knowledge. Even religion, now, could be explained in terms of the “universal ideas” that are common to them all. The result was the modern university’s “religion department,” where Christianity, Buddhism, and fern worship are all studied “comparatively” in order to find the common threads. Those common threads, of course, are simply part of the universal reason that underlies foundationalism.
This gave rise to men like John Dewey (1859-1952) whatever works is the test of truth. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) seemed to provide modernity with the proof for its experiment in progress with his Hegelian version of biological evolution.
With the self (i.e., the “knower”) at the center of the universe, modernity attacked authority, institutions, tradition, and community and instead set up its own authoritarianism, centralized bureaucracies, marketplace whims, and individualist tastes.
Unfortunately, much of the orthodox Christian response to all of this has been to either conform in the interest of “relevance,” or to simply react and bury one’s head in the sand as if the Enlightenment had never happened. Whatever his failures in terms of coming fully to an orthodox position, Karl Barth (1886-1968), himself a liberal who became disenchanted with modernity, launched the most unrelenting barrage of artillery against modern liberalism since the triumph of modernity itself.
Barth accepted the idea that faith was opposed to reason and in this acceptance of a key tenet of the Enlightenment, he could not refute the most fundamental problem between Christianity and the modern world. First, technology is a friend. Second, it creates a culture without a moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living.
Out of the 14th to 16th century was an emphasis on science and more individual religious freedom because of the reformation. 17th century brought about orthodoxy with both Catholics and Protestants forming their dogmas, 18th century is the age of rationalism, 19th century divided between romanticism (feeling, faith, individualism and communion with nature) and science. Although the industrial revolution began in the late 18th century it did not became widespread until the 19th century. As a result labor and government took over more functions in a person’s life. Society became more secular and materialistic. It is under this historical backdrop that the Theory of Evolution took a foothold. There is very little doubt that Darwinism is antithetical to fundamental Christianity.