Evolution: The Religious Connection

by Robert E. Kofahl, Ph.D

Proponents of Darwinism often argue that Christians should have no qualms about accepting evolution. Sometimes they have cited Darwin’s supposed religious character and the fact that he studied for the ministry. However, they usually do not make any reference to his views on religion contained in his 1876 autobiography, which include the following:

"…I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."

In his autobiography Darwin portrays himself as a one-time Christian believer who, after his university training and voyage around the world in the Beagle, gradually was turned against the faith by his scientific discoveries and the realization that, as the above passage indicates, he hated its doctrines. There is, however, a large body of facts suggesting that he never did personally espouse the biblical faith, and further, that he consciously repudiated the faith before he developed his basic ideas about evolution.

Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, was a noted British physician of the 18th century. Judging from his literary writings, he was probably a pantheist. His closest friend, Josiah Wedgewood, a leader in the industrial revolution in England, was religiously a Unitarian. He established a school directed by a Unitarian minister. Erasmus’ son, Robert, as well as the Wedgewood children attended this school. Robert himself became a well-to-do physician, following thus in his father’s footsteps. He married a daughter of Josiah who attended the same Unitarian school. Robert, probably an atheist, instructed his son, Charles, on the advisability of a man’s keeping his unbelief private, even from his wife. This was to spare her from unnecessary grief should he predecease her outside of the orthodox faith. Charles’ father sent his son to Edinburg University in 1825 to train for a medical career. A free university that required no affirmation of orthodox Christian faith for admission, it was also a hot bed of anti-Christian radicalism and evolutionary thought. For two years young Charles’ mentor was Robert Grant, an invertebrate zoologist and an enthusiast for both atheism and evolution. Charles, having discovered that he abhorred the sight of blood, finally turned his back on medicine and returned home without a degree.

Charles’ father, fearing that he had a ne’er-do-well son on his hands, followed a not uncommon practice of well-to-do English fathers under this circumstance. He arranged for Charles’ entrance into Christ College at Cambridge University to study theology in preparation for a tax-funded ‘living’ as a pastor in the Anglican Church. The father’s hypocrisy in this arrangement is evident, and it is hardly possible that the son did not know what was going on. Charles cooperated by signing the required affirmation of orthodox Christian faith. By his own testimony, his principle interest while at Cambridge turned out to be not theology, but natural history—collecting insects and studying the new science of geology. He soon demonstrated natural ability in these pursuits.

The required reading in theology at Cambridge included two books by Archdeacon William Paley. Charles tells of how his admiration for Paley’s logical writing style led him on his own also to read Paley’s Natural Theology, a classic exposition of the argument for God from the fact of design in nature. Darwin later claimed to have known this book virtually by heart. Not long after his graduation in 1831 he began his voyage on the Beagle, collecting specimens of plants, insects, animals, fish and fossils. The remainder of his life was clearly devoted to overthrowing Paley’s argument for the biblical Creator God. He purposed to discover a scientific theory to explain design in nature without resort to God. In his writings he referred to Paley a number of times, and in his autobiography he wrote, “The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me to be so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. His two principal motivations were almost surely his hatred for the God of the Bible who promises to judge unbelieving sinners, and his desire to be honored in the world of science as the discoverer of a scientific theory of evolution. Claiming in his autobiography to be rightly classified as agnostic, Darwin apparently never published any explicit discussion of the doctrines of Christ and His substitutionary atonement. One suspects, however, that he hated these teachings of the Scriptures as well, for they are logically and inseparably linked with the doctrine of divine judgment for sin which Darwin did repudiate in his autobiography, as we have seen.

In Victorian England it was perilous to the career of a public person to be known as an opponent of Christianity. Consequently, Darwin was careful not publish anything bluntly critical of the biblical faith. The men of the Darwin clan guarded their reputation by maintaining a nominal relationship with the established Anglican Church. The leading men of science who openly stood with Darwin and his theory were, as he was, men of good public reputation in Victorian society. They were also, however, men who had first departed from the biblical faith before they adopted an evolutionary faith. Included in the ranks of these important supporters were Sir Charles Lyell, responsible for establishing uniformitarianism at the base of modern geology; Herbert Spencer, the agnostic philosopher and author; anatomist Thomas H. Huxley, who called himself “Darwin’s Bulldog”; and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, honored with Darwin as co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection.

Darwin’s Book and His Hidden Agenda for Science

In the Origin Darwin avoided the issue of human origins, except for a hint in the closing chapter. Years later, after his theory and his reputation were established, he exposed his theory of human evolution in The Descent of Man. In 1859 in the closing paragraph of the first edition of the Origin, Darwin allowed the Creator to breathe life into a few original forms to begin evolution. But for years later he wrote that this use of the word Creator had only been a sop to public opinion. In the second edition of the Origin, Darwin inserted an idea from Charles Kingsley, an Anglican minister and author who was an easy convert to Darwinism. It was his opinion that the concept of God’s creating original simple organisms capable of evolving into everything else was a higher view of God than the biblical concept of special creation of the kinds. Thus it seems clear that Charles Darwin, although he avoided direct attack upon the traditional Christian religious beliefs of Victorian England, was consciously undermining that faith by developing and promoting his theory of evolutionary change.

But there is more of religious significance in The Origin of Species. At least 28 times in the book Darwin refers to “creation” and “Creator” in a manner designed to discredit the Creator-God of the Bible. In at least another half-dozen places he expresses theological concepts, usually in a manner inimical to the God of the Bible. Indeed, Charles appears to have been obsessed with a felt need to abolish the biblical revelation of the character of God. Such evidence as this led Prof. Neal C. Gillespie of Georgia State University to publish in 1979 his fine book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation. From the facts he assembled it becomes plain that Darwin had a hidden agenda for science.

Darwin’s hidden agenda for science was three-fold. He intended to drive from the thinking of scientists any ideas of divine special creation, divine intervention in nature, and teleology in nature. Teleology refers to goal, plan, purpose or design. In effect Darwin wished to redefine science by injecting three assumptions into its definition. The assumptions are that God specially created nothing, that God never has intervened in the world, and that there is no teleology in nature. But these assumptions constitute simply a belief system, one that just happens to contradict the biblical Christian belief and to coincide with many non-Christian religious belief systems. However, science is properly defined simply as a method for studying nature and critically testing all concepts, ideas and hypotheses about the natural world, with no such belief system attached. Nevertheless, Darwin’s hidden agenda has achieved almost total success. Today virtually the entire scientific-educational-scholarly establishment espouses Darwin’s view of science. But this is actually science distorted and prostituted to a religious(or anti-religious) end. Science and science education, particularly in the public schools, are being used to indoctrinate whole generations of young people and the general population in an anti-biblical, anti-Christian belief system.

This faith worldview, propagated as science, sees the universe as a closed materialistic system isolated from any influence by a God or Creator. It happens to be acceptable to those religions and nominally Christian church denominations that reject the historic biblical Christian faith. These religions have incorporated evolution into their brands of “Christianity.” And the National Academy of Sciences in 1984, in an official document, gave tacit approval to such religions but viciously attacked all believers in the Genesis account of creation!

Thus the religious connection with evolution is deeply rooted in history and lies at the very heart of the controversy between the biblical Christian faith and all false religions. The relationship of evolution and creation to the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is an issue vital to the proclamation of the gospel and to the salvation of lost souls in the modern world.