The Search for Harmony
Edited by Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg
Organic Evolution and the Bible
Eldon J. Gardner
[p.189]Preface. This discussion is written for people, particularly university students, who are already acquainted with the principles of biology and who are interested in an attempt at rationalization between evolution and theology. It is intended as a fair and sympathetic, but objective, appraisal of both sides of the issue. The presentation for science students seems to justify a more detailed treatment of scientific than of theological aspects. In another situation the proportion of detail might well be reversed.
The position taken in this paper is that the Bible is a valuable and important document with primarily religious significance, that it is not a scientific treatise, nor a complete and detailed history. The Bible was written by many different authors, each telling his own story and reflecting the cultural background available to him. Scientific accomplishments, on the other hand, are based on an objective method for seeking truth. The scientific method of observation and experimentation can be practiced by anyone who is willing to be objective and who knows how to use the tools of science. It has done much to influence the trend of thought in the modern world and promises to be an even greater force in the future. Science is here to stay and must be allowed to speak in areas where it can contribute. It is a challenging field, worthy of the best minds in our society.
Science has limitations that are well recognized. The methods of science apply only in areas where tangible materials and [p.190]relations can be investigated and where objective data can be obtained and verified. As science has developed, the insight of scientists has been sharpened and tools useful to scientists have been improved. There is every reason to expect that this trend toward more effectiveness in the use of the scientific method will continue. A review of history reminds us that viewpoints have changed as new developments have occurred. Current views are not necessarily final and conclusive. New interpretations will be required as new data are accumulated by the scientific method.
Evolution Defined. The first consideration is our attitude and approach to a scientific problem. Interpretation and evaluation of information from books and tradition, compared with that from observations in nature and deductions from experiments, present real challenges, especially to university students. The question “What is truth?” is still with us. As children at home and in our churches, we have heard versions of how the earth and man [meaning all men and women] were created. At the university we may hear an entirely different story. This is often an unsettling experience, especially when it involves people in whom we have confidence and the book that forms the principal document of Christianity. In the light of scientific discoveries must we discard the Bible? and with it our religion? On the other hand, if we choose to keep a place for religion in our lives, are we unfit to pursue science with complete objectivity? The first step in analyzing the immediate problem of evolution and the Bible is the definition of terms. This is necessary because some people have spoken of evolution as if it were synonymous with atheism or materialism and some have spoken of religion as if it were synonymous with emotion or superstition.
In the broadest sense, evolution is change. It occurs virtually everywhere and is associated with the largest and the smallest objects known to man. On the one hand the vast universe with some 1020 (100,000,000,000,000,000,000) suns, many of which are surrounded by planets like our solar system, is undergoing change. Young, middle-aged, and mature systems are known to astronomers. Of the vast number of planets some 108 (100,000,000) are considered by some astronomers to be capable of supporting life in some form. Presumable living things in all these creations are evolving in their particular environments. At the other extreme in size range, atoms [p.191]and molecules are also undergoing change in nature. Our whole earth, despite its seemingly rigid and stable construction, has evolved over long periods of geological time and continues to undergo change.
Another kind of evolution has occurred within very recent history. Man-made objects such as the automobile, airplane, and space ship have evolved because of man’s activity and inventive genius. In the brief period of human history, man has been able to accomplish countless remarkable developments through his acquaintance with the laws of nature and his ability to direct them toward his purposes. The rate of developments for some of these products of human enterprise has been so rapid that their entire span of evolution has occurred within the memory of living people. Yet one must bring together and compare the different successive models to realize the full extent and trend of evolution of a given man-made device. It is infinitely more difficult to visualize the grand sequence of evolutionary change that has occurred during long periods of the earth’s history.
Organic evolution is the aspect of the broad subject that deals with changes among living organisms, i.e., plants and animals. This kind of change is different from that in the non-living world. It is based on a dynamic system in nature through which variation, selection, and isolation occur. Not only individuals but whole populations are involved in organic evolution. The unit that must be visualized whenever evolution is considered is the population rather than the individual.
Although the idea of evolution has been expressed repeatedly in the early history of biology, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 were the first clearly to describe the process and to suggest a mechanism for its accomplishment. Darwin described organic evolution as descent from a common ancestor with modification. Members of present day animal and plant species are alike because of their common inheritance, and different because hereditary variations have accumulated since their separation from a common ancestral stock. This concept implies an actual biological relation among individuals and species. It follows that plants and animals now living on the earth are modified descendants of somewhat different plants and animals that lived in times past. Their ancestors [p.192]in turn descended from predecessors from which they differed, and so on, back to the early periods of biological history.
Species formation is a part of evolution. There are several kinds of species and many factors involved in their origin. One kind may be formed when segments of a breeding group become separated by physical or geographical barriers from other segments of the breeding unit. Through random mutations and chromosome modifications that accumulate over long periods of time in isolated populations, and selection favoring local environmental conditions, members of sub-groups become different enough to make interbreeding with members of other segments of the former breeding population impossible. Reproductive isolation makes the sub-group independent. Because the species is a basic biological unit, species formation is an important aspect of evolution.
The word “evolution” denotes the grand over-all process by which physical and biological changes were (and are being) accomplished in nature. Darwinism is the theory of evolution by natural selection. This was the first attempt in modern times to account for the mechanics of organic evolution. As would be expected (and as Darwin himself recognized) this factor alone is inadequate for a complete explanation, but it represents one of the major processes now known to direct evolution. Selection operates on inherent variations which occur ultimately from change or mutation in the hereditary material called germ plasm. People who do not believe in evolution should have no fear concerning the effects of “fallout” on man and other living things.
Sources of Evidence of Evolution. During the past one hundred years, evolution has been widely investigated and discussed by biologists. It has now emerged as the basic theme of biological science and has become not only the most far-reaching principle in that area of science but the common meeting ground for all the life sciences. As a biologist observes the distribution of fauna and flora, he is impressed with the fact that closely related species are living in near proximity, suggesting common ancestry. This observation impressed both Darwin and Wallace, and biogeography thus became the first supporting field for evolution. Comparative anatomists of the last century observed that common patterns are followed in the anatomy of related groups of organisms, and comparative physiologists found [p.193]functional similarities among related biological units suggesting that they had their origin from a common source. Serological tests supported the physiological evidence and showed similarities in anti-genic response among closely related groups. The phylogenetic sequence that is reflected to a large extent in present-day taxonomy of plants and animals also suggests common ancestry.
Embryology has contributed a share of evidence supporting evolution by demonstrating relations among individuals in developmental stages as well as in their adult forms. Embryos of some animals have proven more valuable than adults in placing the group in its proper phylogenetic sequence with other groups. This indicates that developmental stages, as well as final products, reflect ancestral relations. Ecological relations among plants and animals also suggest evolution. The mechanism of adaptation that must have occurred over long periods of time to account for the present intimate relation between organisms and their environment provides support for the evolution concept. The most tangible evidence for evolution has come from paleontology. Actual fossil remains representing animals and plants living in past eras of the earth’s history can be studied and thus provide a pattern of the history of animals and plants upon the earth. Although many details are lacking in the series of fossils now available, the general evidence favoring evolution is remarkably clear. New evidence from genetics has contributed much to the present understanding of the mechanics of evolution.
All of these lines of evidence support a view of common ancestry among animals and plants. Presumably the processes responsible for the production of the various forms now living on the earth will continue and will result in other forms in future generations unlike those now upon the earth.
Man’s Place in the Biological World. The word “Darwinism” has been used by some as if it were synonymous with “evolution.” In this connotation it has been restricted by laymen to include only human evolution and equated with the theory that man descended from a “monkey.” Evolution is a broad biological principle of change occurring among all living things. It was known and discussed long before the time of Darwin and the theory has been refined considerably since Darwin’s time.
Physical man, as a part of nature, has evolved from [p.194]mammalian ancestry but not from a modern monkey. It is inaccurate to speak of man as having descended from any kind of monkey now living but there is abundant evidence to show that man received his body from more generalized mammals of the taxonomic order Primate, the order to which man and monkey belong. It makes little difference, actually, whether the physical ancestors are called apes or monkeys or given a more precise scientific name.
Where does present-day man fit into the biological picture of evolution? Evidence cited above along with that from other lines of investigation indicates that man obtained his body from animal ancestors. There are no close relatives of man upon the earth at present and the “near men” from which man may have descended are all extinct. Although man and his immediate ancestors were not good fossil-formers and have lived for the most part in environments where fossils are not readily found, there is now a fairly complete fossil record of man’s physical ancestry.
Darwin speculated in The Descent of Man (1871, 240-42) that man’s ancestry would eventually be traced to Africa because the higher primates native to Africa (gorilla, chimpanzee) are more like man that those native to other parts of the world. An important discovery supporting this speculation was made in East Africa on July 17, 1959, by Dr. L. S. B. Leakey. Remains of a “near man,” Zinjanthro-pous boisii, were found with very crude tools and other evidence of a level of culture representing one of man’s possible physical ancestors that lived some 600,000 years ago. This creature was a plains animal and not a tree dweller like the gorilla and chimpanzee that now inhabit Africa. Another “man-ape,” Australopithecus, was discovered in South Africa a few years before (Dart 1956; 1959).
In 1891 the Dutch anthropologist, Dubois, found fossil remains of a prehuman primate in Java. He considered this to be an “ape-man” capable of walking erect and named him Pithecanthropus erectus (renamed by Mayr, Homo erectus erectus). Other Java men have been found since, and dated in the Pleistocene epoch at about 500,000 years ago. More recently (1927-29) remains of the Peking man called Sinanthropus pekinensis (Homo erectus pekinensis in Mayr’s terminology) were found in China by D. Black and F. Weidenreich. Some forty specimens of Peking men are now known. They were cave dwellers and hunters who lived about 360,000 years ago according to [p.195]the estimate of B. Kurtin made in 1959.
In 1859 when the Origin of Species was published, the fossil record on man’s ancestry was meager, indeed. The Neanderthal man was the only well-established example. Perhaps this is one reason Darwin did not make reference to man’s ancestry in the Origin. When the Descent of Man was published in 1871, the fossil evidence was still very limited, but Darwin felt secure on other grounds and devoted some 240 pages to man’s physical ancestry. Now there is a considerable amount of evidence from fossils to document the ancestral history of man.
Darwin had nothing against the Bible story of Man’s origin and history and was surprised by the reaction that his writings brought forth among theologians. The reaction was largely due to the threat that the natural explanation seemed to pose for the literal interpretation of the scriptures. Another reason for the conflict was Darwin’s interpretation of natural selection that was based on the “tooth and claw” principles emphasizing the destructive powers in nature. This was basically against Christian fundamentalism and did not conform to the kind of human relations that nineteenth-century Christians hopefully were striving toward. Darwin had neglected the elements of enlightenment and cooperation in human society that have since been woven into the evolution theme by some of Darwin’s followers.
Chemical Theory of the Origin of Life. Darwin made no attempt to explain how life began on the earth. Spontaneous generation was the common view at the time and there was no reason to question this explanation. Church people did not oppose spontaneous generation because it seemed both logical and proper that the earth itself should be endowed with the ability to bring forth living things as a continuing process of creation. If life was being created spontaneously all the time, there was no problem concerning the ultimate origin of living things. As shown in the following pages, Pasteur along with his predecessors and contemporaries showed that sterile nutrient media protected from outside contamination remained free from living organisms and that under the conditions of the experiments spontaneous generation did not occur. These experiments represented a triumph of reason over speculation, but they left no alternative other than special creation for the origin of life.
[p.196]The ultimate origin of life on the earth is a problem in which many present-day biologists are interested. Chemical mechanisms have been discovered that will explain the most fundamental physical properties and requirements of living things such as self duplication (reproduction), protein synthesis, use of energy, and change (mutation). Common chemical elements known to be present in the early stages of the earth’s history have been put together under suitable environmental conditions in the laboratory, and crude nucleic acids, amino acids, and acetic acid have been synthesized. These compounds are essential to living systems, and it is possible that they represent all of the basic requirements for life processes. Their synthesis in the laboratory suggests that life may actually be created in a test tube. Nine leading scientists making up a panel at the Darwin Centennial held in Chicago in November 1959 agreed that the production of life in a test tube is a real possibility and that it will probably be accomplished before the end of the present century. This stimulating biological problem is occupying the attention of many present-day biologists and biochemists.
If life can be created in a test tube, a mechanism through which life was originally created on the earth may be suggested. A type of spontaneous generation may have taken place in the remote past (a billion years or more ago) from which the forms presently living on the earth may have descended. Several theories have been advanced to account for the chemical origin of living things. The most productive hypothesis is that of A. I. Oparin, based on the gradual origin of hydrocarbons and other organic substances from hydrogen, ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and water vapor in a reducing atmosphere. From these simple organic substances polypeptides and polynucleotides were postulated to have developed and eventually colloidal systems to have been built up.
An energy source would be required to bring chemicals together and form the compounds necessary for living systems. Lightning, known to occur in the early stages of the earth’s history could represent the required energy source. Some such reactions have been actually carried out in the laboratory by H. C. Urey, S. L. Miller, and S. W. Fox under conditions simulating as nearly as possible those which were likely present at the time when life was first created on the earth. The possibility of the appropriate elements, [p.197]energy, and suitable environment coming together by chance seems remote, indeed, but in tremendously long periods of time the “impossible” becomes inevitable.
Such an event could occur and life arising from it could be perpetuated only once in a particular location. After life was created and living things became widespread and diversified, any new elementary form of life, occurring in a place where conditions suitable for such an origin are present, would be immediately devoured by one of the numerous organisms occupying such places. Furthermore, the increased amount of oxygen through photosynthesis, after plant life became established, would bring about the oxidation of such an elementary, unprotected form before it could become established.
This naturalistic explanation of the creation of life does not exclude a creator but only suggests a method by which the creation of life may have been accomplished. The word “spontaneous” is not used here to imply that something came from nothing but rather to suggest that the origin came about by natural processes. The actual steps in the process have been suggested, and the scientific method now being applied to such problems seems appropriate and capable of supplying answers to questions concerning the “what” and “how” of creation.
Anyone really interested in the mechanics of the origin of life may ask himself how it might have been accomplished. Some would say simply that God did it. Although this does not answer the question, it would be acceptable to many, but how was it done? The idea that a creator took mud from a pond and shaped it into man (or a lower animal or plant) is, to a person with some understanding of nature, ridiculous. Some would say that life came from another planet through “floating spores” or living organisms transported on meteors, but that merely postpones the ultimate question. How was life created in the place from which it came? And how did it get from a distant planet through space, intense cold, and irradiation to this earth.
Experiments Concerning the Origin of Life. Throughout the history of biology there has been much interest in the origin of life, both the ultimate origin of living things and the immediate origin of individuals. A brief review of history will illustrate man’s struggle with meager tools to answer profound questions. It will also show the [p.198]changing attitude toward the idea of spontaneous generation. Spontaneous generation implies an origin of living things by processes other than the reproduction of parent organisms. A favorable combination of non-living materials was considered sufficient to account for the origin of living things. Spontaneous generation was a common explanation from the earliest periods of biological history until the middle of the last century.
Aristotle, like many of his contemporaries, considered flies and frogs to be formed spontaneously from the mud in the bottom of streams and pools. He was able to observe other animals such as the cuttle fish and octopus engaged in the reproductive process. These he recognized as being formed from eggs produced by the female and activated by the “milt” from the male. Higher organisms were considered by Aristotle to develop from eggs even though they had not been observed, but lower organisms whose reproduction was entirely unknown, were believed to arise spontaneously.
From the time of Aristotle through the Middle Ages, many people expressed themselves favorable toward spontaneous generation. Diodorus Siculus in the first century B.C. claimed that the mud of the Thebes region was capable of generating mice and other organisms. This belief survived the rebirth of inquiry in the twelfth century and persisted without serious question until the eighteenth century. J. B. van Helmont (1577-1644), Belgian alchemist, physician and philosopher, was outspoken in promoting this explanation for the origin of life. He was specific in prescribing a technique for producing mice. It was only necessary, he said, to place moist soiled rags in a dark attic and surround them with kernels of wheat or pieces of cheese. Within a reasonable time mice would invariably appear, and there seemed to be no doubt that they were actually produced spontaneously. Cause and effect relations have been troublesome throughout history. Many authors described the spontaneous origin of frogs, eels, and snakes from the mud in river bottoms. In Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, Lepidus says that crocodiles are produced from the mud of the Nile under the influence of the warm summer sun.
One of the first men to question the spontaneous origin of living things was the Italian physician and naturalist, Francesco Redi (1626-97?). After studying medicine at the University of Pisa, he [p.199]became court physician to Ferdinand II (1610-70), the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a member of the famous Academy of Experiments that was organized in 1657 in Florence, Italy.
Redi set out to determine by experimentation whether flies could be developed spontaneously. His procedure followed an experimental method. He began by killing three snakes and placing them in an open box where they were allowed to decay. Maggots appeared on the decaying flesh, fed on the meat, and grew rapidly. During the growth period of rapid and continuous growth, they became dormant (pupated) and after a few days emerged into flies. Several varieties of pupae were identified by size, shape, and color, and each was observed to give rise to a particular type of adult fly.
Redi continued his experiments, testing different kinds of flesh, both raw and cooked. He used the meat of oxen, deer, buffalo, lion, tiger, duck, lamb, kid, rabbit, goose, chicken, and swallow and also studied several kinds of fish, including sword fish, tuna, eel, and sole. Particular types of maggots developed on the meat and emerged in due course to become particular types of adult flies. Sometimes the maggots were all of the same type, and Redi observed that only one type of fly emerged; whereas in other cases several different types were identified. Each type of maggot was later isolated and found to give rise to a particular kind of fly. Adult flies of the same kinds that emerged from the maggots were observed to hover over the decaying meat and Redi noticed that the flies dropped tiny objects on the meat. Some flies would remain quiet on the meat and deposit several units in one place, whereas others would deposit single objects while hovering above the decaying meat. Redi theorized that the flies might be developed from the objects dropped by the adult flies on the putrifying meat.
An experiment was carefully designed to test this hypothesis. Portions of fish and eel were placed in flasks. The openings were completely sealed off, and the meat was observed through the glass as it underwent decay while other comparable flasks were prepared in the same way but left uncovered. Flies were soon attracted to the opened flasks, and in a few days maggots appeared on the meat. Flies were also observed hovering over the sealed flasks but no maggots developed on the meat inside. Occasionally maggots appeared on the top of the sealed flasks. They would wriggle on the surface and appear [p.200]to be trying to get through the glass to the putrifying meat inside. This indicated that the maggots were developed from the elements dropped from the adult flies and were not derived spontaneously on the decaying meat.
Even though the results seemed conclusive, Redi was not content with these experiments. He tried variations of different kinds to see if the results could be repeated. The experiments were repeated at different seasons of the year with various kinds of vessels and different kinds of meat. He even buried meat underground and observed that no maggots were developed in the covered meat, but at the same time maggots that emerged into flies were formed on meat that was exposed to the air. There was one difficulty with the experiments; the sealed containers and the soil covering could exclude some vital force necessary for the spontaneous generation of life. To obviate this uncertainty, Redi designed a further experiment in which air was permitted to enter, but flies were excluded.
For this experiment, Redi covered glass containers with a fine gauge veil which allowed air to enter but through which flies were unable to reach the decaying meat. He found that the covered meat would not produce maggots but that the unprotected containers provided for the controls were well supplied with maggots and in due time adult flies. Thus, he had demonstrated that under conditions in which air was not excluded, but when the flies were merely prevented from laying their eggs on the meat, no life was created. Redi observed carefully the activities of flies during the different phases of the experiment. Flies were attracted to the meat as soon as it showed the first signs of decay and laid eggs on the outside surface of the unprotected meat. Some eggs were deposited on the veil, and the larvae that emerged would have wriggled their way through the mesh work and entered the containers, but Redi removed them as fast as they appeared. He observed closely the method of egg deposition and noted that in a few cases active young were deposited by adult flies. The eggs had apparently hatched in the body of the mother. Some adults would remain quiet on the surface and deposit several eggs at one time, but others would drop single eggs or larvae from the air without lighting.
Redi, through these simple but ingenious experiments, was able to demonstrate that flies do not develop spontaneously on [p.201]putrifying meat but that they must come from other flies through the medium of eggs. In his book, Experiments on the Generation of Insects, published in 1668, Redi recorded the results of his experiments that dispelled spontaneous generation as it applied to animals as complex as flies. With the advent of microbiology, however, the whole controversy flared up again and required further and more critical experiments. In dealing with minute organisms that could not be readily observed, scientists found that more elaborate tools and refined techniques were necessary.
One of the earliest experiments on microorganisms that produced evidence against spontaneous generation was performed by the French microscopist, Louis Joblot (1645-1723). He observed in 1710, as did Leeuwenhoek in an earlier period, that hay when infused in water and allowed to stand for a few days gave rise to countless microorganisms that were called “infusoria.” According to present day taxonomic arrangement, the organisms included in a hay infusion would mostly fall into the groups of bacteria and protozoa. Only a small portion would represent the class of protozoa, now known as infusoria.
Joblot’s contemporaries, and many who followed, considered the presence of microorganisms in a hay infusion as conclusive evidence for spontaneous generation, but Joblot was critical of the interpretation and carried out an experiment to test the prevalent idea. He boiled the material to be used for a hay infusion and divided the boiled material into two parts. One was placed in a container that was sealed off completely and then protected from air, whereas the other was left open. The open container soon had numerous microorganisms, but the material in the closed container was free from all living things. By this experiment, Joblot showed that the boiled infusion alone was not capable of producing life anew. Something in the air was required for organisms to become established in the originally sterile infusion.
In 1745 a report on a similar study, but with different results, was published by John T. Needham (1712-82), an English Catholic priest who was interested in science. In his experiments, organisms developed in the heated and closed hay infusions as well as in those left open, supporting spontaneous generation. Obviously, there were technical differences in the way the two experiments were conducted [p.202]by the two investigators. Hay is now known to carry resistant spores that are not killed by ordinary boiling. Needham apparently did not heat his cultures to a temperature sufficiently high to kill the spores.
On the strength of his contribution, Needham was elected a member of the Royal Society of London, and later he became one of the eight foreign associates of the French Academy of Science. One of the main reasons for the wide recognition accorded Needham’s results was the support and exposition provided by Buffon (1707-88). In his enthusiasm for Needham’s work, Buffon gave it considerable space in his own Natural History and added comments favoring spontaneous generation. Needham was invited to Paris as the guest of Buffon, and he collaborated with Buffon on the second volume of Buffon’s encyclopedia of scientific knowledge. The distinguished London churchman and the famous French encyclopedist thus formed a strong team favoring spontaneous generation.
At this same time, a slightly different idea concerning the origin of life was presented by another distinguished French naturalist, Charles Bonnet (1720-93) who spoke of a pre-existence of germs. This idea was speculative, like many others of that period, but it supported the existence of microorganisms and the stability of the living processes. The pre-existence of organisms was never demonstrated, and the idea suffered for want of experimental support. A heated discussion, however, followed the presentation of Bonnet’s speculation. It has since been shown that neither the view of Bonnet nor that of Needham and Buffon was correct.
Many experiments followed and different interpretations were made, but the question was still unresolved in the middle of the nineteenth century. Recognizing the uncertainty existing on this fundamental question, the French Academy of Sciences offered a prize for the best dissertation on the subject “Attempts by Well-Conceived Experiments to Throw New Light on the Question of Spontaneous Generation.” Louis Pasteur (1822-95) entered the contest and performed a series of well-known experiments demonstrating that microorganisms did not develop spontaneously under the conditions of his experiments.
Then came discoveries of viruses and questions as to their origin arose. Spontaneous generation is now being considered in a more restricted sense, not to explain the immediate origin of [p.203]individuals but rather to account for the first origin of life on the earth that may have given rise over long periods of time to particles such as “free-living” viruses. As new problems arise, more refined tools must be devised in the continuing search for truth.
To many people, questions concerning the origin of life are among the mysteries that are not supposed to be explored; but to the scientist they are legitimate questions. They may not be answered immediately, but they can at least be asked and experiments may be designed to suggest possible answers. It is doubtful that a more logical tentative explanation than the natural one involving the chemical origin could be suggested to answer the question of how life was created.
Curious scientists are interested in problems concerning the physical construction of the earth and living things, even though such questions may seem foolish or outside the limits of authorized knowledge to some other people. My good friend, for example, in commenting on a newspaper release of Dr. Leakey’s archeological discovery of the African “near-man” reported to carry the history of man’s ancestry back 600,000 years said, “I don’t see why they want to discover things like that.” He is not a scientist, and although he frequently says that he accepts all truth no matter what the source might be, he does not share the scientist’s enthusiasm for the discovery of new truth.
Some theologians have been dogmatic in denouncing scientists and their discoveries, and have advised their followers against science for fear of losing faith. Actually many scientists find that their activities probing into nature strengthen their faith in wholesome religion. In this age of science when capable scientists and men of strong character and integrity are needed desperately in the free world, a farsighted approach is recommended. Science must be taught effectively and qualified students must be counseled wisely in making proper preparation for careers in science.
Religion, to be of any value, must be sincerely believed. It must satisfy the reason as well as the emotions and must be consistent with the person’s knowledge of nature and man. Religious beliefs and doctrines cannot stand still when all other knowledge is moving ahead. Damage has come to religion itself by pious attempts on the part of its supporters to oppose science with unscientific methods. [p.204]Students are especially prone to lose confidence in religious leaders who are not abreast of the times. Thoughtful people with deep personal convictions, worthy aspirations, and high ideals have been driven to indifference or even hostility to established religion because of the narrowness and extreme literal interpretation on the part of some theologians.
Religion supplies meaning and purpose for many people and for them it answers questions that cannot yet, at least, be answered from scientific data. It should find a legitimate place for itself even in an age dominated by science. Educational, social, and scientific agencies alike are stressing the need for building character and integrity in individuals and the absolute necessity of developing brotherhood and understanding among peoples and nations. Few, if any, of these agencies have found a way to accomplish this important function. Church organizations, as devoted as they are to the premise that man is important and to the objectives of building better men and improving human relations, may be in a better position than other agencies to realize the projected goals.
The Bible, A Book of Religion. When the mechanism of creation is considered, two possibilities are available for evaluation: (1) the evolution concept supported by an impressive body of observations and deductions; and (2) the Bible story of creation that has been preserved with other scriptural documents. How can apparent conflicts be reconciled? If there are conflicts, it may be because some people try to use the Bible in ways for which it was never intended. It is a book of religion and not a book of science. When this fact is established most of the difficulty will be obviated. As stated in the preface, the Bible, as we know it, is the work of many authors, writing at widely different periods of human history. In current editions, the books by various authors are not always in chronological sequence, but Bible scholars have done much to date the various contributions. One thing seems evident: all the biblical writers were primarily interested in religion rather than science. Furthermore, they wrote long before anyone knew anything about modern science. It is true that some sections, such as Job 39, deal extensively with natural subjects: “Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? Canst thou number the months that they fulfill? or knowest thou the time when [p.205]they bring forth? They bow themselves, they bring forth their young ones, they cast out their sorrows” (vv. 1-2), and, again: “Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them, she is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear; because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding” (vv. 13-17).
These lines deal with the mechanics of natural phenomena, but their greatest significance is in their beauty and religious feeling rather than in their scientific accuracy. The underlying purpose is apparently to show the grandeur of God’s creations. Biblical writers were writing about religion. When they had occasion to refer to natural objects and processes, they spoke in terms of common beliefs of their day. If scattered references to the physical world are pieced together, the resulting picture represents the world and solar system as these people thought them to be. They relied on their senses for descriptions of physical things and visualized the universe as it seemed to be.
Some biblical writers thought the earth was fiat and a sea lay under it. For example, the writer of Psalms praised Him, “that stretched out the earth above the waters” (Ps. 136:6; see also 24:1-2 and Gen. 7:11). The heavens were pictured by the author of Genesis as a tent or an upturned bowl above the flat earth with a sea above the sky and windows in the sky through which the rain came down, “And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters. And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament …” (Gen. 1:6-7; see also 7:11; Job 37:18; Ps. 104:2, 148:4; Isa. 40:22). This is now known to be good Babylonian “science”—the science of that day.
In other references the earth was considered to be stationary, “the world also is established, that it cannot be moved” (Ps. 93:1; also 104:5). The sun, moon and stars were thought to be moved through the heavens for the special purpose of illuminating the earth: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also” (Gen. 1:16; see [p.206]also 1:14-15 and 17-18).
The above descriptions of the physical world are now known to be scientifically incorrect, but they were incidental to the writer’s main purpose in writing. Biblical references to “life sciences” like those to the “physical sciences” are dated. For example, the writer of Psalms 139:13-14 was obviously not informed in modern obstetrics, “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works…” Lack of technical accuracy should not obscure the value of a beautiful religious poem. Obviously, these writers were intent on getting over their message of religion. If in doing so, they made inaccurate allusions to the nature of the universe, of the living things therein, it is of no real importance. Their writings must be evaluated on the basis of their worth to religion or philosophy rather than their worth to modern science.
The controversy on the matter of the earth’s being stationary may be cited as an example of misuse of the Bible. When Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543 A.D.) established his proof (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, 1543) that the earth revolves (instead of the sun, moon and stars), various religious leaders were extremely upset. Father Inchofer commented that, “the opinion of the earth’s motion is of all heresies the most abominable, the most pernicious, the most scandalous; the immovability of the earth is thrice sacred; argument against the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and the incarnation should be tolerated sooner than an argument to prove that the earth moves” (Moody 1953, 427). Martin Luther attacked Copernicus in these words: “People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show the earth revolves, not the heavens, or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system which of all systems is, of course, the very best. This fool wishes to turn the whole science of astronomy upside down, but sacred scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth” (Tischreden, ed. Walch 1743, 2,260). We ask now what was the matter with such people? These critics failed to recognize that the Bible is a book of religion but not a book of science.
Evolution is a relative newcomer in the history of science. Most people before 1859 had thought little about it. When Darwin [p.207]published his Origin of Species, the storm broke all over again. Religious leaders who were entirely reconciled concerning astronomy despite its contradiction of scripture maintained that the theories of creation in Genesis must be accepted as literal history. They showed a peculiar inconsistency in considering the Bible not to be scientific in matters of astronomy but refusing to recognize that it is not scientific in matters of biology.
The Threat of Evolution to Religion. Evolution was considered by many religious leaders to represent a more serious threat than earlier scientific advances to established religion. It seemed to challenge the trustworthiness of the scriptures more directly than even the work of Copernicus. The place of God in the universe was shaken and the efficacy of faith was brought into question. Darwin had cut the line between man and Adam. The doctrine of the “Fall” seemed untenable with Darwinian biology. The most seriously threatened of all Christian teachings was the role of God as creator as told in the Bible story of creation. To religious leaders of the last century, there seemed to be no middle ground and no possibility for reinterpretation on this issue: if evolution was right, the Bible was wrong, and vice versa.
The nineteenth-century background that made Darwin’s work a severe shock can be appreciated only in the perspective of history. As stated earlier, ideas of natural relations and creation in natural ways were considered by the Greek philosopher-scientists and perhaps by even earlier students of nature. The early Chinese, for example, are now known to have had a crude concept of evolution.
The book of Genesis is not world history, but the history of “God’s people.” In any case the writers were thinking in terms of historical and not cosmic creation. The words “make” and “create” used in Genesis 1 and 2 have been at the base of interpretations of creation. These words are used elsewhere in the Old Testament with different connotations, sometimes with broad and sometimes with restricted meaning. In some places they refer to the coming of Christ or other divine activity as in Psalms 104:30, “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth.” The word was not intended to indicate actually when and how creations occurred. Early writers apparently did not intend to state how things began but rather how they were. The story of the creation was the [p.208]story of God’s dealings with his chosen people. There was no reason to present a full and detailed account of the creation of the universe. A passing reference to the creation of “all things” was adequate for the writer’s purpose.
In the New Testament, creation was presupposed and correlated with redemption. Some early Christians discussed the possible method followed by God in the creation of the world and man. Conspicuous scriptural passages provided the theme that the creator molded directly with his hands all things living and dead. The first of the early Christian fathers to discuss creation in detail was Theophilus of Antioch (second century A.D.) who developed the idea of instantaneous creation of something from nothing. Tertullian, also in the second century, was first to use the phrase “creator of heaven and earth.” Other early fathers of the church were critical of this point of view and found little support for it in either the Old or New Testament. Saint Augustine (354-430) urged an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1, particularly the reference to the six-day periods. In one of his writings he said, “to suppose that God formed man from the dust with bodily hands is very childish. God neither formed man with bodily hands nor did he breathe upon him with throat and lips” (Chamberlin 1911, 12).
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) developed a more natural interpretation of theology than his predecessors and contemporaries. In his view all things were created by God in the beginning, but the original creations were endowed with the capacity for change. Once created, the world and living things were set up to run themselves without further intervention. St. Basil declared in the fourth century A.D. that in the beginning, at the command of God, the waters were gifted with productive powers and that “from the slime and muddy places frogs, flies, and gnats came into being” (Chamberlin 1911, 11). This is spontaneous generation. St. Basil concluded that the same command that gave this generative power to the earth in the beginning should be effective until the end of the world.
Later Christians were more dogmatic about the specific act of creation by God, called special creation, and it became heresy to advocate any other view. The trend of church leaders was toward a literal interpretation of the scriptures. James Ussher (1581-1656), an Irish prelate, constructed a chronology of the Bible and on the [p.209]premise that the earth was created instantaneously on the first day mentioned in Genesis 1, set the date of creation at 4004 B.C. At the time Bishop Ussher made his calculation and through the two centuries that followed, there was little reason to question this chronology.
The question of the time required for the creation of the earth, the origin of life, and the development of man has been one of more recent controversy. Few people now believe that the earth and all its inhabitants were created in six twenty-four-hour days but, it is argued, that the “days” could well represent longer periods or perhaps six impulses of God’s creative activity and not definite time periods. One interpretation in terms of definite time periods is that each “day” represents 1,000 years. This would allow a total of some 6,000 years for the entire process of creation. A realistic perspective of time is difficult to establish. One student recently insisted that the dinosaurs, extinct for some 75 million years, were destroyed in Noah’s flood. Another student explained an Indian legend describing transportation by water from one location to another in Western America as relating to Lake Bonneville times. The student dated this event at 300 years ago but Lake Bonneville dates back more than 25,000 years.
One scientific concept essential to an appreciation of evolution is that of geological time. The familiar units of time such as days, years, and centuries are inadequate to describe the long periods required for evolution to occur. Members of the human species, Homo sapiens, for example, have been present on the earth in substantially their present physical form for some 25,000 to 50,000 years. Man’s entire history on the earth covers only a very small part of the earth’s history which goes into the billions of years.
Pre-Darwinian Biologists. Not only church people but most scientists as well found no place for evolution in the two centuries preceding the time of Darwin. Biology and other sciences during this period were dominated by systematists.
New knowledge had been accumulated during the Renaissance and the next logical step was to classify it into useful systems. Movements to systemize and classify were promoted in the cultural areas such as literature, theology, and art as well as in science. The key to the period was characterized in Newton’s book Principia (1687) in which mathematical principles of natural philosophy were [p.210]presented. Newton viewed the universe as fixed and static with the earth and heavenly bodies precisely arranged and moving in mathematical harmony. The same fixed and rigid pattern developed for the physical world was carried over to biology. Attempts were made to classify animals and plants according to a prearranged fixed system.
The English naturalist and theologian, John Ray (1627-1705), was one of the leading biologists of his time. He accepted the biblical explanation of creation. In the preface to the third edition of his The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1701), he wrote, “by the Works of Creation … I mean the Works created by God at first and by him conserved to this Day in the same State and Condition in which they were first made.” Ray devoted his life to discriminating, defining, and arranging plants and animals systematically. He insisted that distinctions should be based on structure rather than color, size or habit of plants and animals. His system of classification was a natural one in spite of his rigid view of creation.
Carl V. Linnaeus (Linné Latinized) (1707-78) was the greatest systematist in the history of biology. He spent his early life in the modest home of a pastor who was a nature lover. Linnaeus was educated in his native Sweden and later in Holland. At twenty-eight years of age he published the first edition of his Systema Naturae (1735). Later editions, along with The Classes of Plants (1738), Botanical Philosophy (1751), and The Species of Plants (1753), presented the binomial (two-term naming) system of nomenclature which became the method for classification of plants and animals.
Although Linnaeus was a special creationist, he followed inadvertently the natural system of classification. There is evidence that later in life Linnaeus considered the evolution concept more favorable. When he tried to hybridize plants of different species, he became aware of natural mechanisms which serve as isolating factors. During the Linnean period in the eighteenth century, however, the fixity of species was firmly established and any ideas of evolution were crowded into the background. Only a few biologists gave the subject much consideration.
The French naturalist, politician, and writer, Buffon (1707-88) who was contemporary with Linnaeus, discussed evolution extensively, but he took different positions on this subject at different times in his life. During his early life, he took an extreme view in favor of [p.211]special creation, much like that of Linnaeus. He did not, however, agree with Linnaeus in other respects. Linnean classification was depicted as trifling and artificial. Buffon considered nature as a whole and looked for large likenesses rather than trivial differences. This led him to a consideration of broad natural relation and evolution.
Later in life Buffon developed an extreme view in favor of inheritance of acquired characteristics. The factors that he visualized as influencing evolutionary change were: (1) direct influences of the environment, (2) migration, (3) geographical isolation, and (4) overcrowding and struggle for existence. These factors would result in a gradual development of new forms of life rather than abrupt changes. When he was more involved in politics at a later stage in his career, he adopted a more liberal, middle-of-the-road position and wavered between the extremes of his earlier views. He compromised the position of special creation and evolution with a number of wild speculations. The pig, for example, was described as a compound of other animals, the ass was a degenerate horse, and the ape a degenerate man. Buffon was a prolific writer and an interpreter of contemporary thought, but he was not an original investigator.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), English philosopher and free thinker, was somewhat clearer than Buffon on the subject of evolution. The name of his best known book, Zoonomia, was coined to represent the laws of organic life. In this book Darwin developed the theme of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The age of the earth was described in millions of years, and life was considered to have originated from a primordial protoplasmic mass. The struggle for existence that was elaborated by Charles Darwin, grandson of Erasmus, was suggested in Zoonomia.
In the preface to Zoonomia, Darwin wrote, “The Great Creator of all things has infinitely diversified the works of his hands but has at the same time stamped a certain similitude on the features of nature, that demonstrate to us that the whole is one family of one parent. On this similitude is founded all rational analogy.” Erasmus Darwin independently concluded that species descend from common ancestors. He speculated on the variation in animals and the reasons for such variations; for example, the tendency for the strongest to reproduce themselves in greater proportion, and the struggle for existence constantly occurring among animals. It is now evident that [p.212]Charles Darwin received more from his grandfather than was previously supposed. For every volume written by Charles, there was a corresponding chapter by Erasmus. Charles, in one of his treatises, expressed his disappointment in finding Zoonomia more speculative than scientific.
The most important of the eighteenth-century evolutionists was Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). In the years 1781-82, Lamarck traveled across Europe studying plants and taking notes for his Dictionary of Botany. Later he wrote Flora of France, a work published by the French government. Through the assistance of Buffon, he obtained a job in the Museum of Natural History where he contributed further to botanical literature. During the French revolution when he was becoming a good botanist, he changed his field to invertebrate zoology, and over a period of years prepared a seven-volume, systematic study of the invertebrates. His best known work is Philosophical Zoology (1809).
Lamarck’s contribution to evolution was a substantial one, even though it has not always been fully appreciated. Lamarck described the animal kingdom as a graded series from simple to complex forms. In his view, no group became extinct through abrupt catastrophes as his contemporary Cuvier contended, but one form changed into another. Lamarck was not as well trained and disciplined as Cuvier, but he gave the first detailed defense of evolution. When he came to an explanation of the mechanics of evolution, he made use of the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics that had come from the Greeks and had been developed by Erasmus Darwin and Buffon. Lamarck made bold speculations and carried the subject to great detail, and, even though he did not originate the view, his name has become associated with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Briefly, he held that (1) the environment modifies plants and animals; (2) new needs modify old organs and bring new ones into use; (3) use and disuse modify development; and (4) these modifications are inherited.
Lamarck made other contributions to evolution that are more sound but are not as well remembered as his speculation on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. He appreciated the factor of isolation in forming new species and recognized the influence of proximity in destroying differences between varieties within species. [p.213]He saw unity existing in nature and provided the first diagram of an evolutionary tree. He understood, at least in a general way, the physiological balance maintained in nature. Lamarck was first to use the word “species” correctly, as a term to describe a natural unit of related animals or plants. Aristotle had used the term, and in the years that followed the word was used extensively in logic. It had been applied to groups of animals and plants by Ray and other early systematists, but Lamarck gave the word its modern usage.
Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was noted primarily for his work in systematics, comparative anatomy, and paleontology. Although he greatly improved the geological time table and possessed the fundamental knowledge on which evolution is now based, his personal influence on the theory of evolution was negative. He openly opposed evolution and supported the alternative view of fixity of species. His theory of catastrophism and successive new creations was popularized at the expense of the alternative theory of the gradual change supported by Lamarck. Cuvier belittled Lamarck and was largely responsible for the unpopularity of Lamarck in his later life. Geoffry St. Hilaire (1772-1844), a contemporary and colleague of Cuvier, opposed Cuvier’s views and defended evolution. He advocated the direct effect of environment as Buffon and Lamarck had done to explain small variations, recognized the evolutionary effects of isolation, and visualized physiological as well as geographical isolation as a factor in species formation.
A well-known incident of this period arose from a controversy between Cuvier and St. Hilaire concerning the origin of the squid. Instead of discussing the matter privately and objectively, the two men held a public debate which was announced and widely publicized, making the issue more emotional than scientific. St. Hilaire, who had an idea of evolution, but based only on meager and crude observations, was tight in principle but poorly prepared and perhaps wrong in detail. Cuvier explained the origin of the squid on the basis of special creation. He was wrong in general principle but well prepared with supporting details and won the debate by a better argument and a dramatic show. The effect was to retard the study of evolution.
Nineteenth-century Conflict. It must be remembered that developments in science were meager indeed during the Middle Ages and [p.214]that the broad natural relations now fundamental to biology were not widely appreciated even until the last century. In a background devoid of science, the scriptures provided the only available information, and they were interpreted to answer questions that ordinarily would be considered within the province of science. Although attacks had been made on Genesis 1 as far back as the seventeenth century, there was no well established reason for not taking Genesis 1 literally until the time of Charles Darwin (1809-82). When Darwin came on the scene, the traditional interpretation of creation was so well established that even the suggestion of an alternative explanation met resistance. Darwin’s conclusions, which probably would not have surprised thinking people in earlier periods of history, caused a major intellectual revolution in the middle nineteenth century. Perhaps nothing since the Reformation has had such a profound influence on men’s thinking.
During the five years (1831-36) while Darwin traveled around the world on the Beagle, he observed and collected plants, animals and fossils. On the Galapagos Islands he was impressed with the gigantic tortoises and large crabs not like those on the shores of the South American mainland some 600 miles away. Among the armored animals he noted transitional forms from island to island. Different islands sometimes had entirely different species. He kept notes on all these observations and pondered over the strange relations. As his observations were accumulated, his faith in the fixity of species was shaken. On his return to England, he published the Journal of Researches and took care of other matters of immediate importance. When these tasks were completed, he returned to his notes on species formation and took time to reflect on the significance of his observation.
The problem to be solved was: do species of living creatures really change or become modified, and if so, how? A few observers had postulated that existing species were descended from other species and had gradually become modified in the process. But why should modification occur? It was common knowledge that man could “select” certain types of domestic animals and alter the characteristics of a breed. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in nature was a mystery.
At first Darwin was merely collecting and classifying facts. [p.215]Then a theory dawned on him, and he began working with a purpose. The key to the problem apparently came to him when he read an essay by Thomas Malthus on the Principle of Population. Briefly, the theme of the essay was that man multiplies more rapidly than does his supply of food; therefore, competition occurs for the requirements of existence. The prize for which the competitors struggled was life itself and the success of one animal meant the failure of the others. Darwin pondered over the problem and decided that if he could demonstrate that favorable variations would tend to be preserved in living populations and unfavorable ones destroyed, he could show how new species came into being.
Darwin spent some twenty years working over this theory. In the early part of this period (1842), he prepared a small paper outlining the theory that he sent to his biologist friends for criticism. With the help they provided, he strengthened each point and improved the theory. He read, discussed, observed, and spared no effort in making the case as clear and well documented as possible. A book was planned in which all of his data would be presented. In the meantime, while the great book was taking form, he undertook the writing of an abstract. This was about half written when Darwin suffered a shattering blow. He received for review a short manuscript written by the explorer-naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) entitled On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.
So closely did the paper by Wallace agree with his own theory, he commented later, that it might have been an abstract of his own work. Twenty years of work and thought had apparently been wasted. Darwin generously recognized the contribution of his then obscure, young colleague and suggested that Wallace’s paper be published immediately. Friends of Darwin, however, who knew of his work, intervened and suggested a joint publication by the two pioneers, summarizing the new theory of evolution. This seemed a fair solution to the problem of priority. A joint paper was read in June, 1858, before the Linnean Society and published in the Transactions of the society later the same year.
The two authors of the evolution theory arrived at their conclusions through different paths. Darwin had pondered the matter for some twenty years and had collected volumes of data. [p.216]Although Wallace had undoubtedly given the general subject considerable thought during the preceding three or four years, he apparently arrived at the conclusion in a single flash of insight. In February 1858, during an attack of yellow fever, Wallace had time and inclination to think about the problem of how living populations have arrived at their present status. He remembered the thesis of Malthus on population that he had read many years before and hit upon the idea of “survival of the fittest” as it applied to animals and plants. He thought out the theory in a few hours and by the evening of the same day had prepared a rough outline of the idea. Two days later he had written the paper that was sent to Darwin.
The detailed book that Darwin had planned was never written. After seeing Wallace’s paper he changed from his usual methodical way and moved into high gear on his abstract, completing it in thirteen months. It was published in 1859 under the title, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Every single copy of the first edition was sold on the day of publication.
The conflict during the latter part of the nineteenth century was bitter and is not yet completely dead. There are many controversial points that become obvious when philosophical and theological implications are considered. For the most part, religious leaders are now recognizing the Bible for what it is, a book of religion, but not a book of science. Speaking at the Darwin centennial held in Chicago in November 1959, Dr. J. Pelikan of the Federated Theological Faculty of the University of Chicago, said, “Even the most reactionary theologian today must give some consideration to the scientific explanation of creation. Most theologians agree that essential theology is but little affected by the adjustment necessary to accommodate modern science. Both science and religion have a place and each should respect the other’s position and method.” Actually they need each other. Science without religion may become materialism as it has in some parts of the world. Religion without science may become superstition, as in earlier periods of history. Together they contribute to wholesome human activity based on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual experience.
Biblical Accounts of Creation. Since some people regard the creation stories in Genesis as literal history, let us consider them more [p.217]critically. Two different stories of the creation appear in Genesis. The transmission of the records of early writings to us has involved many devious pathways. The Bible in its present form represents a composite production made from several sources that have been blended, brought up to date, and supplemented by the various authors. One of the sources was the Judahite, J narrative (Yahoistic or Jehovistic document) written as the religious book of the Kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel also had its narrative, usually called the E (Elohist) narrative. There are also other documents such as the Book of the Covenant, the Law, the Priestly Code (P), and Deuteronomy (D). Although neither the J nor the E narrative was written earlier than the ninth century B.C., both tell of the founding of the Hebrew nation centuries before.
The E narrative starts with Abraham, but the J narrative begins with the creation. This most ancient account of the creation is now found in the King James Bible in the second chapter of Genesis (vv. 4-23). According to this account God made the earth suitable for life and formed man from the dust of the ground. A garden was planted for the man Adam to live in with a variety of trees for his use. God then created the beasts of the field and the fowls, and brought them to Adam to name. Afterward, God created woman from one of Adam’s ribs. Note that in this account man was created before the lower animals and that the time of creation was not divided into separate days.
When the J and E narratives were united and added to, the ancient Judahite account of the creation was left intact but ahead of it was placed another and differing account of the creation (Gen. 1 and 2:1-4). This latter account is the familiar one divided into six days. The entire story is told in some 600 words. In this narrative plants were created on the third day, and then the sun, moon and stars were created on the fourth day; certainly an improbable sequence. The process of photosynthesis, essential for plant nutrition, would be difficult to maintain for even a day before the sun was created. According to this account, water dwelling animals and fowls were then created, followed on the next day by the beasts and the creeping things. Finally on the sixth day man was created male and female (no mention here of Adam and his rib). The taxonomy and phylogeny suggested in this account indicate again that the Bible is not intended [p.218]as a text of modern science. The classification represents a mere lumping of individuals for convenient reference. In some cases the mode of movement is used (e.g., walking or swimming), in other cases the habitat (e.g. water, air or land) or the presumed origin (e.g. from water or earth), or the mode of propagation (e.g. fast breeding insects).
In the first two chapters of Genesis, two entirely different stories of creation are recorded, conflicting in detail and chronology. Both cannot be a literal history of what actually occurred, so why regard either of them as being literal? Why were these accounts of the creation written? Their emphasis is religious, not scientific. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Early biblical writers were intent upon impressing the idea of God and only one God, not many gods as most other people at that time believed. Later writers were showing that God was trustworthy, merciful, and just in dealing with those bound to Him, but the mechanics of creation were incidental.
The first chapters of Genesis record great religious concepts. Acceptance of the religious message they carry should not be dependent upon the scientific allusions they contain. Is it not just as possible to worship a God who works through natural laws, slowly evolving life on this planet, as it is to worship a God who creates by sudden command? To many thinking people the concept of the creator becomes more satisfying as they become more familiar with the intricate workings of the universe. Such a creator is to many people far greater in stature than a miracle worker who created things once and for all in 4004 B.C.
Evolution and God. The next question is: does not science prove that there is no creator? Science deals with phenomena that can be studied by the physical senses, particularly the sense of sight aided by methods available for extending these senses, such as the microscope or telescope. These methods have not thus far yielded any evidence concerning a creator. If they ever do, science may then be in a position to prove whether or not there is a creator; but that time seems far removed from the present. Science can neither prove that there is a creator nor prove that there is not a creator.
To the next question, do not many scientists believe that there is not a creator? one must answer, “yes,” but this is quite another [p.219]matter. Scientists, like other human beings, believe many things not proved by science. Some bankers, some machinists, and some farmers do not believe in a creator. What people believe to be true is determined by numerous factors, many of which have nothing to do with scientific demonstration. This statement is as true of scientists as it is of other people. Scientists are not a distinctive race of mankind. Each scientist has had an impressionable childhood molded by varied influences. The scientist leads his private life as do other people. Accordingly, in matters of belief scientists are much like other people. Many of them believe in a creator; some of them do not. But if they are thoughtful and honest they readily recognize that their belief one way or another is not equivalent to scientific demonstration.
It is true that the phenomena which can be observed in evolution operate by chance with no apparent direction or design. Many students of evolution conclude that there is no purpose, that the whole process is opportunistic. They point to many blind alleys through which animals have gone only to become extinct; they emphasize the fact that evolution, as evaluated by common standards, is not progressing, that apparent progress is frequently followed by obvious retrogression; and that animals do not seem to evolve according to any established pattern. How animal populations evolve depends upon the opportunities that chance to befall them. These are matters of observation, yet they may not in themselves represent the whole pattern. Why should we assume that the laws of the universe, including those of evolution, must be so organized to reach our chosen goal by what seems to us the proper or most direct route? And why should we conclude that if the natural laws do not seem to be leading toward a goal, that there is no goal at all? A chance mechanism on the surface could obscure guiding lines on the inside. Natural selection could be a part of a plan of creation.
As an example of a scientist who was honest and objective in his search for scientific truth but deeply sensitive to religion, Charles Darwin, himself, might be cited. In the final paragraph on the Origin of Species, Darwin said, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been, and [p.220]are being evolved.” Darwin considered his theory of evolution to be quite compatible with a belief in God. In one of his last letters he wrote, “I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God.”
At the conclusion of the introduction to the first edition (1859) of the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feeling of anyone. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, ‘as subversive of natural and inferentially of revealed religion.’ A celebrated author and divine [sic] has written to me that ‘he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.'”
Any new development in science may appear as a threat to some orthodox interpretation. On the other hand close observations in nature may suggest new ways to interpret cherished phrases in line with knowledge and reason.
Man is More than an Animal. The next question, then, is whether or not it makes a difference to man and his feeling of importance to recognize his animal ancestry. If it does, what adjustments are necessary for him to maintain his self-esteem and yet to accommodate scientific facts? It may require a change in viewpoint to regard man as having received his body from the animals rather than from an especially created perfect state. It should be emphasized here that only the physical body is involved in the evolution concept. Whatever else goes into the makeup of a man is totally unknown from scientific data. People who on occasion speak of man as a dual being made of body and soul, or “breath of life,” are sincerely distressed at the thought that man’s body is an animal body. For them there is comfort in the thought that the body once was perfect and that man’s principal task is to regain that perfect state.
All scientific evidence available on man’s physical history indicates that he was on the average less perfect in times past than now. Anthropologists can demonstrate that early men as a whole [p.221]were crude and barbaric. Certain individuals, however, were more highly developed than others. Man, as he has developed from the dawn of civilization down to the present, represents the finest fruit of the evolutionary process. This does not mean that no finer fruit will be produced, but if superior physical types of man do arise they will undoubtedly represent a new development, not a reversion to a “perfect state” once existing but subsequently lost. Accordingly, evolution provides an optimistic viewpoint from which to look at man. We may well believe that the great days for humanity are ahead, not behind. Man is being created in the image of God. An extreme view of evolution came from religion, not science, and is embodied in the phrase “as God now is, man may become,” implying that man may become a god. In a theological sense this is tremendous progress. Theologians who propound this doctrine consider both body and spirit to be making progress and to be endowed with the capacity for eternal progression.
The word “animal” has been used in describing the physical ancestry of man. This does not mean necessarily that man is only an animal. Although the obvious uniqueness of man may not support the authenticity of the Bible or the existence of God, it should be pointed out that man has achieved heights attained by no other inhabitant on this planet. His development of spoken and written language has made possible the social inheritance which forms a unique addition to his biological inheritance. Through this social inheritance ideas and achievements of past generations are handed on so that members of one generation build upon the achievements of their predecessors in a manner unlike anything possible among other animals. Because one generation does build on the achievements of its predecessors, there is a continued social evolution independent of the biological evolution that has brought man to his present physical state. This is a unique achievement of man and it enables him increasingly to control his own destiny. Man’s ability to make and use tools has enabled him increasingly to adopt his environment to himself instead of adapting himself to his environment, as other animals have done.
Moral and ethical values are important to a free society and religion is one agency for perpetuating such values. It would be unfortunate for students and scientists to lose sight of such values [p.222]because of a conflict between science and religion that is actually more apparent than real. Scientists must remember that everything need not be scientific to be important. Great issues of life are determined by emotional and ethical criteria rather than by cold intellectual decisions: “Out of the heart are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:20). Theologians on the other hand should recognize their debt to the critical attitude that has come with the age of science. Much of the superstition and superficial emotion that has grown up with religion has been removed by science. A new and more intellectual approach has greatly strengthened religion.
Science with its objective methods is prepared to work on questions of “what,” “how,” and “when.” Its function is to provide knowledge. Questions of “why” and “by whom” are for the most part within the province of philosophy and religion. During a period when there was no science, some questions such as how and when the earth was created got over into theology. The day is long since past when scientific questions can be resolved by theologians not trained in science. Subjective methods of religion such as faith may be inappropriate when applied to physical problems but they have a place in developing security, love, and improved human relations.
A great message of the Bible is that man has dignity and is important. Biology, in its present state of development, does little for man’s dignity but it shows that man is the only creature on the earth with the ability to think, reflect, make and use tools, and cooperate intelligently with his fellows.