If Darwin was right, then let us follow him, but surely we can ask if he was wrong.
Charles Darwin died an unbeliever, yet the work that makes him famous should not be a reason anybody dies outside the Christian faith. Don’t get me wrong: I remain skeptical that he or those who have followed in his footsteps have explained what they intended to explain. However, if I turn out to be wrong, then it will not be the first time.
My faith does not depend on it and yours should not either. The interesting question to me regarding Darwin and theories of evolution is not: “Is it compatible with Christianity?” but, “Is it true?” Would one accept Darwinism if one were not a metaphysical naturalist? Maybe, but one wishes that the defenders did not so often betray ignorance of basic philosophy and philosophy of science.
Given that Darwin lived in a pervasively Christian culture, it is not surprising that so much of the theory is not only compatible with Christianity, but echoes many distinctly Christian ideas. Christian civilization produced much of the science and the rules of the philosophy of science that Darwin ably deploys. While Darwin may have superficially rejected theism, when he assumes the rationality of the universe, ideas about simplicity in theories, and the ability to find a unifying explanation for events, he reveals his Christian imagination. For this reason, people I greatly admire, such as CS Lewis, were able to separate his atheism and naturalism from his evolutionary stories. CS Lewis even wrote a science fiction series that depended on ideas like deep time (a very old cosmos) that Darwin also needed and found no problem in accepting important aspects of Darwinism.
And so M* asks me:
45. “Do you think someone can believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution and be a Christian? If so, where does original sin fit into the picture and how exactly did Jesus solve that problem if the Adam and Eve story is not literally true?
And, of course, one can believe in Darwin’s theory and evolution and be a Christian. People have been doing so since Darwin’s day and they have done so with intellectual consistency.
Note however the fragility of the atheism behind such a question. I fear, M*, that you are like a Christian I once knew who had to have everything figured out. There could be no unanswered big questions, Christianity, his version of Christianity, had to know all the answers. He was working hard on a universal Christian theory of everything. This was sad to me, because part of the interest in the world is not being sure . . . of living by faith, trust in the reasonable ideas that are not certain.
The simple solution is to take the consensus on every issue and simply assert it. If this were possible, with consistency, then this might be appealing. If most biologists accept Darwinism or evolutionary theory and metaphysical naturalism, then we should accept Darwinism and naturalism. If most thinkers are materialists, then we should be materialists. The problem is that most mathematicians believe numbers exist and numbers are not material! The fact that immaterial numbers and the math based on them works in a material word is odd. It does not fit, but too many intellectuals ignore the tension.
Go with the conventional wisdom and you may be inconsistent, but nobody will call you out.
However, if we follow the argument where it leads, if we go with the best evidence, then we will always be in a messier place, at least socially. God exists. There is more than matter and energy in mindless motion: numbers, ideas, consciousness, angels, devils, God. Evolutionary biology has been useful to us and there exists no better alternative, yet there are puzzles, problems, and paradoxes to just buying the package.
Adopt all the best ideas and there is tension, a lack of certainty of how it all fits together that will be called out, because it is not the establishmentarian position. So what?
Evolutionary mechanisms account for some things, but start asking impertinent question and instead of explanations, one gets anger. Whether it is a history of failures regarding the origin of life, difficulties actually constructing a “tree of life,” the abrupt appearance of species, or many other scientific and philosophical problems, there is more than enough room for dissent.
Assume, as M* does, that the Darwinian account is true. Assume no Adam and Eve. M* wants to know where “original sin” fits in the picture? And of course, this is easy to do. If the standard view is correct, the moment of original sin came when beings were capable of differentiating between what is and what ought to be and then chose what should not be. A mere animal might kill, but it does not know what it does. The “fall” would be the moment when we, humankind, knew we should not, but did.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus saw what should be and came and did what He should every time. We killed him for this decision. This was less important than what Jesus did. He came, He saw, He conquered!
In Adam’s fall, the fall of the sentient hominid, we sinned all and we go on sinning. In Christ, there is a chance to take a different road, by grace, through faith, and under the great mercy of God.
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions: