Guide The Watch on the Heath: Science and Religion before Darwin (Text Only)

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By analogy, he argued, the complexities of the natural world, chiefly Mankind, it has to be said must have been made by a higher being. In fact the IDers have been proved wrong in every example they have given. Similarly, there are very simple immune systems and rudimentary flagella within the animal kingdom. In fact, creationism is not a scientific theory or remotely like one. In Science, theories are scrutinised and tested against observed experimental evidence.

Those who push the Old Testament as a science text are also rabid opponents of abortion rights and gay rights. They oppose sex education in schools and the availability of contraceptives to young people. The organisations that seek to undermine science are not short of a pound or two.

Nevertheless, rich foundations pour millions of dollars into publicity campaigns. This foundation is supported by the profits of Wal-Mart, one of the most vicious anti-union organisations in the USA. Tens of thousands of dollars are disbursed to hundreds of university faculties that sponsor courses on the reciprocity of science and religion. In Britain, another champion of creationism is the Vardy Foundation, based on the wealth of the Vardy car sales business.

Emmanuel Schools teach creationism alongside science in their curriculum. Marxists believe that everyone should have the right to follow whatever religious practice and belief they choose. But there must be no mistake that in their social and political programme, these fundamentalist creationist organisations represent the interests of the capitalist class and pose a threat to the democratic rights built up by the labour movement over many years.

They are not just a few cranks and crack-pots; they are a well-funded, well-organised and insidious reactionary force in society and need to be fought at every opportunity. The idea of any kind of development seemed impossible to him. Did a watchmaker leave his work unfinished? Certainly not! Paley argued that the present organization of the world, both physical and biological, could be seen as a compelling witness to the wisdom of a creator god.

Paley's Natural Theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature had a profound influence on popular English religious thought in the first half of the nineteenth century, and is known to have been read by Darwin. Paley was deeply impressed by Newton's discovery of the regularity of nature, which allowed the universe to be thought of as a complex mechanism, operating according to regular and understandable principles.

Nature consists of a series of biological structures which are to be thought of as being "contrived" — that is, constructed with a clear purpose in mind. Paley used his famous analogy of the watch on a heath to emphasise that contrivance necessarily presupposed a designer and constructor. Indeed, Paley argues, the difference is that nature shows an even greater degree of contrivance than the watch.

Paley is at his best when he deals with the description of mechanical systems within nature, such as the immensely complex structure of the human eye and heart. Yet Paley's argument depended on a static worldview, and simply could not cope with the dynamic worldview underlying Darwinism. Darwin knew of Paley's views, and initially found them persuasive. However, his observations on the Beagle raised some questions. On his return, Darwin set out to develop a more satisfying explanation of his own observations and those of others.

Although Darwin appears to have hit on the basic idea of evolution through natural selection by , he was not ready to publish. Such a radical theory would require massive observational evidence to be marshalled in its support. Four features of the natural world seemed to Darwin to require particularly close attention, in the light of problems and shortcomings with existing explanations.

The forms of certain living creatures seemed to be adapted to their specific needs. Paley's theory proposed that these creatures were individually designed by God with those needs in mind. Darwin increasingly regarded this as a clumsy explanation. Some species were known to have died out altogether — to have become extinct. This fact had been known before Darwin, and was often explained on the basis of "catastrophe" theories, such as a "universal flood," as suggested by the biblical account of Noah. Darwin's research voyage on the Beagle had persuaded him of the uneven geographical distribution of life forms throughout the world.

In particular, Darwin was impressed by the peculiarities of island populations. Many creatures possess "rudimentary structures" sometimes referred to as "vestigial structures", which have no apparent or predictable function — such as the nipples of male mammals, the rudiments of a pelvis and hind limbs in snakes, and wings on many flightless birds. How might these be explained on the basis of Paley's theory, which stressed the importance of the individual design of species?

Why should God design redundancies? These aspects of the natural order could all be explained on the basis of Paley's theory. Yet the explanations offered seemed cumbersome and strained. What was originally a relatively neat and elegant theory began to crumble under the weight of accumulated difficulties and tensions. There had to be a better explanation. Darwin offered a wealth of evidence in support of the idea of biological evolution, and proposed a mechanism by which it might work — natural selection.

The Origin of Species sets out with great care why the idea of "natural selection" is the best mechanism to explain how the evolution of species took place, and how it is to be understood. The key point is that natural selection is proposed as nature's analogue to the process of "artificial selection" in stockbreeding.

Darwin was familiar with these issues, especially as they related to the breeding of pigeons.

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The first chapter of the Origin of Species therefore considers "variation under domestication" — that is, the way in which domestic plants and animals are bred by agriculturists. Darwin notes how selective breeding allows farmers to create animals or plants with particularly desirable traits. Variations develop in successive generations through this process of breeding, and these can be exploited to bring about inherited characteristics which are regarded as being of particular value by the breeder. In the second chapter, Darwin introduces the key notions of the "struggle for survival" and "natural selection" to account for what may be observed in both the fossil records and the present natural world.

Darwin then argues that this process of "domestic selection" or "artificial selection" offers a model for a mechanism for what happens in nature. In the end, Darwin's theory had many weaknesses and loose ends. For example, it required that speciation should take place; yet the evidence for this was conspicuously absent. Darwin himself devoted a large section of The Origin of Species to detailing difficulties with his theory, noting in particular the "imperfection of the geological record", which gave little indication of the existence of intermediate species, and the "extreme perfection and complication" of certain individual organs, such as the eye.

Nevertheless, he was convinced that these were difficulties which could be tolerated on account of the clear explanatory superiority of his approach. Yet even though Darwin did not believe that he had adequately dealt with all the problems which required resolution, he was confident that his explanation was the best available:. A crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgement, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.

Darwin's theories, as set out in the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man , hold that all species — including humanity — result from a long and complex process of biological evolution.


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The religious implications of this will be clear. Traditional Christian thought regarded humanity as being set apart from the rest of nature, created as the height of God's creation, and alone endowed with the "image of God. Since Darwin's time, there have been many developments which have led to modification and development of his ideas.

These include the clarification of the mechanism of inheritance of acquired traits by Gregor Mendel , the discovery of the gene by Thomas Hunt Morgan in , and the clarification of the critical role of DNA in the transmission of genetic data, particularly through the establishment of its "double helix" structure by James Watson and Francis Crick.

On the basis of their research, Crick proposed what he called the "Central Dogma" of a neo-Darwinian view of evolution — namely, that DNA replicates, acting as a template for RNA, which in turn acts as a template for proteins. The long and complex DNA molecule contains the genetic information necessary for transmission "encoded" using the four nucleotide bases adenine A , guanine G , thymine T and cytosine C arranged in sequences of "base pairs". Today, the term "Darwinism" is generally used to mean the general approach to biological evolution set out in Darwin's canonical works, as developed and extended through clarification of the molecular basis of inheritance.

So what religious issues are raised by Darwinism?

It will be evident from the historical account just presented that Darwin's account of the origin of species raises serious problems for a static understanding of the biological order. Paley's most noted critic in recent years is Richard Dawkins. In his Blind Watchmaker , Dawkins relentlessly points out the failings of Paley's viewpoint, and the explanatory superiority of Darwin's approach, especially as it has been modified through the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

Dawkins argues that Paley's approach is based on a static view of the world, rendered obsolete by Darwin's theory. Dawkins himself is eloquent and generous in his account of Paley's achievement, noting with appreciation his "beautiful and reverent descriptions of the dissected machinery of life. The "only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics. But nobody, Dawkins argues, could share these ideas now. Paley is obsolete. This, then, is perhaps one of the most obvious religious issues raised by the rise of Darwinism — the undermining of an argument for the existence of God which had played a major role in British religious thought, both popular and academic, for more than a century.

Of course, the argument could easily be restated in more appropriate forms — a development which took place during the second half of the nineteenth century, when many Christian writers stressed that evolution could be seen as the means by which God providentially directed what was now understood as an extended process, rather than a single event. A significant debate, which emerged as important shortly after Darwin's death, was whether Darwinism was a domain-specific theory, limited to biology, or a universal theory capable of explaining many aspects of human cultural and intellectual development.

Darwin himself was cautious on this matter, although there are points at which he seems to imply that there are parallels between biological and cultural evolution. Darwin's theory of natural selection began to transform the manner in which the matter of doctrinal development was conceptualized.

If one could speak of evolution within the biological world, could not the same — or at least an analogous — process be discerned within the world of ideas?

Darwin: The Expert View

Darwinism rapidly began its subtle and pervasive transformation from a tool of biological explanation to a more general view of reality. Nineteenth century cultural evolutionists — such as Sir Edward B. Tylor — were committed to a "doctrine of progress", in which the human situation was confidently predicted to improve through the constant replacement of inferior beliefs by those which were considered to be superior.

Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most celebrated populariser of Darwinian orthodoxy and aggressive advocate of "universal Darwinism", insists that, at least in two respects, humans do not conform to the mechanisms that shape the biosphere. In the first place, human beings have developed culture — something that he asserts has no direct counterpart within other evolved species. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Dawkins proposes an important — indeed, a decisive — distinction between humanity and every other living product of genetic mutation and natural selection.

We alone are able to resist our genes. Where E. Wilson and others had insisted that human beings came within the scope of the methods of socio-biology or evolutionary psychology, Dawkins excludes them from its purview as a matter of principle. Such a "universal Darwinism" has met with considerable theological resistance. The idea that every aspect of human life and thought can be accounted for by such a reductionist approach is seen as eliminating the distinctiveness and integrity of human reasoning.

This naturally leads into a consideration of one of the most significant areas of tension between Darwinism and traditional religious views — the place of humanity within the natural order. Traditional Christian theology regarded humanity as the height of God's creation, distinguished from the remainder of the created order by being created in the image of God.

On this traditional reading of things, humanity to be located within the created order as a whole, yet stands above it on account of its unique relationship to God, articulated in the notion of the imago Dei.

Humanity had emerged, over a vast period of time, from within the natural order. If there was one aspect of his own theory of evolution which left Charles Darwin feeling unsettled, it was its implications for the status and identity of the human race. In every edition of the Origin of Species , Darwin consistently stated that his proposed mechanism of natural selection did not entail any fixed or universal law of progressive development.

Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates

Furthermore, he explicitly rejected Lamarck's theory that evolution demonstrated an "innate and inevitable tendency towards perfection. This was not an easy conclusion for Darwin himself, nor for his age as a whole. The conclusion to Darwin's Descent of Man speaks of humanity in exalted terms, while insisting upon its "lowly" biological origins:. Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future.

But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities.

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Most Darwinists would insist that it is a corollary of an evolutionary worldview that we must recognize that we are animals, part of the evolutionary process. Darwinism thus critiques the absolutist assumptions concerning the place of humanity within nature that lies behind "speciesism" — a term introduced by Richard Ryder, and given wider currency by Peter Singer, currently of Princeton University. This has raised considerable difficulties beyond the realm of traditional religion, in that many political and ethical theories are predicated on the assumption of the privileged status of humanity within nature, whether this is justified on religious or secular grounds.

The question of the status of humanity is controversial within Darwinism itself. Evolutionary psychology has tended to emphasise how human habits, values, beliefs and norms can be ascribed to essentially Darwinian processes. Others, including Richard Dawkins, have argued that humanity possesses the capacity to resist its genes.

Understanding the evolutionary process is thus a means to prevent humanity from being shaped by its pressures. As Dawkins famously put it: "We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators. The traditional Christian understandings of the notion of "creation" prevalent within popular religious culture attributed the creation of the world, including humanity, to direct, special divine action.

This notion of the special creation of each and every species underlies William Paley's celebrated Natural Theology Darwin, however, found this notion of special creation problematic on several grounds. What of vestigial or rudimentary organs? And what of the uneven geographical distribution of species? Darwinism holds that the origin of species is to be attributed to extended natural process of variation and selection, in which no divine intervention is required or presupposed. For some, this implies that Darwinism is atheistic, on two counts.

First, that it does not require divine action in order for it to take place; second, that the random nature of variation is inconsistent with the idea of divine creation and providence, which are linked with the ideas of design, purpose and intentionality. Richard Dawkins is an excellent example of a Darwinian who argues that God has been rendered utterly superfluous by the theory of evolution. Many conservative Protestant writers agree, arguing that the role attributed to random events is inconsistent with the biblical material.

Creationist writers often consider this one of the most important elements of their critique of Darwinism. However, the force of this point is open to question. Warfield, perhaps one of the most influential conservative Protestant theologians of the late nineteenth century, pointed out that evolution could easily be understood as a seemingly random process, which was nevertheless divinely superintended.

God's providence was directing the evolutionary process towards its intended goals. More recently, other writers have proposed alternative mechanisms by which the divine superintendence of the evolutionary process could be conceptualised — for example, Arthur Peacocke's notion of "top-down causality". Yet the most widely proposed mechanism which Christian writers have proposed to account for God's involvement in the evolutionary process is the classic notion of secondary causality, particularly as this was developed by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

For Aquinas, God's causality operates in a number of ways. While God must be considered capable of doing certain things directly, God delegates causal efficacy to the created order. Aquinas understands this notion of secondary causality to be an extension of, not an alternative to, the primary causality of God.

Events within the created order can exist in complex causal relationships, without in any way denying their ultimate dependency upon God as final cause. The created order thus demonstrates causal relationships which can be investigated by the natural sciences. Those causal relationships can be investigated and correlated — for example, in the form of the "laws of nature" — without in any way implying, still less necessitating, an atheist worldview.

God creates a world with its own ordering and processes. Yet while Darwin's theory of evolution did not lead to the elimination of God, it highlighted a particular difficulty for Christian theology: how could the goodness of God be maintained, in the light of the wastefulness of the evolutionary process?

Surely there was a more efficient, more humane way of achieving these goals? Darwin himself felt the force of this point. Paley's argument emphasised the wisdom of God in creation.

Religious beliefs and Darwinism

But what, Darwin wondered, of God's goodness? How could the brutality, pain and sheer waste of nature be reconciled with the idea of a benevolent God? In his "Sketch of ", Darwin found himself pondering how such things as "creeping parasites" and other creatures that lay their eggs in the bowels or flesh of other animals can be justified within Paley's scheme.

How could God's goodness be reconciled with such less pleasant aspects of the created order? There are indeed several important passages in Darwin's writings that can be interpreted to mean that Darwin ceased to believe in an orthodox Christian conception of God on account of his views on evolution. The problem is that there are other passages which variously point to Darwin maintaining a religious belief, or to his losing his faith for reasons quite other than evolutionary concerns. However, a note of caution must be injected: on the basis of the published evidence at our disposal, it is clear that Darwin himself was far from consistent in the matter of his religious views.

It would therefore be extremely unwise to draw any confident conclusions on these issues.

Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates

There can be no doubt that Darwin abandoned what we might call "conventional Christian beliefs" at some point in the s, although the dating of this must remain elusive. Yet there is a substantial theoretical gap between "abandoning orthodox Christian faith" and "becoming an atheist".

Christianity involves a highly specific conception of God; it is perfectly possible to believe in a god other than that of Christianity, or to believe in God and reject certain other aspects of the Christian faith.