Personalities in the Evolution/Creation Conflict

1. An Early “Evolutionist”

Lucretius (c. 99 - c. 55 B.C.) — an ancient writer with a naturalistic theory of origins.

The quotations below are from his De Rerum Natura (“On the Nature of Things”), translated by W. H. D. Rowse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1959 [Loeb Classical Library]).

2. Just Before Darwin

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) — medical doctor, poet, grandfather of Charles Darwin.

A miserly man with at least two illegitimate children, Erasmus Darwin was, like Lamarck, a deist and a strong opponent of Christianity. An admirer of Rousseau, he was involved in founding the Lunar Society, a group of intellectuals sympathetic to the French revolutionaries. His two-volume work Zoonomia (1794-1796) was read and “greatly admired” by Charles. Although Erasmus’s evolutionary views were similar to Lamarck’s, he anticipated Charles on almost every point of evolutionary theory. “It may well be that Charles Darwin’s notorious lack of acknowledgment of his grandfather’s numerous contributions to his own theory was because of his reluctance to be identified with the older man’s sociopolitical views” (Morris, 1989, p. 177).

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) — British theologian and economist.

In 1798 he wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society (usually referred to as Essay on the Principle of Population), discussing the problem that human populations always tend to grow faster than the food supply. Both Darwin and Wallace attributed their insight into the “struggle for existence” to Malthus. Darwin read the essay in 1838, shortly after his return to England from the Beagle voyage; Wallace read it in 1844. Darwin applied the essay’s argument to the biological world at large: “It made Darwin realize that through the struggle for existence ‘favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work.’ ” (Price, p. 21, cf. p. 34).

Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) — French deist, self-taught botanist, bitterly anti-Christian and especially anti-Genesis.

After the French Revolution, Lamarck was appointed to be in charge of the invertebrate zoology section of the Paris Museum of Natural History. He wrote two major works, Philosophie zoologique (1809) and Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres (1815-1822). Lamarck’s theory of evolution has been summarized in two “laws” — 1. Law of Use and Disuse (parts of an organism’s body that are used become more developed; those not used become smaller and may disappear). 2. Law of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics (changes achieved over an organism’s lifetime are passed on to its offspring). Like Darwin, Lamarck viewed evolution as slow and gradual. Unlike Darwin, he considered the environment as a stimulus causing organisms to strive to change, to make an effort to change — that is, organisms have an active role in their own evolution. (The classic example usually given in biology textbooks, though not a key example used by Lamarck, is of giraffes stretching to reach leaves at the tops of tall trees, then passing increased neck length on to their offspring.) Although Darwin called Lamarck’s view “veritable rubbish” (in an 1844 letter to botanist Joseph Hooker), he retained these two key concepts within his theory (Origin of Species, chapter 5 — “. . . I think there can be no doubt that use in our domestic animals has strengthened and enlarged certain parts, and disuse diminished them; and that such modifications are inherited.”). For many years, leftist academics preferred Lamarck over Darwin, because the idea of inheriting environmentally induced changes fit better with Marxist ideas of social change. In 1948, under T. D. Lysenko as Soviet director of scientific research, Mendelian genetics was officially outlawed in Russia and Lamarckism established as communist dogma. (This policy was abandoned in 1953 with Stalin’s death; the communists then moved not to Darwinism but to a form of saltatory evolution, or “evolution by jumps,” with similarities to today’s “punctuated equilibrium” view.) Lamarckism suffered a major blow in 1891, when August Weismann published the results of his classic experiment: after cutting off the tails of hundreds of white mice over several successive generations, he found that each new generation was born with tails of normal length. (A counter-argument to this experiment is that it did not disprove Lamarckism because these mice were not trying to shorten their tails! See Bernard Shaw, preface to Back to Methuselah, pp. 40-42.)

William Paley (1743-1805) — Anglican theologian, apologist.

In 1802 Paley published Natural Theology, in which he argued for an Intelligent Designer by providing a variety of examples of design in nature. (He hoped to combat the influence of the humanist philosopher, David Hume.) The work became one of the most widely read books of the 19th and 20th centuries, and is still considered the leading exposition of the “argument from design.” It was read and admired by Darwin during his days at Cambridge University — “The logic of . . . Natural Theology gave me as much delight as did Euclid” — and it may have given Darwin his first introduction to Malthus’s ideas on population growth and the “struggle for existence.” Recent books attempting to update Paley’s argument include Walter ReMine’s The Biotic Message (1993) and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box (1996).

3. The Work of Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) — science writer, evolutionary theorist.

Darwin’s father and grandfather were both noted physicians. Darwin studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh for two years, but then dropped out and took three years of theology at Cambridge, earning his B.A. During the years 1831-1836 he acted as captain’s companion on board the Beagle as the ship traveled around the tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. During this trip he studied rocks, fossils, and living animals, collecting many specimens. He also read Lyell’s book and was converted to geological uniformitarianism. From 1837 on, he worked on his theory of origins and became actively involved in the scientific community. He suffered a great deal from illness, and lived a somewhat secluded life in the country with his family. Between 1846 and 1854 he completed four volumes on barnacles. By 1858 he was working on his “big book” on the “transmutation of species” when he heard of Wallace’s essay. Under this pressure he completed a shortened version of his theory, published in 1859 as the Origin of Species. That book did not address the question of human ancestry, but this was considered in his other important book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Ironically (because he rejected both creation and Christianity), Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Sir Isaac Newton — this was a political move, engineered by Huxley and other friends who wanted him honoured.

4. “Friends” of Darwin

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) — British lawyer, amateur geologist, adviser of Darwin.

Inspired by earlier amateur geologist James Hutton (1726-1797), Lyell popularized the principle of uniformitarianism (“the present is the key to the past”), believing that presently observable processes, operating at the same rates as today, could explain the geological record of the past. While he attacked “Mosaic geology” and rejected a worldwide flood, for many years he maintained a superficial adherence to a form of creationism. He brought Lamarck’s ideas to the attention of the British public, though he argued against the French evolutionist. Lyell was probably the single greatest influence in the life of Darwin (and his book was also read and much studied by Wallace). During the Beagle voyage (1831-1836) Darwin read Volume 1 of Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830), which converted him to uniformitarianism and the concept of geological ages. (Darwin would later acknowledge his great debt to Lyell for justifying the vast timespans needed to make evolution by random variation and natural selection seem credible.) Immediately upon Darwin’s return to England, Lyell became his friend and adviser, continually counseling and encouraging him in his research and writing. Lyell strongly urged Darwin to publish Origin of Species before Wallace could publish his own similar theory, and he persuaded a publisher to take on Darwin’s book. According to evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, “Lyell relied upon true bits of cunning to establish his uniformitarian view as the only true geology. . . . Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence.” Again, “Lyell constructed the self-serving history that has encumbered the study of earthly time ever since” (Morris, 1989, pp. 162f., 167).

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) — self-taught field biologist (British).

Wallace studied and collected specimens for many years in the Amazon jungles and the East Indies and has been called “the greatest tropical naturalist of his time.” In February 1858, while ill with malaria in Malaysia, Wallace wrote his paper on natural selection, On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type. He sent the paper to Darwin for evaluation, at a time when Darwin was still procrastinating about writing up his own identical theory. Lyell persuaded Darwin to proceed immediately with his own book; he also helped arrange the July 1858 meeting of the Linnaean Society at which both Wallace’s paper and Darwin’s (allegedly) earlier material were presented, thus supposedly establishing Darwin’s priority in the “discovery.” From 1865 on, Wallace attended séances, and eventually he grew convinced of the scientific authenticity of spiritualist phenomena. He became a leader in spiritism and occultism, publishing in 1876 one of the definitive evidential textbooks on spiritism, Miracles and Modern Spiritism. Contrary to Darwin, Wallace considered natural selection inadequate to explain unique human traits, especially the human mind; these he attributed to an intelligent Cause.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) — British agnostic, biologist.

Huxley is known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his aggressive promotion of evolution in Britain. His most famous confrontation occurred on June 30, 1860, the year after Origin of Species was published. At an Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Anglican bishop Samuel (“Soapy Sam”) Wilberforce spoke against evolution, allegedly provoking Huxley (who was in the audience) about his ape ancestry. Huxley and evolution were reportedly the victors in the exchange, and evolutionists have ever since used this incident as a “club” against creationists. There is, however, some dispute over what really took place. A recent textbook, Biological Evolution (Price, 1996, pp. 22-23), recounts the story, but the only bibliographic sources given are the 1892 (edited) autobiography of Darwin, who did not attend the meeting, and an 1896 book by Andrew Dickson White, a notoriously hostile and less than fully trustworthy opponent of Christianity. It was a translation of Huxley’s Principles of Evolution into Chinese (by Yen Fu) that prepared the way for the establishment of communism in China, with the ensuing slaughter of millions under Mao Zedong. Huxley had two famous grandsons: Sir Julian Huxley, a leading evolutionist of the twentieth century, and first director general of UNESCO; and Aldous Huxley, atheist philosopher, author of Brave New World, and patriarch of the modern drug culture.

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) — German atheist, racist, professor of zoology at Jena.

As the foremost European popularizer of evolution, Haeckel brought Darwinism into German intellectual life. He promoted Darwin’s “recapitulation” notion as the “Biogenetic Law” (“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” i.e., the sequence of an organism’s embryonic development exhibits its evolutionary ancestry) — an idea which has been shown to be false. In 1874 he published the first diagram of a “phylogenetic (evolutionary) tree,” a technique that tends to cover up our ignorance of virtually all transitional forms. He is notorious for producing fraudulently altered drawings of mammalian embryos purporting to show their similarity to each other — this deception was exposed by Wilhelm His, a famous comparative embryologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Leipzig. “In a catalogue of the errors, His (1874) showed that Haeckel had used two drawings of embryos, one taken from Bischoff (1845) and the other from Ecker (1851-59), and he had added 3-5 mm to the head of Bischoff’s dog embryo, taken 2 mm off the head of Ecker’s human embryo, reduced the size of the eye 5 mm, and doubled the length of the posterior. His concluded by saying that one who engages in such blatant fraud forfeits all respect, and he added that Haeckel had eliminated himself from the ranks of scientific research workers of any stature. . . . His, whose work still stands as the foundation of our knowledge of embryological development, was not the first to point out the deficiencies of Haeckel’s work, nor indeed was he the last, yet Haeckel’s fraudulent drawings have continued to the present day to be reproduced throughout the biological literature” (Taylor, p. 276). Along with the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Haeckel helped to lay the foundations for the intense German militarism that led to two world wars; he became one of Germany’s major ideologists for racism, nationalism, and imperialism. He advocated the killing of abnormal newborn children, and the poisoning of people with cancer and other incurable diseases. “Dr. Edward Simon, professor of biology at Purdue University, although an evolutionist himself, has said: ‘I don’t claim that Darwin and his theory of evolution brought on the holocaust; but I cannot deny that the theory of evolution, and the atheism it engendered, led to the moral climate that made a holocaust possible’ ” (Morris, 1989, p. 78). In light of that, it is interesting that Hitler himself stressed the idea of biological evolution as the most forceful weapon against religion, and he repeatedly condemned Christianity for its opposition to the teachings of evolution.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) — British philosopher, bitterly anti-Christian.

One of the founders of modern sociology, Spencer was second in importance only to August Comte; he was the main founder of the right-wing sociological system called “social Darwinism.” (Karl Marx, who founded the competing left-wing sociological system of “marxism,” was also a disciple of Comte.) Spencer rejected the supernatural, believing that human emotions, religion, and morality had all come into being through evolution. In his 1865 book, Principles of Biology, he introduced the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which Darwin acknowledged as “more accurate” than the equivalent term “natural selection.” In his writings between 1862 and 1867, Spencer also popularized the word “evolution,” making it synonymous with development toward increasing organization and complexity. (Darwin did not use the word until the sixth edition of Origin of Species in 1872; he preferred the phrase “descent with modification.”) Spencer argued that civil laws should never contribute to the artificial preservation of those people who were least able to take care of themselves.

Asa Gray (1810-1888) — American theistic evolutionist, botany professor at Harvard.

Though a Christian (Congregationalist), Gray became, from 1860 on, Darwin’s foremost ally in the United States. He was concerned that Darwin’s theory with its atheistic overtones would not be accepted by the majority of Americans. “Although Gray described himself as ‘one who is scientifically, and in his own fashion, a Darwinian,’ he confessed to a friend that his ideas on divinely directed variations were ‘very anti-Darwinian’ ” (Numbers, p. 21). Gray’s theistic evolution was not only rejected by Darwin, but also was never seriously considered by any of the other ‘founding fathers’ of evolution. As Darwin wrote in 1868, “however much we may wish it, we can hardly follow Professor Asa Gray in his belief in lines of beneficent variation [i.e., divinely guided evolution].”

5. Opponents of Darwin

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) — paleontologist at Harvard, father of glacial geology.

Agassiz was a specialist in living and fossil fishes; he carried out definitive studies which have never been equaled. He opposed Darwinism not as a Biblical creationist, but as a nineteenth century catastrophist and progressionist — he believed in a series of major catastrophes, the last and greatest of which was Noah’s flood, after each of which a new and higher group of life forms had been specially created.

David Brewster (1781-1868) — founder of the science of optical mineralogy.

Brewster described light polarization and is the inventor of the kaleidoscope. One of the founders of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he later served as its president. He opposed Darwinism for both scientific and biblical reasons.

John William Dawson (1820-1899) — distinguished Canadian geologist.

Dawson was Nova Scotia’s first superintendent of education (1850-53). Hired by McGill in 1855, he served as principal for almost forty years, during which time that institution went from “cow pasture” to world-class university. He was the first president of the Royal Society of Canada; during the 1880s he served as president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the British Association for the Advancement of Science — a unique accomplishment. Trained under Lyell, Dawson accepted the long-age view of geology, reconciling this to Scripture using the day-age theory. Nevertheless, he was a committed Christian (Presbyterian) and Sunday school teacher. He was also an energetic anti-Darwinist, considering evolution to be crass materialism and atheism.

Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) — great French entomologist, science educator.

Known as a careful and patient student of nature, especially of insects, Fabre wrote many well-received science books for children. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he was one of the most celebrated educators on the subject of nature. “. . . although Charles Darwin greatly admired Fabre and referred to him as the ‘inimitable observer’ in On the Origin of Species, Fabre refused to accept the theory of evolution” (Pasteur, p. 74). Indeed, he was a vigorous lifelong opponent of Darwinism.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) — evangelical theologian, teacher at Princeton seminary.

Hodge accepted the day-age theory but rejected evolution. In his 1874 book What Is Darwinism? he argued that Darwinism was atheism because it enabled one “to account for design without referring it to the purpose or agency of God” (Numbers, p. 14).

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) — noted theoretical physicist.

Building on Faraday’s work, Maxwell developed a comprehensive theoretical and mathematical framework of electromagnetic field theory. Einstein called Maxwell’s achievement “the most profound and most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton” (Morris, 1988, p. 67). Maxwell also developed a rigorous mathematical refutation of Laplace’s “nebular hypothesis” (an atheistic theory of the evolution of the solar system), and he argued incisively against Spencer’s evolutionary philosophy.

Richard Owen (1804-1892) — zoologist, paleontologist, comparative anatomist.

Owen was for many years superintendent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum. He coined the word “dinosaur.” He was a progressionist rather than a Bible-believing Christian — nonetheless, he lectured against natural selection and supported Christians who took a stand against Darwinism.

Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) — theologian, geology professor at Cambridge.

One of England’s leading geologists, Sedgwick opposed Lyell’s uniformitarianism. Like Agassiz, he was a catastrophist and progressionist. Although his own studies did contribute to the development of the “geological ages” concept, he rejected Darwin’s evolutionary ideas, predicting that they would lead to devastatingly harmful results.

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) — noted physical scientist.

Kelvin held the chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow for fifty-four years. He devised the scale of absolute temperature (which now uses the “kelvin” unit), and established thermodynamics as a formal scientific discipline, formulating its first and second laws in precise terminology. He supervised the design and laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable. Kelvin was a strong Christian, opposing both geological uniformitarianism and Darwinian evolution. “His calculation of the maximum possible age of the earth at 100 million years — far too brief for evolution — led to an extended controversy with Thomas Huxley, ‘Darwin’s Bulldog.’ Modern evolutionists like to ridicule this calculation — which was based on terrestrial heat flow and the cooling of the earth — by noting that Kelvin did not know about heat from radioactivity. However, when radioactivity was discovered, Kelvin did consider it — and showed it would not be at all adequate to meet the need for an earth old enough to allow evolution” (Morris, 1988, p. 66).

Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902) — German medical researcher.

Virchow is considered the father of modern pathology and the study of cellular diseases. He was the first to describe leukemia. Virchow fought strongly against allowing the evolutionary teachings of Darwin and Haeckel into the schools of Germany.

6. Updated Versions of Darwinism

Neo-Darwinian Evolution (the “modern synthesis” or “synthetic theory”).

In the 1930s and 1940s evolutionists worked to incorporate new data from various subdisciplines of biology into a revised version of classical Darwinism. The primary focus on natural selection was maintained, but other aspects of Darwin’s thinking were updated. The geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (Genetics and the Origin of Species, 1937) presented his understanding of the significance of Mendelian genetics and mutations. (Darwin was unaware of Mendel’s views, and had mistaken ideas on how inheritance worked; he thought ordinary “variation” would provide enough raw material for natural selection to work on.) The ornithologist and systematist Ernst Mayr (Systematics and the Origin of Species, 1942) defined “species” as “groups of actually or potentially interbreeding populations that are reproductively isolated from other groups” (biological species definition), and urged the central importance of geographic barriers as reproductive isolating mechanisms promoting the evolution of new species. (Darwin’s concept of “species” was that they were simply “well-marked varieties;” he considered geographic isolation of limited importance.) The paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson (Tempo and Mode in Evolution, 1944) integrated the fossil record into the synthesis, proposing that mutations and natural selection were sufficient to account for both micro- and macro-evolution. Other contributions came from Bernhard Rensch and G. Ledyard Stebbins; a 1947 conference consolidated the efforts of various evolutionists and confirmed that a new synthesis was being achieved.
Ernst Mayr summarized the position in 1963: “The proponents of the synthetic theory maintain that all evolution is due to accumulation of small genetic changes [mutations], guided by natural selection, and that transspecific evolution [macroevolution] is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species [microevolution]” (quoted in Gould, p. 120).
In the 1990s, adherents of strict neo-Darwinism include John Maynard Smith, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. These people insist that natural selection is the overriding factor at work in evolution. Their opponents (especially Stephen Jay Gould) call them “selectionists,” “ultra-Darwinians,” or “Darwinian fundamentalists;” Gould and others refer to themselves as “pluralists” because they acknowledge a variety of important factors affecting evolution, of which natural selection may not even be the most important.

Punctuated Equilibrium (originally called “punctuated equilibria”).

This view was developed in the 1970s by paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, based on three noteworthy features of the fossil record: 1. The “extreme rarity” of transitional forms (“missing links”). 2. “Stasis” or “equilibrium” (meaning little or no change in a species throughout its time on Earth) as the most prominent feature of the fossil record. 3. “Sudden appearance” (new species appear “all at once and ‘fully formed’ ”). Gould and Eldredge proposed that most of a species’ existence is characterized by evolutionary inaction or stability (“stasis”), punctuated by relatively rare “bursts” of evolution. (A “burst” on the evolutionary time scale would consist of relatively rapid evolution over a few thousand to tens of thousands of years.) Some evolutionists feel the punctuated equilibrium view is diametrically opposed to Darwinism; others prefer to think Gould and Eldredge’s points can be accommodated within the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Gould himself appears to have spoken with both of these attitudes at different times!

7. Opposing Darwin Today

Biblical creationists

These are evangelical Christians who insist on an inerrant Bible, a young Earth and a worldwide Flood, and who reject the “Big Bang.” Included are such organizations as the Institute for Creation Research (Henry Morris, Duane Gish), Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham, Gary Parker), Creation Science Foundation (Carl Wieland, Andrew Snelling).

“Mere creationists”

Many of these are Christians, though some are not; they tend to focus more narrowly on issues of biological evolution and philosophy, leaving aside questions of time scale and biblical issues. This group includes such noted authors as lawyer Phillip E. Johnson (Darwin on Trial) and biochemist Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box).

Miscellaneous writers

These people are not necessarily Christians; they are helpful in that they oppose Darwinism but they may or may not hold to some other form of evolutionary thought. Examples include noted British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle (Evolution from Space), Jewish physicist Lee Spetner (Not By Chance!), British science journalist Richard Milton (Shattering the Myths of Darwinism), and Australian molecular biologist Michael Denton, an agnostic (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis).

Clarke, Michael. 1998. Canada: Portraits of Faith. Chilliwack, BC: Reel to Real.

Eiseley, Loren. 1961. Darwin’s Century. New York: Anchor Books.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1980. Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging? Paleobiology, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 119-130.

Moore, James. 1994. The Darwin Legend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Morris, Henry M. 1988. Men of Science—Men of God (revised edition). El Cajon, CA: Master Books.

___ . 1989. The Long War Against God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Numbers, Ronald L. 1993. The Creationists. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Pasteur, Georges. 1994 (July). Jean Henri Fabre. Scientific American, Vol. 271 No. 1, pp. 74-80.

Price, Peter W. 1996. Biological Evolution. Orlando, FL: Saunders College Publishing.

Taylor, Ian T. 1991. In the Minds of Men (3rd edition). Toronto, ON: TFE Publishing.