The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Christianity and Darwin

In 1859, the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his revolutionary book, Origin of Species. In the book Darwin presented a vast amount of evidence showing that all living things ultimately descended from a few or even one type of ancestor. Darwin also presented his idea of how this "descent with modification", or evolution, works; it was called "natural" selection."

Darwin's publication met with a storm of theological protests. One prominent early critic of Darwin was the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873). Wilberforce was such a skilful debater that he was nicknamed "Soapy Sam." [1] The Oxford bishop used his debating and rhetorical skills to the hilt in attacking Darwin and his ideas. He said that "the principle of natural selection is completely incompatible with the word of God." Darwin's ideas were, for Wilberforce, "inconsistent with the fulness of His glory" and presented "a dishonoring view of nature."

Then in 1860, Wilberforce debated Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895). Huxley, a brilliant scientists in his own right, defended Darwin's ideas in public debates. For this, Huxley was given the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog." Wilberforce spoke first in the debate. Towards the end of his oration, he turned to Huxley who was sitting beside him, and with the triumphal air of a man about to deliver the final blow to his opponent, asked the young scientist whether he traced his ancestry from the apes through his grandfather's of grandmother's side. Huxley's reply went something like this: "If I had to choose I would rather prefer to be a descendent of a humble monkey rather than a man who employs his knowledge and eloquence in misrepresenting those who are wearing out their lives in the search for truth." [2] Huxley's victory in the debate did not put an end to the endless theological abuse of evolution.

The whole of Christendom rose in unison to attack his ideas. How disappointed many of them must have been that by then, they no longer had a right to burn heretics at the stake.

In England, Wilberforce was not the only churchman to attack Darwin. One English theological authority asserted, quite logically, that "If the Darwinian theory is true, Genesis is a lie, the whole framework of the book of life falls to pieces, and the revelation of God to man, as we Christians know it, is a delusion and a snare." Another English divine pronounced that Darwin's work "does violence to everything that the creator himself has told us in the scriptures of the methods and results of his work."

There were also attempts to build "sacro-scientific" (read: pseudo-scientific) institutions to combat Darwinism. The English Catholic Church under the leadership of Cardinal Wiseman founded the "Academia." It was obvious, however, that the main interest of this institution was not science but theology, as the following circular from Cardinal Wiseman reveals:

Now it is for the Church, which alone possesses divine certainty and divine discernment, to place itself at once in the front of a movement which threatens even the fragmentary remains of Christian belief in England.

The Academia, as a result, never threatened Darwin's ideas scientifically.

The English Protestants similarly founded the "Victoria Institute." About the only notable declaration that ever came from this was that by its vice-president, Reverend Walther Mitchell, which goes: "Darwinism endeavors to dethrone God." [3]

Throughout Europe, Darwin's ideas were unanimously attacked by ecclesiastics. In France, they called Darwin a "pedant" and pronounced his ideas "gloomy." But perhaps the most memorable assertion against Darwin was that of Monseigneur Segur who went into hysterics and shrieked:

These infamous doctrines have for their only support the most abject of passions. Their father is pride, their mother impurity, their offsprings revolutions. They come from hell and return tither, taking with them the gross creatures who blush not to proclaim and accept them.

A Swiss theologian, Rougemont, even called for a crusade against the abhorrent doctrine. In Germany, Luthardt, Professor of Theology at Liepzig, took the most direct route, by simply telling the scientists to keep out from the study of creation because, "The idea of creation belongs to religion and not to science" [4]

Elsewhere the condemnation of Darwin was no less scathing. A publication from the Anglican Church in the U.S. called Darwin's work "sophistical and illogical" and then wagered that "if this hypothesis is true, then the Bible is unbearable fiction; ... then have Christians for nearly two thousand years been duped by a monstrous lie ... Darwin requires us to disbelieve the authoritative word of the creator." In Australia, the Bishop of Melbourne, Dr. Perry wrote that the real purpose of Darwin and Huxley was not to advance science but "to produce in the readers a disbelief of the Bible." [5]

However, the Christian churches could no longer stand in the way of scientific advance. Darwin's ideas was eventually vindicated by science. The rediscovery of Mendelian Genetics, the rise of the sciences of population genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology and quantum mechanics in the twentieth century also lend support to his ideas. Darwin's evolution is considered, together with Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, as one of the most important discoveries of modern science.

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1.Kitcher, Abusing Science: p1
2.Appleman, Darwin: p423
Kitcher, Abusing Science: p1
Ronan, History of the World's Science: p424
Ruse, Darwinism Defended: p232
3.Appleman, Darwin: p424-425
4.Ibid: p425-426
5.Ibid: p424-425

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