February 12 is Darwin Day to mark the birthday of Charles Darwin. There is an organization which exists to encourage encourages schools, museums, churches, and universities through the registry of the Darwin Day Celebration website. The stated purpose is to “honor the life and work of Charles Darwin.” The National Center for Science Education is the major supporter of the celebration.
Leading up to Darwin Day, February 8-10 this year is designated as Evolution Weekend. Michael Zimmerman who initiated this event says, “Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between science and religion.” He goes on to say, “Those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.” According to Zimmerman, 202 congregations in 45 states and five foreign countries are holding Evolution Weekend events. Several large denominations are a part of this effort.
We agree that we do not have to choose between science and faith. We have posted many articles pointing out that evolution is not the issue. Change certainly happens in living things, and the Bible talks about specific examples of evolution such as what Jacob did with Laban’s flocks. The issue is Naturalism, based on common descent from one-celled life to human beings.
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”
All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.
It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.
(Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin and has been proclaimed by many organizations as “Darwin Day.” This post by John Clayton is a condensed version of an article in the printed DOES GOD EXIST? Journal for May/June 2013.)
The Galapagos Islands are located some 600 miles west of Ecuador. They were made famous by the studies and work of Charles Darwin who visited the islands in 1835 at the age of 26. His studies led him to some understandings which violated the religious traditions of his day. They also were seized upon by some philosophers to justify a belief system that rejected God and depended on naturalism as the faith upon which they lived their lives.
The reason I have always wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands is that evolution has been used as a club by many skeptics and atheists against belief in God and acceptance of the Bible as His word. In our ministry, we have maintained that science and faith are friends and not enemies and that science supports the biblical record. We have also maintained that since the same God who created all living things also gave us the biblical record, no scientific fact can conflict with what the Bible says. If there is a conflict, I believe it is because we have bad science or bad theology or both.
Darwin was studying the question of how animals came to be as we see them today. There are 13 species of finches scattered throughout the 13 main islands, six small islands, and 42 islets, where detailed studies of the finches have been conducted. In addition to the finches, there are various iguana species that cannot interbreed. The Galapagos land iguanas are infertile with the Galapagos marine iguanas. The marine iguanas feed on algae on the floor of the ocean and have a gland in their respiratory system that collects excess salt in their bodies and “sneezes” it away. Even the huge Galapagos tortoises, which can weigh over 500 pounds, are different on each island and infertile with the tortoises on other islands. Today our studies of DNA and the genomes of living things have shown how close these animals are to each other genetically. The incredible wisdom built into their DNA allows them to adapt and become unique for a particular environment. The research being done at the Charles Darwin Research Center is helping us to understand how to control and protect all forms of life on this planet.
In Darwin’s day, the claim of most theologians would have been that God created each tortoise separately, and placed each one on its island and that they were unchanged to this day. What Darwin maintained was that there was a design system built into the animals which allowed them to change to fit the physical conditions in which they found themselves. Since genetics was not a functional science at that time, Darwin had no idea what the design feature was that allowed this natural change, but he maintained it was the explanation for the finches and iguanas and tortoises.
What was going on theologically in Darwin’s day is essentially what is going on today. People had decided that the Bible was too radical to be believed. Not only did people not want to follow the Bible’s teachings, but they considered it to be primitive ignorance to suggest that Genesis was true. We now know that the genome of the iguanas contains enough stored information to allow the iguanas to live in a marine or land environment. The design of the genome is a fantastic demonstration of God’s wisdom and design allowing the finches to live in every ecological niche the Galapagos has to offer. Even the tortoises have subtle physical characteristics that enable them to reproduce and live in particular habitats.
What impressed me about the work going on in the research stations we visited was that it was good science and not speculative theories and philosophies. Researchers were not looking for a link between the finches and the iguanas. They were concerned with understanding how the natural history of the Galapagos had shaped and was being shaped by the forms of life that exist there. In talking with researchers, I encountered no one who felt there was a conflict between what they were doing and faith in God and the Bible. We had a guide assigned to our boat by the governmental agencies. He was very knowledgeable and expressed some wonderment that anyone would even suggest that somehow this area that he knew so well would be contributing to doubts about God and the Bible.
For the last few days, we have been talking about the annual Darwin Day (February 12) and Darwin Weekend (February 10-12). Darwin Day is a commemoration of Charles Darwin’s birthday by various groups and organizations. Darwin Weekend is designed for churches to promote a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. That is a worthy goal, but we have some cautions. Yesterday we said that since the Bible and creation have the same Author/Creator, they cannot conflict. If there is a conflict, there is either bad science, bad theology, or both. We have had plenty of both.
One negative aspect of Darwin Weekend comes when people use evolution to promote destructive social agendas. Peter Singer, Princeton University’s Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics, building on naturalistic evolution suggests that we should destroy “unfit human life.” Singer would have us empty prisons, mental institutions, care facilities for the mentally challenged, and hospitals by simply eliminating the unfit. Here are his words from an interview with the New York Times, June 6, 2010. “How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world? We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states…If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.” Further applying the evolutionary concept of survival of the fittest has led to grave injustices. There were those who justified slavery by claiming that unfit people could be used to serve more fit people. Wars have been justified by saying that superior species had the right to overpower less advanced civilizations.
Perhaps Darwin Weekend needs to promote Einstein’s statement about science and religion where he said: “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” From science we learn how God works and has worked in creation. Science has made great discoveries, but what science cannot do is determine how we should use its discoveries. Will we use genetic engineering to solve human problems of food shortages, disease, and suffering; or will we use it to produce diseases that destroy massive numbers of people? Science can be used to benefit life or to destroy life. How to use scientific discoveries and knowledge is not an area which science can address.
We have been thinking about the upcoming Darwin Day on February 12, and Darwin Weekend February 10-12. We have considered the wonderful way in which life was designed to change and adapt–that is, to evolve. Let’s consider what this means to biblical faith.
When the Bible talks about different kinds of living things, it does not indicate a fixity of species. Consistently the Bible refers to large groupings of animals as “kinds.” Genesis 1:20-26, Genesis 6:20, Genesis 7:3 and 14, 1 Corinthians 15:39, and James 3:7 all share similar groupings. I am told that there are 126 different varieties of chickens in the world, but the Bible doesn’t describe each of them. In fact, all fowl seem to have a common origin. Fish are described as an independent kind, but new species have been cultivated by humans, and the number of fish in the waters of the world is huge. The Bible also agrees that living things can change. Jacob’s management of Laban’s flocks is a clear use of what Darwin later described. The fact that all races of humans in the world today can be genetically traced to a single female ancestor is an indication that even humans can change.
Yesterday we mentioned that various groups are celebrating February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, as “Darwin Day.” There are also churches that are designating February 10-12 as “Darwin Weekend” to promote harmony between science and faith. That seems like a positive goal since the purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? program for over 40 years has been to show that science and faith are friends, not enemies.
As this annual commemoration approaches, we want to reflect on what Darwin discovered and how he interpreted it. People knew that animals could change and the breeding of animals for improved features had been going on for centuries. (See our post on January 28 about goldfish breeding and note what Jacob did with Laban’s cattle in Genesis 20:25-42.) What Darwin did was to suggest a method by which these changes can take place in the natural world unaided by outside intervention. In 1859 he published his influential book On The Origin of Species. He advanced a theory that natural selection acting on random mutations was what led to the evolution of all living species from a few common ancestors, or perhaps only one. He suggested that variations within a species occur randomly. If the variation is harmful, it will lead to extinction. If the variation helps the animal to adapt to its environment, that animal will live and pass on those traits to its descendants. In The Descent of Man (1871) Darwin clearly applied this process to the origin of human beings. Darwin concluded that humans must have evolved from an apelike animal based on comparing the anatomy of humans to other mammals. He also based it on similarities in embryological development, and the existence of what he called “rudimentary” organs which today are often referred to as “vestigial” (such as tonsils and appendix). In Darwin’s words, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used.” Darwin fully expected that later fossil discoveries would show the gradual progress of evolution. More than 150 years later, the fossil record is still lacking, but today science points to DNA to show evidence of common descent.
From the beginning, Darwin’s proposal was controversial. Many atheists seized on Darwin’s work to show that God was not necessary. Many theologians condemned the idea of humans descending from “some apelike creature” because of its conflict with the biblical account. However, there were and are people who suggest that evolution is the method God used to create all life, even including humans. A noted scientist today who is a firm believer in God and a Christian is Dr. Francis Collins. He believes that evolution was created by God as a method of bringing all life into existence. He wrote in his book The Language of God, “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life.” Other Christian scientists such as Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fazale Rana argue for God’s intervention into the process of evolution as demonstrated in the “Cambrian Explosion” and the “hominid explosion” which indicate a geologically sudden emergence of new life forms. They see the emergence of new life forms and the creation of Adam and Eve as cases of Divine intervention. They explain this in their excellent book Who Was Adam? now in its second edition updated in 2015.
Colleges, schools, museums, and other groups are calling February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, “Darwin Day” to honor his life and work. Also, the weekend of February 10-12 has been designated as “Darwin Weekend” in hundreds of churches to promote a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. Michael Zimmerman, who is credited with initiating Darwin Weekend, states that a critical goal is to “demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter promoting Darwin Weekend says, “Those that claim that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”
We applaud the goal of promoting a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. We also applaud the objective of demonstrating that people do not have to choose between religion and science. The problem with Darwin Day and Darwin Weekend comes from the views of those who are leading these events. Anytime you have people with a background in theology trying to address a scientific subject or people with a scientific background trying to explain religious principles and applications; you are bound to have difficulties. Many religious leaders wish to make science and faith so separate and distinct from one another that laymen get the idea they have to decide between one of the two and avoid conflict by never letting the two come in near proximity. Over the five decades that I have been involved in talking about science and faith, I have had many instances where a preacher tells me you just have to believe what the Bible says, and that is that. They insist that all science is the work of humans, is flawed, and not worth your time. The problem is that they think their interpretation of what the Bible says is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. In the meantime, they enjoy the benefits of modern science. Most young people have seen the benefits that science has brought, and they are not willing to embrace an interpretation of the Bible that seems to be mystical. I have also had people who consider the latest evolutionary theory to be sacred, and any questioning of their understanding of the theory to be an indication of religious bigotry. They relegate religion to the geriatric dump as a relic of historical value and nothing more.