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What do we learn from Charles Darwin?
So, as we approach the 19th century, those Christians who were beginning to fall away from the faith through the pressures from both inside and outside the Church, at last had fuel to fan the flames of their doubt. These folk were now free to re-look at Genesis chapters one and two and felt they had proof, from the world of science, particularly Geology, to interpret the Days of Creation as longer periods of time. Now, it wasn't the Platonic allegory of Augustine that did the damage, but rather the scientific rationalism of Aristotle. So the Days of Creation were not viewed so much as poetry or symbolism but rather as just longer periods of time. These people were still, by and large, Creationists, but Old Earth Creationists, looking at millions of years, rather than Young Earth Creationists, looking at thousands of years since Creation.
Many Christians were beginning to falter in their faith. They still believed in the Resurrection, the minimum requirement for Christian belief, but now human reason had taken over from divine revelation as the dominant force in society. Human reason, rationalism, was the response to the dogmas of the Church and the pointless religious wars of recent years and science took a firm foothold on the minds of the great thinkers of the day. God was relegated from an active role in the affairs of man, to the One who kick-started the Universe then left it alone. Nothing was considered exempt from this process and the Bible found itself re-examined, God's written revelation was subjected to analysis by the human mind. It was called Higher Criticism. In the first edition (1771) of Encyclopedia Britannica, the entry for Noah's Ark included much musing over the finer details of the Biblical account of the Flood. In the ninth edition (1875) these had disappeared, no longer considered worthy of inclusion, the account having moved from Biblical account to mythology. That was the fruit of Higher Criticism.
It was within these changing times that a man appeared on a white charger as an embodiment of this new thinking. Charles Darwin was that man and his book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" proved a rallying point for rationalists, intellectuals and even many Christians to declare the victory of the mind over the spirit, of naturalism over supernaturalism. What did Darwin do? He must have been significant because even now, 150 years later in 2009, we celebrated "Darwin Day", our Natural History Museum is a shrine to the man and the BBC is churning out hours of radio and TV dedicated to his ideas.
What Darwin did was to provide a scientific methodology to disengage mankind from the influence of the Bible. What had been considered as certainties could now be dismissed as myths, legends or poetry as discoveries and theories, interpreted by the rational mind of the scientist, began to take centre stage. The clincher came a few decades later at the infamous Scopes "monkey" trial, when a clever prosecutor managed to ridicule the ill-prepared Baptist minister and the theory of evolution firmly cemented itself in the Christian psyche as the most reasonable explanation for life on Earth. For Creationism, the prevalent view before Darwin, it was a long slippery path, certainly in the UK, into ridicule, denigration and bitterness. Creationists are now portrayed as simple-minded innocents at best or religious lunatics at worst. How could it have come to this, how can Christians fall out so spectacularly?
If you took a straw poll of any group of British Christians and asked them their views on this issue, the vast majority would say something like this: I believe in the Bible and that God created life on Earth, but we surely need to marry this up with the overwhelming scientific evidence of the evolutionary process. This is a reasonable view, after all. But, then we must ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are governed primarily by "reasonable" views ... or Biblical revelation. In our scientific age, with our secular educations and fed by our humanistic media, it is safest to take refuge in a majority view, held by those we have grown to respect, from David Attenborough to the BBC. Clever people have assured us that evolution is a done deal, the answer to everything. That is why there was a Darwin Day in 2009. Inasmuch as the human heart requires explanations of the World in which we live, the theory of evolution is the closest we have come to a secular religion. Darwin is the secular messiah and Dawkins and his ilk are his prophets. This is what many have bought into.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)