For those who are studying aspects of the origin of life, the question no longer seems to be whether life could have originated by chemical processes involving non-biological components but, rather, what pathway might have been followed.

-National Academy of Sciences (1996)[1]

Of all the fascinating scientific theories to have arisen in the past couple centuries, one in particular seems to generate more energetic debate than all the others combined—evolution, specifically Darwinism.   Why does the simple idea of evolution raise so many questions for so many people regarding the interplay of science and faith?  After all, science has brought an amazing wealth of new discoveries and theories over the past century, including the mysterious, even paradoxical dualism of quantum physics, the Big Bang and the origin of time and matter, deep space telescopes and the mystery of dark matter, and of course genetics and the sequencing of the human genome, which I claim is as monumental a tool as the telescope, and will be remembered as the biggest scientific watershed of our lifetimes.

Darwin’s idea of evolutionary tree (1837)

So why does the topic of evolution generate so much debate, and if I may say so, why does the debate so often have the unfortunate result of generating more heat than light?   Even the most ardent debaters should realize that highly intelligent people can be found on all sides of the issue.   The science behind the theory of evolution has always found support among theologians.  Darwin’s contemporary B. B. Warfield, the preeminent scholar of Princeton Seminary, provides a good example.  Warfield saw Darwin’s science as “thoroughly consistent with Christian theism,”[2]  and at the same time spoke with great authority on the doctrine of biblical authority and inerrancy during the decades immediately following publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859.

In my personal sample of academic colleagues I find many like Warfield who find evolution to pose no problem for their biblical faith.  This is because the conflict is not to be found with science, but rather with the atheism of “Darwinism” as a worldview that denies the existence of God.  Such a denial springs not from any rational science, but from faith-based belief, and must be seen as a faith position because neither God’s presence nor absence can be proven as a matter of scientific practice.

Let us then aspire to be people who find beauty both in science and in faith, and let us continue to say, both in the realm of scientific discovery, and in the realm of the wisdom of faith, “one wonders…”
Darwin’s idea of evolutionary tree (1837)

[1] I am indebted to David Berlinski for identifying this quotation in “On the Origins of Life,” Commentary, April 2006, Vol. 121, Iss. 2, pg. 22.

[2] . B. Warfield, review of The Religious Aspect of Evolution, by James McCosh, The Presbyterian Review 9, (July 1888), p. 511.

  The sketch is Darwin’s earliest known diagram of a hypothetical tree of evolution (1837).


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