Preface & Chapter 1

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Preface

Bright&BeautifulIt is here that Adrian introduces his readers to his early conversion to the “traditional evangelical gospel,” whilst acknowledging that his real “spiritual ‘fix’” has always come from the natural world. Reassurance about this tendency came later when his research amongst parishioners demonstrated that a high percentage of British people continue to associate the world of nature with being close to God. For Adrian the undermining of this world of All things Bright and Beautiful began with his ‘A’ level biology course. Claiming unity with the majority of British Christians, Adrian says he was able to accept Darwinian evolution alongside his Christian faith. The Biblical description of Genesis became for him allegorical rather than historical. He was honestly unaware of any conflict between the scientism of evolution and the evangelical theology which he had already embraced.

Adrian identifies himself at the time of writing (2010-11) to be in his fifties and therefore it appears that he held on to this accommodation of Darwin within his faith and doctrine for around thirty years. I say this because the next important event which he records is in 2007 when he read Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” for the first time. It will be no surprise to those who are familiar with Darwin’s objectives to discover that, as Adrian explains very honestly, “It drove a coach and horses through my comfortable accommodation of evolution with traditional Christian doctrines. I realised that I had compartmentalised evolution and faith in my mind.” (p.6) Adrian’s response to this crisis was to undertake “a complete re-think of who God was.”

In many ways I can identify with Adrian’s journey. I was brought up in non-conformist Christianity, asking to be baptised as a believer at the age of eleven. That did not solve all my problems though and around the age of fifteen, there seemed to be such a gap between what I was taught at church and how church people lived that I found myself asking this God for reassurance that He was real. Like Gideon I found that seeking signs is no substitute for knowing God (Judges 6) and a few years later I became very aware that for me Christianity was not doing what it said on the tin! At that point I had a decision to make – either I was wrong or God was! I decided that I had to give Him the benefit of the doubt. I determined to read the Bible through and try to put into action what He told me to do. Since then I have learned that this was an impossibility in my own strength, but The LORD understood my heart and responded to my appeal. From then on my journey of faith began to develop with a reality previously unknown to me.

cellsDuring those years of teenage spiritual development I also studied ‘A’ level biology. Unlike Adrian, I questioned what I was being taught about evolution. Back then I did not know anywhere near as much as I do now, but I do remember that my teacher was only teaching me what he had been told to teach and could not support the text books’ confidence in Darwin with hard evidence. Whilst I resisted the pressure to accept evolution at that stage, it was only about twenty years ago – when I needed to stand against the acceptance of evolution by those who claim to be “Bible believing” – that I decided to look more deeply into the Biblical and scientific issues which surround this debate.

Adrian promises in his preface to address these important questions later in the book. He also says he decided not to deal with the most fundamental question of all, i.e. the existence of God. For the purpose of writing his book he assumes, “that God exists, and the central tenet of Christianity: that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived, died and rose for us.” Beyond these Adrian considers that everything else is up for grabs, “Once you start to delve beneath the surface, Darwinism has profound implications for our view of God, traditional Christian doctrines, how we view ourselves, and issues of morality and ethics.” (p7) I agree, but my response is that we should question Darwin’s doctrines, rather than the truth of Scripture.

Chapter 1: An uncomfortable truth

In this short chapter of approximately 1350 words, Adrian conveys his disillusionment with the British notion of the rural idyll. He directs his reader’s attention away from the beauty of a wood full of bluebells, initially to the abortive attempts of the majority of seedlings to become trees. His nature trail then considers the competition and struggle amongst birds to attract a mate, to raise their young to adulthood and to maintain a territory in the face of rivals to the end that these essential functions may continue. Brief mention follows of parasitic insects, animal predators and diseases which destroy the majority of fauna. All this is summed up with a realistic appreciation of life and death for many animals. “The average English wood contains battles, conquests, struggles and death on an equally vast scale. Like those battles of Ypres and Passchendaele, nature’s victims are killed by poisoning, spearing, being torn apart, even shot at, and in a variety of other ways. We may not always see it but we ought to be aware of it.” (p10)

Before turning his attention to the vast record of human suffering, Adrian urges his readers to face up the reality of life on earth with this important challenge, “if we believe that God made and sustains the world and the life within it, then that’s got to be based on a true picture of life, however uncomfortable that might be, not on some idealised ‘fluffy’ version.” He also asks what a world so awful as the one we live in says about the God whom Christians believe to be the first cause of this universe. He asks “if he made the universe, the world, and life as we know it, then surely that must also reveal something about him.” (p.11) Adrian is almost correct in this, for as Romans 1:18-21 asserts;

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

This passage clearly states that the Creator’s eternal power and Godhead can be understood through His work in creation. It goes further, insisting that the testimony of creation leaves those who fail to worship this Creator God without excuse, and for that reason The LORD will judge them. (For those who care to continue further, the rest of Romans chapter 1 details what happens in a society which persists in refusing to honour God. Its close parallels with attitudes today make it an unwelcome passage to many.)

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The question raised by Adrian is an important one and is usually ignored by Christian Darwinists. In 2009 I wrote an article called “What type of God would choose to use evolution?” (available here) pointing out that the God of the Bible would not be worth worshipping if He really did create “nature red in tooth and claw”. However, my answer to this question is very different from Adrian’s. That difference hinges on our radically distinct world views. Adrian follows the lead of Sir Charles Lyell, of whom Darwin wrote, “I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell’s brain, and that I never acknowledge this sufficiently; nor do I know how I can without saying so in so many words – for I have always thought that the great merit of the Principles was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind, and therefore that, when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes” (Letter to L. Horner, August 29th [1844]). Lyell is considered by many to be the father of modern geology because of his book “The Principles of Geology”. This was one of the books which Darwin read on the Beagle, and both men spent much time together and kept up correspondence in subsequent years.

Charles Lyell

Charles Lyell

Lyell’s arguments centre on what is known as the Principle of Uniformitarianism, i.e. the notion that what is observed in the natural world today is what has always been happening throughout time. This is best summed up by the phrase, “the present is the key to the past” though there is some doubt as to who first used it, Lyell or James Hutton, who died the year Lyell was born, and was the first to apply uniformitarianism to geology. This concept had already been promoted by David Hume in a wider context during the Scottish Enlightenment and, because it works well with human nature, it has now become a popular way to interpret much more than rocks. Darwin followed Lyell by applying this rule to the world of biology, thus giving fresh impetus to the existing efforts by others (including his grandfather Erasmus Darwin) to present an alternative natural history to the one outlined in the Bible.

Poulett Scrope

Poulett Scrope

Geology students are rarely taught about what motivated Lyell to develop his arguments, but he did explain it to one friend, “I am sure you may get into Q. R. [Quarterly Review] what will free the science from Moses, for if treated seriously, the party are quite prepared for it… I conceived the idea five or six years ago, that if ever the Mosaic geology could be set down without giving offence, it would be in an historical sketch, and you must abstract mine, in order to have as little to say as possible yourself.” (Letter to To Poulett Scrope, Esq. June 14, 1830). Those who have researched the history of the discussions about geology and biology which preceded both Lyell’s and Darwin’s famous books must face up to the fact that the conflict between what has been called ‘science’ and Christianity had begun before these men, having its roots in both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. I will look further at Darwin’s attitude to Christianity later, but for now it is important to note that like Lyell, Darwin was not religiously neutral. Given that his best subject at Cambridge was Divinity, he was very aware that his theory would undermine the Biblical record.

It seems that Adrian was unaware of these ‘hidden’ agendas when he wrote so positively in support of Darwin. That he has (perhaps unwittingly) followed Lyell’s uniformitarianism is illustrated by his comment quoted above, “if he made the universe, the world, and life as we know it,..”. The Scriptures are quite clear that The LORD did not create the universe, the world nor life as we know them. Adrian is aware that Biblical account states otherwise, though he misrepresents the finished creation as perfect rather than very good (Gen. 1:31). This alternative to a created world full of violence and struggle he dismisses with the promise, “As we shall see, this traditional way of looking at the world is almost certainly false.” (p.11). “Almost certainly” reminds me of a well-known advert for “probably the best lager in the world. The brewers of that product know they cannot prove the point, so they cover themselves by introducing uncertainty into their slogan. Adrian tries to justify his claim in the next chapter.

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