I was just entering high school when I developed an interest in the “scientific creationist” response to the Darwinian theory of evolution. By the end of my formal theological education at what is now Providence University College I had become convinced that this response was deeply flawed. While that may sound like the testimony of someone whose theology grew more liberal over time, allow me to clarify that the flaw that I had come to perceive in scientific creationism was to be found in the adjective and not in the noun. Creationism is an indispensable part of the orthodox Christian faith. It is present in the very first affirmation of the two most ancient and sacred Creeds. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth” the Apostles’ Creed declares, and lest there be any confusion about the issue, such as that generated by Marcion of Synope and other Gnostics who attributed the creation of the physical world to a lesser deity than the Father God of Whom Christ spoke, the Nicene Creed expands this to “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” As with all else affirmed in the Creeds, this is the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures, which are God’s authoritative propositional revelation.
Scientific creationism is the response to the Darwinian challenge to this affirmation that asserts that the evidence of the physical sciences better supports the most literal reading of the first three chapters of Genesis than it does Darwin’s theory. The question of how literally these chapters should be read is a question of hermeneutics and not one that I am going to deal with at any great length. Dr. RonDart has recently reminded us that the house of hermeneutics has many layers,of which the literal – the historical, grammatical reading of the sacred text–is the lowest. He was making the point, quite correctly, that the emphasis on this layer to the exclusion of the others in the post-Reformation branch of the Christian tradition creates an impoverishment in hermeneutical meaning. All that I will say about that is that in this day, when the truth of the Scriptures at the literal level has sustained relentless attack from every direction for centuries, it is important to remember that St. Augustine identified the literal level of meaning as the lowest layer because it is the foundation upon which all the others are built.
The flaw in the scientific creationists' response is that by asserting that the evidence of the physical sciences supports the literal reading of the creation account rather than Darwinism the scientific creationists affirm what is in fact the most questionable element of Darwinism – that that which emerges from the observations, hypotheses, tests and experiments of the empirical method can provide answers to such questions as “why am I here”, “why is there life on this planet”, and “why is there something instead of nothing.” This confusion of the physical with the metaphysical, is problematic from the standpoint of both ontology and epistemology. It is, in other words, deeply philosophically flawed.
One writer who was particularly influential on my thinking in this regards was Gordon H. Clark, the very Calvinist theologian who was chairman of the department of philosophy at Butler University from 1943 to 1973. He is probably most remembered as one of the two leading figures in the development of the presuppositional school of Christian apologetics – and for his historical clash with the other, Cornelius Van Til. Both men were among the circle of conservative Presbyterians that had formed around J. Gresham Machen when the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy hit Princeton Theological Seminary and who helped Machen organize the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, although the clash between the two began almost immediately after when Van Til led the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, the conservative successor to Princeton that had been founded when the latter went Modernist, in opposing Clark’s ordination by the OPC’s synod in Philadelphia over a number of theological and philosophical disagreements that I am not going to get into here. Clark’s The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1964) made a powerful case that since all scientific theories and laws involve contradictions and other logical fallacies and any truth claim based upon science reduces to the fallacy of asserting the consequent, science has only operational and utilitarian value and not epistemic value. I found his argument to be quite persuasive and was further impressed by the inevitable conclusion to which it led, that the Christian response to the challenges posted by the claims of Modern scientism in general and Darwinism in particular must speak the language of philosophy rather than of science.
An excellent and simple illustration of a philosophical response to scientism can be found in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is the third volume in the fantasy series by order of publication, on one of the last islands that Prince Caspian, the younger two of the Pevensies, Lucy and Edmund, their cousin Eustace Scrubb, and the other characters visit in their journey, they encounter an old man named Ramandu who explains to them that he had once been one of the stars in the Narnian sky but had long since retired. Eustace, whose very progressive parents have been sending him to a very up-to-date school, has only recently begun to escape the trappings of his scientistic and materialistic upbringing. The following exchange takes place:
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.
In other words, while you can produce an impressive and comprehensive description of something by scientific analysis – taking it apart and identifying its components – this will always fall short of answering the question of what that something is.
This approach by contrast with that of the scientific creationist can be likened to the sort of physician who addresses the underlying disease rather than merely treating the symptoms. Scientific creationists frequently identify Darwinism as the cause of all the problems of the last century and a half – Communism, Nazism, secularism, the erosion of morality, etc. To do this, however, is to make the mistake of confusing one of the fruits with the tree.
Let us consider the actual relationship between one of the evils mentioned in the previous paragraph and Darwinism. It makes very little sense to say that Communism, or rather Marxism, the ideology of which Communism is the practical expression, comes from Darwinism, despite the fact that Karl Marx wrote that Darwin’s book contained “the basis in natural history for our view” in a letter to Friedrich Engels on December 19, 1860. For when Marx wrote those words Darwin’s On the Origins of Species By Means of Natural Selection had only just appeared, having been first published in 1859. The Communist Manifesto had been published eleven years previously. Granted, some of the ideas that we associate with Charles Darwin had been brewing in the natural sciences for decades prior to the publication of his book, but then, something similar could be said about Karl Marx and his manifesto. Moreover, only a year and a half later on June 18, 1862, Marx was writing to Engels, having come full circle on Darwin and denouncing his theory as an embodiment of the sentiments of Victorian era capitalism. Perhaps, considering that years later Marx would dedicate the second edition of the first volume of the English translation of Das Kapital to Darwin and sent him a courtesy copy, he changed his mind yet again. Darwin himself, however, although he thanked Marx for the book and the dedication, was on record as being opposed to the use of evolutionary science in support of socialism. Indeed, while Marx’s initial, and possibly later, attraction to Darwin’s theory is probably best explained by his seeing in it a club with which to bash religion in general and Christianity in particular, which Marx notoriously despised, Darwin repudiated this use of his theory.
The erroneous notion that Marxism is a fruit of Darwinism is a huge stumbling block to understanding the interaction between the two in the twentieth century. This failure has had some rather ironic theological repercussions.
The history of Darwinism after Darwin is the history of the mainstream of the scientific discipline of biology. It can be said of biology what Clark said about science in general, that it is “always false, but often useful.” What happens to the utility of a science, however, when its methodology is subverted by the dogmas of a political ideology?
The consequences can be devastating and disastrous. As it so happens, just such a political ideology – Marxism – went to great lengths to subvert the science of biology in the twentieth century. This was done in an obvious and overt fashion in the first country in which Marxism had attained control of the state – the Soviet Union. For a full account of the notorious episode in which the USSR forced biology, and specifically genetics, to submit to Marxist dogma, see Valery N. Soyfer’s Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science (1994). Lysenkoism also became official dogma in other Communist countries. The period in which it was the party line in Red China corresponds to the years in in Mao was repeating all of the Soviet Union’s worst mistakes and reaping a similar harvest of famine and death in the “Great Leap Forward”. For a description of this period that includes a discussion of how bad agricultural techniques, like “close planting” and “deep plowing”, derived from Lysenkoism contributed to the Chinese famine see Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine (1996).
Outside the Communist bloc, Marxism never attained this sort of overt power in the state. It had, however, attained a comparable degree of control in Western academe by the middle of the twentieth century, and this is where most science is done. In 1959, the Professor of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, Conway Zirkle, who ten years previously had written a book length treatment of Lysenkoism the year after the USSR officially condemned genetics as a “bourgeois pseudoscience”, published Evolution, Marxian Biology, and the Social Scene, which argued that the ideas which now bear the name of Trofim Lysenko can be traced directly to Marx and Engels themselves, who had cherry-picked ideas from Darwin, wed them to Lamarck in rejection of Mendel, and threw out completely both the Malthus who had influenced Darwin and the Galton who had been inspired by him, to produce an alternative “Marxian Biology.” While it was only in the Communist bloc where this dominated the biology classroom, Zirkle maintained that the way evolutionary theory was understood in much popular culture and literature, reflected the Marxian version of the theory rather than the Darwinian, because it was pervasive in the Marx-dominated social sciences.
Zirkle passed away in 1972. He did not live to see the controversy of three years later, when Edward O. Wilson, a research professor and myrmecologist at Harvard University published his massive volume Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a controversy which would have provided him with plenty of material for an expanded edition of his own book. Wilson’s book, which drew heavily on the elements of mainstream evolutionary biology which the Marx-Lysenko version rejects, explores the relationship between genes, adaptation, and the social behaviour of animals, culminating in the last, and most controversial, chapter on human beings. Widely reviewed, the book was received well by those within the discipline of biology, but it angered many sociologists, illustrating well the difference between the two schools that Zirkle had highlighted.
In the November 13, 1975 issue of the New York Review of Books published a letter which condemned Wilson’s book for reviving “biological determinism” for the political purpose of providing a “genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race, and sex.” It completely distorted Wilson’s thesis, of course, with the writer of the letter not hesitating to stoop to inserting an ellipsis into a quotation from Wilson at one point that completely inverted his meaning. The NYRB had the decently to run a rebuttal letter from Wilson in the December 11th issue. The original letter was, of course, guilty of the very thing of which it accused Wilson – smuggling political views into biology. The letter was signed by sixteen individuals listed in alphabetical order – and accordingly is attributed to Elizabeth Allen, et al, Allen, who was a pre-med student at Brandeis University at the time being listed first. The signatories were mostly, perhaps entirely, people associated with Science for the People, a Marxist activist group the raison d'être of which was to use science as a vehicle for the promotion of left-wing political views. These included a number of biology professors, which would have signaled to anyone paying attention, as Zirkle most certainly would have had he lived to this point, that an attempted Marxist coup within the biology departments of Western academe is underway. Sadly, not enough people were paying attention. By the end of the twentieth century, one of those signatories, Stephen Jay Gould, who made little attempt to hide the Communist politics beneath the thin veneer of his science, was widely considered to be the face of evolutionary biology.
Indeed, the Marxian takeover of Western biology was by then so complete that when, in the year 2000, Bill Clinton hosted a big party at the White House at which he and Tony Blair, along with Dr. J. Craig Venter of Celera Genomics and Dr. Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project announced the completion of the mapping of the human genome, Venter made a point of declaring that the research illustrates that “the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.” In other words, the completion of the most important research project in the history of the very branch of biology which Lysenko rejected, was being used to promote a concept, which originated in the social science departments where Lysenko’s Marxian views prevailed, in this case that of Boasian anthropology. Although the regime he supported had gone the way of the dodo, Trofim Lysenko had his ultimate triumph.
At this point I would like to repeat the quotation from Gordon Clark that “science is always false, but often useful.” The most obvious utility of a project like the mapping of the human genome is in the area of treating genetic diseases and conditions. There are plenty of such conditions that afflict primarily or exclusively the members of a single race or ethnicity. If the influence of Marxist Neo-Lysenkoism has become such in Western biology that the then-president of the private research company competing with the government sponsored scientists in this project, turned such an occasion into a platform for espousing Franz Boas and Ashley Montagu’s Marxist race denial, even going so far as to mislead his hearers into thinking that ethnicity cannot be determined from a gene sample, is this likely to have a positive or a negative effect on the usefulness of this research in treating such diseases?
This brings us back to the scientific creationists and their error of regarding Marxism as the fruit of Darwinism, an error unavoidable on their part because of their more fundamental error of attempting to answer the Darwinian challenge to the truth of Creation in Darwinism’s own scientific language thus accepting the same false scientistic premise as Darwinism that science has epistemic as well as utilitarian value. It brings us back to this point because of the irony of the fact that one of the leading scientific creationists – perhaps the leading scientific creationist now that Henry M. Morris is no longer with us – Ken Ham, wrote an entire book which attempted to read the same Marxist concept that J. Craig Venter espoused at Bill Clinton’s garden party in 2000 into the Bible.
The book in question, One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism, was co-written with Don Batten and Carl Wieland and suspiciously appeared the same year as the aforementioned party. It is based entirely upon semantic dishonesty – using the fact that we use the word “race” for both our species as a whole and for subspecies within it, rather than the distinct words we use for other species/subspecies, such as species = dog, breed = cocker spaniel, bull dog, Doberman, etc., to deny the existence of “races” within humanity because we are all “one race”, bad hermeneutics – Acts 17:26 means the opposite of what Ham et al., say it means, and the same sort of fallacious reasoning that secular scientific Marxists use to deny race – there is more genetic diversity within races than between races therefore there are no races.
If Ham and his co-authors had thought the last mentioned argument through they would perhaps have been more wary of employing it. For the obvious response to this fallacy is to point out that the exact same thing can be sad, substituting “sexes” for “races.” Would they accept the argument as formulated as being valid about “sexes” as well as “races” and declare “sex” along with “race” to be an invalid social construct?
Of course not. When it comes to “sex” Ham and company are as guilty of the “biological determinism” – regarding biology as destiny – that Trofim Lysenko, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard C. Lewontin, and other Marxist biologists accuse hereditarian Darwinists of as the hereditarian Darwinists themselves. Rightly so, from the standpoint of Scriptural and traditional Christian ethics. Which is good cause for them to reconsider siding with the Marxists against the Darwinists on other matters.