Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Creationist Appreciation of Darwin Part 1

Despite creationist objections to Darwin and to the theory of evolution that developed from his work, it really ought to be recognized and acknowledged that some of Darwin's observations have been of value to creationism, as well as to biology in general. I just realized this after some rereading of his Origin of Species and being reminded of the impression I had when I first read it back before I was a Christian. I enjoyed the book enormously then. I always enjoyed reading someone who could lead me through a well-presented argument and Darwin does that in his careful measured way. He's a genuine thinker. His observations are well described and well used in the service of his theory; his conclusions are logical and easy to follow.

This time around I have an entirely different perspective, of course. I notice things I wouldn't have noticed forty years ago; I have objections I didn't have then. But in spite of all that I find myself again impressed with his methodical presentation of evidence and clear arguments.

This time around I was also struck by some ideas for which I think he should even be thanked by creationists. The creationism of Darwin's day was a pretty subjective affair that needed the sharp kicks Darwin administered in his Origin. Special Creation as it was called then was such a feeble excuse for a scientific position it didn't take much to topple it, and even his first edition changed many minds, as he indicates in the Preface to a later edition:
Until recently the great majority of naturalists believed that species were immutable productions, and had been separately created.
"Until recently" means "until the publication of the first edition of the Origin of Species."

I'm sure it seems that a creationist should grieve at the success of Darwin's argument for evolution, but the creationism he reveals in his book is not the creationism it should have been. For one thing, the idea of special creation of immutable species was used to explain anything and everything. Whatever was observed was attributed to the organism's having been created for that purpose. At the beginning of Chapter 9, Hybridism, for instance, Darwin says:
"The view commonly entertained by naturalists is that species, when intercrossed, have been specially endowed with sterility in order to prevent their confusion."
That is, sterility is observed in some hybrids and the explanation from special creation is that they were made that way for a purpose. It's the sort of answer that would stop all thought in its tracks rather than stimulate further investigation into the reason for the sterility.

In Chapter 13, Geographical Distribution, he says something that suggests that the belief in special creation included the unbiblical idea of continuing or periodic creation over time, which is far from the once-for-all-time creation as described in Genesis.

Here he's commenting on an island devoid of mammals and remarks:
"It cannot be said that there has not been time for the creation of mammals; many volcanic islands are sufficiently ancient...."
Of course there would be no question of the time needed if the prevailing creationist view was that all living things had been created at once as reported in Genesis 1 and not created for particular locations at later particular times.

And he goes on to demonstrate the uselessness, even the absurdity of the creationist understanding:
"Although terrestrial mammals do not occur on oceanic islands, aerial mammals occur on almost every island..." "Why has the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands?"
He answers that the most probable explanation is they weren't created just for the islands, it's simply that bats could have flown the distance whereas terrestrial animals had no way to get there.

At the end of Chapter 5, Laws of Variation, he is objecting to an idea about the genus that includes horses that was prevalent in his time, that
"...each [equine] species was independently created with a tendency to vary ... so as often to become striped like the other species of the genus," and "created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus.

To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least an unkonwn, cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells living on the sea-shore.
I have to say that I agree. Even back then it would have been far more reasonable to consider that the separate "species" in the genus were in fact varieties of the same species, and that the striping showed up as a reversion to a characteristic of the species closest to the original. It comes off as a cop-out, or intellectual laziness, to invoke God's purpose to explain such a phenomenon.

It looks like Darwin has done quite a good job of thoroughly trouncing some of the creationist ideas of his day, and it seems to me they needed to be trounced. The creationist ideas were subjective and silly, but more important, they weren't Biblical. They had already been much compromised by what naturalists of the day thought science had proved, which is always the big danger for creationism. Creationists had been rationalizing the Biblical revelation away to accommodate the current interpretation of the evidence, and this still goes on among some who consider themselves creationists. Seems to me Darwin illuminated a problem and to a great extent even solved it, so that biology could move in a more constructive direction and creationists could regroup from a Biblical perspective, which they must do if they are to hope for any success in answering evolution.

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