In my last post I alluded to the hardening in the attitude of American Fundamentalists towards evolution after the Great War. And I mentioned that some of the authors of the Fundamentals had previously been sympathetic to evolution. Here’s a quote I turned up from one of them, G F Wright:
If only the evolutionists would incorporate into their system the sweetness of the Calvinistic doctrine of Divine Sovereignty, the church would make no objection to their speculations.
Alongside this was a quote from fellow-Fundamentalist R A Torrey:
[It is possible] to believe thoroughly in the infallibility of the Bible and still be an evolutionist of a certain type.
I’m not familiar with Wright, but Wikipedia says he was a geologist as well as a pastor and was in his youth friendly with Asa Grey, whom he encouraged in his synthesis of Darwinian evolution with Christian faith. Wiki says he subsequently suffered a crisis of faith over the “heresy trials” involving Charles Augustus Briggs, which moved him towards a more literalist position on Genesis. I’m not clear whether this “crisis” involved simply seeing the destructive tendency of Higher Criticism, or linking it to evolutionary theory. But it doesn’t really matter here. When he wrote a chapter for The Fundamentals he still accepted geological time, and affirmed that variation causing new species would be evidence of design. To quote Wikipedia again:
He stated “By no stretch of legitimate reasoning can Darwinism be made to exclude design. Indeed, if it should be proved that species have developed from others of a lower order, as varieties are supposed to have done, it would strengthen rather than weaken the standard argument from design.” That is, he subscribed to theistic evolution.
Well, by today’s standards what he actually seems to have subscribed to was Intelligent Design – have the Discovery Institute picked up him yet, I wonder? Even so, here is a founding Fundamentalist who was a supporter of Asa Gray and remained open to descent with modification, only provided that God’s purposeful, sovereign, role was behind it.
Now for such a man, I very much doubt that my initial quote was an insistence that all scientists should become Calvinists and enshrine divine sovereignty in science. I don’t even think he was saying “Calvinists are the only ones to see the light”, so much as putting Reformed teaching forward as the branch of the faith that had most clearly preserved the kingly role (to use Wilcox’s idea) of God. Any orthodox Christian, and certainly any biblically-informed evangelical, would have seen God’s role in creation thus.
So once more it seems clear, as I mentioned in the previous post, that the body scientific had, in Wright’s time, so insisted on the incompatibility of God’s designing role with the process of Darwinian evolution that the theological positions of Gray, Warfield or Wright himself were ruled out of court. There was no acceptance that naturalist materialism was a metaphysical “add-on” to science, and no negotiation allowed at all. Scientists as a sociological force had so polarised the issue that one had to choose either science or the biblical God, but not both. As we saw yesterday, it is hardly surprising that Fundamentalism responded (though not fully until a war fought partly in the name of evolution had further hardened their position) by accepting that polarisation.
Now, seeing this as an issue about divine sovereignty casts a lot of light on the contemporary debate, to which the issue of biblical literalism is something of a distraction. We still have our naturalist Establishment in the guise of the Dawkinses, the Coynes and so on, making it as difficult as possible to see that evolution (understood as metascience) and orthodox Christian faith are quite compatible. But we also have, in much theistic evolution and especially in its BioLogos form, an abandonment of divine sovereignty that alienates not only Calvinists, but many who have a clear grasp on classical theism.
All the talk of creation’s freedom, the fudging of what “randomness” means, the Socinian incarnational and kenotic views of creation, the calumnies against a “coercive” or “micro-managing” God – all these are re-runs of the Victorian desire to escape from divine sovereignty (and, I would say, merely an unconscious expression of the Prometheus myth that has expressed our society’s attitude of rebellion against God for half a millennium).
Why do people prefer both forms of Creationism, or Intelligent Design, to evolution? There can be many individual reasons and arguments, of course, but the instinct of the believer that God should be acknowledged to be God must be one of the strongest motivations. Because the Sovereign God is actually the only one worthy of our worship, and many people know it.
It was Wright’s understanding of Divine Sovereignty, no doubt, that also committed him to opposing the higher criticism as well, whether or not he saw it as based in evolution. For that denies God’s sovereign ability not only to give us a reliable Scripture, but even to establish Old or New Testament faith apart from the fortuitous and blind evolutionary history of human choices. Maybe we could adapt Wright’s first quote for our times, though it is, perhaps, just as unlikely to be heeded now as it was in his:
If only the theistic evolutionists and critical theologians would incorporate into their system the sweetness of the Calvinistic doctrine of Divine Sovereignty, the church would make no objection to their speculations.