As the evolution paradigm continues to be spread by individuals and organizations alike, it’s inherent message of naturalistic origins – a far more reasonable explanation for many than that invoking the supernatural – is fostering much change around the world, both in the obvious venues and those less expected. As a result, belief systems that tended to stand in opposition of evolution, including many Protestant Christian denominations, have experienced a dramatic falling-away, especially amongst the younger generations which are fed an abundant diet of naturalistic ideals by entertainment and education sources. Conversely, other belief systems such as Hinduism and liberal offshoots of Islam, have simply adapted their message to fit those ideals in, incorporating them into their understanding of creation.
Catholicism, and denominations similar to it have also accepted evolution into their view of things, and this acquiescence is at least partially responsible for their current numbers.
For those who had little or no religious faith to begin with, the answers offered by the naturalistic worldview seem to dispel any other notion, only further strengthening their nonbelief. Record numbers continue to abandon their faith simply because it, as they see it, cannot stand against the apparent superiority of evolution. Thus, it is certain that naturalism is a significant factor contributing to the ongoing disappearance of nominal believers.
Despite its more recent iterations as the evolution paradigm, a belief in such things has been with us since our beginnings. Notions that we and animals alike may be the modern descendants of older forms were entertained in ancient Greece, from the musing of Anaximander of Miletus to the later works of Plato, Aristotle, and Lucretius.
Even early Christians pondered the notion of a gradual progression. In the new age following the crucifixion of Christ, the 4th-century theologian Augustine of Hippo, in his rejection of a literal interpretation of Genesis, stated that modern life is not perfect but was created in “a state of potentiality,” suggesting that life has ultimately changed since the creation.(1)
Many secular scholars have praised Augustine’s apparent acceptance of evolutionary doctrine, seeing it perhaps as the first hint of an eventual church-wide referendum on the literal interpretation of Genesis. As progressive as his concepts may have been at the time, it would be much later before the greater church would begin to embrace the dogma of naturalism.
In the Middle Ages, Islamic philosophers considered a natural progression of life, including a transition of inanimate to animate forms, “from mineral to plant, plant to animal, and from animal to man.”(2) In fact, one writer of the day, Ibn Khaldūn, described how mankind descended from primates in his 1377 work, “Muqaddimah”.(3)
Like Augustine centuries before, notable Christians during the medieval years began to seriously entertain thoughts of a natural progression of life. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, who also rejected the literal interpretation of Genesis, envisioned a combination of Aristotle’s classification system with the state of initial perfection and adaptive potential anticipated by Plato.(4) In this system, he and its other adherents, saw a perfect, unbroken chain of creation, Hell on the bottom, God at the top, and mankind near the midpoint, with angelic and other life filling the remainder.
Despite his ultimate rejection of the Genesis account of creation, Aquinas continued to hold God ultimately responsible for the existence of all things. In fact, in Aquinas’ view, creation was a form of divine art, believing that God provided the initial material for nature but that all subsequent development took shape autonomously, saying “It is as if the shipbuilder were able to give to timbers that by which they would move themselves to take the form of a ship.”(5)
Beginning in the fifteenth century, modern evolutionary concepts began to appear within the intellectual circles of the West. From Benoît de Maillet’s assertion of a completely naturalistic origin for the universe and life itself, completely devoid of divine intervention,(6) to Pierre Louis Maupertuis’ proposal that modifications to species appeared naturally during reproduction, accumulating generationally, and ultimately producing radiations of breeds, races, and species in the process,(7) the modern notions of the paradigm began to take shape.
By the 18th century, a philosopher named Georges-Louis Leclerc proposed that the term “species” was actually a variation of an original, spontaneously-generated form of life, molded over time from its original form by environmental pressures. Interestingly however was Leclerc’s assertion that “internal moulds” existed within each form of life which limited the degree of transformation possible. As such, a lizard could radiate into various other forms of lizard, but never a into a lark.(8) The French philosopher Denis Diderot added to this concept by suggesting that species were always in a state of flux, experimenting with forms in an endless cycle of trial and error.(9)
One of the most influential thinkers on the subject was Erasmus Darwin, the naturalist, inventor, and physician. In his work, “The Economy of Vegetation,” he proposed that the Earth was the result of a great explosion (foreshadowing perhaps the naturalistic “Big Bang” theory), and subsequently went on in another work, “The Botanic Garden,” to state how life gradually developed in the waters of the sea, over time graduating generationally from minuscule life forms in the mud into ever grander terrestrial forms.
Later, in his two-volume medical treatise, “Zoonomia or the Laws of Organic Life,” E. Darwin, in what could be viewed as the basis for modern evolutionary thought, wrote:
“millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind … all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which The Great First Cause endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts … and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!” (10)
Though it may seem that E. Darwin hinted at the intervention of the divine in Zoonomia with the phrase “The Great First Cause,” he was in fact adamantly anti-Christian, and this phrase was included only to appease the church of his day. Still, many saw through this feeble attempt, for his contempt of the church was well known, as were his attempts to replace the authority of the Bible with the worship of nature. Finally, in 1802 after a lifetime of dedicated work, Erasmus Darwin went to his grave.
His influence had only begun however, as seven years prior, a grandson was born. Fed on his grandfather’s notions of naturalism and materialism, it was destined that young Charles would follow in his footsteps…
Notes & References
- Gill, Meredith J., “Augustine in the Italian Renaissance: Art and Philosophy from Petrarch to Michelangelo,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; New York, 2005, pp 251
- Waggoner, Ben, “Medieval and Renaissance Concepts of Evolution and Paleontology, “University of California Museum of Paleontology
- Kiros, Teodros, ed. “Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics,” Preface by K. Anthony Appiah (2001), New Political Science Reader Series, New York: Routledge, pg 55
- Lovejoy, Author O., “The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea,” 1936, pp 67-80, William James Lectures, 1933. pp. 67–80 Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard University Press
- Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics. Rare Masterpieces of Philosophy and Science.” Book II, Lecture 14, Translated by Richard J. Blackwell, Richard J. Spath, and W. Edmund Thirlkel, Introduction by Vernon J. Bourke, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT 1963
- Bowler, Peter J., “Evolution: The History of an Idea (3rd ed.)”, University of California Press,Berkeley, CA,2003, pg 72
- Bowler, Peter J., “Evolution: The History of an Idea (3rd ed.)”, University of California Press,Berkeley, CA,2003, pg 73-75
- Larson, Edward J., “Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory,” Modern Library, New York,2004, pp 14-15
- Bowler, Peter J., “Evolution: The History of an Idea (3rd ed.)”, University of California Press,Berkeley, CA,2003, pp 82-83
- Darwin, Erasmus, “Zoonomia, or The Laws of Organic Life, Volume 1,” Section XXXIX Of Generation, IV. 8, London,1796
– This was an excerpt from “Remnants of Eden: Evolution, Deep-Time, & the Antediluvian World.” Get your copy here today. God bless! –
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