The Bishop and "Darwin's Bulldog"
by Edward Coleson
One of the most damaging pseudo-scientific myths to gain wide credence in the West in the last century or two is the notion that Christians should stay out of science. "Exhibit A" in the case against Christian involvement is a collection of three distorted stories which are supposed to prove to all, saint or sinner, that no good can possibly come from our mixing in where they think we don't belong. The three are the prosecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church because of his Copernican astronomy, the Huxley-Wilberforce debate at Oxford in 1860 over Darwin's new theory, and the famous "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Apparently, with good baseball-like logic, many have concluded that it was "three strikes and you're out". That being the case, the appropriate thing for the Church to do is to mind its own pious business and avoid further trouble, Many devout Christians are as much convinced of this as are the atheistic evolutionists. They may not agree with evolution, but respect the division of labor implicit in the separation of sacred and secular, In fact they are often very uneasy when Creationists challenge the scientific establishment. They don't want to be embarrassed again. They agree the saints "should be seen and not heard."
I suspected long ago that there was more to those stories than we had been told and so there is, Anyone who wishes to examine the evidence will find a wealth of material on the first and the last of the episodes, the arraignment of Galileo before the Inquisition in 1633 and the Scopes' Case in our own time. Those who would like the other side of the trial of Galileo, perhaps with a Catholic rather than an atheistic bias, would find Jerome J. Langford's Galileo, Science, and the Church 1 interesting. While there is much on the "Monkey Trial", may I suggest Darwin Retried2 by Norman Macbeth? Since the author is a lawyer, this would be a useful supplement to the usual biological discussions of the issues. While we Christians have made our share of mistakes, we have the same right to a fair hearing that secular scientists claim for themselves. Why has this been denied us?
Since the Huxley-Wilberforce debate has been the neglected aspect of the problem, it is about time that this story should be subjected to scrutiny also. Bernard Ramm's3 remark about "Bishop Wilberforce's disgraceful attack" on Huxley seems completely unwarranted when one knows the men and the circumstances. Unfortunately, Ramm's attitude in this case rather sets the tone for the entire book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. According to Marvin Lubenow,4 the book went through nine printings in its first twenty years and was still being used by about twenty Bible colleges as a text, In addition to it success over here, twenty five thousand were printed in England. Needless to say, Ramm's pronouncements have no doubt tended to accentuate the inferiority complex of a multitude of Evangelicals and have encouraged them to keep quiet about scientific questions. Since several generations of Christians have felt ashamed of the Bishop's lack of tact or wisdom, let us try to see what actually happened on that momentous occasion.
First, we need to correct a few misunderstandings. One would assume from Andrew Dickson White's massive study, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published in 1896, that over the ages there had been nothing but conflict between scientists and Christians, with the latter always the villains of the drama. Certainly there have been problems, but it is well to remember that able scholars have concluded that modern science was a by-product of Christianity. For instance, Robert K. Merton5 came to this conclusion as a result of doing a doctor's dissertation on the rise of science in seventeenth-century England, although he did not begin with this hypothesis.
He found that:
educated and articulate Puritans of the seventeenth century... took it as almost self-evident that science made not for the dethronement of God but rather provided a means of celebrating His wisdom and the tidiness of the universe He had created. Secularization and "warfare" became factors of importance much later, but the early scientists and not just English Puritans either were often devout Christians. John Kepler, as just one example, felt he was " thinking God's thoughts after Him."
The view that Christianity and science were compatible persisted well into the lifetime of Charles Darwin in the early decades of the last century. One of the most famous exponents of this doctrine was William Paley, an Anglican clergyman who wrote a book which was a favorite of young Darwin. He said: "I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley's Natural Theology. I could almost formerly have said it by heart."6 Paley's approach to the Creation question was the "design argument". He used the example of finding a watch by the pathway which, he said, would be indisputable proof of the existence of a watchmaker, although the universe is infinitely more complicated than a mere timepiece. This reasoning so impressed his contemporaries that $48,OOO was left to the Royal Society7 to carry out research in the various fields of science to show the marvels of God's handiwork. Darwin8 was very conscious that he had to demolish such thinking to make way for his theory of evolution. As he wrote, "Such doctrines, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory." Coming as a stark contrast with the pious endeavors of the scientists of the preceding era, the publication of The Origin of Species was more of a shock in 1859 than its equivalent would be today.
Another bit of background we need to understand the debate at Oxford in 1860 is an introduction to the Bishop himself. This was not needed then: everyone knew the Bishop and his father before him too. Samuel, "Soapy Sam" as he was derisively nicknamed, was the third son of William Wilberforce. the great English abolitionist to whom John Wesley wrote his last letter before he died in 1791. He was then a young politician, an exceedingly clever one too. William had only recently been converted under the guidance of John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace". Newton, an ungodly slave-trading sea captain, was a celebrity in his own right also. After his conversion he became a preacher and hymn writer. Under the influence of such men as Newton and Wesley, Wilberforce9 decided to devote his political talents to the abolition of slavery, the "holy cause" which had gripped the Evangelical conscience and imagination about that time. Since powerful vested interests fought the anti-slavery movement every step of the way, William Wilberforce was controversial and very well known. Although he had been dead for more than twenty-five years in 1860. he had not been forgotten. Samuel, his son, had attracted a good deal of attention himself also. Whereas the traditional bishops of Oxford had been wont to drive into town with a coach and tour horses, plus two powdered footmen, Bishop Wilberforce10 mounted a horse and rode in by himself. While this shocked the older generation, a good many people liked their colorful new prelate. The Bishop got into politics too less of a scandal then than now and angered the great landlords, but pleased a lot of ordinary folks. Sam was controversial and conspicuous, like his father.
It is well to remember also that Darwin's new theory had not become "a basic fact" yet in 1859, an unwarranted assumption that C. S. Lewis11 strongly objected to in his essay, "The Funeral of a Great Myth". It was still open to question. Darwin himself mentioned a third of the way through his book that" * . . a crowd of difficulties will have occurred" to the reader by that time and confessed that "to this day I can hardly reflect on them without being in some degree staggered ..." His puzzle at this point was why we " ... do not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion, instead of the species being. . . well defined?"12 Much later in the book he allows that the "sudden appearance of groups of allied species" in the fossil record is a serious problem."13 In other words, he was much less arrogant than the evolutionists discussed by Lewis in his essay. There is a tendency also for the "true believers" to imagine that The Origin of Species emerged rather spontaneously from Darwin's extensive contact with nature, the voyage of the Beagle around the world (1831-1836) and his other researches. This is not true either. As James B. Conant,14 former president of Harvard University, reminded us, Darwin himself said that while reading Malthus, "...the idea of natural selection suddenly rose to my mind." One could ask if Malthus was right and this question raises more problems. In other words, evolution, like any other philosophical system, was built on certain basic assumptions and was not a self-evident truth. Since Darwinism has become another religion in the modern era, its faith commitments are rarely examined, certainly not by evolutionary fanatics, but this was not true in 1860. The new theory was still on trial.
The Origin of Species came from the press in late November, 1859.
Although the publisher thought it would never sell, it was an instant success; a second edition was printed at once. Why it became a bestseller is still a bit of a mystery; even Huxley15 said that after thirty years of reading it he still considered it "...one of the hardest books to understand thoroughly I know of." Henry Adams16 said he became an evolutionist because everyone else was doing it, although he confessed he really didn't understand the theory. Evidently a lot of other people accepted it on faith also. Needless to say, not everyone was willing to take up with the new fashion, so there was much discussion of The Origin that winter and spring in England.
The climax of the controversy over evolution came on Saturday, June 30, 1860, at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford. Actually, the debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley came as a rather informal exchange between them after one of the scholarly papers was read. It was a matter of popular demand as the audience called for them to express their views. It was not entirely unpremeditated, however; Wilberforce had been coached by a scientist although he wasn't one himself. The Bishop spoke first and was no doubt eloquent, but he made the mistake of ending his talk by asking Huxley whether it was "through your grandfather or your grandmother that you claim your descent from a monkey?" Everybody laughed and then Huxley made his reply. He said he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for a grandfather, but he would be "ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth." That witty rejoinder brought down the house and the world has been laughing at us Creationists ever since. William Irvine17 used this story as the introduction to his Apes, Angels, and Victorians and this is the usual version of the debate. The scholarly biography18 of the Huxley family tells us that "The details of what Huxley said differ as much as do those of Wilberforce's speech." Since neither was written down, the differences are to be expected, but the essentials are obviously the same: Wilberforce made a clever but unscientific talk and ended it with a flippant remark, and then Huxley turned the joke back on the Bishop. The notion that we should be ashamed of this "disgraceful attack", as urged by Bernard Ramm, is a little ridiculous. After all, Huxley was well able to defend himself and this little interchange made him an international celebrity. Few people have ever reaped such great profits from so small an investment of time and energy.
One can only speculate on what would have happened if Darwin had been at Oxford himself to defend his own theory. He was home sick again; he usually was. Robert E. 0. Clark19 believes that:
Darwin's trouble almost certainly lay in the suppression of his religious needs. His life was one long attempt to escape from Paley, to escape from the church, to escape from God.
Therefore, although he wrote The Origin of Species, Huxley, as "Darwin's Bulldog", was the one who led the fight to get evolution accepted as "basic fact". When Christians opposed Huxley, he was not always as gracious as we are expected to be to evolutionists. When Bishop Wilberforce was thrown from his horse and killed in 1873, Huxley20 commented that " . . . reality and his brains came into contact and the result was fatal" a remark perhaps less kind under the circumstances than the Bishop's "disgraceful attack" on him in 1860. Huxley continued his fight over the years. There were other churchmen to quarrel with too and he even took on the great Victorian Prime Minister, William E. Gladstone, himself. He also declared war on the Salvation Army21, when he " ... suddenly realized with horror that he had discovered a grave national danger" in that organization. "Apparently, the older and tireder he grew, the harder he fought," as Irvine said.
Huxley's closing years provide a tantalizing puzzle that still defies explanation. In 1893 he was asked to deliver the Romanes Lecture at Oxford. He had not spoken at the University since his confrontation with Wilberforce a third of a century earlier. His theme was "Evolution and Ethics" and, while he talked about Indian religion, the Greek Stoics, and the problems of the ages, he seemed to be saying, according to Jacques Barzun,22 that evolution
...was a dangerous guide to human action, The ethical process must supplement it ,.. Cooperation and love, the Sermon on the Mount, were the more successful, the more "scientific" ways of life.
A whole generation had grown up on evolution since "Soapy Sam" had protested against Darwinism so long ago. Huxley now found himself in about the same position that the Bishop was in back in 1860. The text of his speech, if read with any care, revealed that he had not turned Fundamentalist. But people in general do not weigh words that carefully, so this address seemed to be an anticlimax to his long fight for evolution. Had he turned religious in his old age, the consequence of senility, or had he finally gotten some sense? The earthly answer to that question depends on who is doing the judging: we cannot speak for the "Judge of all the Earth". There is a familiar story that when Darwin lay dying in 1882, more than a decade earlier than this, that he renounced his evolutionary views, but Wilbert H. Rusch23 has made a careful study of existing evidence and has concluded the narrative was probably wishful thinking, perhaps growing Out of Mrs. Darwin's efforts to put the best possible construction on her husband's demise. We can only hope that both men finally saw the light.
Whatever the appropriate interpretation of Huxley's "Evolution and Ethics" and the truth about Darwin's final hours, there has been a growing conviction across the earth that scientific materialism is not an adequate moral guide and we need to make the most of this change. "There is a tide in the affairs of men," as Shakespeare told us long ago. An apologetic Evangelicalism, weighed down with guilt for sins we did not commit, is not prepared to take advantage of our present Opportunities. We need to be advancing on every front. Like Joshua and Caleb long ago: "Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to Overcome it" (Numbers 13:30).
1 Jerome J. Langford, Galileo. Science and the Church (Ann Arbor: the University of Michigan Press, 1971), pp. 133-158.
2 Norman Macbeth, Darwin Retired (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1971), p. 5'
3 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 260.
4 Marvin L. Lubenow, "Progressive Creationism, Is It a Biblical Option?" (Proceedings of the Third Creation Science Conference 1976), p. 61.
5 Robert K. Merton, Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-century England (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1970), p. xvi.
6 Macbeth, op. cit., p. 87.
7 A. Cressy Morrison, Man Does Not Stand Alone (New York: Fleming H. Revel Co., 1944), pp.7-9.
8 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: P. F. Collier and Son, the Harvard Classics, vol, 11), pp. 209-211.
9 R. Coupland, Wilberforce, a Narrative (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1968 reprint of original published in 1923 by Clarendon Press), pp. 32-94.
10 Reginald Wilberforce, Life of Samuel Wilberforce New York: Anson D.F. Randolph and Co,, 1889), pp. 77-92.
11 C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), pp. 82-93.
12 Darwin, op, cit, p.178.
13 Ibid., pp. 354-363.
14 James Bryant Conant, Two Modes of Thought My Encounters with Science and Education (New York: Trident Press, 1964), pp. 28-31
15 Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx and Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1958), pp. 32 and 74.
16 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Random House, Modern Library edition, 1931), pp. 224-232.
17 William Irvines, Apes. Angels, and Victorians: the Story of Darwin. Huxley and Evolution (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1955), pp.3-8.
18 Ronald W. Clark, The Huxleys (New York' McGraw-HilI Book Co., 7968). pp. 55-59.
19 Robert E. D. Clark, Darwin: Before and After (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pp. 82-85.
20 Ronald W. Clark, op cit. p. 117.
21 Irvine, op. cit. pp. 323-330.
22 Barzun, op. cit.. pp. 101-104.
23 Wilbert H. Rusch, Sr., "Darwin's Last Hours," (Creation Research Society Ouarterly, vol.12, no.2; Sept., 1975), pp. 99-102.