Ernst Mayr, a longtime champion of evolution, writes that when Darwin published the Origin of Species “he actually did not have a single clear- cut piece of evidence for the existence of natural selection.” Another Darwin enthusiast, Jonathan Weiner, concedes that despite its title, Darwin’s book “does not document the origin of a single species.’
Then there was the problem of the age of the earth. Renowned physicist Lord Kelvin published thermodynamic calculations that showed the earth was far too “young” to give evolution time to take place along Darwinian lines. Kelvin turned out to be wrong because the physicists of his day had not discovered radioactivity and nuclear processes that generate energy and heat, prolonging the earth’s cooling process. Today we know that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old, giving natural selection more time to produce its transformations. But Darwin and his scientific contemporaries didn’t know that. The best physics of the day seemed incompatible with Darwinism.
Even so, many Christians rallied to Darwin’s side. The Dublin Review, an influential Catholic journal, praised Darwin’s book while registering only minor objections. Darwin’s leading supporter in the United States was Harvard biologist Asa Gray, who saw evolution not as a denial of God’s creation but as a documentation of how He had gone about it.
Darwin himself wrote that Gray’s interpretation “pleases me especially, and I do not think anyone else has ever noticed the point.” But they soon did, and over the years some of Darwin’s most prominent defenders, like Theodosius Dobzhansky and R. A. Fisher, have been Christians. While a minority of Christians proclaimed evolution a heresy from the outset, most Christian leaders sought to reconcile Darwin’s theory with the biblical story of creation.
Darwin himself was an agnostic, but when he died he was buried in Westminster Abbey with the approval of the Anglican Church. A few years ago, Pope John Paul II moved the Catholic church closer to an endorsement of evolution by proclaiming it “more than a hypothesis?’ Christian apologist C. S. Lewis had no problem with it. And several of today’s leading evolutionists, such as biologist Kenneth Miller and geneticist Francis Collins, are practicing Christians.
What, then, are we to make of the furious intellectual battles that we see, both in the courts and in the media, between the Darwinists and the anti-Darwinists? There is now a school of thought that goes by the name of “intelligent design?’ Its leading figures are William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and Phillip Johnson.
Trained in mathematics, biochemistry, and law, these critics are in an entirely different league than the self-styled “creationists?’ And they have raised important questions: How to account for the complexity of the eye? Why was there an “explosion” of new forms of life, entirely unanticipated in the fossil record, during the Cambrian era? Despite a long history ofexperimentation, breeders have never been able to breed across species lines and produce new species, so how can random mutations achieve what carefully orchestrated cross-breeding has failed to do? While the fossil record shows evidence of microevolution (one type of finch evolves into another type of finch), where is the evidence for macroevolution (one species evolves into a different species)?
The critics have exposed some of the weak points in the theory of evolution. The fossil record is inadequate, as Darwin himself realized. Biologists routinely debate what caused the Cambrian “explosion,” and there are competing theories and much that remains to be discovered.