Monthly Archives: August 2012

If Not Darwinian, then What?

Contemporary Christian creationists often deride Darwinian evolutionary theory and propose one of several current creationist models as a clear alternative.  Of course, these groups debate amongst themselves over exactly which literal reading of Genesis to prefer, including whether or not dinosaurs were present on the ark.  

But what many of these groups fail to recognize is that Darwin did not emerge into something like a contemporary creationist worldview to fire off his evolutionary broadside and leave evolution and “creation” as a dualistic scientific battlefield.  Christians prior to Darwin did not generally hold to what we would recognize as “creationism.”  Instead, they blended the theological insights of Genesis with the most reasonable natural philosophy of the time, whether it was drawn from Aristotle or Linnaeus.  Especially popular were models based around the “Great chain of being.”

But of especial interest is the understanding that was becoming current when Darwin was studying at university and travelling on HMS Beagle.  This was the height of the anti-slavery/pro-slavery debate in England and the Americas, and a scientific shift was underway to justify – often on biblical grounds – the separate status of Africans and other “inferior races.”  For these groups, Adam was seen as the beginning of the Jewish race in particular, and each race had its own lineage and progenitor.  From Desmond and Moore’s study, Darwin’s Sacred Cause,

Those who believed in the separate creation or emergence of each human race or species were ‘pluralists.’ For them the various human species were not blood-kin at all. Each species in its geographical home had a separate bloodline back to the beginning, which never connected to any other species. There was no common ancestor for all the races. Some American writers were already arguing that the origin of all the different races of men’ was the most intriguing subject of natural history. A few laughed Moses out of court and dismissed as flippant talk of climate turning one race into another. These pluralists had Aborigines first appearing…adapted to the sport where they are now found. So black and white had separate ancestries and differed more from each other than one species of dog did from another. With increasing agitation over American slavery, pluralism was a perfect legitimating philosophy. Books were already denying that the separate races or species were equal or ‘sprang from the same primitive root’. Slave and master were thus unrelated, which made the planters’ actions toward their ‘inferior’ captives easier to justify.

In this context, from principles deeply rooted in both scripture and (itself derived from scripture, through divorced from its historicism) Enlightenment humanism, Darwin strove to justify scientifically that all humans are of one blood. If Darwin had not succeeded, it is possible that some other researcher would have. He was not the first to suggest common descent, natural selection and random variation.  But there is no certainty that this view would have won out as fully as it has done.  

What is certain, though, is that the shape of Christian creationism would be far different, with different allies and opponents.  Which ought to suggest something about the relative merits of Christian creationism, being as it is a reactionary and not at all “default” or straightforward view of scripture.

What do you think?  What might the creationist perspective look like today if not for Darwinian thought?  Even if you reject some or all of Darwinian evolutionary theory, could it be seen as beneficial in a humanitarian light?  Even if you affirm some or all of Darwinian evolutionary theory, how can we prevent it from being mishandled in the name of a “social Darwinism”?  

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Peace in the Luke’s Gospel

Peace is a central concern of Luke’s gospel, and is often linked with “glory.”  The well-known Christmas phrase has “Glory to God in the highest, meanwhile peace on earth to people of good will.”  Paul Minear has suggested a direct correlation between these two: “the more glory the more peace, and the more peace the more glory.”  

The most peace-dense section of Luke’s gospel is the central journey narrative, when Jesus sends out seventy (or perhaps 72) of his followers to preach and heal in his name.  He tells them, 

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a child of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,  ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Willard Swartley, commenting on this passage, observes that “a peace response becomes the criterion by which the people receive [either] the kingdom of God or condemnation.”  Moreover, Swartley argues that by reintroducing the peace theme at this central juncture (as Jesus begins the journey toward Jerusalem), Luke is highlighting that Jesus’ whole mission was one of preaching peace.

Thus the journey toward Jerusalem begins with the proclamation of peace.  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem in chapter 19, peace is again a theme, and again tied to glory in heaven.  The crowds sing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The shout is like a chorus’s response to the angels’ proclamation in 2:14.  Earth answers heaven and accepts its king.  

Except that the religious leaders want to quash this acceptance, to silence the crowds.  To this Jesus responds that if they don’t shout it out, the stones will cry it.   Swartley summarizes the narrative flow at this point:

Jesus comes as king, ringing heaven’s bells of peace; a sea of followers has confessed it. But the outcry may also indicate an abortive dimension: the peace has not been welcomed by all on earth. Hence, in sharp contrast to the mood of the praising multitude, Jesus laments over Jerusalem and pronounces judgment: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (v. 42). The harsh words of judgment upon the city end with the sad explanatory comment: “because you did not recognize the  time of your visitation from God” (v. 44). (Emphasis added)