Christianity and the Problems of Origin

This is a monograph of thirty-nine pages, constituting part of “An International Library of Philosophy and Theology” (Biblical and Theological Series ) and published in 1964 by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publish. ing Company, Philadelphia, Pa. The writer is the well-known Philip Edgcumbe Hughes.

He is introduced as an Anglican clergyman and as the editor of The Churchman, an Anglican quarterly. “His writings include numerous articles in such journals as The Churchman, The Evangelical Quarterly, Philosophia Reformata, and Westminster Theological Journal.” One gathers from the “Publisher’s Note” that this monograph is a compilation of articles written by the author in those publications or excerpts thereof.

We should feel thankful to Dr. Hughes for favoring us with this concise product. First of all, because of the subject itself. No one will deny that at present, at least in Reformed circles, whatever is written concerning “origins” receives close attention. Many arc interested in the subject and all should be. The fact that the Bible speaks of “origins” is sufficient reason for every Christian to be keenly interested. Moreover the Bible not only begins with the teaching of “origins” (Gen. 1), but constantly, in the Old as well as in the New Testament, refers to it (Ps. 89:12; Is. 42:5; Acts 4:24; Col. 1:16; Rev. 44:11; etc.). Scripture will not allow us to neglect this teaching. It is basic to all the rest. Of course, Dr. Hughes realizes this. He concludes his monograph by stating,

“…it is axiomatic that if we are in error about the origins of things, whether of the universe, or life, or religion, or salvation, we shall be in error about all that follows. That is why the questions discussed all too inadequately in this monograph are of crucial importance for the Christian no less than for mankind in general” (p.37).


Revelation versus Speculation

Tn the second place this publication should be gratefully appreciated because of the frame of reference in which the author places the subject and from which he approaches and evaluates it. Naturally the subject concerns evolutionism. Many appear to assume that this subject properly belongs in the realm of such natural sciences as biology and geology. However, evolutionism is first of all the product of speculation and not of observation. Its origin lies in the realm of philosophy. Since Darwin this philosophy or theory or dogma, if you will, has been increasingly imposed upon all fields of human learning—physical as well as mental. This has occurred to such an extent that it is widely, although falsely, assumed that scientific observation and investigation and, therefore, so called “empirically established facts” have produced this world and life view.

Now Dr. Hughes does not neglect the assertions of natural scientists (how could he?), yet he takes the discussion back to its proper realm, namely, that of theology and/ or philosophy. He shows the fallacy of evolutionistic philosophy, but he opposes it not with another philosophy, but with the revelation, the specific revelation, of God. In that way the only proper comparison is made. The “systems” in their entirety are confronted with each other. The product of human speculation and. therefore, of philosophy is compared with divine revelation. Neither does the learned author allow himself to become entangled in questions of details, alleged to support the structure. He is interested rather in the systems, and he has them face each other. That, I think, is the great merit of this monograph. Evolutionism is at times attacked by proposing different interpretations of facts, which are sup· posed to support theories. That method is usually wearisome and futile. Dr. Hughes does not allow himself to be distracted in that way. And for this we are thankful.

Development of Thought-Patterns

The author brieRy discusses Creek thought and reminds us that Thomas Aquinas incorporated the Aristotelian philosophy into the church’s system of thought. He remarks that Aquinas’ “…influence continues unabated in the Roman Catholic Church up to the present day.” Moreover, he asserts that the decree of Pope Benedict XV, in 1917,

“…has committed the Roman Catholic Church to the dominance of the Aristotelian-Thomistic synthesis, in which the scriptural ground-motive is illicitly combined with the Creek form-matter ground-motive—though in fact the two stand in radical antithesis to each other to form a new dialectical ground-motive of nature and grace. This dialectical synthesis of nature and grace becomes a possibility only when the scriptural doctrines of the Fall and its effects and of salvation by grace alone on God’s part through faith alone on man’s part are abandoned or distorted” (p. 7).

It might be said parenthetically that many a Protestant thinker yields or is in danger of yielding to this Roman Catholic error. The inter-relation between nature and grace is neglected or denied, so that the two are considered to lie adjacent to each other and governing their own realms.

However, according to the author, the Reformation of the sixteenth century corrected this maladjustment. It “…was fundamentally a return to the biblical creation-fall-redemption ground-motive.” Yet another force was at that time also asserting itself. The Renaissance-movement of the preceding century gave rise to the governing concept or ground-motive of “nature” and “freedom.” Dr. Hughes states that this concept proclaims the independence of man and the sovereignty of the human spirit. In reality, so he asserts, this attitude is a sinful perversion of God’s creation-mandate to man to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. But in subduing the earth fallen man fails to subdue his own dislocated nature. Moreover, this humanism, so he continues, has persisted to this day. He writes,

“The unprecedented setbacks which humanism has suffered through the global wars and hatreds of the last two generations, though giving rise to uncertainty and disillusionment, have not, however, been followed by the eclipse of humanism. This may seem surprising, because inconsistent; but it is not really so, because whatever the circumstances, the outlook of unregenerate man is and will always be thoroughly humanistic” (p. 10).

Now evolutionism found fertile soil in humanism. It embraced the concept of the universe as self-sufficient, as a closed system impervious to interferences from without. “Science was the new oracle at whose lips man could and would learn all truth.” Dr. Hughes states,

“…in no sphere has the nature-freedom ground-motive become more pronounced and more widely accepted than in the evolutionism of the past hundred years….In general as well as in principle evolutionism was a comprehensive affirmation of the freedom of nature and the dignity of man who, not now in need of redemption or intervention ‘from above,’ was moving gloriously forward on the way to ever greater achievements” (pp. 10,11).

The unspeakably horrible effects of this philosophy are also described:

“The great universal concept had become that of man, with a capital M. But as a concept its evangelical significance related to Man rather than men; for men were inescapably involved in the savageries of the struggle for existence and subject to the law of the survival of the fittest -a law which was to be cited in justification of the extravagances of the racialism and the horrors of genocide. In the sacred cause of Man, those who did not belong to the ‘pure stock’ (a construction of atavistic mythology ) could be eliminated without scruple. Human lives and human deaths were of little account; for, after all, each individual existence was but an infinitesimal fragment which was doomed to be discarded and forgotten as the vast unregarding process moved inexorably onward. As Jacques Barzun has pointed out, ‘the Darwinists had shown that the individual did not matter—only the race.’ It was Man that mattered, not men” (p. 11).

The author states further that the British philosopher John McTaggart subscribed to the “optimistic” view of evolutionism -progress is inevitably being made. Yet in 1934 this man also “…makes the candid, though incapacitating, admission that ‘no empirical evidence which we could reach would afford even the slightest presumption in favour of such a vast conclusion’” (p. 12).

Evolutionists Stymied

Hughes is acquainted with developments and changes in the views of evolutionists. Says he. “…the evolutionary prophet of…past generations, were he now resurrected, would find it difficult to recognize the message of the present day prophet.” He asserts,

“In the Victorian and Edwardian eras evolutionism was venerated as the new and infallible revelation (commonly deified as ‘Science’) which stultified and superseded all previous revelations. Not even Christianity, whose status over the centuries had been that of revealed religion, could escape the laws of transformism. ‘Taught by science,’ Sir Oliver Lodge preached, ‘we learn that there has been no fall of man; there has been a rise.’ ‘Christianity must change or perish,’ dogmatized Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so brilliantly successful a writer of fiction. ‘That is the law of life, that things must adapt themselves or perish’” (p. 13).

However, the author also states,

“…it never occurred to [the evolutionist] to apply this canon to the cardinal doctrines of his own faith. He would doubt the evidence of his senses were he to find a grandson of the revered Thomas Huxley speaking of ‘the restricted nature of biological progress’ and, what is worse, declaring that such progress ‘is not compulsory and universal,’ indeed, that evolution, that erstwhile irrepressible force, is now at a standstill, with the single exception of the human germ plasm, which is the one slender problematical thread on which all hope of future advancement hangs” (p. 13).

The views of Professor Theodosius Dohzhansky of Columbia University are discussed. He appears to attach value to “evolution by means of mutation,” and speaks of “speciation.” But Dr. Hughes concludes,

“So far from supplying some of the ‘Missing links’ to bridge the gaps between the different genera, it is a movement in the opposite direction creating ever more gaps which, ex hypothesi and by definition, are not bridgeable” (p. 15).

Dr. W. R. Thompson wrote an Introduction to the Everyman edition of Darwin’s Origin at Species in 1956. Hughes quotes him as stating, “I am not satis6ed that Darwin proved his point or that his influence in scientific and public thinking has been beneficial.” Again, “Personal conviction, simple possibilities, are presented as if they were proofs, or at least valid arguments in favour of a theory.” And likewise,

“Darwin did not show in the Origin that species had originated by natural selection; he merely showed, on the basis of certain facts and assumptions, how this might have happened. and as he had convinced himself he was able to convince others.” But “The long-continued investigation on heredity and variation have undermined the Darwinian position. We now know that the variations determined by environmental changes—the individual differences regarded by Darwin as the material on which natural selection acts—are not hereditary.”

“Darwin himself,” writes Thompson, “considered that the idea of evolution is unsatisfactory unless its mechanism can be explained. I agree, but since no one has explained to my satisfaction how evolution could happen I do not feel impelled to say that it has happened” (p. 16).

This should be sufficient to show that at least some evolutionists realize that their philosophy is by no means supported by facts. Anyone assuming that position engages in wishful thinking.

Theologians Yielding

Evolutionists acknowledge a conflict between their theory and biblical Christianity. “Christianity,” so Sir Oliver Lodge claimed, “must change or perish.” Says Dr. Hughes, “this admonition”,…has, it would seem, been taken seriously by many theologians.” He mentions D. F. Strauss (“Life of Jesus”), who rejected every supernatural element (miracles, etc.) in religion . However, he continues,

“But there were others who wished to retain a supernatural Christ and at the same time to fit Him into the evolutionary scheme of things. In 1889 a symposium entitled Lux Mundi appeared in England under the editorship of Charles Gore. The purpose of its contributors was to re-examine and reassess Christian theology, and in particular the doctrine of the Incarnation, in the light of ‘modern knowledge.’ The aspect of this modern knowledge which they felt it most important to take into account was the concept of Evolution, and the main problem which they sought to solve was that of accommodating theology to this concept without relinquishing faith in the supernatural. The effect of their theologizing, however, was to evacuate the supernatural of its unique character and to equate it with or accommodate it to the naturaL Gore’s outlook may be summed up in the assertion that Christ is the Consummator of creation—Consummator Mundi. He believed it a necessity that Christ should be shown to fit neatly into the pattern of nature, which he accepted as an evolutionary pattern” (p. 27).

This view of Christ and His incarnation is, of course, not novel. Neither is it dormant, for the author states,

“It is contemporary Anglo-Catholic theologians in particular who have taken up and expatiated on the theme of the Incarnation as the necessary consummation of the cosmic process” (p. 28).

A number of objections are urged against this evolutionary theology and Hughes concludes, “Our complaint is that theorizings of this kind are constructions of speculative philosophy rather than presentations of biblical truth.”

The author turns to Emil Branner and states,

“…with Brunner “modern science’ is sacrosanct: its authority must not be called in question. ‘We cannot say too strongly’ he insists, “that the biblical view of the world is absolutely irreconcilable with that of modern science’; therefore he concludes that <we have to stress the fact that modern science (and this means the theory of Evolution ) ought not to be opposed in the name of religion” (p. 31 f).

A consequence of this position is for Brunner that “…we can no longer teach that man, as created by God, is descended from Adam in Paradise.” Brunner will not abandon the idea of a Fall, but finds it impossible to accept the biblical doctrine of the Fall as having taken place in Adam. He will not permit us to ask the question as to the When and How of the Fall.

The doctrine of the Fall is left in a vacuum by Brunner.

Hughes also states, “It is interesting to find that Rudolf Bultmann, in making his now celebrated plea for demythologizing the New Testament, announces precisely the same premise as does Brunner, that is, that the biblical world-view is obsolete, and accordingly that the Bible must be shorn of all that is unacceptable to modern scientific man, if the Christian message is to have any relevance for our day” (p. 33).

The Bible versus Evolutionism

It stands to reason that Dr. Hughes turns to certain sections of Scripture in this monograph. The two mentioned especially are Genesis 1 and Romans 1. Concerning the first he states,

“The Book of Genesis may not be a scientific text-book, but it is scientifically unimpeachable when it declares not only that all things owe their existence to God, but also that all things living were so ordered by Him as to exist and reproduce themselves after their kind (Gen. 1:11,21,25). Genesis and genetics are in harmony with each other. That variation and adaption take place is an indisputable fact, but they take place always within the ‘kind,’ never in such a way as to cause one ‘kind’ to pass over to another or to originate a new ‘kind’” (p. 19).

From Romans 1 the author concludes,

“Man is not only surrounded hy the mystery of the absolute: he also possesses certain definite knowledge concerning the world of nature and its origin. This fact is emphasized by St. Paul in Romans 1:18ff., where he explains that the truth that there is a supreme Creator, to whose everlasting power and godhead the visible order of the universe bears clear testimony, is known to all men; but that it is a truth which fallen man in his ungodliness and unrighteousness suppresses” (p. 21f.).

After reviewing the entire situation the learned author of this monograph comes to such conclusions as the following, “All attempts to detach Christian truth from its roots in the objective historical sphere result in the destruction of Christianity; for it is of the very essence of Christianity that God, as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, sovereignly and supernaturally acts and intervenes in the history of man and the world” (p. 32).