Is Evolution a Dogma or a Law of Life?

Berkhout Challenges

To the Editors of “torch and trumpet”:

Gentlemen: I read with interest the articles of the Rev. Philip E. Hughes, in several issues of the Torch and Trumpet, on “Evolutionary Dogma and Christian Theology.” Now that they are completed may I, as one of your readers, reflect upon them? Thank you for the space.

The tidal wave of evolutionary thinking that began to engulf the world a century ago finally seems to be lapping the shores of the more isolated orthodox Christian communities. It is no wonder that the leaders in those areas have become thoroughly aroused and call out to every Christian to man the dikes and to throw everything imaginable into the breech. According to the Rev. Mr. Hughes we can even make use of the “Hymn to Man” of Swinburne. It is even permissible to attribute the whole humanistic movement to evolution, just as though there was none before. But if we use that type of argumentation, the unbeliever has just as much right, mutatis mutandis, to claim that scores of religious sects of today including even Jehovah’s Witnesses and the most rabid Fundamentalists with the wildest vagaries, are typical representatives of the Christian religion.

Rev. Hughes throughout his discourse uses the theological method. The very terminology of the heading “Evolutionary Dogma” betrays that. My main criticism is that the writer argues around the subject. He first sets his theological guns in battle array and then begins to blast at evolution. But when the esteemed writer finally gets near the core of the argument, the scientific or biological aspect, little is said. And evolution is primarily a biological problem. But then, the biological things are foolishness to the unbiological mind because they are biologically discerned. The method of the theologian is primarily a priori, that of the biologist almost exclusively a posteriori. The Rev. Mr. Hughes first decides that evolution is all wrong according to his method of reasoning and then he sets out to prove it. It makes one think of the scholastic reasoning of the monks who refused to believe Galileo’s statement that there were spots in the sun because Aristotle had said, “the face of the sun is immaculate.” We should not use the Bible and theology as magicians’ wands to settle all difficulties.

Suppose the Bible taught us nothing but the sovereignty of God. Anyone who expressed his belief in the responsibility of man would be called a heretic. Perhaps Mr. Hughes would then combat the “human-responsibility dogma” in the same way he now fights evolution. But since both views are in the Bible we cannot do that very well. So we accept both in faith. Now, when the Bible of Nature teaches us one aspect about the origin of organic beings, including man, and the Holy Bible another aspect, why must we immediately discredit the one or the other? The pages of both books are written by the almighty hand of God! The idea that we can always read Nature only through Scripture is a theological illusion.

We do not have time and we doubt whether the space could be granted us to go into all the arguments of Mr. Hughes. The ones we mention can be described only briefly.

1. Mr. Hughes makes much of the humanistic aspect of the evolution theory. But is it really true that biologists make so much of man? One of the main reasons why some of my Christian friends shudder at the possibility of man’s anthropoid ancestry is that they think it degrades man. It is true that the writer argues that some humanistic writers glory in the fact that man, who, they claim, started so low, has risen to such great heights. But did they need evolution to tell them that? Would not the material progress man has made suffice? On the other hand, we have had many evolutionistic teachers in medicine and biology, but we do not remember any one who gloried in man. On the contrary, we remember the words of the geologist Dr. Case, of the University of Michigan, who called man “the decadent remnant of a passing race”—that of mammals, These teachers called man a temporary chemical episode upon a celestial juvenile and cosmic dwarf. Scientists vie with Scripture and theologians in describing the insignificance of man.

2. Like so many other writers opposed to evolution, Mr. Hughes mistakes the survival of the fittest for the survival of the strongest (Torch and Trumpet, Nov. 1955, p. 15). And then it and its corollary, the struggle for life, are blamed for all the great ills of the last century. Is that correct and scholarly reasoning? The amoeba, for example, is the weakest of all organisms, and yet it is the most fit to survive. In fact, if the, in a certain sense, highly evolved human race should blast itself out of existence, I think that the amoeba would continue on serenely, fit to survive. The mighty dinosaurs, mammoths and other strong animals have disappeared. Increase in size and strength may be signs of racial senescence. The path of glory leads but to the grave.

Besides, were there not terrible wars before Darwin? What of the frightful Religious Wars of the time of the Reformation? In Germany alone 20,000,000 people, two thirds of the nation, were murdered and butchered during the Thirty Years’ War. And if Hitler committed unspeakable crimes in the name of his misconceived idea about das Herrenvolk, what about Count Moltke and others who boasted: “War is an element of the worId-order instituted by Cod in which the noblest virtues are developed, etc.”?

Darwin discovered a law of life. We should not blame him any more than we blame Newton for discovering the law of gravitation every time an apple bobs on gravitation every time a falling apple bounces on our heads.

3. The author suggests that evolution cannot be true because the evolutionist has to believe in the theory of spontaneous generation, which has proved to be untrue. Do we as Christians, upon the basis of Scripture, not believe in same kind of spontaneous generation? Of course, we can say that we believe that God was behind it all. But do we have a monopoly on that? Suppose we had been present when God told the water to teem with life and the earth to bring forth living souls; for all practical purposes, would not that have seemed like spontaneous generation with a vengeance? The Bible teaches us exactly that the organic came out of the inorganic. If “spontaneous generation” is unscientific then the description in the Bible of what happened at the dawn of the world’s history also would be.

4. Rev. Hughes states that “Evolution has ceased to operate in the realm of nature” (Torch and Trumpet Dec. 1955, p. 21). This is a mere assumption. We do not believe that there is a serious-minded biologist today who does not believe that the blind animals, for example, in Mammoth Cave have not evolved. Evolution and the survival of the fittest do not always stand for progress or the best. Fundamentally evolution stands for variation and adaptation. This we see going on everywhere. Read. for example, the article in the Scientific American of July 1955 on “The Mutation of Viruses.” Genetics is also involved here.

These are only a few samples of the thoughts that occurred to us as we read the otherwise well-written articles of Rev. Hughes. We wish to compliment him on his sincerity. And we do not mind it at all that he paints out the theological difficulties in regard to evolution. What we regret is that the theological argument is used to confute the biological facts. It is about time that we begin to study seriously biology, human anatomy and embryology, and anthropology. We are a century or more behind in these fields. What use is there in interesting oneself in these if we decide beforehand that they are wrong and of no value? The less one knows about the universe the easier it is to explain! Why did the monks have to look at the sun for spots when they “knew” beforehand that its face is immaculate? Where do you find among the orthodox those who are first class authorities in the fields of science mentioned? Unless we as Christians take more interest in them we will soon be an additional hundred years behind the times.

Let us then study both the Bible of Nature and the Holy Bible with equal fascination and zeal. And if we cannot come to a solution at once let us wait patiently and in faith, trusting that truth will be the daughter of time.

Our faith in Scripture is unshaken. Nor do we believe that evolution as such or science as such is sacrosanct. It is truth itself that is sacrosanct. “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again, The eternal years of God are hers; But error, wounded, writhes in pain, And dies among his worshippers.”

– William Cullen Bryant

Yours Sincerely,





I am grateful to the Editors of Torch and Trumpet for allowing me the opportunity of reading and replying to Dr. P.G. Berkhout’s criticisms of my articles, and I have much pleasure in submitting the following observations:

1. Nowhere have I attempted “to attribute the whole humanistic movement to evolution, just as though there was none before.” This is a quite fantastic interpretation of what I wrote. I am perfectly well aware, of course, that humanism is more ancient than evolutionism and, indeed, that it is very nearly as old as man himself. Accordingly, I took care to de· scribe the humanism that was so integral a component of evolutionistic philosophy as “the new humanism,” in distinction, that is, from earlier types of humanism.

2. Dr. Berkhout asserts that I have throughout used “the theological method.” This is not so. What I have done is to apply theological terminology to various of the evolutionary tenets. This was an appropriate procedure, both because the popularizers of evolution expressed themselves in a manner which showed that they had embraced it as their religion, and also because it served to season what I had to say with a little spice.

3. It is not my wish to dispute Dr. Berkhout’s dictum that “evolution is primarily a biological problem;” for, had he but noticed it, one of the major points of my articles is just this, that evolution is and remains a problem in the biological sphere, quite apart from any philosophical and theological questions which it may pose,

4. I have given ample evidence to demonstrate that, while the method of the biologist may be a posteriori, his thinking (where evolution is concerned) and his conclusions are governed by a priori concepts. The contradictory nature of his approach is evident, however, when it is remembered that there could be no scientific system or method were it not for the a priori assumption that facts are related to each other—i.e., that there is coherence in the natural realm. But the assurance of this is to be found only in the Christian (i.e. scriptural ) doctrine that all things have been created by God and ordered by him in accordance with his perfect will and purpose. It is this ground alone, the ground of the divine creative plan, that makes scientific investigation possible and meaningful. The world of the evolutionary theorist, with its principles of chance and trial-and-error, offers a foundation of sand to science.

5. I suppose that when Dr. Berkhout says that “Mr. Hughes first decides that evolution is all wrong according to his method of reasoning and then he sets out to prove it,” he in fact means that first decide that evolution is all wrong and then set out to prove it, which is to call in question the candor of my approach. If this is so, it is an imputation that I do not hesitate to repudiate. If, however, he really means what he says, then he means precisely nothing: to decide that something is wrong in accordance with a method of reasoning, albeit my own, is to prove it so (at least to my satisfaction); and thus to say that I then set out to prove it so is meaningless, unless it is quaintly imagined that I thereupon set out to prove it by somebody else’s method of reasoning!

6. Nowhere have I suggested that “we can always read Nature only through Scripture,” though, as a Christian, I would maintain that man’s ability to read nature rests on the scriptural ground of the consistency of all nature in accordance with the plan of God’s creation. In this case, then, the “illusion” with which I am charged seems to be Dr. Berkhout’s, not mine.

7. Of course scientists are aware of the insignificance of man in the setting of the universe, and in no place have I suggested the contrary. What Mr. Berkhout says about his evolutionistic teachers confirms fully what I wrote about the pessimism which has now descended upon the evolutionary outlook. To glory in man is to assert man’s sufficiency and independence of God, insignificant though man may realize himself to be. What we would like to know is whether Dr. Berkhout’s teachers gloried in God. 

8. I have not, as Dr. Berkhout declares, mistaken the survival of the fittest for the survival of the strongest. What I have done is to show that this theory when applied to warfare postulated the triumphing of the strong over the weak. Nor do I, as Dr. Berkhout extravagantly asserts, blame this theory and that of the struggle for life “for all the great ills of the last century.” I can only ask whether it is “correct and scholarly” for Dr. Berkhout constantly to resort to the device of exaggeration and distortion in order to discredit me. I might with equal justification assert that he attributes all the great blessings of past and present to the serenely surviving amoeba! Incidentally, is the evolutionary urge now so stagnant that, should our human race blast itself out of existence, there is no prospect of the humble but happy amoeba evolving into higher forms and ultimately to humanhood itself, and thus being faced with the exciting possibility of blasting itself in turn out of existence?

9. Dr. Berkhout’s admonition that “the path of glory leads but to the grave” sounds perilously like pulpit oratory or theological platitude–hardly appropriate on the lips of a biologist! But, however that may be, it certainly underlines most effectively the remarks I made on the volteface which evolutionistic theorists have displayed.

10. It would be enlightening to know what “law of life” Darwin discovered. am aware that he postulated the theory of evolution, but it was a theory unsupported by experimentation and unable to produce evidence of the evolutionary force at work, and, as I have discovered through careful experimentation and observation by the geneticists, that all life comes from previous life of the same kind.

11. Dr. Berkhout’s naive comments on the subject of spontaneous generation are at any rate diverting. The theory of spontaneous generation postulates the generation of life from lifeless matter spontaneously, i.e. apart from the influence of any external force. (I am sorry that the giving of so obvious a definition should have become necessary). To introduce God as the force behind the occurrence is to overthrow the nature of spontaneous generation, for it can then no longer be described as spontaneous. It would be an undoubted advantage if Dr. Berkhout learned to distinguish between what in fact takes place and what seems to take place. It was precisely because flies seemed to uncritical observers last century to be engendered from decaying meat that they concluded that they were spontaneously generated. So Dr. Berkhout supposes that creation would to a hypothetical observer “have seemed like spontaneous generation with a vengeance;” and apparently for him what seems, is, with the result that he is satisfied that spontaneous generation is the cause of the appearance of life—even to the extent of suggesting that both Genesis and Science teach that aquatic life was generated from water and living souls from the earth! But he must make up his mind what he wants: he cannot have both God as Creator and spontaneous generation.

12. In saying that “Evolution has ceased to operate in the realm of nature” I was not giving my own judgment (obviously, I should have thought, since I have made it plain that I do not accept evolution as a reality) but that of Julian Huxley, as the context makes perfectly clear. Therefore it is not I, but Huxley, whom Dr. Berkhout must accuse of making “a mere assumption” and of not being “a serious-minded biologist!” Dr. Berkhout’s warning that “Evolution and the survival of the fittest do not always stand for progress or the best” only serves to strengthen the argument at this point in my article. It is really astonishing that he fails to see this, for it sticks out a mile! The doctrine of the survival of the fittest, as propounded by him amounts to nothing more than a vacuous argument in a circle: those that survive are the fittest, because they survive.

13. Dr. Berkhout’s caution that “biological things are foolishness to the unbiological mind because they are biologically discerned,” apart from its being in doubtful taste, must, if it is a truism, stultify his whole debate with one whom he assumes, without any evidence (and therefore most unscientifically), to belong to the unhappy category of the unbiologically minded. As it happens, however, and unfortunately for him, I studied, and studied “seriously” (his own qualification) and intensively, “biology, human anatomy and embryology, and anthropology” for a period of four years at university, and I too have enjoyed the privilege of having “many evolutionistic teachers.” Apparently, however, not to be an evolutionist is to be a century or more behind the times. It might perhaps be as well if Dr. Berkhout pondered over the fact that the passage of time has proved that those who, during the last century, opposed the evolutionary doctrine of inevitable progress were in fact a hundred years ahead of their times.

14. It is generous of Dr. Berkhout not to “mind it at all” that I point out the “theological difficulties in regard to evolution.” But it would have been far more consoling to me had he given evidence of having read my articles with more care and with a greater willingness to understand what I had to say. It is by no means only theological difficulties that I have pointed out. It is regrettable to have to say that the perverse manner in which he has misrepresented what I have written with ample clarity is hardly conducive to an intelligent debate.