Feb. 12 was the birthdate of two extraordinary men: Abraham Lincoln, who helped America recognize the humanity of slaves, and Charles Darwin, who enslaved us to a dehumanizing theory.
Neither was much of a theologian, but Lincoln may have gained faith during the Civil War, while Darwin lost his over several decades. A third man, Charles Hodge, born in 1797, read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species following its publication in 1859, and continued working on his magnum opus, the three-volume Systematic Theology. (I’m fond of it since it was the first systematic theologyI plowed through on my way to becoming theologically Reformed in 1977.)
Once its 2,260 pages were published in 1871-1873, Hodge turned to a critique of evolution, What is Darwinism? (1874, and now Internet-available for free). Hodge, like Charles Darwin, did not know how wonderfully complex each cell is, nor did he know that 150 years of effort would bring us no closer to explaining the Cambrian Era explosion of species. Hodge was well aware of micro-evolutionary change within species, as in moths changing color to blend in with soot-darkened trees. He saw micro-evolution by design, as in the breeding of dogs.
Hodge also saw that science low on the ladder of abstraction, based on observing and measuring, is not in conflict with Christian belief—but “science” high on the ladder, with faith in things unseen like macro-evolution, is. Here’s my pretend 1874 interview with Hodge about Darwin. Hodge’s own words form the answers.
What are the pluses and minuses of Darwin’s writing? Darwin does not speculate on the origin of the universe, on the nature of matter, or of force. He is simply a naturalist, a careful and laborious observer; skillful in his descriptions, and singularly candid in dealing with the difficulties in the way of his peculiar doctrine. He set before himself a single problem, namely, How are the fauna and flora of our earth to be accounted for?
He writes about species but skips by their origin? He assumes the existence of matter: Its existence he takes for granted. He assumes the efficiency of physical causes, showing no disposition to look for a First Cause. He assumes also the existence of life in the form of one or more primordial germs.
How did we get from “primordial germs” to the complexity of today? He emphasizes the law of Variation, that is, while the offspring are, in all essential characteristics, like their immediate progenitor, they nevertheless vary more or less within narrow limits, from their parent and from each other. Some of these variations are indifferent, some deteriorations, some improvements that enable the plant or animal to exercise its functions to greater advantage.
Is there room for all? Darwin posits the law of Over Production. All plants and animals tend to increase in a geometrical ratio, and therefore tend to overrun enormously the means of support. If all the seeds of a plant, all the spawn of a fish, were to arrive at maturity, in a very short time the world could not contain them. Hence of necessity arises a struggle for life. Only a few of the myriads born can possibly live.
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