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Evolution and Human Antiquity

James Wright
10 October 2005

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and Evolution and Intelligent Design for additional perspectives/resources

Amid all the controversy about evolution and intelligent design, we need pay attention to the historical context. Evolution as a theory did not come out of thin air. If we took it out of the picture, the debate would still rage. Despite claims of intelligent design advocates to the contrary, the dispute is about the validity of the revealed text of the Bible in light of human discovery about the creation and antiquity of the earth and all its living things.

Beginning with the Renaissance inquiring Christians began to realize that systematic observation of the world around them led to questions about the authority of texts - first the pagan histories of Rome and only much later the Bible. As inquiry into the natural world progressed, questions arose about the way the world works: they discovered the world was not flat, that earth was not the center of the universe, and that gravity encouraged a mechanical model of the world. Men of faith wrestled with understanding how the world came into being. As they learned more about fossils and geological processes, they put together explanations based on Genesis and the Flood that accounted for the many strata of soils, gravels, and rocks observed in many places on the Continent and in Britain. Accompanying these deposits were stone tools, which were only slowly recognized to be the products of human hands. Their antiquity was unknowable but certainly ancient. Into the mid 19th century most of these men resisted the conclusion that the tools were older than could be reckoned from the accounts of Genesis and Exodus. In Britain many of these men were Anglican ministers and in France many were Catholic priests. One of the prevailing theories in the 19th c. was that of intelligent design, advocated by William Paley, trained as an Anglican priest and a tutor at Cambridge. His Natural Theology of 1802 was widely read and especially admired by Charles Darwin. But it was discarded as inadequate when Darwin's theory of natural selection was published 57 years later.

Over the course of some five hundred years of inquiry and discovery, men of faith slowly put together an account of the history of the earth and of the antiquity of humans and other forms of life that could not be reconciled with the Holy Book. Scholars did not do this lightly or capriciously but understood the compelling nature of scientific methods applied to the ever growing body of evidence. Another consequence was the recognition that the Bible was an historical document put together by human hands out of many written and oral traditions that extended back nearly a millennium before Christ. This discovery remains controversial for those who view the Bible as a perfect text revealed by God. But for most of us recognizing the historical nature of the Bible has nothing to do with our belief in God. Yet intelligent design theorists, however much they may deny it, base their theory on the core meaning of the Biblical text - that when God created, he designed all things in their complete and complex form. In so doing, they ignore all the scientific observation that led up to Darwin's work and deny all that has followed since.

As the courts in this country are asked to rule on the teaching of biological evolution in the schools and on whether intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, the judges, lawyers, and public at large need to keep in mind that we did not arrive at this understanding easily or quickly and that it was done in good faith by people of faith. We need to remember that the theory of evolution did not come about because anyone was trying to disprove the existence of God, but rather because everyone was trying to reconcile the creation account in the Bible with the evidence before their eyes




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