Sightler Publications

Sightler Publications

Sightler Publications

Comments on: The Intelligent Design Movement

The Triumph of Design and the Demise of Darwin

A Video Presentation by Dr. Phillip Johnson, Video Post Productions, 1-800-804-5434

James H. Sightler, M.D., January 20, 2000
Let us begin with several verses from the Bible, which, we must remember, assumes and declares that God is. Exodus 3:14 says "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." John 8:58 reads "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am." Our purpose in the Creation Study Group is best stated by Ephesians 3:9 "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." But this must be done according to Hebrews 11:3 "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear," and Hebrews 11:6 "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

Let us also remember that those who are orthodox and/or fundamental and accept these verses, just as they are, have been the mainstream of the history of the Christian Church. We may quote a statement made in 1925 by Kirsopp Lake, the Oxford educated liberal text critic, in proof of this fact:

"But it is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church are on the Fundamentalist side."

With these things in mind we may make some points about the film.

1 Christianity is mentioned only once, and very briefly and rapidly in the very first sentence of the film when Dr. Johnson says "I thought Christianity was for another time, for people less well educated than my academic colleagues, we took a patronizing view of their belief system---Then I went through life." He does not elaborate at all on what he means by "Then I went through life."

2 Dr. Johnson is presented as the leader of the intelligent design movement. He speaks of Darwin's theory fitting the aims of the enlightenment, which endeavored to approach truth not through revelation but through "universal reason, available to everyone." Another way to put this is to say that theological propositions should be verified by starting with truths on which all men can agree by reason, rather than by the truth, revealed truth, on which all men ought to agree. The 18th century English deists said "Let us not begin by assuming the truth of the Bible. Let us start with those truths on which all men of every creed, or no creed, can agree. Let us then test all religions by the light of reason." This led to the so called natural theology of the Butler-Paley apologetic system, in which Darwin was trained at Cambridge, and to scientific naturalism, which can be and has been applied not only to biology but also to biblical criticism, both higher criticism and textual criticism.

3 John 1:1 appears early in the film and is later repeated: "In the beginning was the word." After the first quotation comes the following list of words: word, message, expression, information, sign, signal, intelligence, command, promise, action, concept, construct. The missing word of course is Jesus. Later in the film Dr. Johnson makes the following statement "information, the product of intelligence, had to be present all along-injected from some source. When you say 'In the beginning was the word', that's true scientifically." It is, of course, but to put it that way without elaboration is incomplete and therefore enigmatic and puzzling. John 1:1 is primarily a statement of revealed, and therefore absolute, truth and has reference to Deity, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 The film's criticisms of the Darwinian system are very good and will be helpful to creationists. In particular, Dr. Johnson effectively makes the point, in this film and in his books, that naturalism and materialism, upon which Darwinian Theory is based, are inherently metaphysical systems of thought. Agnosticism also is metaphysical and makes the philosophical decision to avoid thinking about God because there is no need, among agnostics, to explain anything by reference to God.

5 One of the persons shown in the film who was turned against evolution by the intelligent design argument makes, near the end of the film, the following statement: "The whole show was created for us-we're the show-God created the world for us-we'd better do our best with it because we may not get another chance." You can see the anthropocentric nature of this statement, as if man was the captain of his soul, master of his fate, and shaper of the fate of the world as well. The statement admits a creation, but it is at complete variance with the Bible and historic Christianity, both of which teach that man was created to glorify God and enjoy and praise Him. It is remarkably and uncomfortably close to Theodosius Dobzhansky, the geneticist, who said: "Evolution need no longer be a destiny imposed from without; it may be controlled by man, in accordance with his wisdom and his values." Preaching intelligent design without Christianity may produce a host of persons with a similar outlook.

6 The Jesuit priest, Father Teilhard de Chardin, is mentioned in the film as one of the perpetrators of the Piltdown man fraud, which went for 40 years unquestioned. But the film says nothing about his background or philosophy. However, his vision of evolution is given on page 132 of Dr. Johnson's book Darwin on Trial:

"Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more-it is a general postulate to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must henceforth bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts."

Evolution is taking us to the Point Omega:

"a harmonized collectivity of consciousness, equivalent to a kind of super consciousness. The earth is covering itself not only by myriads of thinking units, but by a single continuum of thought, and finally forming a functionally single Unit of Thought of planetary dimensions. The plurality of individual thoughts combines and mutually reinforces each other in a single act of unanimous Thought…In the dimension of Thought, like in the dimension of Time and Space, can the Universe reach consummation in anything but the Measureless."

This you will recognize as philosophical monism, which is essentially pantheistic and goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is a monistic engine pulling an evolutionary train; evolution is inherently monistic. Monism was the prevailing system among the "Cambridge Apostles," Coleridge, Maurice, Hare, and Sterling, from whose thinking the Anglican Broad or Latitudinarian Church was emerging in the late 1820's when Darwin was being trained there in theology. The leaders of the Broad Church in the 1860's provided as much or more support to Darwin's theory than contemporary scientists. In 1877 Darwin was given an honorary degree at Cambridge and a dinner was given for him on the occasion by the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, F. J. A. Hort, was there, along with Huxley.[2] This same idea Teilhard expressed above was being developed at Cambridge during the years between Darwin's voyage on the Beagle and the publication of the Origin.

Remember that Darwin's mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, a Unitarian and friend of Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, and that his elementary schoolmaster was also Unitarian. Darwin married Emma Wedgwood, his mother's niece and also Unitarian. Darwin's uncle, the younger Josiah Wedgwood, persuaded his father to allow Darwin to make his voyage.[3]

At Cambridge Darwin did not study the Bible. Instead he took only classics, mathematics, and theology. His reading in theology consisted only of Butler's Analogy and William Paley's books, Evidences of Christianity and Natural Theology. It was Natural Theology which brought up the watchmaker analogy and the argument for intelligent design. Paley did not argue from a Biblical standpoint. He favored relaxation of the requirement of subscription to the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church, accepted a Unitarian interpretation of many New Testament passages, and was sympathetic to the Unitarian preacher and text critic, Gilbert Wakefield. According to Ian Taylor, Paley believed that God created life and then retired to let matters develop by chance processes. Paley, in writing Natural Theology, borrowed extensively from John Ray, the 17th century Cambridge Platonist, who did not accept the miracles of the Bible or the Genesis flood.[4]

Who was John Ray? Ray was a naturalist, a pioneer in the classification of organisms which led to the work of Linnaeus. He graduated from Cambridge in 1648 where he was a student and contemporary of the Cambridge Platonists, notably of Benjamin Whichcote and Ralph Cudworth. His book, The Wisdom of God in the Works of Creation, served as a source for Paley and extended a doctrine first proposed by Ralph Cudworth, the doctrine of the "one plastic nature of the universe." Plastic is used here in the sense of formative or state-changing. In this book Ray said that creation is not an act done once for all but a continuous process. Each individual has a vegetative soul and the plastic nature is the animating principle of the whole, essentially equivalent to the anima mundi, or to the Platonic Soul of the World.[5]

The Platonic trinity is composed of the Absolute, the Logos, and the Soul of the World. The Absolute is unknowable and eternal, the Logos and World Soul are created and inferior beings. The entire creation proceeds from the Logos and the Soul of the World. Thus monism is inherent in this formulation, and God is immanent in all things; nothing can be said to be fallen or sinful. The lowest of the 30 emanations from the Absolute was Sophia, who, coming too close to matter, became mingled with it to form the Demiurge, the evil genius who organized from preexisting matter an imperfect world, a decaying and suffering world. This system has no room for the Fall, for eternal punishment, or for Redemption; indeed no room for a personal God. It brings with it the preexistence of souls (preexistent in the World Soul) and reincarnation. It is a radically different cosmogony from that of the Genesis account. Its logical consequence is that God is incarnate or immanent in all men. Justin Martyr said that a seed of the Logos is implanted in the whole human race and that those who lived according to this Logos, such as Socrates and Heraclitus, were Christians before Christ.[6]

A falsely Christianized form of this philosophical system was absorbed, I believe, by Darwin from his Unitarian upbringing and from his contacts with emerging Broad Church thought at Cambridge and from his reading of Paley. It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, also brought up as a Unitarian, who introduced it to the Cambridge Apostles and thus begat the Broad Church. Coleridge had studied Ralph Cudworth. He introduced the concept of the "One Life" in The Eolian Harp published in 1817 in the Errata of Sibylline Leaves.

O! the one Life within us and abroad,

Which meets all motion and becomes its soul…

And what if all of animated nature

Be but organic harps diversely fram'd,

That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps

Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,

At once the Soul of each, and God of all.

The vast intellectual breeze is the Platonic Soul of the World, unmistakably monistic and pantheistic, and illustrates the influence on Coleridge of his reading of the 17th century Cambridge Platonists and of his tutelage by the German transcendentalists during his travels in 1798.[7] I believe the word plastic, used here to characterize the one intellectual breeze, was probably derived from Cudworth and Ray. Coleridge used the term "one life" as early as 1802 in Letters to Sotheby and Conversation Poems. The leaders of the Broad Church in the years between Darwin's voyage and the publication of The Origin of Species, took up the One Life idea, called it the One Life of the Universe, and declared that it was the Life of Christ, of which each individual existence was only a small part.

A quote from the Bishop of Durham, B. F. Westcott, a Cambridge graduate who was very well read in Whichcote and the Cambridge Platonists, will illustrate how the Broad Church used the monistic one life conception:

"Our thoughts are raised to a vaster life than that which is realised individually, a life in which humanity becomes one...a life which is not an abstraction, not simply a participation in a common nature but personal...Whatever is, He is. There is but one life."[8]

Note the appearance of the words vast and one life from Coleridge's poem. And another quote from Westcott shows why so many embraced Darwinism:

"If we feel that the balance of evidence favours the belief in the evolution of life, or more truly of the organisms through which the life reveals itself, according to the action of uniform laws, we do not lose but gain by the conclusion. The life of the whole world, if we dare so to speak, is thus presented to us in a form analogous to that of the life of the individual man. Little by little our own completed organization grows from the simplest germ by fixed laws, but yet not without God...Thus we are taught that by the Incarnation all orders of finite being are brought to their consummation in a divine harmony."[9]

It was of course Cudworth's one plastic nature of the universe which brought all orders of finite being into divine harmony, a monistic harmony, Teilhard's "Measureless." Notice the Platonic philosophy inherent in the qualifying clause of the first sentence of this last quote. The life, the form or law, is real. The organism is only the revelation of the ideal form. Here the Bishop is stating the concept of organic development, elaborated first by Lessing and Hegel and later carried on by Strauss and Baur, and using it to relate evolution and the Incarnation, evolution not only of biological orders but of law, social organization, and religion and doctrine as well.

We may now examine in a third quote Bishop Westcott's reconciliation of the Incarnation not only with evolution in the general sense but also specifically with Darwin's concept of natural selection:

"For this life of the Universe is for the present manifested to us in one, I suppose, can fail to have been struck with the inexpressibly sombre aspect which nature offers to our human sight. There is, as it must seem, a prodigal waste of life...There is a fierce struggle for existence, type against type, class against class, unit against unit; and the balance of parts in the organisation of life is so delicate that a small change in one of them is sufficient to bring destruction to a whole race...everywhere we seem to read the same sad tale. Thousands are sacrificed to one; and that one fails...St. Paul recognises the deep voice of grief in the Creation but he does not rest in it. The whole Creation, he says, groaneth and travaileth together until now. The sorrow is unto joy at last. Out of that which appears to us to be a confused struggle shall come a new and more perfect life. The pains which we witness are the very conditions of the birth of the new order. In this case also, as with man, the passage to life is through suffering. But we believe that not one agony is wasted, and in part we can justify our faith. The same facts which are full of sadness when referred to the individual are full of hope when referred to the whole. Constant rivalry under the actual conditions of earth-conditions which express the will of God-provides for a gradual elevation of type, and in the long run that form survives which is best fitted for the work to be done...Races, kingdoms, societies, like individuals, pass away when they have fulfilled their part. They pass away, and yet they live on in the greater order which they have prepared; so that we already rejoice in the assurance that descendants better and nobler than ourselves will carry on and perfect that which we have rudely prepared...As far as we can look back the earth was prepared through many be the scene of man's discipline; and since the time came for man to enter on his kingdom, his advance may fairly be taken as the measure of advance in all below him...But now let the thought of the Incarnation come in, the thought that it was the Father's good pleasure from the first to rear through the ages a living shrine for His work which became conscious in man."[10]

This is essentially Hegel's idea that the impersonal Absolute achieves consciousness in man through universal incarnation. And it is Teilhard before Teilhard. Notice especially how he inverts the meaning of the last half of Romans 8, so that instead of referring it to the Fall, by which sin and death entered the world, and to our hope for redemption of the body and of the entire creation, he perversely uses it to support evolution. He also believes that death, in the course of evolution, is the will of God.

Now we can begin to see why Darwin's thought took root so easily in the English Broad Church and then appeared in America at first in Unitarian Transcendentalist congregations, which shared the same outlook. We can also see why Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who did not accept this line of thinking but had to make his peace with it in church politics, was doomed to be demolished in his debate with Thomas Huxley. In that debate Wilberforce asked "I beg to know, is it through his grandfather of grandmother that Huxley claims his descent from a monkey?" Huxley replied that he did not know whether it was his grandfather or grandmother, but that he would rather be descended from simians than be a man possessed of the gift of reason and see it used as the bishop had used it in the debate. The problem for Wilberforce was not reason but his lack of reliance on Revelation as a basis for his world view.

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[1] Lake, Kirsopp, The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925) pp. 49-55.

[2] Hort, Arthur Fenton, Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony Hort (New York: Macmillan & Company, 1896) Vol. II, p. 186.

[3] Taylor, Ian T., In The Minds Of Men, Darwin And The New World Order (Toronto: TFE Publishing, 1994) pp. 115-127.

[4] ibid. p. 121, 444n. 7

DNB articles on Paley and Ray.

[5] Raven, Charles E., Natural Religion and Christian Theology: The Gifford Lectures 1951 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953) pp. 114-118.

[6] ibid., p. 43.

[7] Everest, Kevin, Coleridge's Secret Ministry: The Context of the Conversation Poems (New York, Barnes and Noble, 1979) p. 197-199.

Holmes, Richard, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834 (New York, Pantheon Books, 1998) p. 73.

[8] Westcott, B. F., The Gospel of Life (London: Macmillan and Co., 1892) p. 234.

[9] ibid., p. 245-46.

[10] Westcott, B. F., Christus Consummator (London: Macmillan and Co., 1890) p. 137-40.

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