After reading Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, hearing some of Wesley's views on the created order, and teaching a philosophy class last night that ended a section on economic philosophy and began a section on "The Age of Naturalism," several lines intersected in my mind in relation to the topic of evolution. The intersections are only loosely related.
One thing I have been struck by is how differently we oppose evolution today than how my grandparents did. I grew up going to Henry Morris and later Ken Ham debates and have the books that launched the creationist movement of the 70's: Scientific Creationism and The Genesis Flood. Noll argues that these guys represent a different approach than the "anti-evolutionists" of the early 20th century.
These things are deeply interesting to me, because this is the stuff of cultural and paradigm change--sometimes the "wrongs" stay wrong but the reasons for the wrongness change. Imagine my surprise to find out this semester that the temperance movement started in the middle of a significant Irish immigration. These Irish Catholics were different in more than one way from those who were already here. But one of the most noticeable was, you guessed it, the Irish Catholics drank.
Imagine my surprise to find out that the anti-alcohol movement had as much to do with racism and prejudice as a true fight for social justice! It was a concrete way of resisting the influx of Irish Catholics.
So why did William Jennings Bryan oppose evolution? It wasn't primarily because of the Bible, Noll argues. It has been interesting to reflect that my dispensationalist grandfather, who taught at Frankfort Pilgrim College--no liberal institution to be sure--was greatly sympathetic to the "gap theory." My college Bible teacher at Southern, Herbert Dongell (also Keith Drury's at Allentown), also taught the gap theory. He was my most conservative teacher there.
The gap theory is the idea that in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 Satan fell and set the world into a chaos that God then had to fix. So the creation at 1:3 for them was the second creation, since the first one had been messed up. They put the existence of dinosaurs in between these two verses and thus by implication, accepted the idea of an old planet. This view, which would probably be considered liberal today, was held by the most conservative thinkers of my tradition--more conservative than anyone reading this blog for sure!
It just goes to show that the labels "liberal' and "conservative" are almost meaningless in themselves. They are strictly relative terms--unless you know what they are comparing, you can't tell which is the more Christian position. To blindly equate conservative with good and liberal with bad is to show one's ignorance--you need to know what you're comparing with what.
The Baptist dispensationalists Henry Morris and friends changed this whole discussion. They railed against the gap theory and introduced a "young earth" theory instead. Their interpretation of Genesis became the reason why Christians couldn't believe in evolution, when previously Christians had been much less rigid in how they took Genesis 1.
By the way, they don't take Genesis 1 literally either. If you really take Genesis 1 literally, God separates the waters creating sky in between. It is in this sky that God puts the sun and stars... underneath the primordial waters! As I've said before, Romans 5 and Genesis 3 is the greater complication for theistic evolutionists, not Genesis 1.
So why did Bryan oppose evolution so vigorously (you'll remember he was the one who won the case against Clarence Darrow in the Scope's trial)? He opposed it because it was being used to advocate social Darwinism. Social Darwinism was the idea that "survival of the fittest" applied to humans as well as to animals.
The implication was that the Carnegies and Rockefellers deserved to be filthy rich because they were the "fittest" of the human race. Meanwhile, that unknown worker who accidentally fell into a vat of Durham's pure leaf lard and wasn't noticed until he appeared in some grocery store shelf... he obviously wasn't someone nature selected and, in a sense, didn't deserve to survive.
Do you see the irony? Bryant opposed evolution out of social concern as debasing to humanity. It went hand in glove with the oppressive, unchecked capitalist machine of the late 1800's that ran over any insignificant that got in its way. No workman's comp--you get injured you'd better work anyway or you'll be out of a job. Going on strike? No problem for the company, there are plenty of other people to take your place. Read the Grapes of Wrath or The Jungle. William Jennings Bryan was a Democratic politician.
Today, however, those most politically involved with creationism and intelligent design are most likely a Republican's Republican, capitalist to the bone. Creationism in the schools and the deregulation of business fit in the same person like anti-gun control and anti-global warmingism. In reality of course none of these things are actually related in substance at all. Logically each of these issues must be considered on its own merit.
I am not advocating evolution here. I am merely making observations about the fact that we often have no real idea why we favor and oppose the things we do. It speaks to a greater humility about the causes we champion. It may very well be that we are being pushed along by currents we aren't even aware of (and yes, that includes me :-).
P.S. Another random thought is that Wesley would probably have opposed evolution because the idea of extinction was not something that would have fit in his sense of the unbroken chain of being from animals to humans to angels...