Classic Book of the Month

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Well, it’s time for our Classic Book of the Month. So once again we welcome book reviewer Emily Whitten.

Emily, glad you could join us.

EMILY WHITTEN, BOOK REVIEWER: Very glad to be here, Mary.

REICHARD: Snowy days can be a great time of year to curl up with a book. What’s on top of your reading stack this month?

WHITTEN: I actually brought two books today, Mary. I’m calling our set up “Contrary Voices.” I chose two influential authors from history. These guys really lit it up with fierce, hand-to-hand combat over an issue that still affects us.

So, today we travel back to 1859. That year, a British scientist reluctantly came out with his first book. I’ll let one of his devotees, Richard Dawkins, introduce him:

DAWKINS: The idea is natural selection, and the genius who thought of it was Charles Darwin. I’m a biologist, and Darwin has been an inspiration to me throughout my whole career. His masterpiece On the Origin of Species was published 150 years ago. And it changed forever our view of the world and our place in it.

That’s taken from Dawkins’ film production, The Genius of Charles Darwin. And while I disagree with him on many points, he’s right about Darwin’s influence. Darwin really laid the foundation for much of our culture today.

REICHARD: Ok, so our first book then is The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Who’s the other writer?

WHITTEN: It’s actually another Charles. Former principal of Princeton Theological Seminary, Charles Hodge. Hodge isn’t a scientist, so he doesn’t get into nitty-gritty scientific details. But he’s no lightweight, either. Hodge published his critique of Darwin near the end of his own career in 1874, drawing on decades of study. Here’s one of Hodge’s recent biographers, Andrew Hoffecker, author of The Pride of Princeton:

HOFFECKER: One of his major works, his book What is Darwinism? is still read by some as an articulate defense of classical Christianity and a carefully modulated critique of Darwinism. He was very clearly against Darwinism as a principle. He argued that because it lacked a sense of design and order, it was essentially atheism.

REICHARD: Ok. Well, I’m starting to see the conflict between these two authors.

WHITTEN: Yeah, take Darwin’s central idea of natural selection. Early on in The Origin of Species, Darwin describes how farmers often breed animals to emphasize a trait. For instance, farmers in the north of Scotland might breed especially wooly males and wooly females to get woolier sheep. Darwin calls this artificial selection because it doesn’t happen naturally. I’ll hand the mic now to Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute to explain how Darwin built on this idea:

MEYER: Darwin came along and said, what if you had a series of cold winters, such that all but the wooliest died out, wouldn’t you get the same result? So he proposed natural selection as an alternative to artificial selection, to intelligently driven selection. So the mechanism was meant to exclude a designer in the way he formulated the theory. And so that’s been the big issue, design or no design? Design or apparent design?

So, Mary, Charles Hodge wouldn’t dispute the limited power of artificial selection. But like Meyer, he felt Darwin’s theory left no room for intelligent design. He wrote, “Natural selection is a selection made by natural laws, working without intention or design. It is therefore not only opposed to artificial selection… the skill of man… but supernatural selection. …In using the term natural selection, Mr. Darwin intends to exclude design, or final causes.”

REICHARD: Design or no design, that is the question?

WHITTEN: Yes, indeed. Another area where Hodge took on Darwin—teleology, or the idea of purpose in creation.

REICHARD: Teleology, no I haven’t.

WHITTEN: Right. Hodge spends several chapters proving Darwin denies any kind of purpose. While he disagreed with many other aspects of the book, Hodge knew how devastating it would be to lose on this point. To believe the eye wasn’t made for seeing, the ear wasn’t made for hearing, that you and I are cosmic accidents. If people embraced that kind of thinking, Hodge knew it would be a knife to the jugular of their Christian faith.

REICHARD: And all of humanity, really. I’m reminded of the Francis Schaeffer quote that says, “When you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions.”

Emily, would you say this debate marks the beginning of the divide between science and religion that’s so common today?

WHITTEN: I don’t think these men felt that divide the way we do. Darwin definitely tried to downplay the moral and religious implications of his theory. That’s one reason Hodge spent so much time trying to prove those implications.

As for Hodge, while the attitude of many scientists irritated him, he didn’t feel at odds with science per se. In the 1870s, plenty of renowned scientists and philosophers still supported his view. But ultimately, you can see many later debates about science and religion in seed form here.

REICHARD: Two Charleses. Two very different worldviews. Emily, as you’ve held these two books side by side, who do you think won the debate?

WHITTEN: In terms of cultural influence, Darwin definitely won. This month people around the world will celebrate Darwin Day on his 210th birthday. Nathaniel Jeanson of Answers in Genesis say 97 percent of scientists believe in Darwinian evolution today. But of course, belief in a designer didn’t die out with Hodge. In fact, I think Hodge would appreciate how one philosopher of biology drew insight from worm development. Yes, worms! Here’s Paul Nelson in a 2015 Discovery Science News video:

NELSON: When I look at animal development, I see a trajectory. It’s in a sense, the quintessential end-directed or teleological process in nature but even these little worms, a millimeter long, humble little creatures out there in the compost heap, they carry the signal of design unmistakably.

REICHARD: Thanks for both of these recommendations today, Emily.

WHITTEN: You’re very welcome.

REICHARD: Emily brought us two classic book selections for this month. First, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. And this is the 150th anniversary edition, slightly different than early versions called On the Origin of Species.

And our second selection is Charles Hodge’s What is Darwinism?

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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