The Influence of Evolution upon Religion
When Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species issued from the presses (November 24, 1859), it marked a history-changing event. The world has not been the same since—unfortunately.
The theory of evolution has wielded its malevolent influence over the past century-and-a-half in a host of ways.
There is not a single field of scientific and academic study which has not been greatly modified by the concept of evolution. It provided a new approach to astronomy, geology, philosophy, ethics, religion, and the history of social institutions (Bewkes et al. 1940, 549).
In this article we will briefly survey some of the ways evolutionary theory has affected the way many people view the Bible.
First, it is alleged that just as biological organisms have evolved across the ages, even so religious ideas have evolved. It is common to assert, for example, that man’s initial religious impulses were polytheistic personifications of nature’s forces. Later (ca. eighth century B.C.), it is alleged, Israel evolved the concept of a personal God. This notion is without support. It contradicts basic Bible information, and is at variance with the historical and archaeological research of men like Max Mueller and Sir William Ramsay.
Second, it has been argued that ethical and theological concepts have developed progressively across the centuries of biblical literature. Fosdick contended that every idea in the Bible “started from primitive and childlike origins” (1924, 11). In terms of ethics, for instance, it is alleged that humans initially “mated” like animals, with marriage evolving only later.
The Bible supposedly endorsed polygamy early on, before monogamy became the norm. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Though polygamy was tolerated during the era of the Old Testament, Christ taught that it was never the divine ideal. The marriage arrangement of the Christian system is, in fact, a restoration of that which was initiated by God in Eden (Matthew 19:8-9; cf. Vincent 1972, 65).
Liberal theologians, highly influenced by the evolution concept, claim that human sacrifice, common among primitive peoples, is at the root of the New Testament doctrine of the atoning work of Christ. Again, the theory has no basis in fact. The Old Testament condemned human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10). Moreover, the vicarious death of Jesus was in the mind of God long before there were paganistic sacrificial rites (Genesis 3:15; cf. 1 Peter 1:19-20).
Third, in the latter half of the eighteenth century a philosophy of destructive criticism became voguish, and the so-called Documentary Hypothesis was born. Based upon the notion that Israel’s religion had evolved, the various books of the Old Testament were supposed to have resulted from a variety of literary sources. These sources were dated in accordance with the “development” theory (see Allis 1974, 259-269).
For example, it is argued that Moses did not author the Pentateuch; instead, there were four primary sources, known as J, E, P, and D. We cannot enumerate the fallacies of this theory here, but will simply observe the following with professor Kitchen of the University of Liverpool:
[E]ven the most ardent advocate of the documentary theory must admit that we have as yet no single scrap of external, objective (i.e., tangible) evidence for either the existence or the history of “J”, “E”, or any other alleged source-document (1966, 23; emphasis in original).
Finally, we must mention that the assertion that vast ages of time are needed to accommodate evolutionary development has certainly influenced the way many view the chronology of the Bible. Rather than accepting the statements of Scripture that humanity has existed since the beginning of the creation (cf. Mark 10:6; Romans 1:20), the biblical text is manipulated to facilitate eons of time.
This is seen in the promulgation of such notions as:
- the Gap Theory (billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2);
- the Multi-Gap Theory (long ages between the days of the creation week); and
- the Day-Age Theory (each “day” of the initial week representing millions of years).
These concepts are false. Some, however, who have accepted them—in part or whole—are perhaps unaware of the influences that spawned them.
Scripture references: Matthew 19:8-9; Deuteronomy 18:10; Genesis 3:15; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Mark 10:6; Romans 1:20; Genesis 1:1
- Allis, Oswald T. 1974. The Five Books of Moses. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.
- Bewkes, E. G., H. B. Jefferson, E. T. Adams, and H. A. Brautigam. 1940. Experience, Reason and Faith. New York, NY: Harper Brothers.
- Fosdick, Harry Emerson. 1924. The Modern Use of the Bible. New York, NY: Macmillan.
- Kitchen, K. A. 1966. Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London, England: Tyndale.
- Vincent, M. R. 1972. Word Studies in the New Testament. Reprint. Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers and Authors.