Science & The Bible: Evolution by Natural Selection

So here it comes, the greatly anticipated reading of Darwin’s Origin of Species! (Last week we started with Natural Theology)


Focus the reading (On the Origin of Species) on Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 14.

  1. Take some time in your write-up to explain the theory of evolution by natural selection. What is it intended to explain? How was it developed?
  2. How does Darwin’s citation of evidence in chs 1-2 differ from Paley’s in the middle chapters of Natural Theology? What is the significance of this differing treatment for their respective arguments?
  3. In chapter 1, the reference on pp. 24-25 to Genesis 30 is the only mention of the Hebrew Bible in On the Origin of Species. What can we infer from Darwin’s mention of scripture here about his attitude toward its authority? What is the relevance of Biblical evidence to his overall argument? Does this differ in any way from Paley’s attitude toward scripture? Finally, how does this brief mention relate to the quote from Francis Bacon which Darwin placed at the beginning of the book? How does it relate to the place for scripture claimed by Galileo in his letters to Castelli and the Grand Duchess Christina?
  4. How does Darwin’s chapter on the “Struggle for Existence” (ch 3) reflect a different worldview from Paley’s proof in ch 26 of Natural Theology of the “Goodness of the Deity”? What is influencing this shift in understanding?
  5. In the face of all these differences, what has Darwin taken from Paley? What has he taken from Lamarck?

According to Darwin’s argument, heredity is the key to variation in species – while Jean-Baptiste Lamarck claimed that environmental factors are the best explanation. He acknowledges the importance of Lamarck’s explanation, but negates his idea and the possibility of multiple parent species.

“To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.”

Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning

Darwin references the book of Genesis in passing – to say that to understand the unexplained mysteries attributed to God, we need the scientific process, and follows this by drawing on observations, experiments, and conclusions based on research and evidence, and mentions the Bible no further. Therefore, he formulates his argument separate from what is written in the bible. Unlike Paley or Galileo, he does not see the natural world as a work of a Designer, or Scripture as a metaphor for the natural world, but looks at it objectively and without the lens of religion.

In chapter 3, Darwin talks about the many variations in species that allow animals to become beautifully adapted to their respective environments, from woodpeckers to tiny parasites. The struggle for existence theory is the idea that not all species can survive equally well in their environments – and then, species better equipped to propagate will be naturally selected over others. Large genera have a greater chance of survival because they stand a greater chance of acquiring variations that will help them adapt to their environment. the most advantageous characteristics are preserved and passed on to offspring. The presence of these useful adaptations is the result of natural selection.

Because of natural disasters, disease, and shifts in climate, food and shelter as well as the presence of predators inherently disallows the survival of some organisms. The survival of one individual organism threatens the survival of another, and this constant competition makes the passing on of traits to progeny (reproduction) the most important thing. He paints nature as something that both creates and destroys life (good vs. evil!), which goes against Paley’s idea of a benevolent God, who created nature, and enabled species to live and flourish.

Well, Mr. Darwin, what about us humans as a species? Are we constantly in competition with each other, threatening each other’s existence and struggling to reproduce our best traits? (I imagine this is where the controversy over evolutionary theory comes from – racism and discrimination, aka “Social Darwinism”, etc.)

I’m sorry that this week’s write-up has to be so short – having read over most of Darwin’s book, I’m still mulling over what this means in relation to the arguments of Paley, Spinoza, Galileo, Green and Bostrum, and Gould and Coyne.

To end on a happier note, here’s a Lamarckian cartoon:

What are your thoughts on Darwinism? Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “Science & The Bible: Evolution by Natural Selection

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