Articulation of a challenge to faith: the erosion of faith in the aftermath of Darwin

Please bear with me, as I articulate an initial question, a challenge to Christianity (and theism) I’m sure has been raised before but that I’m only just getting my head around.

It is common to talk of a crisis in faith within Western Christianity starting in the late 19th century, particularly post-Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Darwin’s theory that humans were descended from other animals is often depicted as causing widespread doubt and apostasy among believers, who up until this point had been the clear majority within Western countries. (Not sure of the situation in France.) Perhaps one could paint the picture in the years afterward as a gradual shift away from faith for the majority of people in Western countries to the point where today, for example, only a small minority of Australians have a positive faith in Christianity.

It would be ludicrous to put this decline solely or even largely at the hands of a Darwinian account of human origins, although young earth creationists frequently do. Yet from most quarters it would be acknowledged that the theory of evolution certainly did not encourage belief in God or Christianity, and did much to discourage it.

So how does evolutionary theism – and for someone like me both young and old earth creationism are untenable [I believe God created the world, but that Genesis does not give us scientific information about this] – account for the crisis in faith that evolution (at least partially) caused?

If all truth is God’s truth, why would the uncovering of truth lead people away from God rather than closer to God?

Possible answers:
1. Creationism: touche – evolution is a deception and this is why it caused a crisis of faith.
2. The theory of evolution provided an excuse for [some in] society to move away from God. Or it at least gave rise to a hubris which felt it could reject God/Christianity in the name of science, which could provide a new, firm basis for the nature of existence and the future of humankind. Thus: the problem is the project of modernism. Intertwined with truth – insight, for example, into human origins – was idolatry of science, as if it could replace faith in God.
3. The reaction of conservatives and fundamentalists against evolution in the name of Jesus discredited Christianity in the minds of many people.
4. The role of belief in evolution in leading people away from God is either an exaggeration or a delusion (perhaps used by individuals as an excuse).
5. Atheism/ Agnosticism: evolutionary theism is an attempt to salvage religious faith from the ashes. The theory of evolution caused a crisis of faith because it points toward a reality of a world without God.


4 thoughts on “Articulation of a challenge to faith: the erosion of faith in the aftermath of Darwin

  1. Hey Nathan,

    Fantastic question! The place where I’ve found most help in answering this question is from the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, in particular his book A Secular Age. In it he looks at what secularity is. He shows that the two classic accounts of secularity (a. loss of religion in society, b. loss of God from the public square) don’t work, then proposes a third. In it he shows the momentous shifts that have occured with the birth of modernity that enables people now to be both atheist (something almost impossible in 1500) and yet theist to co-exist. Our society allows us to have a variety of worldview options, something very different indeed from pre-modernity. I would not do justice to Taylor to attempt to summarise his argument (a book of some 700 pages). But it is well worth the read in light of your question. It helped me understand the blinkers I wear as a product of my own culture her in late-modern Australia. (His other book Sources of the Self is equally helpful I think, and well worth reading).

    Every blessing in Christ,


    PS: whilst I don’t think Gen. 1-3 has anything to say about the age of creation, I am complelled for scientific reasons to believe in an old earth (i.e. I don’t find it “untenable”).

  2. Hi Nathan,
    Might it not be better to say “the ‘perceived’ reaction” in point 3 (as one possible explanation among others) as some conservatives have held that biological evoultion is conststent with a Christian theology of creation. e.g. B.B. Warfield held that it was possible for a person to be a conservative evangelical and believe in both an old earth and biological evolution, though I am not sure where he personaaly stood on the issue. (See Princeton Theological Review, April 1912).

    John Arthur

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