Friday, September 26, 2008

Short History 5

The short history of science and religion continues:

The philosophers of the 1600’s & 1700’s promoted a movement called the “Enlightenment.” They influenced a shift in philosophy from a God-created universe to the concept that nature consists only of matter. This outlook is called philosophical naturalism.[i]

In the 18th century, a geologist named James Hutton suspected that the Earth was older than the Biblical interpretation of 6000 years. He believed that rocks slowly formed over time, a theory called uniformitarianism. Though now accepted by geologists, it was rejected by science at the time.

William Paley in 1802 wrote Natural Theology in which he saw the wonder of design in nature. Much of his book describes anatomy, but it also includes the famous “watchmaker” argument. If someone were walking over a heath and saw a watch on a stone, he says, they would immediately recognize the timepiece as made by a designer. When Paley finds intricate marvels with important functions, such as the mechanical muscular system in animals, he concludes they could only be made by a designer with intelligence. One could appreciate nature yet see it as God’s design.

Then in 1859, Charles Darwin introduced The Origin of Species which described his theory of evolution. He believed all species derived from one or a few original organisms. The following generations of offspring changed through the combination of random variation and natural selection. The laws of genetic inheritance had not yet been worked out.

These laws were presented in 1865 by a monk, Gregor Mendel, who had discovered them by careful observation in generations of plants. They were not accepted by the scientific community for some time but are now known to be true.

The 1920’s many persons worked to blend Darwin’s theory with Mendel’s genetic laws. The names of Morgan, Mayr and Dobzhansky are prominent in the formation of what is now called neo-Darwinism. This new synthesis, however, was taken by some to be more than a scientific theory. It has been used as a reason to reject any possibility of supernatural intervention.

[i] Del Ratzsch, Science and its Limits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 180, footnote 10 from page 122.

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