Book Review

Cornelius G. Hunter, Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pp. Paper. ISBN: 1-58743-053-3. $12.99.

The debate over Darwinian evolution has raged ever since Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859. There is considerable discussion today, especially on college campuses, between scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Some of this intercourse is conducted in a professional, academic style, with cogent arguments presented in public forums such as the journal Creation/Evolution. But the interchange often becomes heated and pejorative, with argumentation centered on name-calling rather than logic. This is because the idea of evolution (as well as Christian faith) is ripe with metaphysical assumptions about our world, and thus is fraught with emotion.

It is an unfortunate reality that the academic endeavor often strays from its stated mission—namely the quest for truth—and becomes embroiled in personality, politics, and ultimately the desire for self-glorification. Anyone who has even perfunctorily traced the evolution debate will observe an elitist, pugnacious spirit in the self-declared priests of this world—the cult of Darwin. They decide what constitutes science, they decide what constitutes adequate substantiation of scientific claims, and they decide what ideologies will be transmitted to our citizens's children in our public schools. The lack of objectivity, so necessary to intellectual enterprise, is a disturbing reminder that the fall of man has infiltrated all aspects of human culture; perhaps most of all, it has affected the ivory tower.

Those who adhere to the traditional Christian faith know that Darwinian evolution is just another lie of Satan, because the consequences of this religion—namely the lack of purpose in history, the impotence of God, and the vanity of human existence—are in direct contradiction to the basic principles of the Way. But without an extensive education in biology, perhaps extending to concepts propounded in graduate school, the average Christian is ill equipped to contend with a Darwinian priest on their own terms, i.e., in their own syntax of biological terminology. Cornelius Hunter advances a thesis that makes this knowledge largely unnecessary, and thus fortifies his brothers with efficient armor for spiritual combat.

Hunter effectively argues that Darwinian evolution is steeped in metaphysical suppositions about the nature of God. For naturalists, i.e., those who seek an explanation of the natural world without reference to God, these assumptions about God's character, together with the scanty biological supporting evidence, move evolution from the realm of possibility to plausibility. But it is more than fact—it is an explanatory paradigm against which all other fields of human knowledge are to be measured. The persuasiveness of evolutionary theory for natural man, built on speculation and science fiction, becomes salient: to forsake this cult is tantamount to abandoning the humanistic project of attaining knowledge independently of God.

I am not an expert on biology, and am unaware of predecessors to Hunter's position. From the discussion in his book, it seems that most attacks on Darwinian evolution historically have centered on the weakness of the evidence, as well as its unattractive corollaries, e.g., the redefinition of love as a meaningless chemical response, which is merely the unlikely outcome of time and chance.1 So it may well be that Hunter's contention—that Darwinism is founded on certain humanistic notions about God's character—is entirely new. I will summarize the main argument below; the book contains many pertinent aspects of the debate that the interested reader may pursue on their own.

Hunter traces the trend in theological thought up through the nineteenth century in Europe, in order to give the context for Darwin's conception of God. This is not the God of the Scriptures: he is omni-benevolent, and after Darwin is through, omni-impotent. Having completely ignored the important doctrine of the Fall, the Victorian culture sought to explain God's tolerance of moral evil through various philosophical speculations. In the same vein, Darwin examined the problem of natural evil—the waste, futility, and violence of nature. In order to preserve the axioms of God's unlimited love and wisdom, it was necessary to completely remove him from any interaction with the observed world. Under this Gnostic solution, he becomes a transcendent (and irrelevant) being.

This metaphysical belief is found not only among Darwin's own writings (and is actually used throughout the Origin of Species to justify the theory he advances), but is also encountered among all his intellectual descendents. And indeed, this argument from a non-Scriptural conception of God continues today among the priests of this world. If any of you have ever pinned a Darwinian against the wall in debate, exposing the utter frailty of biological evidence, you may have experienced their ultimate defense: "What's the alternative? Creationism?" Implicit in this response is the idea that 'God would not have created things the way they are.'

Hunter sticks to his main point—that Darwinism is steeped in ideas about God, and thus is metaphysics rather than science—and adroitly avoids the temptation to digress into a destruction of the evolutionary position point by point; this would have constituted another book. Some of the material is technical (for example, Chapter Two), though the majority should be accessible to Christians with a Reformed education. Again, I have no formal training in biology, but was able to follow his arguments easily.

This is an excellent book, but it is necessary to offer a few criticisms. Hunter subscribes to the common opinion that Milton was a latent Arminian, and makes a dubious parallel between him and Darwin on this basis. According to Hunter, Milton's difficulties with the doctrine of the Trinity are paralleled by Darwin's difficulties with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. To one that understands the orthodoxy of Milton, this connection seems unconvincing, as well as largely irrelevant to the main argument.

On a much deeper level, there are some elements of the book that may seem problematic to adherents of Van Til's thought. Science is indeed wedded to metaphysics—and this book's study of the evolution of Darwinian thought is an excellent example of this; in particular, our conceptions of God affect how we interpret empirical data, from which scientific hypotheses are formulated and tested. Certainly, all science is utterly dependent on the principle of the constancy of natural law (in a normal course of events), and this postulate was originally formulated in the late medieval ages as a corollary of God's own rational, semi-comprehensible character. (The same postulate is currently maintained by naturalist priests who have dispensed with the previous validating axiom of God's existence and order-loving personality.) Hunter's main thesis is that Darwinian thought is essentially grounded in metaphysical ideas about God, and is therefore not science. But is not the validity of science grounded in the attributes of God—namely that he is orderly and rational? Thus, a disciple of Van Til will argue that the flaw in Darwinism is not the dependence on metaphysics per se, but the dependence on incorrect metaphysics. That is, evolution is not invalidated because it relies upon some conceptions of God, but because it relies on the wrong conceptions of God. But Hunter, in some parts of his book, seems to advance the idea that whenever scientific inquiry relies on metaphysical assumptions, it is invalid. For example: "When assumptions about God are made before science begins, the result is not science, no matter how much science follows" (p. 158). But this presuppositional approach is precisely what 16th and 17th century scientists took, and this reviewer believes that science is meaningless and vacuous without the assumptions of God's existence, wisdom, and semi-communicability with man. However, in other parts of the book, Hunter appears to be more in line with Van Til's position; I wonder what his views precisely are?

It seems one can say little about the biblical theological implications of this work; Hunter's argument is mainly negative, and he does not stray far into Christian views of science. Such views of science, to be properly Christian, must not merely take the rational, omnipotent God as their metaphysical presupposition, but must take into account the earth-shattering significance of Christ's resurrection. In my opinion, more scholarship should be devoted to the impact of new creation motifs on science. This is definitely not the focus of Hunter's book.

This book helped me to see the futility of convincing Darwinists of their flawed view—their beliefs run as deep as natural philosophy and the fundamental rebellion of man against his Creator; thus, rescuing a person from the cult of Darwin is tantamount to conversion of their soul. Almost.

Another tactic for debate has occurred to me, which is the intermediary argument of intelligent design. When a Darwinist is cornered by flimsy evidence, and they retort, "What is the alternative to evolution?" then one may reply: "Intelligent Design." Note that this does not necessarily mean creation by God, because it includes more far-fetched ideas, like genetic engineering by extraterrestrial life forms. Convincing a Darwinist of the plausibility of intelligent design moves them onto more neutral ground, from which one can then argue that the simplest and most elegant formulation of intelligent design is that of a benevolent, wise deity who has cursed the earth with futility and entropy. Of course this tactic is similar to that of classical apologetics, which argues first for theism before moving towards the Christian God; thus it may not be appealing to die-hard presuppositionalists.

In the last analysis, it may very well require a gracious act of God to rescue man from such a pernicious and blasphemous belief system as Darwinism; and Christians should expect the cult of Darwin to continue until all the principalities of darkness are brought into subjection beneath Jesus' feet at his parousia.

Tucker McElroy


1 It is interesting that love, as Christ defines it, does not entail survival. Christian ethics are precisely the antithesis of "survival of the fittest," because they entail suffering and contempt in this world.