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Two Charlies: Darwin vs. Hodge

An imagined interview with Charles Hodge

A portrait of Charles Hodge by Rembrandt Peale Wikimedia Commons/Public domain/Rembrandt Peale

Two Charlies: Darwin vs. Hodge

Feb. 12 was the birthdate of two extraordinary men: Abraham Lincoln, who helped America recognize the humanity of slaves, and Charles Darwin, who enslaved us to a dehumanizing theory.

Neither was much of a theologian, but Lincoln may have gained faith during the Civil War, while Darwin lost his over several decades. A third man, Charles Hodge, born in 1797, read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species following its publication in 1859, and continued working on his magnum opus, the three-volume Systematic Theology. (I’m fond of it since it was the first systematic theology I plowed through on my way to becoming theologically Reformed in 1977.)

Once its 2,260 pages were published in 1871-1873, Hodge turned to a critique of evolution, What is Darwinism? (1874, and now Internet-available for free). Hodge, like Charles Darwin, did not know how wonderfully complex each cell is, nor did he know that 150 years of effort would bring us no closer to explaining the Cambrian Era explosion of species. Hodge was well aware of micro-evolutionary change within species, as in moths changing color to blend in with soot-darkened trees. He saw micro-evolution by design, as in the breeding of dogs.

Hodge also saw that science low on the ladder of abstraction, based on observing and measuring, is not in conflict with Christian belief—but “science” high on the ladder, with faith in things unseen like macro-evolution, is. Here’s my pretend 1874 interview with Hodge about Darwin. Hodge’s own words form the answers.

What are the pluses and minuses of Darwin’s writing? Darwin does not speculate on the origin of the universe, on the nature of matter, or of force. He is simply a naturalist, a careful and laborious observer; skillful in his descriptions, and singularly candid in dealing with the difficulties in the way of his peculiar doctrine. He set before himself a single problem, namely, How are the fauna and flora of our earth to be accounted for?

He writes about species but skips by their origin? He assumes the existence of matter: Its existence he takes for granted. He assumes the efficiency of physical causes, showing no disposition to look for a First Cause. He assumes also the existence of life in the form of one or more primordial germs.

How did we get from “primordial germs” to the complexity of today? He emphasizes the law of Variation, that is, while the offspring are, in all essential characteristics, like their immediate progenitor, they nevertheless vary more or less within narrow limits, from their parent and from each other. Some of these variations are indifferent, some deteriorations, some improvements that enable the plant or animal to exercise its functions to greater advantage.

Is there room for all? Darwin posits the law of Over Production. All plants and animals tend to increase in a geometrical ratio, and therefore tend to overrun enormously the means of support. If all the seeds of a plant, all the spawn of a fish, were to arrive at maturity, in a very short time the world could not contain them. Hence of necessity arises a struggle for life. Only a few of the myriads born can possibly live.

Who wins? It’s the Survival of the Fittest. That is, if any individual of a given species of plant or animal happens to have a slight deviation from the normal type, favorable to its success in the struggle for life, it will survive. This variation, by the law of heredity, will be transmitted to its offspring, and by them again to theirs. Soon these favored ones gain the ascendency, and the less favored perish. The modification becomes established in the species. After a time another and another of such favorable variations occur, with like results. Thus very gradually, great changes of structure are introduced.

What’s wrong with that? The first objection to the theory is its prima facie incredibility. That a single plant or animal should be developed from a mere cell, is such a wonder, that nothing but daily observation of the fact could induce any man to believe it. … But who can believe that all the plants and animals which have ever existed upon the face of the earth, have been evolved from one such germ? This is Darwin’s doctrine.

That a single plant or animal should be developed from a mere cell, is such a wonder, that nothing but daily observation of the fact could induce any man to believe it.

He says all this could happen over hundreds of millions of years. True, the variations by which the change of species is effected are so trifling as often to be imperceptible, and their accumulation of them so slow as to evade notice. The time requisite to accomplish any marked change must be counted by millions of years.

If Darwinists rule out intelligent design, it sounds like they believe matter can do the work of mind. The idea involves a contradiction. For a telescope to make a telescope, supposes it to select copper and zinc in due proportions and fuse them into brass; to fashion that brass into inter-entering tubes; to collect and combine the requisite materials for the different kinds of glass needed; to melt them, grind, fashion, and polish them; adjust their densities and focal distances, etc., etc. A man who can believe that brass can do all this, might as well believe in God.

Could such things happen? We are told that all these transmutations are effected by chance, that is, without purpose or intention. Taking all these things into consideration, we think it may, with moderation, be said, that a more absolutely incredible theory was never propounded for acceptance among men.

But most scientists accept it. The consideration of that subject would lead into the wide field of the relation between science and religion. The fact is painfully notorious that there is an antagonism between scientific men as a class, and religious men as a class. Of course this opposition is neither felt nor expressed by all on either side. Nevertheless, whatever may be the cause of this antagonism, or whoever are to be blamed for it, there can be no doubt that it exists and that it is an evil.

What’s the cause of that division? First, that the two parties adopt different rules of evidence, and thus can hardly avoid arriving at different conclusions. To understand this we must determine what is meant by science, and by scientific evidence. If science be the knowledge of the facts perceived by the senses, and scientific evidence, evidence addressed to the senses, then the senses are the only sources of knowledge. Any conviction resting on any other ground than the testimony of the senses, must be faith. Darwin admits that the contrivances in nature may be accounted for by assuming that they are due to design on the part of God. But, he says, that would not be science.

Are you surprised by that opposition? It is inevitable that minds addicted to scientific investigation should receive a strong bias to undervalue any other kind of evidence except that of the senses, i.e., scientific evidence. We have seen that those who give themselves up to this tendency come to deny God, to deny mind, to deny even self. It is true that the great majority of men, scientific as well as others, are so much under the control of the laws of their nature, that they cannot go to this extreme. The tendency, however, of a mind addicted to the consideration of one kind of evidence, to become more or less insensible to other kinds of proof, is undeniable.

The tendency of a mind addicted to the consideration of one kind of evidence, to become more or less insensible to other kinds of proof, is undeniable.

So the work of the Holy Spirit could never be accepted as evidence? A striking illustration is furnished by Dr. Lionel Beale, the distinguished English physiologist. He says that for a truly scientific man, “if the maintenance, continuity, and nature of life on our planet should at some future time be fully explained without supposing the existence of any such supernatural omnipotent influence, he would be bound to receive the new explanation, and might abandon the old conviction.” That is, all evidence of the truths of religion not founded on nature and perceived by the senses, amounts to nothing.

Do scientists tend to become atheists? As religion does not rest on the testimony of the senses, that is on scientific evidence, the tendency of scientific men is to ignore its claims. We speak only of tendency. We rejoice to know or believe that in hundreds or thousands of scientific men, this tendency is counteracted by the intuitions of the reason and the conscience, and by the grace of God. No class of men stands deservedly higher in public estimation than men of science, who, while remaining faithful to their higher nature, have enlarged our knowledge of the wonderful works of God.

But don’t many see science and religion as opposed? Yes, and a second cause of the alienation between science and religion is the failure to make the due distinction between facts and the explanation of those facts, or the theories deduced from them. No sound minded man disputes any scientific fact. Religious men believe with Agassiz that facts are sacred. They are revelations from God. Christians admit all the facts connected with our solar system, all the facts of geology, and of comparative anatomy, and of biology. Ought not this to satisfy scientific men? Must we also admit their explanations and inferences? The facts are from God, the explanation from men. The two are often as far apart as Heaven and its antipode.

Do you get tired of condescension from Darwinists like Thomas Huxley? Yes, there is an assumption of superiority, and often a manifestation of contempt. Those who call their logic or their conjectures into question, are stigmatized as narrow-minded, bigots, old women, Bible worshippers, etc. Professor Huxley’s advice to metaphysicians and theologians is to let science alone. But do he and his associates let metaphysics and religion alone? They tell the metaphysician that his vocation is gone; there is no such thing as mind, and of course no mental laws to be established.

Metaphysics melded into physics? Professor Huxley tells the religious world that there is over-whelming and crushing evidence (scientific evidence, of course) that no event has ever occurred on this earth which was not the effect of natural causes. Hence there have been no miracles, and Christ is not risen. He says that the doctrine that belief in a personal God is necessary to any religion worthy of the name, is a mere matter of opinion.

And what do you think about the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel? Haeckel forbids the right to speak on these vital subjects, to all who are not thoroughly versed in biology, and who are not entirely emancipated from the trammels of their long cherished traditional beliefs. This, as the whole context shows, means that a man in order to be entitled to be heard on the evolution theory, must be willing to renounce his faith not only in the Bible, but in God, in the soul, in a future life, and become a monistic materialist.

It will be bad if Haeckel’s ideas get more traction in Germany. But are you surprised by such opposition? It is very reasonable that scientific men, in common with lawyers and physicians and other professional men, should feel themselves entitled to be heard with special deference on subjects belonging to their respective departments. This deference no one is disposed to deny to men of science. But it is to be remembered that no department of human knowledge is isolated. One runs into and overlaps another. We have abundant evidence that the devotees of natural science are not willing to confine themselves to the department of nature, in the common sense of that word. They not only speculate, but dogmatize, on the highest questions of philosophy, morality, and religion.

No department of human knowledge is isolated. One runs into and overlaps another.

Sounds like unbelief in God usually leads to belief in something silly. The most credulous men in the world are unbelievers. The great Napoleon could not believe in Providence; but he believed in his star, and in lucky and unlucky days. This banishing God from the world is simply intolerable, and, blessed be his name, impossible. An absent God who does nothing is, to us, no God. Christ brings God constantly near to us. It may be said that Christ did not teach science. True, but He taught truth; and science, so called, when it comes in conflict with truth, is what man is when he comes in conflict with God.

So how can there be harmony between science and religion? There cannot be until scientific men must come to recognize practically, and not merely in words, that there are other kinds of evidence of truth than the testimony of the senses. They must cease to require the deference due to established facts to be paid to their speculations and explanations. And they must treat their fellow-men with due respect. The Pharisees said to the man whose sight had been restored by Christ, “Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us!” Men of science must not speak thus. They must not say to every objector, Thou art not scientific, and therefore hast no right to speak.

So, getting back to Darwin, what’s your bottom line? I cannot see how the theory of evolution can be reconciled with the declarations of the Scriptures. Others may see it, and be able to reconcile their allegiance to science with their allegiance to the Bible. Professor Huxley, as we have seen, pronounces the thing impossible. As all error is antagonistic to truth, if the evolution theory be false, it must be opposed to the truths of religion so far as the two come into contact.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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Outstanding work, Marvin Olasky. Your framing of questions, and your choice of Hodge's quotes in reply is very good!


Well done Marvin.  

Big Jim

I enjoyed this "interview" very much. I was struck by how perceptive and incisive many of Mr. Hodge's arguments were; they actually work quite well in today's conversation. And like TR, I laughed at that same quote. What a hoot!


Do they really need a "first miracle"? How about the multiverse?


You're so creative, this was a fun read.  I laughed out loud at, "A man who can believe that brass can do this, might as well believe in God."  That same thought process goes hand in hand with the other quote that struck me given our current culture regarding gender, "No sound minded man disputes any scientific fact."  Regarding science and religion and truth, the biblical fact for Jesus Believers is that the "truth" is a person, not an idea.  John 14:6 ...I am THE truth. (Personally I distinguish Jesus Believer from religion) Great example is Lazarus.  Both the perception of the senses i.e. science and scientific evidence of Martha and Mary's situation was that their brother was dead and had been for 4 days in a tomb, but then the "truth" showed up.  Per Mr. Hodges, who had the "conflict with God" in that story?


Well done, thank you. As we know, naturalism has a choke hold on current public education in America. I am glad such good content is still availble in the public square. With the happenings in the current cancel culture, very soon we might expect such content to be banned from the media as hate speech agains scientists. Every world view begins with assumptions to provide a foundation for those things science cannot account for. For me, time and chance simply do not provide an adequate explanation for our world, not to mention that the senses of which Hodge speaks admit no evidence at all for ongoing macro-evolution. All current evidence is derived from reading our assumptions back into relics of our past, filling in empty spaces which are as vast in comparison to the total story as open space in our universe to observable matter.