Creation & the Enlightenment – Part Two

This sermon was preached on January 16, 2011.


            From 1831-1836, a team of scientists went on a research trip around South America, as well as many islands off the coast of South America.  During that trip the scientists began to notice some of the subtle differences in the various types of birds and other animals on the islands – some kinds of birds, for example, had sharper beaks which enable them to better defend themselves and search for food.  Years later, in 1858, one of those scientists published a paper that said that the birds with sharper beaks were simply more highly evolved than the other birds – that was his explanation for the differences.  The next year, 1859, that same scientist put out a book called On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection which contained the full-blown theory of evolution.  That scientist, as most of you know, was Darwin.

            Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was quickly accepted by the scientific community and it has created a greater stir and has made a bigger impact on our world than any theory in the history of the world. 

Background & Context

            Today we continue our sermon series over the Enlightenment by beginning at the beginning; we are discussing origins.  As I said last week, we are to begin in faith not doubt, and that immediately puts us in opposition to Enlightenment thinking which begins with doubt. 

1.  Creation & Enlightenment – Conflict over Doubt & Belief

Notice that, when we speak of our beginnings and the beginning of all things, we begin with an assertion; we begin with what we do know not what we don’t know – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  We begin with belief not doubt.  This is not the case with Enlightenment thinking and, more specifically, as we will see, it is not the case with the theory of Darwinian evolution.

            Rene Descartes was, in a sense, the father of the Enlightenment in that other thinkers seem to have built upon his thought and apply it in more specific areas.  Descartes is often called the “Father of modern philosophy” and he based his philosophy on radical skepticism or radical doubt.  He said that man must begin his search for knowledge with doubt and Descartes even began with doubting his own existence.  His only assurance was that someone must be having those doubts, so he must exist in some way. 

            Voltaire applied Descartes’ thought particularly to history, but he believed that atheism must be assumed; man must begin from a position of doubt or faithlessness towards God. 

            This kind of radical doubt, beginning in doubt, is a hallmark of Enlightenment thought.  We see it in our day, particularly in the “scientific” community, which claims that nothing is to be believed without sufficient evidence.  Now, I need to take a bit of a sideline here and discuss the impact this has had upon the modern Church.

            The belief that nothing is to be believed without sufficient evidence is commonly referred to as evidentialism and it finds its roots directly in Descartes and the rest of the early Enlightenment thinkers.  It was developed more fully as a theory later on and, by the 20th century, it had become somewhat common (thanks to men like Bertrand Russell).  Christians responded to this system of doubt and to the outcries for evidence in a peculiar way – they started giving evidence.  “If you want proof for Christianity, we’ll give you proof!”  This approach, popular to this day with men like Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, and even R.C. Sproul, may seem like a good idea, but it has caused some problems. 

First of all, it grants the premise of evidentialism.  Is it right to believe something without proper evidence?  Well, what evidence is there for that statement?  We believe in other minds, other people, other places in the world, yet have no empirical evidence for them.  Second, because it grants the premise of evidentialism, it leaves the unbeliever with all the authority.  All they have to say is, “That’s not enough evidence” and you lose.  Finally, it neglects the spiritual problem of evidentialism – that is, evidence doesn’t overcome spiritual death and evidence has to be filtered through the person’s worldview in order for it to count as evidence. 

And that is not even to mention the fact that Enlightenment begins with doubt towards all things, but God in particular.      

Charles Darwin proceeded with that kind of evidentialism and radical doubt in his evolutionary theory.  In 1865, Darwin himself said, “With respect to the theological view of the evolution question, this is always painful to me.  I am bewildered.  But, there seems to me too much misery in the world.  I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created such a world.  Evolution springs from such doubt.”

Regardless of what we may be told, evolution (and Enlightenment thinking, in general) does not actually proceed upon evidence or even begin with evidence; but with doubt and, in particular, doubt towards God.  Darwin’s theory arose, not simply from his observations of bird beaks off the coast of South America, but from his own rejection of God.  He developed his theory because he wanted to.  As Julius Caesar once said, “Men freely believe what they want to.”  And, as we get into more specifics of evolutionary theory, we will see that, in order to believe it, you really have to want to believe it.

So, be mindful of this, that when we begin speaking of creation and evolution, we are not simply talking about who can amass the most evidence for their viewpoint; we are not talking about which one is scientifically viable; and we are not talking about which one may be most theologically viable.  We must understand, before getting into any of those discussions that these two positions – creation and evolution – arise from completely different presuppositions; they begin in two completely opposite worlds.  One begins in belief and the other in complete doubt.


2.  Creation & Enlightenment – Conflict over Distinctions & Antithesis (vv. 1ff.)

And, in addition to this, we need to understand that creation and evolution, or creation and Enlightenment thought view truth differently as well.  When we look at Genesis 1, we quickly see some things that are going to cause great friction with Enlightenment thinking. 

As early as verses 3-5, we see God creating distinctions in the universe – light and darkness, day and night, evening and morning.  Continuing on, God draws distinctions between sky, water, and land; between plants and animals; between the types of animals; between man and woman; and even between good and not good.  All of this is a problem in Enlightenment thinking.

Remember that Baruch Spinoza, one of those early Enlighteners, claimed that morality does not actually exist; proper decisions could be made through mathematical considerations.  You determine the correct action. 

I also talked about David Hume last week.  Hume argued for Utilitarianism, that right and wrong are determined by what works; what brings about the greatest good for the greatest number.  There is no real right and wrong, objectively speaking.

Finally, Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that man is good by nature, but corrupted by society and the Church.  In other words, right and wrong really only exists in individuals; it must be determined by the individual alone. 

Now, when you begin to put these pieces together, you should notice that Genesis flies in the face of Enlightenment thinking, not just because it means evolution is false, but because Genesis insists upon distinctions in the world – one thing is not another thing.  Genesis makes it clear that when God created the world, He made the distinctions and, because of that, things are what they are. 

There is truth, there is goodness, there is light and darkness, male and female, good and evil.  And, in addition to that, if something is true then it is not false; if something is good then it is not evil; if something is male then it is not female.  This all poses a problem for Enlightenment thinking because they insist that the categories do not exist outside of human approval – man determines truth, man determines morality, man determines rights, man determines all things.  But Genesis begins with God and He makes all the distinctions, He creates all the categories, He makes the ultimate decisions, and man must submit to them. 


3.  Concluding Applications

So, before we can even get into the specifics related to evolutionary theory and the various theories surrounding Genesis that plague the Church, we must first understand where the entire discussion begins – on different worlds! 

Genesis begins with an assertion, a statement of what is known – “In the beginning, God…”  We begin with belief, with knowledge.  Enlightenment thinking begins with doubt in all things.  They begin with lack of faith, they begin with man in the place of God.  When it comes specifically to evolution, the developer of the theory himself says we must begin with doubt, not because of evidence for his position but because he simply doesn’t want to believe in God.

Second, Genesis begins with categories and distinctions given to us – light, darkness, good, evil, truth, beauty, etc.  The Enlightenment allows for no such categories unless they are created by the individual and by the reason of man.  We determine the categories, particularly as it relates to right and wrong, good and evil. 

Finally, Genesis gives us antithesis.  This simply means that if something is true than it is not false, if something is evil then it is not good.  If something is light then it is not darkness, and so on.  And, of course, the Enlightenment endorses a kind of relativism which means that individuals, groups, and governments are the ones who determine it and what may be right, good, or evil for some may not be for others.

1.      Realize that presuppositions matter – where you begin affects where you end up.  A person’s source of authority will guide the rest of their thinking and there are only two ultimate sources of authority – God and man.

2.      Remember that the debates over Genesis arise from very different presuppositions

3.      Intelligence and wisdom are different things One of the reasons these men have been so influential is that they truly were brilliant minds in many ways, and brilliant minds can be impressive; many people are drawn to intelligence.  That has enamored many and gained a following for theories and ideas which, at their foundation are completely foolish.  Many college students have been led astray by eloquent Ph.D.’s pontificating upon truly ridiculous topics!  Many seminary professors and previously conservative Christians have been led astray by a longing for acceptance in such “academic” company. 

But, we ought to know better.  Wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing.  There are many who profess to be wise, yet have become fools.  They may be intelligent, but intelligence with no authority outside the man itself will always end in foolishness.


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