Certain pulpit addresses and magazine articles on the subject of evolution lead me to make a few comments on methods that may well be employed or avoided in meeting this great problem. I hope I may be allowed, without rancor, to criticize some undesirable efforts I have recently observed, and to suggest more effective means of reaching men who are trained in scientific modes of thinking.
Liberties in Making Quotations.—An unfortunate habit into which many writers and speakers have fallen, is that of quoting fragments from a book, a paper, or an address by some noted man, in support of our particular viewpoint, while possibly the general trend of that author's line of argument is diametrically opposed to our views. If the same method were employed against us, we might be quoted as saying a great many things which we do not believe.
Closely akin to this practice, is the use of a striking statement from an author whose general line of thought is completely out of harmony with our views. For example, we often hear and read quotations from H. G. Wells regarding the downfall of our civilization. On the other hand, if we should quote Wells in regard to the evolutionary progress due to come in the future, we should be considered highly unorthodox. Why should one of his statements be widely used if nearly all others are unacceptable? Of course, if we desired to show his attitude on any particular subject, we could quote his own words as proof. But to prove our own attitude by quoting H. G. Wells is to employ a questionable method of argument.
Even though a writer of the world has brought out some valuable truths, it is generally advisable to assimilate the facts for ourselves, and to state them in our own words rather than to indulge too freely in quotation. In quoting continuously we are likely to lay ourselves open to the charge of being mere agitators who seize upon the work of others and turn it to our own ends. If we are not sufficiently authoritative in our own right to give weight to our words, we do little good by bolstering up our ideas with quotations from the writings of others.
The Wrong Approach,—It shows lack of consideration for the mental ability of others to point to evolution as "nonsense" and to evolutionists as "ignorant" and "foolish." They can be equally as effective in scoring us as unlearned and uncultured. Many of the best minds of the world believe in the theory of evolution; and we must face this fact whether we like it or not. The situation calls for a presentation of facts rather than for rhetorical argument and bluster. We, above all people, must avoid slander, sarcasm, or even the suggestion that our opponents are ignorant of the facts. True, we believe the advocates of evolution have made a fundamental mistake in their interpretation of the facts; but our work is to show how the facts should be interpreted, not how foolish are the men who have developed wrong interpretations. As I study the problem, I am more and more impressed with the idea that we shall never obtain a hearing from men of science until we cease berating them for accepting evolution and begin showing them the scientific accuracy of the creationist's viewpoint.
Changing Viewpoints and Interpretations.— We should keep up-to-date in our understanding of scientific ideas. While science is a collection of organized facts, it progresses by means of changing viewpoints and interpretations. The philosophical background of scientists of ten years ago will not serve for today. Many of our speakers and writers are trying to combat ideas ten to twenty-five years out of date. Gathering material from books and journals without respect to the time in which they were written, one is likely to waste effort trying to overthrow theories no longer held by progressive scientists.
An outstanding example of what I have just been discussing is the idea of change of species. During the years from 1900 to 1925 geneticists thought they had found in Mendelism positive proof that plants and animals could not change sufficiently to bring new species into existence. Many statements were made to this effect, and of course this gave believers in the creation doctrines some excellent ammunition to use against the whole theory of evolution.
Within the past ten years, however, there has been a decided swing back toward the Darwinian viewpoint of the origin of species by natural selection. This swing toward Darwinism has been supported by facts as valid as those propounded in the previous quarter century in opposition to change of species. Good judgment would lead us to be very cautious in the use of quotations and statements regarding this problem. We cannot afford to waste our time combating outdated theories.
Study Historic Background.—We should not confuse Darwinism with the general theory of evolution, or blame Darwin entirely for the acceptance of evolution by the scientific world. What Darwin actually did was to present arguments in favor of the origin of species by natural selection. The general outlines of the evolution theory had already been accepted for a quarter of a century by practically all scientists and by many theologians. The furor over the "Origin of Species," when it was published in 1859, was largely because of its theological implications, and not of its scientific merit or demerit.
Furthermore, the acceptance of the idea of the gradual ascent of living forms was due not so much to the work of Darwin as to that of Huxley and others who used the "Origin" as a tool to promote their particular philosophic views. I would suggest that everyone who speaks or writes on the subject of Darwin, or the origin of species, study the history of these problems thoroughly before trying to discuss them before the public. It is distressing to observe the number of erroneous statements that appear in our denominational papers in respect to these questions.
Care in Use of Bible.—We should avoid using Bible quotations to prove scientific ideas. While the Bible is inspired history, prophecy, and instruction, and its historical record is to be accepted as true, it is not primarily an explanation of scientific truths and should not be used to back up our personal conceptions of natural phenomena. An outstanding example of this is found in frequent reference, not only by Adventist writers but by those of other denominations, to the expression "after his kind" as proof for the fixity of species. A careful study of the first chapter of Genesis shows that this phrase refers primarily to the law of creation, rather than of propagation. Not a word is said as to how animals or plants should propagate. By inference we take the position that they must multiply "after his kind," but we cannot quote the Genesis record in support of such a position. If scientific study brings out facts that indicate a change in species (such as is intimated in "Spirit of Prophecy," Vol. I, p. 78), we must recognize the facts. We are unwise to quote the creation record as proof of our viewpoint in regard to conditions prevailing since the creation process was finished.
The Larger Outlook.—We should be clear as to the real importance of the issues involved in the evolution-creation controversy. Change of species, struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, natural selection,—all these are the weapons of the late nineteenth century. We are merely shadowboxing when we try to argue against them today. Our present-day problems are deeper and more subtle, and reach into the fundamental problems of philosophy. The reality of God, the scientific accuracy of the Genesis record of creation, the theological and philosophical implications of the two doctrines, are more important than the mere question of whether or not a plant or an animal can change sufficiently to be classified as a new species. If the Bible record can be maintained, and a literal six-day creation be correlated with the flood as the destroying agent for the ancient world, changing species will fit into the picture with no difficulty whatever. All the details will work out satisfactorily when the fundamentals are clearly perceived.