Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield

and the

Darwinian Controversy

by Peter J. Wallace

I. Introduction

The place of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield in the spectrum of Christian responses to evolution has not generally been a disputed one. Scientists are quick to claim him as a supporter for evolutionary views,(1) while creationists are often ready to simply abandon him as a misled man of his age who made his share of mistakes, and presuppositionalists are generally eager to point out the "fact" that Warfield was an evidentialist, altogether too bound to a naive Common Sense Realism, and therefore subject to the ravages of allegedly neutral pseudo-science. None of these positions does justice to Warfield's own position. Those in favor of evolution often neglect Warfield's constant refrain that evolution is a tentative hypothesis which is not yet very convincing; those who reject evolution often ignore his careful scientific study, which was the basis for his caution. In particular, some presuppositionalists almost seem to assume that one's presuppositions can actually change the facts, rather than simply affect the way we interpret the facts. After all, if all "facts" are primarily "God-interpreted facts," then there is an unchangeable reality which we must be prepared to face--and that reality cannot be ignored without doing violence to God-interpreted facts.

A. Background

In an age when theologians and churchmen were some of the most respected voices in American society, it was far more common for seminary professors to have a healthy knowledge of disciplines outside their academic specialty. Over the span of thirty years, Warfield wrote no less than thirty articles and reviews on the subject of evolution and modern science. His familiarity with his subject is seen in the off-hand manner in which he mentions scientists, theories, and major scholarly works, comparing various positions and giving specific scientific examples to make his points.

Warfield admitted that his own lack of scientific training and experience limited his ability to pronounce final judgment on scientific matters, but he relied heavily upon such scientists as the eminent Canadian paleontologist J. William Dawson, quoting his statement that evolution "'up to this time remains an hypothesis, ingenious and captivating, but not fortified by the evidence of facts' (p. 145). A layman like ourself has no right to such an opinion, though it is within our province to say that the hypothesis is far from justified by the reasoning with which it has been supported."(2) Therefore, avoiding the technicalities of the scientific community, Warfield contented himself with analyzing the religious and theological implications of the emerging theories of evolution which dotted the landscape around the turn of the century.(3)

B. Thesis

Distinguishing between what he believed and what he permitted, B. B. Warfield articulated a carefully nuanced understanding of evolution and its implications for science and theology. On the one hand, he viewed the efforts of his colleague, James McCosh, the president of the College of New Jersey, as "entirely successful" in demonstrating that the evolutionary hypothesis is "thoroughly consistent with Christian theism."(4) Nonetheless, Warfield was less confident that evolution was a proven fact, but joined "those who look upon it as a more or less probable or more or less improbable conjecture of scientific workers as to the method of creation, which is at present on its probation, and which has not yet been shown to be able to account for the facts, much less to be the true theory to assume in order to account for them."(5) Rather than being a "defender" of Darwinism, Warfield would more properly be described as a cautious critic who carefully distinguished between those elements of evolutionary thought which were amenable to a distinctly Christian interpretation, and those which were anathema to biblical religion. Warfield maintained this discriminating stance without noticeable alteration for more than thirty years, and through more than thirty published articles, reviews, and lectures, in his attempt to maintain the harmony between believing science and believing theology.

II. Theologians and Scientists: the Old Princeton Tradition

Bradley J. Gundlach has written a masterful dissertation on the Princetonians' discussions of evolution, discussions which took place both in the University and the Seminary, providing an invaluable analysis of Princeton's views on evolution.(6) Tracing the development of Princetonian thought from Albert Dod's 1845 review of Robert Chambers Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation through the reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1929, Gundlach argues for a basic unity of the Princetonians vision for the harmony of science and theology, and their unending crusade against the "practical atheism" of modern naturalism. For the Princetonians, only those scientific theories which allowed for the personal, immanent activity of the Creator in relationship with his creation could properly account for all of the scientific facts (of nature, of man's moral constitution, and of scripture).

A. Methodological Concerns

Indicative of the Princetonians' interest in the natural sciences are the no less than 120 articles and reviews on scientific topics in the various journals originating from the seminary from the 1840s through the 1920s.(7) Charles Hodge, Warfield's own mentor, maintained a lively interest in scientific issues, and utilized the natural sciences extensively in his Systematic Theology in order to buttress the claims of scripture. Regarding theology as the queen of the sciences, the Princetonians believed that all natural investigation was, in the final analysis, to submit to revealed truth, yet generally showed a willingness to reconsider particular interpretations of scripture if the scientific evidence seemed compelling.(8) Affirming that each discipline maintained its own sovereignty, the Princetonians held them together by affirming "a common method across realms" as well as "the continuity or unity of truth."(9) This common inductive method would naturally be shaped and applied differently in different disciplines, but the results would harmoniously testify to the verity of God's Word.

B. The University

In the 1850s, the College of New Jersey created a chair of geology and geography for the eminent Swiss scientist Arnold Henri Guyot. His deep Calvinist theology and piety, together with his masterful accomplishments in his field, was a significant influence on his colleagues over at the seminary, who quickly took advantage of his proximity, inviting him to lecture regularly at the seminary on matters of science and theology.(10) Cited approvingly in Hodge's Systematic Theology (I:573), Guyot blended his developmental hypotheses with a healthy dose of catastrophism, insisting that while the truths of Scripture were not intended to teach scientific details, they would not contradict, nor be contradicted by, the truths of science.(11) The presence of such godly scientists as Guyot enabled the Princeton theologians to confidently assert that scripture and science were ultimately harmonious.

In 1868, the College brought James McCosh from Scotland to serve as the institution's eleventh president. Prior to his arrival, McCosh had not directly addressed the question of evolution. Within a week the new president caused no little stir by asserting that he was entirely "in favor of evolution properly limited and explained," thus becoming the first leading American clergyman to openly espouse the theory.(12) Nonetheless, his colleagues at the Seminary were not noticeably concerned with such a view. The only significant differences between him and his close friend, Charles Hodge, were his claims 1) that the transmutation of species was an established fact, and 2) that Darwinism was not inimical to teleology.(13) Emphasizing the glories of God in creation, McCosh turned evolution into a defence of, rather than an attack on, traditional Christian supernaturalism. Affirming that natural selection was merely another example of secondary causation, he pointed out that scientifically speaking, natural selection was incapable of doing everything which Darwin claimed for it.(14) While it was certainly a powerful force in the arsenal of divine providence, evolution by natural selection was quite simply unable to provide for McCosh a satisfactory philosophy of being. Further, he limited evolution by refusing to allow for the evolution of the human race, claiming that such a view would contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. This "Christian evolutionism" found few detractors in the Princeton camp, and while Hodge would hesitate to call evolution "proved," he certainly supported his colleague's attempt to reconcile the best science with the truth of scripture. This harmony between Hodge and McCosh has frequently been denied, even though McCosh's biographer has admitted that "the faculty's and trustees' recoreds are disappointingly polite, and it is difficult to find the precise points of conflict."(15) Gundlach has suggested a different understanding, calling attention to McCosh's invitation to William Dawson--the most prominent anti-transmutationist--in 1878, asking him to come in a joint appointment to the seminary and the college. The chief reason, according to McCosh, was "the fact...that if you decline, which I hope you may not, we do not know where to look for a geologist of repute who is not a Darwinian."(16) McCosh, who has often been represented as being the most prominent of "Darwin's Forgotten Defenders," and supposedly disagreed heartily with the chairman of the board of trustees of the college (Charles Hodge), is here claiming that he is afraid that he would be forced to hire a Darwinian! In their own eyes, the difference between McCosh and Hodge was not of any significant importance. What was at stake for McCosh was the philosophical issue of materialism versus theism, and he, like Hodge, was willing to set aside relatively minor scientific differences in the face of the great infidelity of the day.(17)

C. The Seminary

This attitude was also seen down the street at the seminary. The appointment of Charles Augustus Aiken to the Chair of Christian Ethics and Apologetics at the Seminary in 1871 marked the first time that Princeton hired an advocate of the doctrine of the bodily evolution of man--and it should be noted that it was the seminary which invited him, not the college. While many at the College and the Seminary disagreed with this particular view, his general position was entirely consistent with the outlook of his colleagues.(18) Three years later, Charles Hodge wrote his famous volume, What is Darwinism? which pronounced the verdict: "it is atheism." This arose from his growing conviction that the debate over evolution was being carried on without any clear definition of terms. In good Princetonian fashion, Hodge insisted on making a careful distinction between the various components of Darwinism. The doctrine of the transmutation of species was not unique to Darwin, and was certainly not inimical to Christian teaching. The second aspect, natural selection, was also admittable as the means of divine providence. It was particularly the third element, the rejection of teleology, which Hodge found objectionable. This was the unique element of Darwin's theory, and for Hodge, it was nothing but the elimination of all purpose and intelligence behind the formation of the universe, which could only be described as atheism.(19) Hodge personally did not believe that evolution was very convincing, but he did not object to the science--he objected to the anti-teleological naturalism behind it.

Warfield, in comparing his two mentors (Hodge and McCosh), refers to three general positions on evolution: 1) that evolutionism is "an adequate philosophy of being," a view held by Darwin, and, as Warfield puts it, "tantamount to atheism;" 2) that evolution is an established scientific fact which "implies and presupposes theism," a position held by McCosh; and 3) that evolution is a working hypothesis which is more or less probable or improbable, and awaits actual scientific validation, a position held by Hodge, and with which Warfield entirely concurs. Both Hodge and McCosh rejected the idea that evolution was a sufficient philosophy of being, and both agreed that it could only supply "the method through which the true force and cause works," but they disagreed over whether evolution was a proven fact.(20) Gundlach relates the story of Warfield's disagreement with McCosh on this point: when "McCosh insisted that no scientist under thirty questioned transmutationism," Warfield replied, "indeed--only in his thirties did he 'outgrow' it."(21) And as Warfield outgrew his early drift toward evolutionism, he came to affirm that "we dare not adjust our theology to what is as yet a more or less doubtful conjecture."(22) He was willing to leave the evolution question open, with the full confidence that the truth would continue to establish the verity of the Christian revelation.

The controversy in the Southern Presbyterian Church during the 1880s over James Woodrow's teaching of human evolution forced the Princetonians to define more clearly what they believed as opposed to what they allowed. A. A. Hodge thought that "modern science is preposterously far off from proving anything as to the evolution of the lower species, . . . and far more emphatically so as to the evolution of the human species."(23) Concerned with the implication of human evolution that would vitiate the Genesis account of the origin of Eve, the younger Hodge followed his father in admitting that animal evolution was possible, though unproven, while rejecting human evolution as incompatible with scripture. Francis Landey Patton gave the official Princeton response in 1885, eschewing human evolution while affirming the possibility that animal evolution could be God's providential means of forming the worldstuff.(24)

III. Warfield on Method

A. The Relationship between Theology and Science

Attempting to maintain what he considered to be a high view of science and of theology, Warfield insisted that theology is a science. For him, science was not merely the study of phenomena, but the pursuit of truth and knowledge. Objecting to Andrew White's treatment of the History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, Warfield asserted that if theology is a science, it is as absurd to speak of a conflict between theology and science as it would be to speak of a conflict between astronomy and science.(25) Suggesting that each science must pursue its object within the proper boundaries of that object, he willingly admitted that theology is not merely an an academic discipline. Indeed, he claimed, "the Science of Theology, that it may be a Science, must produce a religious effect--or, in more popular language, 'a practical effect.'"(26) It is impossible to know the truth about God correctly without having a proper religious knowlege of God--a knowledge which involves the whole person, not merely the mind. Therefore, in order to qualify as scientific theology, theology must "produce a true and vital knowledge of God."(27)

B. Presupposition and Method

Nonetheless, Warfield believed in a common method which should be applied to each scientific discipline. But while Warfield openly espoused what may for simplicity's sake be called Common Sense Realism, there is nothing simple about Warfield's usage of this paradigm. Even the age-old distinction between fact and interpretation finds a nuanced statement in Warfield's hands. Gundlach shows that even within the Realist system, facts are not indubitable, but rather "all assertions of fact were characterized by a degree of probability...and thus all claims of truth involved a degree of responsibility, of moral action, on the knower's part."(28) With respect to the issue of presupposition, Warfield clearly recognized that modern theology was seriously compromised by its inability to allow for the supernatural: "modern theologians first assume that there is nothing in existence which is not entirely the product of the precedent conditions existent in the world-complex, and thence draw out an anti-supernaturalistic theology."(29) But the larger question is whether Warfield was able to perceive the more general role of presuppositions, especially with respect to the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought. In an 1896 review, he stated:

"It must indeed be admitted that an ascertained fact will and ought to prevail against any word-statement. But is it so obvious that our ascertainment of a fact is more trustworthy than any word-statement? All statements will find their test in facts; but it does not thence follow that 'Revelation' will find its test in 'Science.' Science is not fact, but human reading of fact: and any human reading of fact may well bow humbly before the reading given by God. In the conflict between the infallible Word and 'infallible Science,' it is the part of reason to prefer the word-statement sufficiently authenticated as divine to the word-statement which is obviously very human indeed."(30)

Clearly, Warfield understood that there are no "brute facts." Yet at the same time, Warfield was by no means convinced that the "literal" interpretation of Genesis was the correct reading. The same man who gave us a carefully nuanced doctrine of inerrancy also gave us a carefully nuanced understanding of the relationship between science and theology. Ultimately the question is whether the theologian (or scientist) will bow to God's own interpretation of the fact, or whether they will insist upon their own reading. This statement makes it clear that while he may not have grasped all the implications of the interpretive activity of the human mind, Warfield certainly recognized its presence.

IV. An Outline of Warfield's Argument

A. Evolution and Creation

1. Definition of Terms

Warfield frequently demonstrates that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive terms. They are referring to two entirely different things. Creation is simply origination, while evolution is simply modification. "You cannot 'originate' by 'modifying'; you cannot 'modify' by 'originating'."(31) Evolution, for Warfield, can never produce something new--only something modified. Hence, the real question of evolution for Warfield is not whether new forms proceed from older ones--that is a given; neither is it whether it is under the directing hand of God--that goes without saying; rather, it is "whether the forces concerned in the production of the new forms are all intrinsic in the evolving stuff."(32)

Therefore, evolution, for Warfield, "cannot act as a substitute for creation, but at best can supply only a theory of the method of the divine providence."(33) Nonetheless, before evolution may be accepted as a proper scientific theory it must run through two gauntlets: 1) can it account for the facts? 2) is it true? (i.e., does it account for the facts better than any other hypothesis and did it happen). At this level evolution did not convince him, because no evolutionary proof was finally conclusive.(34)

2. The Question of Mechanism

While not trying to replace honest scientific inquiry, Warfield suggested a mechanism which could explain the evolutionary process. If evolution is merely the method of divine providence, then the mechanism of evolution cannot be isolated from the direct or indirect hand of God. This solves the problem of the missing links, since evolution could be based upon "the principle of modification by leaps."(35) Naturally the height of these leaps can only be determined by scientific inquiry--if at all--but if God is the one who providentially directs evolution, then it is entirely possible that he might frequently intervene to produce results which the inherent forces of nature cannot explain by themselves.

3. Human Evolution

In the face of James Orr's insistence that body and mind must develop together--eliminating the possibility of human evolution, Warfield uses this approach to suggest that animal ancestry for man would be quite possible: "If under the directing hand of God a human body is formed at a leap by propagation from brutish parents, it would be quite consonant with the fitness of things that it should be provided by His creative energy with a truly human soul."(36) The origin of man, therefore, is only a creation if some divine action "has been intruded into the process...causing the complex product to be something more than can find its account in the intrinsic forces."(37) While admitting that human evolution was possible and could be held in a manner consistent with Scripture and the confession, Warfield himself wanted more scientific evidence before he would adopt such a view. Nonetheless, he sketched out the contours of a Christian evolutionism--setting forth some clear boundaries for Christians in the sciences.

B. The Decline of Darwinism

1. What Is Darwinism?

Warfield considered Darwin to be the first to set forth a plausible argument for the natural production of the biological world--namely, that if more creatures are born than can be sustained in any given environment, those which are least fitted to survive will be wiped out. "The strength of the theory," says Warfield, "lies in its simplicity, and its apparent appeal to nothing but recognized facts."(38) As a logical construction, "the theory is unassailable."(39) The problem, however, is that natural selection does not explain the extensive variety of animate forms now in existence. "The formal completeness of the logical theory of Darwinism is fairly matched, therefore, by its almost ludicrous actual incompetence for the work asked of it."(40) Put simply, Warfield was convinced that "If the Darwinian hypothesis were correct, there would necessarily have existed, in the slow formation of types through infinitesimal changes, innumerable intermediate stages....How is it that the record is free from these intermediate types?"(41) In 1916 he marvelled that the theory of evolution was so universally accepted in the light of the nearly complete absence of proof. Darwin had commended the doctrine of natural selection as the reason for believing in evolution. "The discrediting of his doctrine of natural selection as the sufficient cause of evolution leaves the idea of evolution without proof...just where it was before he took the matter up. And there, speaking broadly, it remains until the present day."(42)

2. Scientific Responses to Darwinism

While the third quarter of the nineteenth century became enamored with Darwin's theory of natural selection, the period from 1880-1920 brought a reaction among biologists, as alternate theories of species formation were developed. As biologists began to recognize its flaws, various camps developed within the scientific community ranging from the complete acceptance to the complete rejection of Darwinian natural selection. Moderates such as Vernon Kellogg, affirmed that while natural selection was the "final arbiter in descent control," it was not the "all-sufficient, or even the most important causo-mechanical factor in species-forming."(43) De Vries developed a theory of mutations in order to give natural selection something to work on, while Eimer utilized the German idea of biological vitalism in his quasi-teleological theory of "orthogenesis"--the view that life is driven in a straight line of development by some inner principle.(44)

Hence, Warfield felt that Kellogg was too generous when he claimed that Darwinism was "seriously discredited in the biological world," suggesting more drastically that a pure theory of natural selection was "practically out of the running." On the other hand, no new theory had been able to replace it. Various supplements had been proposed, but none successfully served "as a complete 'causo-mechanical' explanation of the differentiation of organic forms." Warfield wasted no time in pointing out that "if what is called 'science' means careful observation and collection of facts and strict induction from them of the principles governing them, none of these theories have much obvious claim to be 'scientific.'"(45) Rather, they are merely speculative hypotheses which have been proposed as possible explanations of the facts. But what are the facts? For Warfield, "the facts of homology and of the paleontological record suggest that the relation of animate forms to one another may be a genetic one." Accounting for the precise relation of these creatures must await direct evidence--evidence which Warfield was unable to discover in the literature of his day.(46) But why has evolution so thoroughly won the day without evidence? As he quotes from Sherman, "scientific people are like other people in this, that what they want is not laws but explanations....The laws of nature are in reality the mass of unreduced facts which remain when as much as possible has been explained." Scientists have been unable to demonstrate evolution, but they have adopted it as a law--an observed fact--"but how it comes about Goodness only knows." Wittily responding to his theistic foil, Warfield adds, "Well, it is something to be sure that Goodness knows; and to be solidly assured by Mr. Shearman's convincing argument that it did not come about without Goodness having a hand in it."(47) But for Warfield, this approach begged the question of whether evolution was indeed an observed fact at all.

In spite of this lack of evidence, Warfield was impressed by the insistence of the scientific community upon a causo-mechanical theory, which (to a lay reader, according to Warfield) "looks amazingly like basing facts on theory rather than theory on facts."(48) Indeed in English-speaking circles, no intrusion from outside the physico-chemical world was allowed, and they looked askance at the resurgence of Neo-Vitalism in Germany as a return to the outdated notion of teleology! Warfield pointed out that "teleology itself is . . . the bete noire of biology as represented by Professor Kellogg."(49)

C. The Place of Teleology

In response, Warfield asserted that modern science was lacking in "philosophical acumen." Not only is teleology consistent with, but it is actually necessary to, natural causation. He began to wonder whether modern biological speculation was in fact primarily interested in "the validation of a naturalistic world-view . . . not derived from science but imposed upon science from without."(50) Such a world view necessarily involves not only anti-teleology, but indeed atheism, since the absence of purpose and design necessarily entails the absence of a purposeful Designer. But ironically, Warfield claimed, Darwinism requires the miraculous--that God did not "suspend the regular operation of the forces of Nature" in order to preserve intermediate forms, yet he only allowed the finished forms to survive in the geological record."(51) This pervasive naturalism, Warfield claims, is not inherent in the theory of descent, but particularly in the Darwinian hypothesis of natural selection. Therefore Warfield, agreeing with Hodge, Otto, and others, avers that the essence of Darwinism is the illusion of teleology and the reality of "suitability."(52)

Nonetheless, Warfield recognized that many investigators were becoming more and more convinced of the necessity of a certain purposefulness in nature. Hence the anti-Darwinians have seen that "the goal attained is, therefore not determined by [natural selection], but by the inherent tendency of the developing organism."(53) But Warfield was not exactly sure that these scientists were altogether clear about the nature of this goal. Otto seemed to assert that "Mechanism may be only the way in which purpose realizes itself," which appeared to fall into desitic modes of thought.(54)

But although he was appreciative of this emphasis on design and purpose, Warfield was less favorable toward the majority of scientific minds. Convinced that much of evolutionary thought was hopelessly mired in an atheistic quagmire, he agreed with James Iverach that evolution "can never come to its rights save as it is filled with the Christian conception of God, as the Living God, who works immanently in all things, producing by means which from the point of view of efficiency we call causes, the ends of his own choice."(55) Hence the real debate is not between "evolution" and "special creation" but between evolution as purposeless (and therefore meaningless) and evolution as the means by which an immanent God displays the "grandeur, intelligibility and manifest purposiveness of the process" of creation.(56) While we must always carefully guard the transcendence of God, we must also recognize the immanence of God. Hence Warfield argued that God may very well have used evolution as his method of creation. But if he did, then it is clear that "so far from 'evolution' being fatal to teleology it may be fairly argued that teleology is the very soul of evolution, and 'the end' is the only reality which a strictly conceived evolutionism can admit."(57) To resort to the argument of "blind and ... vagrant chance" is to ignore the obvious progress in complexity and development. Hence "a purely materialistic evolution is inconceivable; it would not be an evolution, but a mere instability,--meaningless and vacuous."(58)

V. Biblical and Historical Considerations

A. Warfield on Scripture

1. The Bible and Science

Interestingly, Warfield spends little to no effort in explicating the text of Genesis 1-3. Part of this was doubtless out of deference to his Old Testament colleagues, but equally important is his conviction that the Bible does not teach science. He approvingly quoted Charles Warring as saying that "It is important to remember that the Bible was not given to man to teach him science. Incidentally, as it were, it contains a vast amount of physical truth, but that is a very different matter (p. 25)." Just as the stars were not created to teach astronomy, neither was the Bible written to teach science.(59) Therefore Warfield always tried to be careful not to overpress the text. He objected to Warring's attempt to make the days "twenty-four hours each, serving to mark the end of each successive period of varying length (p. 190 sq.)--a view which seems to be exegetically untenable." His curiosity was piqued, however, by Warring's suggestion that the Genesis account is concerned with "the origin only of those things which man sees and with which he deals" and therefore not with the preceding geological ages, and felt that this "probably embodies an exegetical fact of importance, but which needs to be worked out more sympathetically than is done here."(60) In his discussion of Calvin's doctrine of creation, he argued that since Moses was "writing to meet the needs of men at large, [he] accomodated himself to their grade of intellectual preparation," and therefore should not be read scientifically.(61) Occasionally affirming his sympathy with the day-age theory, Warfield simply assumed that the majority of his readers would concur, and therefore does not appear to have felt the need to argue for it.

2. The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race

In an article which David Livingstone calls, "one of the most scientifically literate reflections on the religious implications of the subject by a theologian,"(62) Warfield boldly asserted that the question of the antiquity of man "has of itself no theological significance. It is to theology a matter of entire indifference how long man has existed on earth."(63) Relying upon William Henry Green's exposition of the genealogies,(64) Warfield claimed that the genealogies of Scripture are not intended to give chronological information, but are "only an adequate indication of the particular line through which the descent in question comes" and can frequently be compressed to suit the purposes of the author.(65) Therefore, he argued that any amount of time could have elapsed between the creation and the time of Abraham, leaving the antiquity of man completely to scientific determination.(66) At this point Warfield revealed his predilection for the more conservative scientific figures, joining many of the leading physicists of his day (including Lord Kelvin) in estimating 20-40 million years for the earth's development, leaving no more than 40,000 years for human presence.(67) Perhaps the key to Warfield's argument is his suggestion that if God were directing the evolutionary process, then the missing links might actually not exist, because the mechanism of evolution could be based upon "the principle of modification by leaps."(68) But if there are no missing links, then naturally there is no need to posit countless millenia for human development.

But while the antiquity of the human race is of no theological concern to Warfield, he took the unity of the race with deadly seriousness: "the whole doctrinal structure of the Bible account of redemption is founded on its assumption that the race of man is one organic whole, and may be dealt with as such."(69) Yet due to the unthinkable impossibility of more than one strain of evolution arriving at such perfect compatibility of all humans, Warfield remarked that at least on this point, the teaching of evolution and that of Christianity coincided entirely.

B. Warfield on Calvin

Warfield went to great lengths to show that Calvin was not particularly concerned with the details of how God created the world. Content with the affirmation that creation is the origination of essence, and that the original creation was good, Calvin, in Warfield's view, articulated a perceptive case for the progressive completion of the world on days 2-6 of the creation.(70) Calvin's understanding of the gradual forming, or molding, of the world, drew a sharp distinction "between the primal act of creation of the heavens and the earth out of nothing, and the subsequent acts of moulding this created material into the forms it was destined to take."(71) Warfield argues that this distinction is not the later Reformed distinction between mediate and immediate creation, because mediate creation still requires the direct creation ex materia, while Calvin asserts that the modification of the creation was providential.(72) Hence, he concludes, Calvin's doctrine of creation is "an evolutionary one," and "pure evolutionism" at that.(73) This does not mean that Calvin had a theory of evolution--indeed Warfield points out that Calvin assumed that the six days were literal days--but rather that the Genevan Reformer taught a doctrine of evolution. "All that is not immediately produced out of nothing is therefore not created--but evolved."(74) The root of this evolutionism was Calvin's doctrine of concursus, "by virtue of which he ascribed all that comes to pass to God's purpose and directive government," which in this case allowed him to believe that if God commanded the waters to bring forth fish, then the waters would obey.(75) Warfield summed up his understanding of Calvin's doctrine as follows:

"the physical universe...owes its existence absolutely to the Divine power; that it was created out of nothing; that it was perfected through a process of formation which extended through six days; that it was made and adorned for the sake of man, and has been subjected to him; and that it illustrates in its structure and in all its movements the perfections of its Maker."(76)

John Murray has questioned whether Warfield represented Calvin's doctrine of Creation correctly. Agreeing with Warfield that the doctrine of mediate creation still requires the immediate action of God in forming the material, and that mediate creation "must not be equated with or construed in terms of God's ordinary providential control and direction, Murray nonetheless questioned Warfield's argument that Calvin did not give any significant role to mediate creation. Quoting from Calvin's comments on Genesis 1:11, Murray attempts to show that Calvin did not think that the forces within created matter were capable of producing the results of days 2-6: "For though it was already destined to bring forth fruits, yet, till new virtue (nova virtus) proceeded from the mouth of God, it must remain dry and empty. For neither was it naturally fit to produce anything, nor had it a germinating principle from any other source, till the mouth of the Lord was opened."(77) Hence, he denies that Calvin taught that "all that has come into being since [the original fiat]--except the souls of men alone--has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces."(78)

While Murray corrects Warfield, in asserting that Calvin does teach mediate creation, he does not challenge the remainder of Warfield's analysis. Warfield's analysis of Calvin's doctrine of concursus reminds us that Calvin view of providence was considerably more substantial than most modern views, and hence it appears to me that the "real" Calvin probably lies somewhere between Murray and Warfield--convinced of the Creative power of the Divine Word, yet ready to believe that, by virtue of that Word directing the mysterious workings of God's providence, the creation could do anything which God commanded. This conclusion accords well with Warfield's own agenda, which was to demonstrate that Calvin conceived of the formation of the world as a process, rather than an immediate fiat--a notion in perfect harmony with an evolutionary paradigm.

C. The Religious Biography of Darwin

Warfield not only had scientific and theological difficulties with Darwinism, but he was also concerned with the spiritual factors of modern science which accompanied scientific naturalism. Like a good Princeton theologian, he was not only concerned with orthodoxy, but also with piety and, interestingly enough, poetry. His perceptive religious biography of Darwin traced the steady decline of the botanist's religious convictions--a story which he called the experience "of an essentially noble soul about which the shades of doubt are slowly gathering."(79) Tracing Darwin's journey from an Anglican divinity student wondering whether he could honestly claim the ecclesiastical calling of the Holy Spirit, to the young scientist beginning to doubt the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-3, Warfield called attention to Darwin's remark at the end of his life that "at about the age of thirty or thereabouts his higher aesthetic tastes began to show atrophy, so that he lost his love for poetry, art, music, and his mind more and more began to take upon it the character of a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts."(80) This stifling intellectualism, Warfield suggested, played a substantive role in Darwin's two-step religious decline: his abandonment of Christianity, and eventually his desertion of religion. As Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, he became increasingly convinced that a literal reading of Genesis must be false--and if Genesis is not true, then the whole of revelation becomes suspect.(81) Rather than become an atheist, Darwin initially developed a sort of natural religion, but his relentless insistence on a completely naturalistic account of the evolutionary process continually drove "god" into a more and more circumscribed realm, until he reached a pathetic agnosticism in the early 1870s. This process, Warfield asserts, "is not that of an ejectment of reverence and faith from the system..., or of an encysting of them..., but simply of an atrophy of them, as they dissolve painlessly away. In Mr. Darwin's case this atrophy was accompanied by a similar deadening of his higher emotional nature....He was a man dead at the top."(82)

But while admitting that Darwin jettisoned his religion because of his evolutionary theories, Warfield is by no means willing to admit that Darwin was justified in his conclusions. Pointing out the fact that Darwin's rejection of Christianity was fundamentally grounded in his dismissal of the believability, rather than the possibility, of miracles, he suggested that Darwin would only believe in the miraculous if he had received miraculous evidence.(83) But Warfield wondered why Darwin never saw that if he was unable to trust the metaphysical convictions of "a monkey's mind", he had also lost the grounds to trust the scientific conclusions, as well as the moral imperatives of such a mind.(84) Ultimately, the decay of Darwin's aesthetics and religion had the paradoxical result of blinding his rational faculties as well: "he was logical, if the evidence in favor of the extremely naturalistic form of the evolutionary hypothesis is more convincing than that for God and the Bible; but logical with a logic which strips the very logic on which we are depending for our conclusion of all its validity, and leaves us shiveringly naked of all belief and of all trustworthy faculty of thought."(85) Hence, Warfield suggested that Darwin's "absorption in a single line of investigation and inference had so atrophied his mind in other directions that he had ceased to be a trustworthy judge of evidence."(86)

VI. Conclusion

While Warfield remained open to those espousing evolutionary theory, he also remained supportive of those who decried evolution, such as Luther Townsend who while writing "with more or less looseness of thought and expression," nonetheless is applauded for his trust in the affirmations of the Word of God.(87) Warfield's openness to evolution, however, must always be qualified by his refusal to allow theory to take its place as fact. Until evolution could account for all the evidence, and demonstrate that it was the true interpretation of all the evidence, there was no need for the theologian to begin revising his doctrine of creation.

Such a position remains valid today. Genetics and Geology have provided all sorts of interesting connections and curiosities, but the mechanism of evolution remains a mystery to scientists and theologians alike. The evidence has not yet been satisfactorily explained. For this reason, Warfield's agnosticism on evolution continues to hold an attraction. Those theories which are blatantly contrary to scripture must be resolutely opposed, but those which in good faith attempt to account for the whole of both natural and scriptural revelation should be permitted and debated.


Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. "Calvin's Doctrine of the Creation," Princeton Theological

Review 13:2 (April 1915): 190-255. [reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield,

vol. 5. New York: Oxford, 1931.]

-----. "Charles Darwin's Religious Life: A Sketch in Spiritual Biography," Presbyterian

Review 9:4 (October 1888): 569-601. [reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B.

Warfield, vol. 9. New York: Oxford, 1932.]

-----. "Darwin's Arguments against Christianity and against Religion," Homiletic Review

(January 1889): 9-16. [reprinted in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield,

vol II. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973.]

-----. "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theological Review

9:1 (January 1911): 1-25. [reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 9.

New York: Oxford, 1932.]

-----. "Theology a Science," Bible Student (January 1900): 1-4. [reprinted in Selected

Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol II. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and

Reformed, 1973.]

Critical Reviews in Chronological Order:

-----. "The Religious Aspects of Evolution, by James McCosh." Presbyterian Review,

9:3 (July 1888): 510-511.

-----. "Modern Ideas of Evolution as Related to Revelation and Science, by J. William

Dawson." Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 2:1 (January 1891): 163.

-----. "Genesis I and Modern Science, by Charles B. Warring. Presbyterian and

Reformed Review, 3:4 (October 1892): 761-762.

-----. "Natural Theology, by G. G. Stokes." PRR, 6:2 (April 1895): 365-66.

-----. "Christianity and Evolution, by James Iverach. PRR, 6:2 (April 1895): 366.

-----. "'The Ascent of Man:' Its Note of Theology, by Principal Hutton. PRR, 6:2

(April 1895): 366-67.

-----. "Professor Drummond's 'Ascent of Man' and Principal Fairbairn's 'Place of Christ

in Modern Theology' Examined in the Light of Science and Revelation, by Robert

Watts." PRR, 6:2 (April 1895): 367.

-----. "Creation: God in Time and Space, by Randolph S. Foster." PRR, 7:4 (October

1896): 561-562.

-----. "The Religion of Science, by Paul Carus." PRR, 7:4 (October 1896): 562.

-----. "Evolution or Creation: A Critical the Scientific and Scriptural Theories of Creation

and Certain Related Subjects, by Luther Tracey Townsend." PRR 8:1 (January 1897):


-----. "The Descent of Primates, by A. A. W. Hubrecht." PRR 9:4 (October 1898): 780-782.

-----. "Evolutie, by Abraham Kuyper." PRR 12:2 (April 1901): 296.

-----. "Common Sense and Logic Applied to Darwinism and Teleology, by D. MacDill."

PRR 12:2 (April 1901): 296.

-----. "Evolution and Theology, and Other Essays, by Otto Pfleiderer." PRR 12:3 (July

1901): 506.

-----. "Shepping of Ontwikkeling, by Herman Bavinck." PRR 12:3 (July 1901): 507.

-----. "God's Image in Man, and its Defacement, in the Light of Modern Denials, by

James Orr. Princeton Theological Review 4:4 (October 1906): 555-558.

-----. "Darwinism Today. A discussion of present-day scientific criticism of the Darwinian

Selection Theories, together with a brief account of the principal and other proposed

auxiliary and alternative Theories of Species-forming, by Vernon L. Kellogg." PTR

6:4 (October 1908): 640-650.

-----. "No Struggle for Existence: No Natural Selection. A Critical Examination of the

Fundamental Principles of the Darwinian Theory, by George Paulin." PTR 6:4

(October 1908): 650-653.

-----. "Naturalism and Religion, by Rudolf Otto." PTR 7:1 (January 1909): 106-112.

-----. "The Natural Theology of Evolution, by J. N. Shearman." PTR 14:2 (April 1916):



-----. "Lectures on Anthropology," 1888, Archives, Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Bowler, Peter J. The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the

Decades around 1900. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1983.

-----. The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpreting a Historical Myth. Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins, 1988.

Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. Protestants in an Age of Science: The Baconian Ideal and

Antebellum American Religious Thought. Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1977.

Clark, Robert E. D. Darwin: Before and After; An Evangelical Assessment. Chicago:

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and Evolution from 1859-1929." Ph.D. diss, Iowa, 1968.

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First Fifty Years." Ph.D. diss., Toronto School of Theology, 1991.

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Smith, Gary Scott. "Calvinists and Evolution, 1870-1920." Journal of Presbyterian History.

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1915. Grand Rapids: Christian U. Press (Eerdmans), 1985.

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Ala.: U. Alabama Press, 1982.

Van Till, Howard J., et al. Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the

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Wells, Jonathan. Charles Hodge's Critique of Darwinism: An Historical-Critical Analysis of

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Naturalism. Stanford: Stanford U. Press, 1952.

1. 1e.g., Van Till, et al, Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990): 244-245.

2. "Review of Modern Ideas of Evolution as Related to Revelation and Science, by J. William Dawson." Presbyterian and Reformed Review (PRR) 2:1 (January 1891): 163; for an example of Warfield's deferring to scientists, cf. three reviews in PRR (April 1895): 365-367.

3. Warfield's analysis of developments in turn of the century science is confirmed by Peter J. Bowler in The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900. Johns Hopkins, 1983. Cf. George Marsden's claim that most evangelical scientists simply integrated modern scientific findings into their Baconian/Protestant position, "Understanding Fundamentalist Views of Science," in Science and Creationism, edited by Ashley Montagu. Oxford, 1984: 95-116.

4. Review of "The Religious Aspects of Evolution, by James McCosh." Presbyterian Review (hereafter PR) 9:3 (July 1888): 511.

5. ibid., 511

6. Bradley John Gundlach, "The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929." (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1995).

7. For a selective bibliography, see Gundlach.

8. ibid., 62-63

9. ibid., 102

10. ibid., 26

11. ibid., 30-31

12. The Religious Aspect of Evolution, 1888, x-xi, quoted in Gundlach, 110.

13. ibid., 115

14. ibid., 123

15. J. David Hoeveler, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition. Princeton, 1981: 276-77. Cf. David Livingstone, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), and other sources cited in Gundlach's chapter, "McCosh and Hodge."

16. quoted in Gundlach, 174

17. Gundlach, 172-175. In fairness to Livingstone, he has recently come to see the greater harmony between Hodge and McCosh, as noted by Mark Noll in his address at Princeton Theological Seminary, "The Relevance of the Princeton Theologians," October 13, 1995. Perhaps the worst reading is given by McCosh's biographer, J. David Hoeveler who claims that there was "often a bitter dispute" between McCosh and the Seminary on evolution, stating that Hodge refused "to accept the evidence of science." Cf. James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition, 274-75. Others who have misunderstood the positions of Hodge and McCosh include George Marsden, "Understanding Fundamentalist Views of Science," 102; Sidney Ratner, "Evolution and the Scientific Spirit in America," in Science and Creationism, edited by Ashley Montagu. Oxford, 1984: 408 (reprinted from Philosophy of Science 3 (1936): 104-122); Stow Persons, "Evolution and Theology in America," in Evolutionary Thought in America, edited by Stow Persons. Yale, 1950: 426-27. A more nuanced treatment (though still placing too much of a divide between Hodge and McCosh) may be found in Gary Scott Smith, The Seeds of Secularization: Calvinism, Culture and Pluralism in America, 1870-1915. Christian University Press, 1985. The reason for their confusion is that most of these scholars equate evolution with Darwinism--something we will see that Hodge never did.

18. Gundlach, 127

19. Hodge What is Darwinism? And Other Writings on Science and Religion. Edited by Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994): 156; cf. Gundlach, 138-142. Persons has agreed that Hodge's insistence that Darwinism was incompatible with design was essentially correct, "and after that time no one undertook seriously to reconcile natural selection with design" ("Evolution and Theology in America," 426). Clearly Persons has missed the point: Hodge did not object to natural selection, or even evolution--he merely rejected the anti-teleology of Darwinism.

20. "Lectures on Anthropology," 1888, Archives, Princeton Theological Seminary; cf. Gundlach, 144-148.

21. "Personal Recollections of Princeton Undergraduate Life," 650-653, quoted in Gundlach, 144.

22. "Anthropology Lectures"

23. Letter to Warfield, 19 November 1884 (PTS archives), quoted in Gundlach, 197-198.

24. Gundlach 199-201

25. "Theology a Science," Bible Student (January 1900): 1-4. Reprinted in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol II. Nutley, NJ: P&R, 1973: 208.

26. ibid., 211

27. ibid., 211

28. Gundlach, 64

29. "Review of Evolution and Theology, and Other Essays, by Otto Pfleiderer." PRR 12:3 (July 1901): 506.

30. "Review of Creation: God in Time and Space, by Randolph S. Foster." PRR, 7:4 (October 1896): 561-562.

31. "Review of God's Image in Man, and its Defacement, in the Light of Modern Denials, by James Orr. Princeton Theological Review (hereafter PTR) 4:4 (October 1906): 557.

32. ibid.

33. "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theological Review 9:1 (January 1911): 1-25. [reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 9. New York: Oxford, 1932.] p235.

34. "Anthroplogy lectures," 1888.

35. "On the Antiquity..." 251

36. "Review of Orr," (1906): 557

37. ibid.

38. "Review of Darwinism Today. A discussion of present-day scientific criticism of the Darwinian Selection Theories, together with a brief account of the principal and other proposed auxiliary and alternative Theories of Species-forming, by Vernon L. Kellogg." PTR 6:4 (October 1908): 642.

39. ibid., 643

40. ibid., 644.

41. "Review of No Struggle for Existence: No Natural Selection. A Critical Examination of the Fundamental Principles of the Darwinian Theory, by George Paulin." PTR 6:4 (October 1908): 651.

42. "Review of The Natural Theology of Evolution, by J. N. Shearman." PTR 14:2 (April 1916): 326.

43. quoted in "Review of Kellogg" (1908) 642

44. referred to in ibid., 645.

45. All quotes in previous paragraph in ibid.

46. ibid., 646.

47. "Review of Shearman," (1916) 326.

48. "Review of Kellogg," (1908) 646-647.

49. ibid., 648

50. "Review of Kellogg," (1908) 649

51. "Review of Paulin," quoting Paulin, p. xx (1908) 652.

52. "Review of Naturalism and Religion, by Rudolf Otto." PTR 7:1 (January 1909): 109.

53. ibid., 110

54. ibid.

55. "Review of Christianity and Evolution, by James Iverach. PRR, 6:2 (April 1895): 366.

56. ibid., 366

57. "Review of Shearman," (1916) 324.

58. ibid., 325

59. "Review of Genesis I and Modern Science, by Charles B. Warring. Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 3:4 (October 1892): 761.

60. ibid., 761-762.

61. "Calvin's Doctrine of the Creation," Princeton TheologicalReview 13:2 (April 1915): 190-255; reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 5. (New York: Oxford, 1931): 300.

62. David N. Livingstone, "B. B. Warfield, the Theory of Evolution and Early Fundamentalism," Evangelical Quarterly 58:1 (January 1986): 79.

63. "On the Antiquity..." 235.

64. William H. Green, "Primeval Chronology," Bibliothecra Sacra 47 (Ap 1890): 285-303.

65. "On the Antiquity, 237-238

66. ibid., 245

67. ibid., 245-250. Unfortunately for Warfield, his argument that the geologists and biologists had utilized too much speculation based upon their Darwinian presuppositions was overturned within a decade after his death, as it became clear that Kelvin's calculations were based upon a misconception. Further developments in genetics by Mendel in the 1930s also made some of Warfield's arguments obsolete within a decade after his death. Gundlach, 41.

68. ibid., 251

69. ibid., 258

70. "Calvin's Doctrine of the Creation," 299.

71. ibid., 299-300

72. ibid., 303

73. ibid., 304, 305

74. ibid., 305

75. ibid., 305

76. ibid., 307. Warfield quotes from Bavinck to support his thesis: "The idea of development is not a production of modern times. It was already familiar to Greek philosophy. More particularly Aristotle raised it to the rank of the leading principle of his entire system by his significant distinction between potentia and actus . . . . This idea of development aroused no objection whatever in Christian theology and philosophy. On the contrary, it received extension and enrichment by being linked with the principles of theism." (From, The Philosophy of Revelation, 1909, pp 9-10). Warfield concludes that it would only have been natural for Calvin to think "along the lines of a theistic evolution."--fn 45, p. 306]

77. John Murray, "Calvin's Doctrine of Creation," Westminster Theological Journal 17 (1954): 37.

78. ibid., 41, quoting Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of the Creation," 304.

79. "Charles Darwin's Religious Life: A Sketch in Spiritual Biography," Presbyterian Review 9:4 (October 1888): 569-601. Reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 9. (New York: Oxford, 1932): 542.

80. ibid., 548

81. "Darwin's Arguments against Christianity and against Religion," Homiletic Review (January 1889): 9-16. Reprinted in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol II. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973): 137.

82. "Charles Darwin's Religious Life," 577

83. "Darwin's Arguments," 136-137.

84. ibid., 139; cf. "Darwin's Religious Life," 569, 578.

85. ibid., 141

86. ibid., 141

87. "Review of Evolution or Creation: A Critical the Scientific and Scriptural Theories of Creation and Certain Related Subjects, by Luther Tracey Townsend." PRR 8:1 (January 1897): 157.