Without question, Darwinian science had a tremendous influence on religious development in the United States and across Europe. The complex relationship between science and religion is difficult to frame as the social and cultural influences peculiar to various regions generated a variety of responses across the globe and among different religious traditions. Following is just a few basic observations of Darwin’s impact in the United States and Europe.

First, in the United States, the devastating impact of the civil war and social upheaval accompanying urbanization seemed to break the promise of Darwinian evolution for a greater society. The intellectualism and dry faith of Enlightenment religion opened doors for the spiritual revivalism and experientialism of the late 19th century vivified the growth of Pentecostalism.[1]  Second, the ideal of “survival of the fittest” advanced by Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin was used by some capitalists “to justify the notion that wealth is a sign of worth.”[2] Combined with the unique influence of Puritan theology, these concepts laid the foundation for the prosperity gospel latent in much of popular Protestant-Evangelical religion. Third, racists in the United States and Europe construed the polygenism of human origins as the source of distinct species, combined it with a unique hermeneutic for the genealogies of Genesis, and found a scientific-religious justification for discrimination against non-white races.

Second, in Europe, Darwin’s new teleology was combined with socialist-materialism in the theology of men like Charles Kingsley who saw in it the scientific justification for the religious impetus to demand social improvement through social engineering.[3] In the Americas, this would seem to be the precursor to the Social Gospel / Social Justice movement. Across Europe in places like Italy, Germany, and France, Roman Catholicism had been reduced to a political movement devoid of transcendent spiritual power. It is there that the Darwinian worldview provided an opportunity for secularists to propose a rational science capable of striking a death blow to the impotent political-religion which could not compete with the newly revealed power of nature’s glory.[4] In the 20th century, Darwin’s evolutionary concepts were foundational for the rise of Marxism, Communism, Nazism (National-Socialism) and the Eugenics movement.

In summary, secularists like Feuerbach and religionists like Charles Hodge in both Europe and in the US agreed that science and traditional Christianity could not be reconciled. This unfortunate area of agreement fostered the warfare model of science and religion that took root in the 19th century and blossomed in the 20th. This agreement helped marginalize Christianity in popular writing and academia today.

[1] J.R. Miller, Promise of the Father: Healing the Christian Legacy of Segregation and Denominationalism, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Puyallup, WA: Emerging Life Resources, 2008), 43-44.

[2] John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Canto classics edition. ed., Canto classics (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 397.

[3] Ibid., 399.

[4] Ibid., 404.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Related Post

Pin It on Pinterest