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Charles Hodge’s Critique of Darwinism

In a 1996 book review, Jonathan Wells explains that Charles Hodge’s critique of Darwinism was made on exclusively philosophical and theological grounds:

A modern reader might be surprised to learn that Hodge was not a biblical fundamentalist who defended a literal interpretation of Genesis. Although he was a biblical theologian, he accepted scientific evidence and interpreted the “days” of Genesis as geological ages, so biblical chronology played virtually no role in his critique of Darwinism. Like many of his contemporaries, he faulted Darwin’s theory on scientific and philosophical grounds; it wasn’t warranted by the available evidence, and it made implausible assumptions. But his principal objections were theological. First, although Darwin acknowledged that God may have originally breathed life “into a few forms or into one,” he attributed their subsequent evolution to autonomous natural forces instead of to God’s superintending providence. Hodge objected that Darwinism, in this respect, was a form of deism (the view that God created the world but then turned it loose to run by itself).

Second, Darwinism excludes design from nature. According to “Mr. Darwin’s theory,” what appears to be design in living things is actually the result of “blind, unintelligent physical causes.” A theory of evolution could be deistic and yet be compatible with design in nature, but Darwinian evolution is inherently random and cannot produce designed results. Human beings, instead of being the crowning achievement of God’s purpose for creation, are for Darwin an unintended by-product of forces which had no particular goal. Hodge considered this exclusion of design “tantamount to atheism.”

Many readers today take this observation as a license to disregard Hodge’s views, since they are not expressly exegetical or “biblical.” We, however, think there is much good and accurate about Hodge’s philosophy here, and we would argue that this philosophy, or something very much like it, is what was held by the Biblical writers themselves.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.