Newton was a creationist only because there was no alternative?
29 July 2002
From Timothy … of the UK. In his letter, printed below, he tries to counter the point that the great founders of modern science were creationists — see Creationist Biographies. His letter is reprinted, with point-by-point responses by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, showing that there are a number of reasons why it’s legitimate for creationists to use this argument.
It does not seem to be an entirely legitimate strategy to claim scientists (such as Newton) as ‘creationists’ and therefore not ‘evolutionists’ when in many instances those cited would have been long dead before the rise of evolutionary theory. It is probably indisputable that such individuals would have believed in the literal truth of biblical creation, but there is obviously no way of knowing whether or not they would have rejected such beliefs in light of Darwinian theory.
It does not seem to be an entirely legitimate strategy to claim scientists (such as Newton) as ‘creationists’ …
Oh yes it is. Common canards of evolutionary zealots are that ‘you can’t be real scientist if you are not an evolutionist’ and that ‘science is impossible without evolution’. That there were people who were by definite choice creationists (not just by reason of their social milieu) and who were the founders of significant fields of science, gives the lie to these propaganda claims.
… and therefore not ‘evolutionists’ when in many instances those cited would have been long dead before the rise of evolutionary theory.
Not so — evolutionary ideas were not invented by Darwin. Some of the ancient philosophers before Christ — such as Anaximander (d. 546), Empedocles (d. 435), Democritus (d. 370), Epicurus (d. 270) and Lucretius (d. 55) — had evolutionary ideas that life arose spontaneously and that different life forms arose from one another. The ‘great chain of being’ idea pervaded English society well before Darwin came on the scene. In fact, Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, wrote about evolutionary notions of beginnings. See also Darwinism: it was all in the family: Erasmus Darwin’s famous grandson learned early about evolution.
There were plenty of atheists before Darwin and they had to have some naturalistic notion of beginnings (or try not to think about it, which many do today). Darwin just gave atheism greater intellectual respectability by providing what seemed to many at the time, ignorant as they were of the incredible inner workings of even the simplest bacterium, to be a coherent framework for biological naturalism (nature is all there is). Darwin was seen as countering William Paley’s watchmaker argument — that an intricately integrated watch must have an intelligent designer, so, by analogy, must living things, which are even more complex.
See also A Brief History of Design.
It is probably indisputable that such individuals would have believed in the literal truth of biblical creation, but there is obviously no way of knowing whether or not they would have rejected such beliefs in light of Darwinian theory.
Exactly, so we can only cite what they actually believed, and leave it up to the evolutionists to assert that they would have changed their minds had they known about Darwin. Counterfactuals are easily countered:
- Their science was motivated by their belief that the Universe was created by a God of order — see Creationist contributions to science.
- Many leading scientists who knew of Darwin’s ideas rejected Darwin, including Maxwell, Kelvin, Herschel, whereas much of his support came from compromising clergy such as Newman and Kingsley — see Holy War?.
Addendum, June 2006: Timothy contacted us to thank Dr Sarfati for the response to his letter and to say that he no longer agreed with the sentiments of his original letter. He was happy for his original letter and response to remain, without identifying him, as a teaching point for others who might need correcting.