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Theorizing on the Grand Scale

In Origin, Darwin claimed that all species of plants and animals developed from earlier forms by hereditary transmission of “slight differences accumulated during many successive generations,” that is, “the idea of species in a state of nature being lineal descendants of other species” (Origin, 26). Darwin goes far beyond this, however, in arguing that “the small differences distinguishing varieties of the same species, will steadily tend to increase till they come to equal the greater differences between species of the same genus, or even of distinct genera…. On these principles, I believe, the nature of the affinities of all organic beings may be explained. It is a truly wonderful fact… that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other in group subordinate to group… the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth” (Origin, 108-10). Note that Darwin’s claims here involve quite a leap of faith!

It is generally agreed that some form of evolution, variation or micro-evolution, occurs within species or even to some extent within genera, or genuses. But Darwin’s theory runs into major difficulties when he claims that evolutionary change can produce different categories of living organisms from the same root, i.e., macro-evolution. To defend his claim that all life came about through a single, entirely natural line of descent (his “great Tree of Life”) requiring no intelligent or divine intervention, he set up a kind of “straw man” argument against his contemporaries who believed in a Creator, exaggerating their views on the immutability of species. He writes of, “He who believes that each being has been created as we now see it,” or of “He who believes in separate or innumerable acts of creation” (154-55), or even “if we look at each species as a special act of creation” (48), negative and scornful descriptions that do not begin to do justice to the views of those who opposed his theory.

The Bible states that God made all creatures according to their types or kinds, but variation within those types is in no way precluded. Note for a moment the fascinating wording that chapter one of Genesis uses in describing the origin of life: “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds‘” (Genesis 1:11). Later on we read, “And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth’… according to their kinds” (1:20-21) and again, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds” (1:24, italics added throughout). Nothing in the wording of Genesis 1 requires that “according to their kinds” equates kinds with what scientists call species. The Hebrew word for kind means “to portion out,” or to sort. We are hardly given every last detail of what happened but, though it is clear that the various types of creatures were distinctly created and “sorted out” from one another, this is not a description of “each species” being “a special act of creation,” or “that each being has been created as we now see it.”

In any case, it is not at all surprising that a loving Creator would build an amazing adaptability into the genome of each category of plant or animal He made, giving them an ability to survive over time under changing circumstances. Consider the words of Yale’s Benjamin Silliman, generally viewed as the father of American scientific education, and a brilliant man with a very different worldview than Darwin. In his Reminiscences he wrote, “I can truly declare, that in the study and exhibition of science… I have never forgotten to give all the honor and glory to the infinite creator, happy if I might be the honored interpreter of a portion of his works.” (Schiff, 80) If as Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29), one would expect a great deal of care to have gone into the making of each type of creature. The fossil record itself accords closely with this description of variation, demonstrating the adaptability of plants and animals within their various types, as in the varieties of horses that have existed over time.