You Need a Root Canal, Mivart

Have you ever wanted to read Origin of Species but were put off by the mountains of bad english and tedious, badly-punctuated paragraphs that seem to go nowhere? Was your resolve to read Darwin weakened when you faced the fact that all his works were like this? Nevertheless, whatever be your scientific credentials, you will never be taken seriously by evolutionists unless you read every word Darwin wrote. Which they, mind you, have not done. Help is on the way! In 1884, Nathan Sheppard put together a decent compilation of material from Origin and Descent that will get you up to speed with less pain. It’s called Darwinism as Stated by Darwin Himself.

Right after the interesting preface by Sheppard, there are two pages of testimonials titled “DARWIN AND HIS THEORIES FROM A RELIGIOUS POINT OF VIEW.” These are quotations that are intended to suggest to you, the reader, that what follows is not designed to damage your faith, and that Darwin’s theories are not only compatible with Christianity, they are an expression of it. Doesn’t this alarm you? Doesn’t it make you immediately suspect the opposite? That this is a scam, and the rest of the book is in fact not compatible with Christianity and intended to damage your faith? Darwin himself is a good example. His faith in God diminished in proportion to the growth of his conviction in his theories about evolution, until nothing remained. Despite all those testimonials and disclaimers, the effect of Darwinism on Darwin’s own faith was thoroughly corrosive.

The first testimonial is by Canon Prothero. Speaking of Darwin, he says:

“Surely in such a man lived that true charity which is the very
essence of the true spirit of Christ.”

I’ve heard all sorts of absurd praise and accolades for Charles Darwin. There’s a website, for example, that suggests Darwin invented an early form of the internet. Huxley put Darwin on the same pedestal of wisdom next to Socrates. Wallace said of him “there are none to stand beside him as equals in the whole domain of science.” Is all this exaggeration necessary? As if that’s not painful or embarrassing enough, one biographer exclaimed in a fit of evolutionary passion that Darwin was “the finest englishman in all England,” while Sheppard adds, in his preface, that “science never had a champion whose temper and behavior were more nearly in accord with the practical injunctions of the Christian religion.” This is an odd thing to say about a man who didn’t believe in God or Christ, didn’t go to church, and thought that the Bible was rubbish.

Nevertheless — and I’m sure the astute thinker already foresaw this as inevitable — someone, Prothero in this case, compares Darwin literally to Christ. Darwin laid down his life for me and you, dear reader. Doesn’t all this make you feel somewhat ill? Here’s a remedy. Let’s put a testimonial consisting of a few words by Darwin himself, right up on that page next to Prothero…

“the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world…
was no more to be trusted than… the beliefs of any barbarian.”
“the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible
do miracles become… I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity
as a divine revelation.” “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought
to wish Christianity to be true” “Everything in nature is the result of
fixed laws.” “Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant
inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so
strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully
developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their
belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and
hatred of a snake.” “I do not believe… in Jesus Christ as the
Son of God.”

On the second page of testimonials we have a strikingly deceptive one which is worth discussing at length:

“Christian believers are found among the ranks of evolutionists
without apparent prejudice to their faith. Professor Mivart, the
zoologist; Professor Asa Gray, the botanist; Professor Le Conte
and Professor Winchell, the geologists, may be named as among
these. — The Presbyterian.

How strange to include Le Conte in this list. In his view, there were only three religions compatible with evolutionism: atheism, deism and pantheism. More of him in a future post.

Mivart’s name is brought up as a witness to the compatibility of evolution and Christianity. But. to inject some sudden reality into this rosy picture, let’s add a testimonial from Benn’s History of English Rationalism in the 19th Century, volume 2, pg 348-349:

Among the scientific professors [at Kensington University]
were Richard Proctor, the astronomer, and St. George Mivart,
the biologist. Both embraced the theory of evolution. Proctor
soon afterwards became an agnostic and a vehement assailant
of all Christian theology.

All right, so Proctor went off the deep end. What of Mivart? Mivart was a famous biologist and a member of the Royal Society. Sometimes he is portrayed as an enemy of evolutionism, and, at other times when it suits evolutionists, he is portrayed as one of the fold. Mivart was not a follower of Darwin. It seems that Mivart came to believe in evolution independently, and developed his own ideas of the mechanisms of evolution and published them in a book called The Genesis of Species. In his book Mivart sharply blasted Darwinian natural selection and Darwin’s theory of Pangenesis. His criticisms, as T.H. Morgan put it, “hit the mark.” Having no answer, Darwin turned to Huxley and kindly asked him if he may ruin Mivart in some way, by dragging him into a theological debate, or otherwise damage his reputation by making a public spectacle out of him. That way Darwin and Co. could dismiss Mivart’s objections as mere theology, unworthy of a response from a scientist.

The real crime against evolutionism that Mivart committed was not his critiques of natural selection or of pangenesis. It was this: Mivart believed that evolution and Christianity were compatible. He maintained and expounded this position in much of the latter part of Genesis of Species. How this compatibility was to be achieved, we shall soon see, but this is the issue that attracted Huxley’s rage in the form of flaming balls of rhetoric raining down on Mivart’s silly head. Did you think that an evolutionist would be happy to hear you say that evolution and religion (Catholicism in this case, since Mivart was Catholic) are compatible? Of course not. Huxley insisted that,

“In addition to the truth of the doctrine of evolution, indeed, one of its greatest merits in my eyes,
is the fact that it occupies a position of complete and irreconcilable antagonism to that vigorous and
consistent enemy of the highest intellectual, moral, and social life of mankind–the Catholic Church.”

Do you appreciate the mind-boggling irony of this? In Sheppard’s book, evolutionists used Mivart as an example of the happy coexistence of Christianity and evolution, while previously they were vilifying and dragging Mivart through the mud for saying that Christianity and evolution can coexist.

Anyway, Mivart was mocked, ridiculed and slandered in the newspapers by Huxley. His reputation was ruined. Things went downhill for him after that. I don’t think Darwin, or any Darwinist, has ever gotten around to answering Mivart’s objections to natural selection. It’s clear from reading Genesis of Species (1870) that Mivart was a rationalist and an apostate Christian. And it’s quite clear that evolutionism was the cause of this. For example pg 317,

We find then that no incompatibility is asserted (by any scientific writers worthy of mention)
between “evolution” and the co-operation of the Divine will; while the same “evolution” has
been shown to be thoroughly acceptable to the most orthodox theologians who repudiate
the intrusion of the supernatural into the domain of nature.
A more complete harmony
could scarcely be desired.

A principle of reasoning that appears throughout Mivart’s later writings is that only scientists are qualified to comment on scientific issues, and things like the Ressurection, or the Virgin Birth are not theological issues, but scientific ones. Therefore, we should rather believe what a scientist (like him) has to say about it than Gospelists, Church fathers, Popes, theologicans, saints, etc.

If I recall correctly, Genesis of Species was put on the Vatican Index. Mivart then wrote some very odd articles, eg, Happiness in Hell which attracted the attention of Church officials. In a series of letters, Cardinal Vaughan presented Mivart with an ultimatum: either sign a confession of orthodox Catholic faith, or be excommunicated. The fascinating exchange of letters between Cardinal Vaughan and Mivart are published right here in this fantastic book: Under the Ban: A Scientist’s Heresies Condemned by the Church. This little book is a gold-mine of insight into the religion of evolutionism, and where it leads. The Cardinal, more than an intellectual match for Mivart, is straightforward in his position, but observe Mivart’s weasly, squirming evasions. ‘That tooth is rotted away with heresy to the core, Mivart, come now, you need a root canal!’ ‘Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with ME, doctor, it’s the medical and dental profession that has a problem…’ At first he seems to be shocked that someone should ask him to sign a profession of faith. Who, me? But then, it becomes exceedingly clear, as their correspondence develops, that Mivart repudiates every core belief of Catholicism and Christianity in the widest sense. Here is a partial list of doctrines that Mivart abandoned or considered too absurd to believe: the Fall of man, Adam and Eve, the Virgin Birth, the Prophesy of Isaiah, the infallibility of the Scriptures, the authority of the Church, Hell, miracles, the Resurrection of Christ, the Redemption, and so on. He also believed that worshipping Zeus, Isis, Athena or Apollo is just as good as worshipping God. In fact one gets the impression, from reading his essay Continuity of Catholicism that Mivart didn’t believe in a personal God at all. Finally, his whole philosophic outlook, which has led him to apostacy, can be summarized neatly by the following quote from Under the Ban:

As to the old, worn-out saying, “There can be no discrepancy between science and religion,”
it is quite true if religion is always careful to change its teaching in obedience to science, but not otherwise.

Mivart never did sign the profession of faith. He was excommunicated.