Early Challengers to Creation Myths

During the early 1800s the long-held notions of humankind being a special creation began to be seriously questioned by the general public.  Openly questioned were such things as why there were so many different species of plants and animals, how had they originated, and why would God indulge in such extravagant diversity?   The public interest was as though such questions had never occurred to anyone before.  The theory of evolution was alien to the public, and the priestly explanation was that nature was an orderly and elegantly harmonious system that functioned under divine law.  Even naturalists of the time explained that all species were purposefully adapted to the places for which God had destined them—a weak variation of God’s ambassadors who had always claimed that everything was due to divine intervention.  But they neglected to explain why, if a species was “perfectly adapted,” had God found it necessary at times to intervene and cancel some species.

One of the great landmarks in mankind’s exploration of the living world was the discovery that all things—plant or animal—were composed of cells.  In 1838 Mathias Jacob Schleiden, a German botanist, described how all plants were composed of cells.  At nearly the same time a German anatomist, Theodor Schwann, found that cells were the basis of all animal tissue.  The truth of cell composition being the basis for all life was set firmly into place in 1864 by the French scientist Louis Pasteur.  His experiments demonstrated conclusively that every cell—even the smallest bacteria—is the product of other cells.  The secret of life was shown to be the creative power that is held in the infinitely tiny, self-replicating, self-sustaining biochemical energy of the cell. 

While scientists were discovering the cell to be the basic unit of all life, it was a naturalist who advanced the theoretical conclusion that the cell was the origin of all life as well.  That was Charles Robert Darwin who advanced the theory of evolution by natural selection in his book The Origin of Species in 1859.  Needless to say, there was much uproar, especially among the devout, for the theory was an apparent contradiction of the supernatural explanation offered in holy scripture.

The Aristotelian concept that nothing ever really changes was embedded so deeply in man’s taught religious view of life that the evolution theory was deemed blasphemous.  Nonetheless, such men as biologist\scholar Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and German scientist Ernest Haechel (1834-1919) were strong champions of organic evolution.  Biblical creationists found themselves disorganized and numbed into near silence as men such as these contributed their theories to textbooks which would inspire and instruct new scientists who would throw open the doors to remarkable discoveries in the twentieth century.

In the 1900s  new discoveries in astronomy stimulated people’s rethinking about the evolution of life.  The atmosphere of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, it was discovered, had no oxygen, but was composed of methane and ammonia.  This got astronomers, naturalists, philosophers and others to wondering if Earth had once been similar to those planets before the advent of life.

In the 1920s two independent researchers published papers on how organic compounds could have arisen out of such conditions.  One was a Russian biochemist, A. I. Oparin, and the other was J. B. S. Haldane, a British biologist.  Both had reached the same conclusion independently that organic compounds could have been created by vast amounts of energy generated by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation upon such an atmosphere. They pointed out that another active principle in activating life would have been the tremendous electrical storms that repeatedly charged the atmosphere over millions of years and the compound would become charged with self-replicating properties.  The supernatural explanations so long offered by religious myths began to crumble under provable demonstrations of cause and effect.

And yet even in the closing days of the twentieth century so rich in technological wonders the stubbornly “faithful” remained convinced that it was all due to Intelligent Design and some being saying “Let there be….”

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