There are many areas where we can appreciate Kuyper’s criticism of culture. One of those areas is his interaction between science and theology, and more specific, science with biblical revelation. Kuyper debated evolution in his 1899 rectoral oration at the Free University of Amsterdam. He criticized a series of features of Darwin’s theory of evolution. These objections include the theory’s features of naturalism, its mechanistic understanding of the world, its atheistic worldview, and its a-teleological characteristic. Without any doubt, the theory of evolution has been one of the most controversial topics for modern Christians. Kuyper’s article ‘evolution’ not only shows the way Kuyper deals with the topic but also highlights his engagement with topics like these without compromising his high view of Scripture. And it is in this respect that Kuyper’s methodology in discussing evolution has relevance for modern readers. Although some of his points he presents such as the validity of vitalism are outdated and discarded by science many years ago, his methodology used remains relevant.
Kuyper’s assessment of the compatibility between biblical revelation and the theory of evolution can be summarized in a few sentences: “The Christian religion and the theory of evolution are two mutually exclusive systems…” (A Centennial Reader, p. 406) As an example, he claims that the doctrine of the Trinity and evolution are incompatible. From Kuyper’s words, one observes that Kuyper understands evolution as a second-class theory or a flawed dogma. Such a position will be reflected in his whole discourse. In this respect, he writes,
Evolution is a newly conceived system, a newly established theory, a newly formed dogma, a newly emerged faith, which, embracing and dominating all of life, is diametrically opposed to the Christian faith. (A Centennial Reader, p. 40)
It is clear that Kuyper rejects evolution as Darwin’s theory understood it. The immediate question which arises is whether Kuyper would appropriate some elements of such a theory. In other words, does he reject evolution totally or partially?
There are many layers to discuss here that are outside the scope of this reflection. However, one notes Kuyper seems to reject not evolution as a possible theory to explain the origin of species, but the interpretation that Darwin offers. This point has relevance to Christianity. Kuyper believes there are two opposing worldviews. Perhaps with another worldview, the theory of evolution might be compatible with Scripture. This point can be seen when Kuyper calls evolution a ‘dogma’. He basically downgrades the status of the theory of evolution to a simple group of beliefs without a solid foundation. Once he has done this, he proceeds to highlight a series of reasons why evolution is problematic. I mentioned some of these reasons in the first paragraph.
Something interesting to note is how Kuyper also rejects evolution because of the moral implications of adopting this theory (Cf. A Centennial Reader, p. 439). For him, Darwinism would never produce ethical developments, but a random series of adaptations and changes. In other words, under the theory of evolution, it seems there is no room for a solid ethic or even for a humane secular based ethic, where Christian principles can be further developed. With this argument, Kuyper destroys the possibility of accepting evolution uncritically and without any making changes while having a high view of biblical revelation.
If we want to rescue the theory of evolution, at least partially, Kuyper considers we should look for a new worldview that can explain an evolutionary creation. Such worldview would not contradict Scripture and would satisfy scientific rigor. This is so because the creation, for Kuyper, does develop, but not according to a lawless or random system, but according to divine providence. God is in control even of those small changes of the species.
Overall, the importance of Kuyper in his discussion of evolution is the methodology he uses. He analyzes the theory of evolution, offers a series of objections, but does not reject it openly without further consideration. He instead engages with it from different points of views. Later he tries to replace the incompatible part of evolution with possible solutions to the dilemma that would not be in conflict with the truths of biblical revelation.
Notes & References
All references are taken from Abraham Kuyper, “Evolution 1899” A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 403-440.