What is Darwinism? Informative Summary


This 1874 text, “What is Darwinism?” by Charles Hodge, delves into the complex and controversial theory of evolution as proposed by Charles Darwin. Hodge, a prominent theologian, argues that Darwinism’s core principle lies in the denial of intelligent design in nature. He meticulously examines Darwin’s writings, the interpretations of his work by his supporters, and the critiques levied against it by prominent thinkers of the time. He systematically compares Darwin’s theory to other prevailing theories of the universe, such as Scriptural creationism, Pantheism, Epicureanism, and Herbert Spencer’s “new philosophy.”

Hodge emphasizes Darwin’s rejection of teleology, or the doctrine of final causes, arguing that Darwin believed the development of complex organs, like the human eye, was a result of random variations favored by natural selection, not the intentional design of a Creator. He cites various scientists, including Alfred Russel Wallace, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Ernst Haeckel, who confirm this interpretation, and he showcases the objections of thinkers such as the Duke of Argyll, Louis Agassiz, Paul Janet, and J.W. Dawson, all of whom emphasize the inherent improbability of Darwin’s theory and its implications for belief in a Creator.

Key findings:

  • Rejection of design: Darwin’s theory explicitly rejects the idea of intelligent design in nature, proposing that complex organs and organisms arose through a process of random variations and natural selection.
  • Emphasis on natural selection: Darwinism centers on the concept of natural selection, where variations that provide an advantage in the struggle for survival are preserved and passed on to offspring, leading to the gradual evolution of species.
  • Controversial implications: Darwin’s theory has profound implications for religious beliefs, particularly the concept of a personal God who intervenes in the world.


  • Evolutionary theory: The reader will gain an understanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution, its central principles, and the mechanisms he proposed for the origin and diversification of life.
  • Teleology: The reader will learn about the concept of teleology, the belief in final causes and intelligent design in nature, and its fundamental conflict with Darwin’s theory.
  • History of science: The reader will encounter the historical context of Darwin’s theory, including the competing theories and the intellectual debates surrounding its emergence.
  • Science and religion: The text examines the complex and often contentious relationship between science and religion, exploring the different ways that scientists and theologians have grappled with the implications of Darwin’s ideas.

Historical context:

The text was written in 1874, a period of great intellectual upheaval marked by the rise of scientific materialism and the challenge to traditional religious beliefs. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” had been published in 1859, and its implications were still being debated intensely. The text’s focus on the denial of design reflects the broader clash between scientific explanations of the natural world and religious interpretations of creation.


  • The universe is not eternal: The Bible teaches that the universe, including matter and form, was created by God, a personal, intelligent being.
  • God is a spirit: The Scriptures define God as a spirit, an entity distinct from matter, possessing self-consciousness, intelligence, and will.
  • God is omnipresent and active: God is not only present everywhere in essence but also in knowledge and power, actively controlling all physical causes to accomplish His purposes.
  • The Pantheistic theory denies God’s personality: Pantheism, which holds that everything is God, denies God’s distinct personality, intelligence, and volition.
  • Epicureanism relies on unintelligent physical laws: Epicurean theory assumes the existence of eternal matter and force and postulates that all phenomena, including life and intelligence, are products of unintelligent combinations of these forces.
  • Herbert Spencer posits an unknowable force: Herbert Spencer, a prominent philosopher of the time, rejects both Theism and Atheism, postulating an unknowable force as the cause of everything.
  • The Hylozoic theory attributes life and rationality to matter: Hylozoic theory believes that matter, though eternal, possesses both active and passive principles, including life and rationality.
  • Darwin’s theory assumes the efficiency of physical causes: Darwin, though a theist, assumes that physical causes operate without divine intervention in his theory of evolution.
  • Darwin’s theory relies on natural selection: Darwin’s theory of evolution centers on the concept of natural selection, where variations that provide an advantage in survival are preserved and passed on.
  • Darwin rejects teleology: Darwin denies the existence of intelligent design in nature, arguing that complex organs developed through a gradual accumulation of unintentional variations.
  • Darwin believed in the existence of a Creator: While rejecting the idea of divine design, Darwin still believed in the existence of a Creator.
  • Variation is accidental: Darwin saw variations in species as accidental, not directed by any intentional force.
  • Instincts are also subject to natural selection: Darwin applied his theory of natural selection not only to physical structures but also to instincts and intelligence.
  • Darwin believed man is descended from apes: In his later work, “The Descent of Man,” Darwin argued that the closest ancestor of humans is the ape.
  • Darwin believed man’s moral nature is evolved: Darwin believed that human morality evolved gradually from the social instincts of lower animals.
  • Natural selection is not guided by intelligence: The term “natural selection” is meant to exclude the idea of conscious, purposeful choice.
  • Darwin’s theory has been widely accepted by Materialists: Darwin’s denial of design in nature has made him a hero for Materialists, who believe everything is reducible to matter and its forces.
  • Darwinism is not the same as evolution: A person can believe in evolution without accepting the core tenets of Darwinism, particularly the denial of design.
  • Many scientists reject Darwinism: Prominent scientists, such as Richard Owen and Louis Agassiz, rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution, particularly its implications for the existence of a Creator.
  • Darwinism excludes the concept of miracles: Darwinism, through its rejection of design, implies that there is no possibility of supernatural intervention, thus excluding miracles.
  • The existence of hybrids is evidence against the mutability of species: Hybrids, which are offspring of different species, are infertile, providing evidence against the transmutation of species.
  • Darwinism is fundamentally incredible: Hodge argues that Darwin’s theory, which proposes the evolution of all living organisms from a single primordial germ through random variations, is inherently improbable.
  • Darwinism cannot be scientifically proven: Darwin himself admits that his theory is a hypothesis, not a proven scientific fact.
  • The popularity of Darwinism is due to its rejection of design: Hodge argues that Darwin’s theory gained popularity because it provided a seemingly scientific explanation for the complexity of life without invoking the need for a Creator.
  • The sudden appearance of new species is evidence against evolution: The lack of transitional forms in the geological record suggests that species appear suddenly, contradicting the gradual evolutionary process proposed by Darwin.
  • There is a gap between dead and living matter: The origin of life remains a mystery for scientists, as there is no known way to explain the transition from inanimate matter to living organisms.
  • Heredity is a teleological concept: Hodge argues that heredity, a fundamental principle of Darwin’s theory, is inherently teleological, implying a purpose in the transmission of characteristics from parents to offspring.
  • The existence of sex is evidence for design: Hodge argues that the concept of sex, with its intricate biological mechanisms, cannot be explained by Darwin’s theory of random variation.
  • The universe exhibits design: Hodge points to the interconnectedness of various forces in the universe, such as light, heat, and electricity, as evidence of a purposeful design.
  • The denial of design is tantamount to atheism: Hodge, echoing the sentiment of Asa Gray, argues that the rejection of intelligent design in nature logically leads to atheism.


  • 60,000,000 years: Darwin estimated that about sixty million years have elapsed since the Cambrian period.
  • 140,000,000 years: Darwin believed that one hundred and forty million years were insufficient for the development of diverse life forms present in the Cambrian period.
  • 430 species: Naturalists have identified over 430 species of hummingbirds, differing mainly in their plumage.
  • 98 species: Pictet, a naturalist, cataloged 98 species of mammals that inhabited Europe during the Post-glacial period. Of those, 57 still exist unchanged.
  • 200 species: Dawson studied over 200 species of Mollusks found in the Post-pliocene clays of Canada, finding them to be absolutely unchanged.


  • Teleology: The doctrine of final causes, or the belief that everything in nature has a specific purpose or design.
  • Evolution: The theory that all living organisms have descended from a common ancestor through a process of gradual change.
  • Natural selection: The process by which organisms with traits that provide an advantage in the struggle for survival are more likely to reproduce and pass on those traits.
  • Pantheism: The belief that everything in the universe is God, and that there is no distinction between God and the world.
  • Atheism: The belief that there is no God.
  • Materialism: The belief that everything is reducible to matter and its forces.
  • Hylozoism: The belief that matter is inherently alive and possesses a vital force.
  • Monism: The belief that there is only one fundamental substance or principle in the universe, often identified with matter.
  • Derivation: A theory that suggests all living organisms are descended from a common ancestor, similar to evolution.


  • The eye: Darwin used the eye as a key example in his argument against teleology, proposing that it evolved through a gradual accumulation of accidental variations.
  • The orchid: Darwin cited the complex mechanisms of orchid pollination to illustrate how intricate adaptations could arise without intentional design.
  • The cuckoo: Darwin acknowledged the difficulty of explaining the cuckoo’s parasitic breeding behavior within the framework of his theory.
  • The cell-building bee: Darwin struggled to explain the intricate and seemingly purposeful design of the bee’s honeycomb structure.
  • The slave-making ant: Darwin admitted that the behavior of slave-making ants presented a significant challenge to his theory of natural selection.
  • The wing of a bird: Hodge used the development of the bird’s wing as an example of an organ that would be cumbersome and useless until fully formed.
  • The poison of a snake: The Duke of Argyll used the snake’s poison as an example of an adaptation that seems to require a knowledge of the structure of another organism.
  • The hummingbird: The Duke of Argyll pointed to the diversity and beauty of hummingbirds as evidence that beauty itself is a purpose in nature, contradicting Darwin’s claim that beauty is only for attracting pollinators.
  • The horse’s foot: Paleontologists point to the horse’s foot, which has remained unchanged over millions of years, as evidence for the immutability of species.
  • The Engis skull: The Engis skull, a fossilized human skull from the earliest period of human existence, shows that humans were in a state of perfection from the beginning, contradicting Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution.


Hodge argues that Darwin’s theory, in its denial of design in nature, is virtually atheistic. He emphasizes the inherent improbability of Darwin’s ideas and highlights the numerous scientific and theological objections to his theory. He concludes that the debate between science and religion cannot be resolved until scientists come to recognize the importance of other sources of knowledge, such as consciousness, reason, and conscience, and treat religious perspectives with due respect.

Hodge’s text offers a fascinating glimpse into the intellectual landscape of the 19th century, where scientific advancements and religious beliefs clashed, prompting a reexamination of the origins of life and the role of intelligent design in the universe.

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