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Intense discussions about how to interpret the scientific theory of evolution among different scientists and theologians began to emerge in the 1870s. The theory's opposition to two significant religious views was the main issue that sparked the discussion. First, the theory offered a non-biblical perspective on how different animal species were created, and second, it cast doubt on the presence of God. James McCosh and Charles Hodge, two Princeton theologians, had different views on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution during this era of scientific and technological progress. Charles Hodge, a professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary, formulated some very critical views of Darwin's theory. Hodge argued Darwin’s theory was a great opposition towards the religion. His answer to the question, “What is Darwinism” was that “It is Atheism”. It was Hedge’s believe that the theory of natural selection was a belief that was not in line with any design in nature. Hodge held his strong concern that “the failure to recognize design in nature was a complete denial of God and all that He had made”. His hard line was that Darwin’s theory had failed to recognize God’s role in the development of nature and thus could not be right. Hodge’s explanation on the relationship between evolution and religion served to give clear stand on the origin of the world as enshrined in the religious books. Through his definition of Darwinism as Atheism, Hodge presented a clear distinction between the two concepts of origin while at the same time laying a strong background on God’s role in the development of the universe. By ascertaining that the organization in the universe could not be a mistake, he brings out the presence of a supernatural being.

Some theologians and scientists, however, were not in line with Hodge’s thinking and strived to prove that Darwin’s evolutionary theory did not in any way go against the idea of a divine plan. In efforts of demonstrating the presence of design in the evolution theory, the theologians minimized the concept of natural selection. James McCosh being one of this theologians borrowed the idea of the neo-Lamarckian theory of inherited traits with the efforts to present evolution as an orderly and progressive process. McCosh suggested that the concept of development was God’s way of creation that He had opted for. James McCosh played a very important role in changing the people’s perception towards the concept of evolution. Through his skillful incorporation of the evolution theory to the religious belief, he was able to provide a wide perspective of the evolution theory through teaching it while still maintaining his theological background. His line of thought is thus important in studying the relationship that exists between the two key concepts that have always been a bone of contention.

Imposing an order on the different theological positions that were taken by various theologies can be a difficult task. This is evident in the diverse opinions that Hodge and McCosh held even with the fact that they belonged to the same religious denomination. Despite the fact that Charles Hodge had described the evolution theory as atheistic, James McCosh was able to reconcile the theory tactfully. In general, the concept of an atheistic evolution can be quite appealing and thus require adequate research in order to reach a sustainable conclusion between the interconnection present in creation and evolution.


Gundlach, Bradley J. 2013. Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Johnson, Marcus P. "The Word Became Flesh John Williamson Nevin, Charles Hodge, and The Antichrist." Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics and Devotion (2017): 58.

Shanahan, Timothy. "Review of Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology." (2014).

Taylor, John V. The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015.

Morris, Matthew. "We Know in Part: James McCosh on Evolution and Christian Faith." Journal of the History of Biology 47, no. 3 (2014): 363-410.

Zimmer, Carl, and Douglas J. Emlen. Evolution: making sense of life. Macmillan Higher Education, 2017.

July 07, 2023

Science Religion


World War II Scientist

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Expertise Charles Darwin
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