Why Rockefeller Financed Scientific Naturalism
The nineteenth century was a disaster for Christianity, although it began well enough. In the early 1800s the Second Great Awakening filled America with evangelical faith, leading Alexis de Tocqueville to conclude that a vibrant Christianity was an essential element of the new nation’s democracy. In Britain, such outstanding leaders as William Wilberforce and John Henry Newman provided a new direction for Anglicans and Catholics alike, thus laying the foundation for the moral renewal that characterized the reign of Victoria. Dedicated missionaries went forth to evangelize the world. It might have seemed that Enlightenment skepticism had been effectively answered.
Yet by the end of the century the fruit of that good start was withering away. A. N. Wilson’s account of Victorian apostasy in God’s Funeral gives one the sense of the air being let out of a great bag of gas, as the most perceptive intellectuals came to the conclusion, often reluctantly, that belief in the Christian God was no longer possible. This was an intellectual earthquake, in which the most important element was the cultural acceptance of Darwinism, even while Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection was in eclipse among scientists. For the most part, the Victorian intellectuals, including even agnostics like T. H. Huxley, were not in rebellion against Christian morality. Their rebellion was against the concept of a God who was not restrained by the laws of natural science. A similar apostasy occurred among intellectuals in America, so that by 1900 the universities had embarked upon the course they pursued throughout the twentieth century. The Christian premises of higher education were first downplayed and then repudiated altogether. By 1950 most elite professors were outright agnostics, and (with rare exceptions like C. S. Lewis) the others embraced a liberal or timid theology that was headed in the same direction.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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