MLK Jr., Science, Darwin & Intelligent Design

Greg Laden had a post last week, Wikipedia: Bad for ID, DI, that referenced a bit from a post by Casey Luskin that interested me.

Dr. King is one of my personal heroes.

I thought, wow this is great, if Casey Luskin uses the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a role model he’ll be leaving the Discovery Institute any day now. My Dad was an American Baptist minister, the same denomination as Dr. King. I was learning about American Baptist beliefs from my Dad in the 60’s so, I am very familiar with the general beliefs of this denomination at the end of Dr. Kings life. My experience and education in the religion was very pro-science including Darwin’s big ideas. All of the Ministers and the majority of church members that I knew were very pro-science.

However, one of the defining features of this denomination is that everyone must study and come to their own conclusions about everything. With this in mind I realized that it is possible that Dr. King was an anti-science creationist American Baptist minister. The best way for me to find out what Dr. King thought about science in general and Darwin’s ideas in particular was to study his writings. I started off with his autobiography and found a very typical statement for an American Baptist in the second chapter.

As stated above, my college training, especially the first two years, brought many doubts into my mind. It was then that the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body. More and more I could see a gap between what I had learned in Sunday school and what I was learning in college. My studies had made me skeptical, and I could not see how many of the facts of science could be squared with religion.

I know exactly how he feels, you study the bible with an open rational mind and it takes almost no time to realize that the bible contradicts nearly all scientific thought. Reading more of Dr. Kings writings I find confirmation that his thoughts are typical of the Ministers and church members I knew. Read the following pieces and see for yourself how Dr. King felt about the topic of religion and science. Note from the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project:

Transcriptions are intended to reproduce the source document accurately, adhering to the exact wording and punctuation of the original. In general, errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar have been neither corrected nor indicated by [sic].

Light on the Old Testament from the Ancient Near East 1948 [Note: I removed an inlined footnote for easier reading, see the linked original for the footnote text]

With the rise of the science of archaeology many valuable facts have emerged from behind the fog of obscurity into the light of understanding. For years the door of the ancient near east remained locked, and the average mind was content with it being locked; it was content in accepting legendary truth for historical truth. But beginning with the year of 1890 the pendulum of interpretation began swinging in another direction. A group of competent scholars came on the scene who were both curious and discontent. They were not willing to accept those things which appeared to be mythological and legendary as historical truths. They dared, in the face of a world of fundamentalists, to apply the scientific method to a study of the old testament. IT was these men who subpoenaed the old testament to appear before the judgement seat of reason.

How to Use the Bible in Modern Theological Construction 1949

In this paper written for Christian Theology for Today, King directly confronts a question many of his earlier papers had skirted: how does one reconcile the Bible with science? King finds a solution by following the example of biblical critics such as Millar Burrows and Harry Emerson Fosdick. He defines their approach: “It sees the Bible not as a textbook written with divine hands, but as a portrayal of the experiences of men written in particular historical situations,” so “that God reveals himself progressively through human history, and that the final significance of the Scripture lies in the outcome of the process.” Davis gave the paper an A-…

The question as to the use of the Bible in modern culture stands as a perplexing enigma troubling multitudes of minds. As modern man walks through the pages of this sacred book he is constantly hindered by numerous obstacles standing in his path. He comes to see that the science of the Bible is quite contrary to the science that he has learned in school. He is unable to find the sun standing still in his modern astronomy. His knowledge of biology will not permit him to conceive of saints long deceased arising from their graves. His knowledge of modern medicine causes him to look with disdain on the belief that epilepsy, deafness, blindness and insanity result from the visitation of demons. Yet he finds each of these unscientific views in the Bible.

the Sources of Fundamentalism and Liberalism 1949

Also notice the continual rise of the scientific spirit in modern culture. Ever since the days of the Renaissance men have continually subpoenaed ideas and theories to appear before the judgment seat of the scientific method. As Bacon would say, “they are taught to weigh and consider.” Modern man is forever standing before the store-house {of nature} with his inevitable interrogative, what? As the new scientific method began to develope many of its decoveries were found to be contradictory to the old ways of thinking which had been basic for religious belief. Newtonian science reduced Providence to the reign of the natural law; Copernicus eliminated man fron the center of the universe and posited a heliocentric theory of the universe. In his theory of organic evolution Dawin placed supernatural man within the natural order.

How Modern Christians Should think of Man 1950

The modern Christian should never lose faith in rationality as one of the supreme resources of man. It is the mind of man that distinguishes him from his animal ancestry. Through memory man is able to interpret the present and forcast the future in the light of the past. Moreover, man is able to think abstractly. He can delve into the eternal aspects of reality. By emperical science he can grasp many facts and and aspects of the concrete world. It is the rational element in human nature which serves as a check on false thinking, and without it we would have no way to be protected against false revelation.

“Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil” 1951

Moreover if t there were no order in the world reason could not develop in man, for man’s reason develops in response to the reason, or order, that is in the universe. Again without this order science could not be possible, for science is simply the discovery of order and its setting forth in terms of what we call natural laws.

These writings seem crystal clear to me, Dr. King thought the same as I and most American Baptists of the day. Science works, it’s important and, it’s not a religion. It is the best way to safeguard against irrational thought leading people to harmful beliefs. The next piece of Dr. Kings writing that I’m quoting deals directly with Charles Darwin.

Examination Answers, History of Recent Philosophy 1952

Metz statement that Darwin was no Darwinian is essentially true in the sense that Darwin never set out to establish any metaphysical or philosophical conclusions. He wrote as a biologist and not as a metaphysician. The one exception of a deviation from his biological interest was his attempt to delve into ethical theory. But certainly Darwin never set forth many of the philosophical theories that later became attached to his system. A case in point is Herbert Spencer. After Darwin published his Origin of the Species Herbert Spencer welcomed it and proceeded to apply its underlying theories to the whole of society. We find Haelkel attempting to define everything in terms of the Darwinian theory of evolution along with the law of substance. Many other examples could be cited. But these are adequate enough to show that many philosophical tenents developed from Darwins system that he never realized. So Metz is essentially right: “Darwin was no Darwinian.

There are mainly four reasons why Darwins evolutionary hypothesis raised such a furor.
(1) It seem to contradict the traditional view of the immutability of species.
(2) It contradicted those who accepted a literal account of the Bible.
(3) It seemed to take teleology from the universe. A first cause was also cast aside.
(4) It seemed to lessen man’s status.
So we can see the Darwin’s theory raised a deal of furor because it upset certan habits of mind. Of course most of the above accusation did not necessarily follow from the Darwinian hypothesis.

Again no big surprise to me, it should be clear to anyone who has seriously studied this subject that it was others who went seriously off the deep end, not Darwin. Creationists and ID proponents just never seem to get it, they keep pushing out misrepresentations and falsehoods trying to make poor old Charlie (he’s my Darwin) look bad. It sure seems to me that if Dr. King was alive today he’d be participating in Evolution Sunday and signing The Clergy Letter Project like over 10,000 other U.S. clergy.

While there is no way to know for certain, I feel that Dr. King would have opposed the attempts to bring religion into the science classroom. If anyone can point me to writings of Dr. King that contradict what I could find please let me know. To end this post I’ll quote two more pro-science pieces by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” Address Delivered on 25 April 1957 at the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relations in Nashville

There can be no gain saying of the fact America has brought the world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. As one studies the majestic sweep of American history, he cannot help but be astounded and fascinated by the tremendous progress that has been made in so many areas. The scientific and technological advances made by this Nation still astound and stagger the imagination. Through our technological genius, we have been able to construct skyscrapers in buildings with their prodigious towers steeping heavenward. Through our advances in medical science, we have been able to cure many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolong our lives and make for greater security and physical well-being. Through the scientific ingenuity of the Wright brothers, the airplane was invented. With this instrument, we have been able to drawf distance and place time in chains. Yes, we have been able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through nuclear energy, we are delving into the mysteries of the creation of matter. Not only have we made great progress in the area of technology and science, but we have made unprecedented strides in the area of economic growth. We have been able to build the greatest system of production that the world has ever known. Our material wealth astounds the world, and has catapulted our Nation into the greatest political power on earth. All of this is a dazzling picture of U.S.A. 1957.

But there is another side of our national life which is not so bright. In the midst of all of our scientific and technological advances, we still suffer the plague of racial conflict. We have not learned the simple art of loving our neighbors, and respecting the dignity and worth of all human personality. Through our scientific genius, we have made of the world, a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual geniuses, we have failed to make of our own Nation a brotherhood.

MLK Papers Project Sermons: “A Knock at Midnight” Published in Strength to Love in 1963

When confronted by midnight in the social order we have in the past turned to science for help. And little wonder! On so many occasions science has saved us. When we were in the midnight of physical limitation and material inconvenience, science lifted us to the bright morning of physical and material comfort. When we were in the midnight of crippling ignorance and superstition, science brought us to the daybreak of the free and open mind. When we were in the midnight of dread plagues and diseases, science, through surgery, sanitation, and the wonder drugs, ushered in the bright day of physical health, thereby prolonging our lives and making for greater security and physical well-being.

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