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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V


Vol.4: Evolution or Creation?

Part II



Chapter 1.  From Monotheism to Polytheism
Chapter 2.  Some Implications
Appendix   Additional Bibliography 


Publishing History:
1968: Doorway Paper No. 34, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1977: Part II in Evolution or Creaion?  vol.4, The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company.
1997:  Arthur Custance Online Library (HTML)
2001  2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)

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     ONE HUNDRED years ago, when Darwin published his book The Origin of Species, the climate of opinion was already tending towards the view that everything was in a state of improvement, that men were getting better and better, their ideals higher and higher their religious faith purer and purer, their productivity greater and greater. The corollary of this, though it was not always worked out at first, was that in reverse everything must have been worse and worse as one passed back into history and prehistory. Even those who believed that occasionally in the past and in some parts of the world -- notably where primitive people existed -- degeneration had also occurred, were still emotionally persuaded that by and large progress was automatic. The persuasive philosophy of evolution seemed to have been contagious and one by one each branch of historical research succumbed to the temptation to reconstitute its data in ascending scales, starting with the simple, crude, or naive and leading to the complex, refined, or sophisticated at the present. The history of art, technology, social organization, everything in fact -- including religious beliefs -- was assumed to fall into this pattern. There was a logical compulsion about it all. Indeed it appeared self-evident that it must be so.
Several theories about the origin of religious faith with an evolutionary slant preceded Darwin's classical work. Spencer wrote at some length on the subject, as did others, each setting forth what they supposed was "how it all began." It began with the worship of the dead, sometimes ancestors but not always, or it began with the feeling which early man was supposed to have that Nature was animated, that "things" had "wills" which one did well to reconcile oneself with, or it began simply because our earliest forebears lived lives which were so dangerous in circumstances so frightening and so constantly beset by unknowns that they cowered and trembled and   

     pg.2 of 4     

were almost immobilized with fear throughout the better part of their lives. In these circumstances what was assumed to be a certain superstitious bent in human nature "naturally" gave rise to feelings of awe and dread, which slowly evolved into structured religious beliefs. This sounds like a frightful exaggeration of what otherwise intelligent men claim to have happened, but it is not really so. For example, Lewis Browne wrote in all seriousness: (1)

     In the beginning there was fear; and fear was in the heart of man; and fear controlled man. At every turn it overwhelmed him, and left him no moment of ease. With the wild soughing of the wind it swept through him; with the crashing of thunder and the growling of the lurking beasts. All the days of man were gray with fear, because all his universe seemed charged with danger. . . . And he, poor gibbering half-ape, nursing his wound in some draughty cave, could only tremble in fear.

     Christian writers who believed that Scripture was a true record of man's early history viewed this tendency as a serious challenge, and with increasing frequency learned papers and scholarly books began to appear, in which precisely the opposite view was declared to be a far better interpretation of the available evidence. It was a time of great missionary expansion; and, it should not be forgotten, of expansion also in studies made by anthropologists of primitive people. Unexpectedly, the best informed of the latter began to find themselves in nearer agreement with the former, and the result was the publication of the writings of such a man as Andrew Lang. Lang greatly influenced a Roman Catholic writer, Wilhelm Schmidt, an anthropologist himself and founder of a justly famous journal Anthropos. The Transactions of the Victoria Institute in those earlier years were full of papers on the issue. A list of them will be found subsequently in this Paper. Between the years 1900 and 1935 the whole subject was dealt with in a scholarly fashion by men committed to the view that the evolutionary reconstructions of man's religious beliefs were fundamentally erroneous, and they produced such an impact that evolutionary philosophers virtually abandoned the whole line of argument. From the mid-thirties on, the issue has been almost a dead one, although many theological colleges of liberal persuasion conduct their courses in the history of religion as though nothing had ever been written of this nature.
Because evolutionists have dropped the subject, there has come to be comparative unconcern about the issue on the part of many well-informed Christian readers and one hears very little about it

1. Browne, Lewis, This Believing World: quoted by Samuel Zwemer in The Origin of Religion, Cokesbury, Nashville, Tennessee, 1935, p.53.

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these days. This might lead one to the view that evolutionary philosophy has not altogether been a curse, for wherever it has been rigorously pursued and dogmatically asserted, evangelicals have been forced to think seriously and write seriously on the matter. Challenge has been a good thing, because the circumstances surrounding this particular study show that as soon as the threat is withdrawn the Christian is apt to go to sleep.
However, it is worthwhile perhaps to reconsider the matter once more from a slightly different point of view. And therefore in Chapter 1 of this Paper I propose to set forth, briefly, the view that as far back as we can go by studying tradition, whether oral or written, and by analyzing the present beliefs or the recent beliefs of those who are still living comparatively primitive lives, a pure monotheistic faith seems to have preceded a superstitious, degraded, ineffective, and unreasonable system of beliefs later subscribed to. This is true of classical antiquity, not merely around the Mediterranean, but in India and in the Far East, and even -- if the term antiquity applies -- to the great civilizations of the New World. Then I propose in the second chapter to consider very briefly what I feel to be some of the implications of man's tendency towards spiritual degeneration to which history bears such a strong testimony. The first chapter is therefore intended as a kind of annotated bibliography, a resume of the evidence, a review paper with the appropriate documentation. Chapter 2 is more philosophical, an exploration of ideas rather than facts, of implications of events rather than the events themselves.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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