Here is that same passage as it appears in the final version: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
Although the first version conveys the idea of human beings as created equal and deriving rights from that equal creation, the addition of "by their Creator" in the final version makes it clearer that the agent of creation is the divine Creator.
Here is the last sentence in the first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species published in 1859: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
In the second edition of this book, Darwin added the phrase "by the Creator" after the word "breathed." Darwin's language here about creation through "breathing" echoes the language of the King James translation of Genesis 2:7--"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." As in the revision of the Declaration, Darwin's addition of "the Creator" makes the implication clear that there's a divine agent at work in the origin of life.
In the Biblical story of Creation, there seems to be something special about God's creation of human beings, and that human specialness is emphasized by the Bible's declaration that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27). There is also a suggestion of human specialness in the Declaration's claim that human beings are endowed by their Creator with rights.
In Darwin's text, however, the powers of life were originally breathed by the Creator "into a few forms or into one," implying that human beings were not specially created but rather evolved from lower forms of life. And, in fact, Darwin explicitly rejects the "theory of special creation"--the theory that the Creator had to miraculously create each species of life separately--in affirming "the theory of natural selection"--Darwin's theory that all living species of life have naturally evolved over millions of years from one or a few primordial forms of life.
The exact dating of creation is not clear either in the Bible or in the Declaration. "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). But Genesis does not give us a date for "the beginning." God's acts of creation are said to be spread out over six days, and yet it's not clear whether these are meant to be literal 24-hour days. In the seventeenth century, Bishop James Ussher tried to calculate the chronology of Biblical history, and he estimated that the "beginning" of creation was 4,004 years before the birth of Christ; so that the whole world was no older than 6,000 years. But the Bible does not clearly state this. And the Declaration takes no position on this dating.
Although it was impossible for Darwin to date the history of life precisely, he saw that the natural evolution of all forms of life would require at least hundreds of millions of years. One of the achievements of geology in the first half of the nineteenth century was reaching a general agreement that the Earth was surely much older than 6,000 years. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the twentieth centuries, there were some "young-Earth creationists" who defended Ussher's dating, although the "old-Earth creationists" were willing to concede that the geological evidence was against Ussher, and that the "days" of creation in Genesis should be interpreted as "ages" much longer than 24 hours. William Jennings Bryan, for example, was an old-Earth creationist.
So is the Darwinian science of human evolution compatible with what the Declaration says about the creation of human beings by the Creator? Well, it depends on what one means by "creation" and "the Creator." As I have already indicated, there are different kinds of creationism, and while some kinds clearly contradict Darwin's science, some do not--as suggested by Darwin himself in his reference to "the Creator." A Creator whose creative activity is always against the laws of nature denies Darwin's science. But a Creator whose creative activity works through the laws of nature--who acts as Nature's God--is compatible with Darwin's science.
There are five kinds of creationism--young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, intelligent-design creationism, evolutionary creationism, and Spinozistic creationism. Spinozistic creationism is completely compatible with Darwinian science, and evolutionary creationism is largely so. (I have written about the different kinds of creationism here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Most scientific creationists today concede that Darwin refuted the "theory of special creation"--the idea that the Creator had to miraculously create every plant and animal species separately. The Bible speaks of God as creating the "kinds" of life, but these "kinds" are not necessarily all the "species" of life. Some creation scientists claim that "created kinds" correspond not to "species" but to groups of plants or animals at a taxonomic level higher than species, perhaps at or near the taxonomic rank of family. So, for example, Todd Wood concedes that Peter and Rosemary Grant have presented convincing evidence for the evolution of diverse species of "Darwin's finches" on the Galapagos Islands as adaptations to the environment of the Galapagos. But still, Wood argues, all of these species of finches belong to a single "kind" created by God.
Wood also concedes that the human species might have evolved from ancestral primate species, so that human beings and apes might belong to some "kind" that was originally created by God with the genetic potential for evolving into all of the primate species.
Unlike the young-Earth creationists (like Wood), the old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross) concede that the universe is billions of years old, and so Ussher's dating of 6,000 years is false. But over those billions of years of cosmic history, Ross argues, God had to miraculously intervene at critical points for supernatural creative activity that cannot be reduced to natural evolution.
The evolutionary creationists (or theistic evolutionists) like Francis Collins and Deborah Haarsma believe that God could have acted as First Cause in originally creating the general laws of nature, but then He could have allowed natural evolutionary history to unfold just as evolutionary scientists have explained it, without any need for God to miraculously disrupt the natural order of things.
This is the idea of the metaphysics of dual causality that Darwin introduces in the Origin of Species: God's establishment of general laws constitutes the primary causes of the universe, while the natural scientist studies the secondary causes that govern the observable world. (I have written about this here, here, and here.)
The signers of the Declaration of Independence were familiar with a similar conception of dual causality in Isaac Newton's version of deistic religion. The universe is a "machine" governed by the mathematical laws of nature. But God is the "Maker" of the machine.
This Newtonian conception of the "clockmaker God" creates a dilemma, however, for anyone who wants to see God as a transcendent being beyond the immanent order of nature. As Gottfried Leibniz pointed out in his debate with Samuel Clark, either God must intervene regularly to rewind or repair the clock, which shows that God is an incompetent clockmaker; or the clock works fine all by itself, and God the clockmaker is indistinguishable from God the clock. If it's the latter, then Newton's God is Spinoza's God, who is the same as Nature.
In one of the most influential statements of Lockean political philosophy in the eighteenth century--Cato's Letters--John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon resolved this debate in favor of Spinoza. In their essay on how to dispel "superstitious fears" by recognizing that what appear to be miraculous events are probably works of natural causes, they argue:
"The works of Almighty God are as infinite as is his power to do them. And 'tis paying greater deference to him, and having higher conceptions of his omnipotence, to suppose that he saw all things which have been, are, or ever shall be, at one view, and formed the whole system of nature with such exquisite contrivance and infinite wisdom, as by its own energy and intrinsick power, to promote all the effects and operations which we daily see, feel, and admire; than to believe him to be often interposing to alter and amend his own work, which was undoubtedly perfect at first" (no. 77, Liberty Fund edition, 2:565).This same Spinozistic idea of identifying God and Nature was adopted by Darwin. After reading one of the first copies of The Origin of Species, Charles Kingsley--a prominent clergyman of the Church of England and a friend of Darwin--wrote a letter to Darwin, which included this remark:
"I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."Darwin wrote to John Murray, his publisher, that Kingsley's "capital sentence" should be inserted into the second edition of Origin, "in answer to anyone who may, as many will, say that my Book is irreligious." This sentence was introduced into the concluding section of Origin as showing that there is "no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one" (Origin of Species, Modern Library/Random House, 1936, pp. 367-68).
But can the creation of human beings "in the image of God" arise by purely natural evolution without any miraculous intervention by God? Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis--and Catholics generally--have embraced theistic evolution in conceding that Darwin's theory of evolution has been verified. But they have also declared that the creation of the human soul requires an "ontological leap" through a miraculous divine act that transcends natural evolution. (I have written about that here.)
Darwin suggests, however, that even the creation of the soul might be explained by natural evolution. Here is the last sentence of The Descent of Man:
"I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."Darwin's reference to the "god-like intellect" of human beings suggests that there might be some truth in the biblical idea that human beings bear the image of God. But still, Darwin argues, all of the "noble qualities" of humanity can be explained as products of a natural evolution from lower animals.
To support this conclusion, Darwin offered evidence of the anatomical, behavioral, and mental similarities between human beings and other animals. But he also saw that human beings were unique in their capacities for language, self-conscious reflection, and the moral sense. Now, recent research in evolutionary neuroscience allows us to explain the emergent evolution of the mind in the brain, which includes the human mind's capacity for moral judgment, which allows us to recognize our natural rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Jefferson foresaw this, because he studied some of the earliest neurological experiments showing how mental activity was correlated with the stimulation of the brain, which Jefferson took as evidence of how mind arises naturally from the material brain. This came up in his correspondence with John Adams: "Why may not the mode of action called thought, have been given to a material organ of peculiar structure? as that of magnetism is to the Needle, or of elasticity to the spring by a particular manipulation of the steel?" (letter to Adams, March 14, 1820). (I have written about this here.)
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