Evolution v. Creation Metaphor Watch: The First Big Salvo in the Metaphor War Comes From Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (1859)

Given that most people do not have advanced degrees in mathematics or the sciences, debates and discussions surrounding evolution and creationism appear in the public square in the form of competing metaphors, similes, and extended analogies.

In other words, we use metaphors, similes, and extended analogies to simplify and grasp issues that might be otherwise inaccessible to us.

Hence we can keep a look-out for, and notice, the ways in which our use of language, especially metaphorical language, frames and structures discussions of evolution and creationism.

Today’s metaphor comes from the opening of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), in which Darwin, before beginning his argument, quotes Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning:

To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.

Here Darwin positions his explorations in Nature as an innocent quest for discovery—for God has not written only one book, but two:

  • the Bible
  • and the book of Nature—or “God’s works”

The metaphor of Nature as a book to be read holds a number of implications. Here’s a few:

  • If you refuse to look into a particular book, you must be engaging in willful ignorance, much as the Catholic clergy who refused to look into Galileo’s telescope.
  • If you prevent others from looking into a book, you must be a censor.
  • If somebody reads a book out to you, and you don’t like what the book is saying, don’t blame the messenger (Darwin), blame the book.

And the metaphor of God as the author of TWO books, not just one, also has a number of implications, such as these:

  • The first book (the Bible) is not God’s final word on matters.
  • The two books, if they indeed are written by the same author, must be reconciled somehow.
  • There are two “priesthoods” that the masses should now attend to—those who can read out the words of the first book and interpret them accurately (clergy)—and those who can read out the words of the second book and interpret them accurately (scientists).
  • Darwin, as a discoverer and revealer of some of the secrets of God’s book of Nature, is in the same curious position as the writers of the New Testament. If the New Testament is indeed a new revelation from God, how does one reconcile it with the previous revelation (the Hebrew Bible or “Old Testament”)?
  • God’s canon of scripture or revelation to humanity is not closed—for the book of Nature must be read out thoroughly before His two books can be properly interpreted and understood. Since this is not likely to be accomplished by human beings anytime soon—if ever—there is an implication that a rigid and dogmatic belief-system based on a reading of only the first book (the Bible) constitutes a premature conclusion concerning God’s Truth. 

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Evolution v. Creation Metaphor Watch: The First Big Salvo in the Metaphor War Comes From Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (1859)

  1. Hatshof says:

    Gran trabajo .. Gracias

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