Ernst Mayr, once called “the world’s greatest living evolutionary biologist,” has lost little of his fire. A revealing interview with The Scientist, simply titled “Ernst Mayr, Darwin’s Disciple,” shows how spry he continues to be at age 99.1 His comments are instructive for Christians concerned about the battle for biblical authority.
Darwin, the most influential modern man
Mayr, a brilliant scientist who can read eight languages and has received numerous awards for his work, considers Darwin his “hero.” He told the interviewer why he esteems Darwin so highly: “He had the greatest impact on the thinking of modern man.”
Mayr is close to the mark. During an earlier speech at Stockholm, upon receiving the prestigious Crafoord Prize, Mayr put Darwin’s influence in perspective:
“Great minds shape the thinking of successive historical periods. Luther and Calvin inspired the Reformation; Locke, Leibniz, Voltaire and Rousseau, the Enlightenment. Modern thought is most dependent on the influence of Charles Darwin.”2
Atheists are religious, too
And how has Darwin shaped modern thought? Though The Scientist does not mention it, Mayr is an atheist. During the interview, Mayr admits something that his fellow atheistic biologists are not usually so candid about:
“All of the atheists I know are highly religious; it just doesn’t mean believing in the Bible or God. Religion is the basic belief system of the person. Mankind wants the answers to all unanswerable questions.”
In Mayr’s view, Darwin has supplied atheists with an alternative worldview that allows them to answer the great questions of life. As he wrote in his recent book, What Evolution Is (Basic Books, New York, 2001), Mayr has found an alternative to the worldview based on Genesis: “We still treasure these [creation] stories as part of our cultural heritage, but we turn to science when we want to learn the real truth about the history of the world” (p. 5).
In his interview, Mayr’s words betray his zealotry against God. He lets slip how much he loathes Christians who build their understanding of world history on God’s Word. Asked whether “science” today is still affected by “nonscientific beliefs,” he snipped, “Eighty percent of the South still rejects evolution.”
In other words, Mayr thinks the Bible Belt in the southern United States—where Darwin is still unpopular—is the last great holdout of anti-science ignoramuses. Like Darwin, Mayr is on a mission against God’s Word and Christians who dare to believe it.
Mistakes are common, but evolution never in doubt
There’s a lesson here, for Christians.
The debate is clearly not about a dispassionate evaluation of the facts. Atheists—and everyone else who advocates a history that stretches for millions of years—are committed to a view of history that is contrary to the Bible. Their zeal has a religious component, even fervor.
There’s another lesson for Christians. Those who hold this preconceived bias won’t admit that they’re driven by philosophical assumptions. Sure, they recognize that Christians start with assumptions: God is true and His written record (including a recent creation and worldwide Flood) is perfect. But they won’t admit their own assumptions: God does not exist and everything we see today occurred by natural processes over millions of years. (For a discussion of religious/philosophical bias among men like Mayr, see Dare to Question the Materialist High Priests.)
No new “facts” will convince the confirmed believer in this false history.
Mayr admits that he’s made lots of mistakes over the years and his work is filled with speculation. Asked, “Were you ever wrong?” he answers, “On many things. A good scientist goes beyond the data he has. … In 1950, I published a paper on the evolution of man. On some things, I was not right, but … you can propose these ideas and stimulate thinking.”
What’s the solution?
The life of Ernst Mayr should give Christians pause about their strategy for reaching the culture and converting the lost. Here is a brilliant scientist and a keen intellect, who has kept up with the latest scientific research for the past eight decades, but in all that time he has not wavered in his zeal for evolution.
The problem is not his ignorance of the facts. This is a spiritual battle.
While it is vitally important that Christians answer the attacks on God’s Word and show how science is consistent with the Bible (1 Peter 3:15), we also must expose the foundational problem: man’s corrupt heart. Like Paul’s generation, modern man can see God’s eternal power and godhead in His creation, but they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21; see Creation: “Where’s the Proof?”). Sinful man willfully refuses to be accountable to His Creator.
If you believe in God’s Word, beginning with the very first verse, you have an exciting challenge before you. The challenge is both more difficult and simpler than you might imagine. More difficult, because it is impossible for “the natural man” to receive spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). Simpler, because it is a spiritual battle, and the Lord is greater than our spiritual enemy, the devil (1 John 4:4).
It’s our job to give out the truth, to be armed and equipped so that we can “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15), gently and respectfully. But it is the Lord who changes hearts as we follow that command, using the best available materials and arguments (2 Cor. 10:5).