During the year 2009, the eyes of the world will turn to remember the birth anniversaries of the two most influential men of the last millennium — the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. (It is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.)
No two men in the past thousand years did more to shape the thoughts of mankind or to affect the political and social destiny of nations than Calvin and Darwin — the former for the glory of God, and the latter for unimaginable evil.
The modern world knows much of Darwin, but it has largely forgotten and forsaken the message of Sola Scriptura bequeathed to us by Calvin and his fellow Reformers. Many lost their lives to bring the world the message that Scripture must be applied to every sphere of life, including the family, the church, and the state.
President John Adams was so impressed by this legacy and its impact on America that he warned: “Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect.” Reformation historian J.H. Merle d’Aubigne wrote that “Calvin was the founder of the greatest of republics. The Pilgrims who left their country in the reign of James I, and, landing on the barren shores of New England, founded populous and mighty colonies, are his sons; and that American nation which we have seen growing so rapidly boasts as its father the humble reformer.”
Even secular historians agree. Leopold von Ranke concluded that “John Calvin was virtually the founder of America,” and George Bancroft wrote, “He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows little of the origin of American liberty.”
Let it suffice that Darwin — and the widespread acceptance of his Theory of Evolution as it has been applied to philosophy, science, economics, theology, and virtually every primary academic discipline — has sadly done more to undo the work of Calvin and the Reformers than any other philosophical influence.
As to legacies: Where Calvin taught the inadequacies of the fallen mind of man, the supremacy of the law of God, and the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, Darwin’s Theory led to the supremacy of man’s reason, the rejection of Scripture, and to widespread distrust in the Bible as an accurate record of Earth history. The children of Calvin and the Reformers gave us the rise of nation states that embraced Republican representative government. The children of Darwin gave us Marxism and totalitarianism. Calvin’s legacy included respect for life, a defense of the biblical family, and the rule of law under God. Darwin’s philosophical progeny introduced the world to the horrors of eugenics and legalized widespread abortion on demand. Where Calvin insisted that law was transcendent, being created by God for the good of man, the followers of Darwin would insist that laws evolve and that transcendent standards of morality do not even exist. The reforms of Calvin resulted in Christendom blossoming. Darwin foreshadowed the darkness of modernity.
In sum, the battles facing the Church today reflect the tension between the antithetical worldviews of these two men. This is why for the quincentenary of Calvin’s birthday it is critical that we become familiar with those Reformers who shared his presuppositions and who inaugurated what many believe to be the most spiritually mature season in the modern history of the Church. Their cry was “Semper Reformanda” (always reforming), and this must be our cry today.
By Doug Phillips over at Vision Forum