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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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VAN DER WALT, B.J.. Toward a Christian-philosophical analysis of evolution and evolutionism: The contribution of a consistent problem-historical method. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-2, pp.1091-1112. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article intends to gain more clarity about the philosophical presuppositions underlying evolutionary theories and evolutionism as a worldview. In the light of the wide confusion and disagreement among Christians and Christian scholars it may be helpful toward a better understanding of these burning issues. From about the middle of the previous century the evolutionary theory and evolutionistic worldview were hotly debated topics in the Netherlands as well as in South Africa. In 1963 the Christian philosopher, Dirk H. Th. Vollenhoven (1892-1978), delivered three guest lectures on this topic in South Africa, which have not yet been published in either English or Afrikaans. In spite of the fact that these three lectures could not cover the developments during the last fifty years, they are still relevant for the continuing debate today. Vollenhoven's special contribution was that he uncovered the basic ontological and anthropological presuppositions underlying evolution and evolutionism. To enable a better understanding of Vollenhoven's analyses, the first section of this essay provides a brief overview of his approach - which is often complicatedfor non-philosophers - especially how his thetic-critical method is applied in his consistent problem-historical method of historiography. For the present issue the following four distinctions are important: (1) His division of Western intellectual thinking into four main periods, viz. pre-synthetic ancient philosophy, synthetic patristic and medieval thinking, post- or anti-synthetic Christian and anti-synthetic secular philosophy. (2) Vollenhoven's division of the history ofphilosophy according to different successive normative currents. Among these, positivistic rationalism is of special importance to understand the emergence of evolutionism. (3) His distinction according to his doctrine of modalities between the four kingdoms of matter, plants, animals and humans.(4) The difference between mythologising, purely cosmological (or structural) and cosmogono cosmological (or genetic) thinking, of which only the first and the last can accommodate evolution and evolutionism. The second section is devoted to Vollenhoven's first lecture, dealing with the basic philosophical starting points required by evolutionism. Apartfrom acknowledging change or evolving in reality, they are the following four: (1) A belief in progress; (2) positivism (a sub-current of late rationalism); (3) a monistic ontology, and (4) a supposed continuity between at least two of the four kingdoms. In his second lecture Vollenhoven indicates how various types of evolutionism developed from different ontological and anthropological presuppositions, especially in the case of monistic thinkers. These scholars accepted a basic unity as origin of reality which divides into a higher and a lower section. Consequently they had to explain the relationship between the higher and lower divergence, resulting in the following theories, each giving birth to a different kind of evolutionary theory: (1) a priority theory (instrumentalism and vitalism); (2) an interaction theory (with zoological and phytological sub-types); (3) parallelism (with unrestricted and restricted sub-types). Representatives of each of these viewpoints are mentioned. In the case of the zoological interaction theory among mythologising, monistic thinkers, special attention is given to the philosophical background of German national-socialism and racism of e.g. Adolf Hitler. The fourth section deals with Vollenhoven's third lecture in which he sketches his own viewpoint. Since he acknowledged the dynamic, evolving nature of creation, Vollenhoven held a different viewpoint on evolution if compared to his predecessors in the Reformational tradition, like Kuyper, Bavinck andDiemer (cf. Van der Walt 2016a) as well as his contemporary, Dooyeweerd. They emphasised the fixed nature of species. Employing his theory of different modalities or aspects of reality and their subject-object relations, he explains the relations as well as the differences between the four kingdoms. He furthermore provides valuable insight into the difference between struggle for survival (a subject-subject relation) and adaptation (a subject-object relation). Vollenhoven's conclusion was that Christian scholars need not reject evolution (he uses the term "transformation") in any one kingdom. However, evolutionism (called "transform-ism") should be rejected since it does not honour the ontic difference between (at least two of) the four kingdoms of matter, plants, animals and human beings. As mentioned above, Vollenhoven's aim with these three lectures was not to cover every existing form or representative of evolution/evolutionism. (An impossibility to do so in merely 45 minutes per lecture.) Also, his cryptic style is often difficult to follow and needs explanation. Moreover, only short notes on his second and third lecture survived (see Addendum) and had to be reconstructed in the light of his other publications. For his critical eye, and suggestions to accomplish the above "reconstruction" of Vollenhoven's lectures, I would like to thank the Vollenhoven expert, Dr. Kornelis A. Bril of the Netherlands. I do hope that our combined effort had rendered Vollenhoven's analysis accessible to a wider readership.

Keywords : Adaptation; Christian viewpoint; consistent problem-historical method; cosmogonic thought; cosmological thought; evolution; evolutionism; evolving; experimental methods; idea of progress; philosophy; mythological thought; monism; national-socialism; parallelism; positivism; priority theory; rationalism; theories of interaction; thetical critical method; transformation; transformism.

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