BECOMING AN EVOLUTIONIST
My pilgrimage as an independent thinker began in the fourth grade when I encountered a little book, Fleetfoot The Cave Boy, in the elementary school library. This small novel about how cave dwellers lived brought me to a new awareness of the real beginnings of mankind apart from what I had learned in Sunday School. For a long time Adam and Fleetfoot stood juxtaposed in my mind as the dual progenitors of the human race. Both were vivid characters, but somehow Fleetfoot seemed more real.
Next, I encountered Greek mythology and was captivated by the wonderful tales of the Hellenic bards. In my youthful mind, Adam slipped by imperceptibly slow degrees into the realm of fancy alongside the heroes and demigods of old Achæa. Then I started noticing parallels between the legendary tales of the Greeks and the Hebrews, and there was a gradual awakening in me of a precious gift of mythical perception. I came to an awareness of my ability to intuitively perceive the fables and folklore within the scriptures of the world religions. This talent developed, almost unawares, until I was confronted with its powerful expression in the pages of The Golden Bough. Then I fully understood the real value of what the Bible calls “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” i.e., genuine or spurious revelations (1 Cor. 12:10) or, in another place, the ability to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). I came to realize that the ability to distinguish fabricated myths from historical events, allegories from actual occurrences, irrational taboos from valid moral prohibitions, superstition from pure religion, and the magical from the symbolic, is the heart of correct exegesis of the Bible.
In the ninth grade I took biology, and it was about this same time that I read Charles Darwin’s Origin Of The Species and Lecomte du Noüy’s Human Destiny. The uncontestable truth in Darwin and the reverent factualism of du Noüy confirmed my identity as a theistic evolutionist. Thus, I finally found a place for Adam in the scheme of things: he was simply the first individual who had achieved moral awareness and who was endowed with an immortal soul. From that point on, my personal philosophy became permeated with that central fact and law of the universe, evolution. It was evident to me that this was the primary method by which the Creator operated and by which He directed all processes in His world.
In thinking back over the history of my intellectual development, I must attribute a significant influence to many of the books I have read. At the top of the list, of course, is the Bible. My innate religious nature was doubtless enhanced by an early submersion in the Bible and in Baptist teaching materials. And while the Holy Scripture is still the greatest of all books to me, I must agree with the anonymous philosopher who warned, “Cave ab homine unius libri” (”Beware the man of one book”).
My personal philosophy has been gleaned from a great number of literary sources, which were sometimes uplifting and sometimes shattering to my pet theories. But the greatest impression on my thinking has been made by a few specific volumes, fourteen in number. The following tabulation lists these books that have shaped my life:
The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
Human Destiny by Lecomte du Noüy
The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer
The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Story Of Philosophy by Will Durant
The Dialogues of Plato
The Life Of Jesus by Ernest Renan
The Pensees of Blaise Pascal
Apocrypha And Pseudepigrapha Of The Old Testament
by R. H. Charles
The Anabaptist Story by William R. Estep
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Life After Life by Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr.
Also, it might be appropriate to include another book, author unknown, that fired a childish mind, Fleetfoot The Cave Boy.
Richard L. Atkins