Sermon illustrations


Charles Darwin’s Loss of Happiness

Charles Darwin, known for his theory of natural selection, noticed that his later life included a “loss of happiness.” While he never acknowledged that it might have been related to his changing worldview, which eventually rejected the idea of a higher power in favor of philosophical naturalism, it is hard not to wonder about the connection.

Darwin observed, “Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds . . . gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare. . . . Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. . . .

I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. . . . My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts. . . . The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

Introduction by Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Rockville, MD: Serenity, 2008), 80–81.

The Devil Buried the Bones

And I was reminded of an event from my father’s childhood.

He was in a Sunday school class, listening to his teacher expound on Genesis 1 and a young earth, and asked his teacher how to make sense of all those dinosaur bones. “Was there no room for Rex on the ark?” he asked, with guileless sincerity. “The devil buried the bones,” his teacher answered, and proceeded to explain that a literal Genesis 1 and young earth were essential to Christian faith.

My father found himself before a fork in the road. There he was, a young boy who loved Jesus and dinosaurs, and the die had been cast—either the Prince of Darkness had spent the better part of the last millennia burying dinosaur bones or there was no God.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer pp.1-2. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Evolution of the Rose

A couple years ago I got to take a tour of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The name is a bit misleading because what they are most known for are there amazing gardens. And so we were on this tour and I got to learn something about the history of roses. And it goes something like this.

There have been roses since we have been on this planet, but the wild roses in Europe, while all different colors and quite beautiful, would only bloom once a year, and so for most of the warm months you would be looking at a bunch of ugly green canes with thorns, no flowers. But then, some botanists in the late 18th century began experimenting by grafting the Chinese wild rose, which was only green, but bloomed all summer, with the European rose, and after a bunch of testing, created what we know to be the modern rose, which blooms from June through October, but not only in green, but in a myriad of colors. 

Isn’t that interesting, so roses as we know them are really a modern invention, and because of the grafting of the wild Chinese rose with the roses of Europe, we have this stronger, much more beautiful flower than we ever had before.And that is what Paul is getting at, but instead of it being one wild rose and another, we are grafted into Christ, God incarnate, and our lives should therefore look different than they used to.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

I’d Save Two Brothers, Not One

According to legend, one night in the 1950s while drinking at a pub in the West End of London, [Biologist and neo-Darwinist J. B. S. Haldane ] was presented with a philosophical question: How far would you go to save the life of another person? “I would jump into a river to save two brothers, but not one,” Haldane said after feverishly calculating on the back of a napkin. “Or to save eight cousins but not seven.”

However, Haldane’s drunken calculation may have pointed to a way out of the “altruism conundrum” for evolutionary psychologists. If a person performs a selfless act for someone in their own family, they are still promoting the survival of their own DNA, right? Sociobiologists in Western Europe decided it can only be explained among people and organisms who were related by blood.

Richard Lui, Enough About Me: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness, Zondervan, 2021.

My Keeper’s Brother?

One day the zookeeper noticed that the Orangutan was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species.

In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?

“Well,” said the Orangutan, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

Source Unknown

Taking Selfishness Seriously

In 1976, Richard Dawkins claimed in his bestselling book The Selfish Gene that we can’t expect humans to be anything but selfish: “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”

…One of Dawkins’s fans was Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who pulled off the largest accounting and corporate fraud ever, resulting in shareholders losing $74 billion. Skilling said his favorite book was Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, which was in the evolutionary spirit of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Even though Darwin was by all accounts a kindhearted man, his theory ultimately inspired some controversial philosophical and political positions, such as social Darwinism and eugenics. Social Darwinism. The late-nineteenth-century English professor Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” because he saw natural selection as “red in tooth and claw,” a brutal description of the competition for scant resources. He didn’t value protecting the weak. If more weak people died, more beautiful, healthy, strong, and smart people could thrive. Spencer believed this would improve the condition of humanity over time.

Richard Lui, Enough About Me: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness, Zondervan, 2021.

What Science will Reveal about the Origin of Man?

What science will ever be able to reveal to man the origin, nature and character of that conscious power to will and to love which constitutes his life? It is certainly not our effort, nor the effort of anyone around us, which set that current in motion. And it is certainly not our solicitude, nor that of any friend, which prevents its ebb or controls its turbulence.

We can, of course, trace back through generations some of the antecedents of the torrent which bears us along; and we can, by means of certain moral and physical disciplines and stimulations, regularise or enlarge the aperture through which the torrent is released into us. But neither that geography nor those artifices help us in theory or in practice to harness the sources of life.

My self is given to me far more than it is formed by me. Man, Scripture says, cannot add a cubit to his stature. Still less can he add a unit to the potential of his love, or accelerate by another unit the fundamental rhythm which regulates the ripening of his mind and heart. In the last resort the profound life, the fontal life, the new-born life, escape our grasp entirely.

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, The Divine Milieu, Harper and Bros. Where We Come From According to Stephen Jay Gould (for contrast).

Where do Humans Come From?

We all know children sometimes ask difficult questions. One day a young girl asked her parents where human beings come from. “Well,” the mother said, “God created Adam and Eve and Adam and Eve had children. Then their children had children. And eventually, that’s how we got here.”

Not being fully satisfied with the answer, the girl asked her father the same question. Where do people come from? That father answered a bit differently than the mother. “Well, a long, long time ago, there were monkeys. Those monkeys evolved and over millions of years, those monkeys became human beings.”

This obviously confused the poor girl, so she goes back to her mother. “Mom” you said God created us and Dad said we evolved from monkeys. So who is right?”

A big smile came over the mother’s face as she said, “sweetheart, it’s very simple. Your father was explaining his side of the family, and I was explaining my side.

Original Source Unknown, Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

Yearning for a Higher Answer 

This paragraph from the scientist and atheist David Friend provides a stark contrast to a Christian conception of life, humanity, and the world we inhabit:

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available….

We may yearn for a “higher” answer—but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

David Friend and the editors of Life, The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here, Little, Brown.

See Also Illustrations on Change, Politics, Science, Transformation