Monday, October 20, 2008

Church of England & Its Apology to Darwin

In 1859, the British biologist and naturalist, Charles Darwin published a classic work called: "The Origin of Species." The core argument of the document is:
"I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained—namely, that each species has been independently created—is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are linear descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any species are the descendents of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification."
A fairly readable analysis of Darwin's work can be found here.

The year 2009 marks the 200th year of Darwin's birth. It will be a memorable landmark for a man credited with the theory of evolution which many pro-Darwinian supporters say is an affront on Christian accounts of creationism. It is also a challenge to traditional Christian interpretation of creation via the Genesis narrative in the Bible. The Church of England recently made an apology for the years of attack on Charles Darwin and the theory of the origin of species. Rev Malcolm Brown of the Church of England, in a surprising offer of apology argues that "Good Religion Needs Good Science." He even calls the Church attack against Darwin as an 'error.' Here is the full apology:
Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends. But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests. Good religion needs to work constructively with good science – and I dare to suggest that the opposite may be true as well.
In order to understand this latest action, we need to look back at 2006, where the Episcopal Church resolution A129 which made an ammendment from "in no way diminishes the centrality of Scripture in telling the stories of the love of God for the Creation and" to "entirely compatible with an authentic and living Christian faith"SUPPORT FOR THE LATEST COE ACTION
The basis of the Church of England announcement is consistent with what is going on in the Episcopal Church in America. Reporting for the Episcopal Life Online, Rev Mary Frances Schjonberg reports the more embracing creation with evolution trend as:
"There is no reason to doubt that Christ still draws people towards truth through the work of scientists as well as others, and many scientists are motivated in their work by a perception of the deep beauty of the created world," Brown writes in his essay, adding that "for the sake of human integrity -- and thus for the sake of good Christian living -- some rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential."
On the Net, atheists are wild over the latest action, claiming victory for evolution and ridicules the Church for their age-old resistance of Darwinian theory. Scientific American followed up on this apology by saying "Better Late Than Never." It was also reported that there are two reasons behind the Church of England action. Firstly, the COE wants to 'distance itself from fundamentalist organizations.' Secondly, they want to imitate what the Vatican did for Galileo, by doing something for Darwin, which they castigated over the years.

The Daily Mail calls the latest Church of England action as 'ludicrous' in its article published 13th September 2008. A highly critical Ann Widdecombe, previously from the Church of England, now a Roman Catholic said: "It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?" The Roman Catholic Church officially said that there is 'no need' for an apology, as creation is not incompatible with Darwin's theories. Moreover, a descendant of Darwin, Andrew Darwin asks the Church not to even bother, saying that the action is simply a way to make the 'institution' (aka COE) 'feel better.'

Even secularists and some Christians agree that the Church of England's gesture is 'ridiculous.'

What disturbs me is the Church of England's actions as being too-rush, too-rash for comfort. Firstly, is there really a need for such an apology? Is the Church of England apologizing for its initial move to denounce Darwin, or are they also apologizing for the consequences of anti-Darwinian activists since the initial denouncement? Secondly, the theory of evolution is a scientific hypothesis, that is, it is something that is not directly proven but is based on assumptions that are drawn from human observations over time. As such, a scientific hypothesis needs to be resilient against scientific criticisms. If evolution is allowed to flow into arguments about God, it becomes a scientific ideology, that forces people to exercise their faith based on a set of assumptions. Hence, there is a popular belief that science and religion do not mix. That said, why should any institution that uphold traditional religious values be so worried about a science that cannot adequately play itself out in the theological realm? Can oil really mix with water? No. Thirdly, while it is one thing to apologize for any atrocities committed against innocent people in the pro-Darwin camp, it is yet another to compromise traditional beliefs itself, which is not based on assumptions but on the revelation of God. This is to say that apologizing for 'implementation mistakes' does not mean apologizing for the belief. Just like a parent wanting to punish a child who stole something, but used the wrong punishment approach. The parent can apologize for the inappropriate manner of discipline but that should not neutralize the need to mete out proper correction in due course.

Fourthly, if the Church can make a turnaround so readily, what makes one so sure that it will not turn around other beliefs as easily? Will they then start to question the deity of Christ? Will they compromise the gospel narratives? Will they then work on archaeological findings to re-interpret all aspects of the Bible, even though the Bible is not specifically a scientific book? Where will it end?

The Church of England has done something that is totally unnecessary. In Rev Malcolm Brown's statement, I can gather the intention as follows:
  • People make mistakes (of course, who doesn't)
  • The Church of 1860s have wrongfully attacked Darwin (nothing was specified, but could this form of attack been the best possible way at that time to prevent something worse?)
  • Science does not necessarily contradict Christian teaching (true, but the way it is used can)
  • We should not prevent honest scientific investigations (of course! but do not let such investigation be used by an atheistic wolf under the sheep's clothing of science)
  • The reaction then may seem to have been 'misguided' (but one is looking at such misguidance from the year 2008, 200 years later.)
  • social misapplication of Darwin (certainly. all are guilty, both the religious orders and the scientists)
  • avoiding dualistic education where students learning biology have to take evolutionary theories as 'truth' even if they have opposing religious beliefs (i think the crux of the matter is the unwitting mixing of science and religion)

You do not need to come out to say that evolution & creation is compatible/incompatible. Truth does not contradict. What perhaps is susceptible to disputes and controversies are the WAYS in which people argue against/for any of the theory/beliefs mentioned. The other difference is in the basic assumptions that people have. Perhaps there will always be grey areas in this life. Probably, some things will never be explained thoroughly or satisfactorily to all. If that is the case, let science be science, and let scientific hypotheses be scientifically proven using scientific means and measuring devices. As much as science cannot prove the existence of God, it cannot prove the non-existence of God either.


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The Hedonese said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, I've been struggling over this issue while preparing for a conference workshop this week. Basically just give some possible Christian views and call for humility and unity in diversity :)

Thanks also for linking up to the Agora

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