Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Darwin gets a belated apology from one church?

That would be the Church of England, which yesterday posted this apology to Charles Darwin on the new Darwin 2009 section of their website:

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.

Maybe you're wondering: who cares what the stuffy old Church of England says? Or, what's the point of apologizing to a man dead for over a century and a quarter? Does the Archbishop of Canterbury even have much resonance with the religious public in the US, which is the real battleground in the anti-Darwin wars these days? Whatever you think of this apology - at least good old Charlie got off lightly compared to some earlier men of science caught in other church crosshairs - like, say, Galileo (who suffered during the latter parts of his life, and got his apology only recently). I guess if you believe in eternal life, you might think it is never too late to atone, so there is perhaps some logical consistency.

But wait, the essay containing the above statement, by Revd. Dr. Malcolm Brown, is not actually an official apology from the CofE, according to a spokesman, but just his personal view! So much for that, then...

Nevertheless, its worth noting that the CofE Darwin 2009 website is apparently sincere in trying to set the record straight, as seen especially in the Darwin and faith section, which uses Darwin's own words to show how he gradually lost faith despite his earlier religious training. I especially like this quote:

“Formerly I was led by feelings such as those just referred to (although I do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me) to the firm conviction of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest: ‘It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.’ I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind.”

The man sure knew how to turn a phrase, didn't he?

And its good to see the church avoid sugar-coating, or quote mining to suppress that last sentence, let alone claiming some ridiculous death-bed conversion! That's something, I'd say; and its nice to have a website from such a major church to point to the next time some devout christian comes around in distress over Darwin or some religion-vs.-science conflict!



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