Church of England apologizes to Charles Darwin
The Rev. Malcolm Brown, the head of the Church of England’s public affairs department, has said that the Church owes Charles Darwin an apology, “for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.” He said that in a larger essay, “Good religion needs good science,” which itself if part of an excellent series of articles and essays, found at here, on Darwin that the Church of England is releasing in advance of 2009, which is both the bicentennial of the scientist’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the first publication of On the Origin of Species.
They compare hostility to Darwin and evolution to the opposition that Galileo faced for saying the Earth moved around the Sun. Pope John Paul II officially apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in putting Galileo on trial and stifling his ideas. Some have criticized the apology, calling it “ludicrous” or “pointless,” the latter being the characterization of Darwin’s great-great-grandson.
I think it is appropriate to admit fault where it is real, but care should be taken to not distort the history of the church’s reaction to the theory of evolution which is certainly not the story of universal rejection. Indeed, the publication of The Origin of Species in North America was organized by Darwin’s confidante, Asa Gray, professor of natural history at Harvard and a committed Christian. (Gray later wrote a book titled Darwiniana.) The British historian James Moore writes that “with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution”, and the American sociologist George Marsden reports that “…with the exception of Harvard’s Louis Agassiz, virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870s.” And it wasn’t just scientists among Christians who quickly embraced evolution. One Anglican clergyman wrote to Darwin suggesting that evolution was actually a “loftier” conception of God than the old-fashioned idea of God creating humans the easy way, by just molding them out of dust. In other words, there is grandeur in this view of life.
I do very highly recommend the articles published by the Church of England on Darwin and his life, though I have only begun to skim through them myself. They point out that Darwin was raised and always surrounded by Anglicans and even studied briefly for the priesthood as a young man (some Islamic Creationists take this to be proof that evolution is a Christian plot to undermine the morals of good Moslems). His journey away from Christian faith into what he later said was best characterized as agnosticism, not atheism, had nothing to do with his scientific discoveries; it was largely the result of his daughter’s death, which he found difficult to square with the existence of a loving, all-powerful God.
Darwin knew that his research and theories would prove controversial and expected the attacks that he received. However, his fears that his family and friends would reject him were happily unfounded. When he died in 1882, he became one of only five non-royals to be given a state funeral in the 19th century and was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to John Herschel and Isaac Newton.
Comments are welcome. And you can check out those aforementioned articles here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/darwin