Thursday, February 12, 2009

Charles Darwin and God's toolbox

Charles Darwin and the Church don't seem to mix, or so it seems in our day. In fact, this coming Sunday is "Evolution Sunday" in many churches, and today we celebrate his 200th birthday. And it may interest you to know that his theory is embraced as evidence of "natural law" in Catholic (Big C) theology. Even many of the original fundamentalists were fine with evolution because, they believed, it demonstrated God's tool box at work in the world. The downside is that Darwin was employed in the early 20th century to support so-called "Social Darwinism" theories of race and class. 

So what happened to Darwin in our time? Why the Christian attack? Right-wing political agendas found traction in attacking evolution (recall the Republican presidential primary candidates for President last year who all raised their hands when asked if they did not "believe" in evolution). Meanwhile, Christian literalists felt they had to defend the absolute inherency of the Bible, and if the Genesis story of creation couldn't hold up as science then the rest of the Bible would collapse. Personally, I find that a sad one-dimensional reading of the Bible that seems to slice God's grace from the pages.

Denis Alexander, writing this morning for Ekklessia, has a good analysis of the contemporary attack on Darwin:
One of the deep mysteries of the early 21st century is why one set of Christians go round churches trying to persuade another set of Christians to reject the theory of evolution. This is in a world of incalculable need, both material and spiritual. Trying to persuade Christians to disbelieve Darwinism soaks up huge resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
To read the full article, go HERE.

I must admit my own fascination with evolution (and anyone who wants to fund me for a trip to the Galapagos you will have my eternal gratitude). Years ago I read The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin's book on his scientific discoveries in the Galapagos. His book is one of the great adventure stories of all time, and that helped lead me to become an anthropology major at UCLA. I studied during a time when Louis and Mary Leakey were making their amazing finds at Olduvia Gorge, and Donald Johanson and Timothy White not long after discovered the fossil dubbed "Lucy" in Ethiopia which transformed the diagram of human lineage. To my delight I got to hear Louis Leakey and Johansen  lecture, and meet them both.

The story of evolution has only gotten more fascinating as scientists make new discoveries and sort out the mechanisms of evolution (a good deal more complicated that Darwin dreamed). The most remarkable discoveries of recent years aren't just fossils, but in the maps of human genetics. For me, the brilliance of God's creation shines through in each discovery. And I've always thought it somehow fittingly perfect that Timothy White's dating lab is located in the basement of my seminary in Berkeley, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific

There is a caution in this: climate change. If evolution demonstrates anything it is that no species has a guaranteed existence on earth. Our apathy over global warming could be our undoing. Our evolutionary line is at risk as is every species alive today. Our existence depends on our ability to repair this good Earth, and we need not - and cannot - wait until we iron out every question about evolution or how we interpret the Bible.

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