Sunday, 14 September 2008

Evolution and the Church of England

Update - early Sunday evening

The new website (more accurately a new section of the CofE website) is now online: On the origin of Darwin.
There is an accompanying press release Church of England marks Darwin’s contribution to science as bicentenary approaches.


There are reports in today’s papers that the Church of England will apologise to Charles Darwin for rejecting evolution in a new website to be launched tomorrow.

Jonathan Wynne-Jones in The Telegraph Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution
Alexandra Frean and Lewis Smith in The Times Anglicans back Darwin over ‘noisy’ creationists
Jonathan Petre in the Mail Church makes ‘ludicrous’ apology to Charles Darwin - 126 years after his death

Posted by Peter Owen on Sunday, 14 September 2008 at 12:40pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

The apology to Darwin is the kind of simple but generous act that makes one proud to be an Anglican. As my wife says, this is the best religion. The dean of Grace Cathedral has said, in various ways over time, than Anglicanism (I assume the form prior to Akinolism) allows him to be a Christian. The Roman Church should issue a similar statement. While well overdue, it is certainly welcome.

Posted by: Andrew on Sunday, 14 September 2008 at 10:39pm BST

I can see that this presents an occasion for some within the C of E to draw a line in the sand vis-à-vis Fundamentalism on the Ape/Angel controversy, but as Darwin's great-grandson notes in Jonathan Petre's appropriately headlined "Mail" piece, Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey when he died in 1882. Not only that, he was accorded one of only five non-royal, 19th century state funerals - the other four being Nelson, Wellington, Palmerston and Gladstone. Pretty odd form for persecution to take. And why give Widdecombe the opportunity to bellyache yet again from her Neanderthal lair? - though her Italians/Pontius Pilate comment brings to mind the topic of fiddling while Rome burns.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 4:21am BST

Science is simply not the only way to acquire knowledge. There is philosophical knowledge, and religious knowledge, etc. I am not comfortable with the rampant scientism of Dawkins, et al but at the same time, what one objects to about the theory of evolution used by that school is the strident application of the metaphor of the ape, not the fact of our being the progeny of the ape. We should not I feel simply limit the collective imagination of the species to our being just 'talking monkeys'.

Creationism is a worldview, just like Communism is a worldview, or Capitalism; the latter two can be taught as ways of seeing the world, apart from their being systems of political governance or ordering financial structure, and I think we should understand the place of Creationism in schools in the same way, i.e., as a point of view rather than as a supposedly scientifically-founded theory, which is what the supporters of intelligent design claim it to be. Conversely, a better way of dealing with this whole matter and creating balance would be to teach Scientism as part of Religious Studies, not as denial of scientific method but as a means of showing that science can be, is often, and where and how it is extended to being a worldview, i.e., not attempting completely to deny its being the legitimate system of gaining knowledge about the natural world.

Posted by: orfanum on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 6:37am BST

orfanum: "Creationism is a worldview..."

Or an ideology. But one must ask the purpose of the ideology and the baggage that it brings, such as campaigns and lawsuits demanding equal time in science class, "creation museums" depicting humans and dinosaurs co-existing, and so on. It is all part of the game of mind control being played by the leaders of the Religious Right. Put forward what appears to be a legitimate alternative "theory" and the gullible will remain so, having been taught to mistrust whatever anyone in authority other than the religious leader might advance. Then control is consolidated. Orwell anyone?

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 1:14pm BST

"Creationism is a worldview, just like Communism is a worldview, or Capitalism;"

Communism and Capitalism were comprehensive economic and philosophical systems which their proponents hoped would bring peace and prosperity to the world.

Creationism is a very narrow consequence of reading the bible literally and closing your mind to science. It objectively is not a legitimate system for gaining knowledge about the natural world. The only place it has is in Religious Studies, and even there it should be taught alongside more mature Christian approaches to science.

There is no reason to teach anything as part of a national curriculum just because some people somewhere choose to believe it.

This world is getting more and more fundamentalist, anti science and anti common sense. The challenge is to stop that trend, not to encourage it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 2:05pm BST

"Anglican leaders fear that “noisy” advocates of a literal interpretation of the Bible.......are infecting the perception of Christianity worldwide."

YES!!!!! Apologizing to a man dead for 126 years? Well, I think St. Chad of Litchfield hears my prayers, so why wouldn't Darwin hear an apology? He died a Christian, after all, and now he knows as he is known, so, odd though it may sound, why not? Saying that we have to understand Creation literally, imposing our understanding of reality on God has always seemed anthropomorphic to me. Thousands of years ago, who would have understood, much less believed, if God had inspired people to teach that the Big Bang and evolution were the way He created all that is? God deals with us in ways our finite human minds can grasp. Dawkins is just rejecting this "God in man's image, and he has right to. His problem is that he can't move beyond his own scientific fundamentalism to understand that God ISN'T made in our image, we're made in His, and we've obscured that image in the Fall. To paraphrase, God is not only stranger than we imagine, He is stranger than we CAN imagine.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 2:39pm BST

In his essay Dr Brown mentions a conversation with a Professor in Kansas who relates that many of his students from fundamentalist families are creationalists at home and Darwinists at College and about this duplicity says:

“.. he(the professor) was also pointing to young lives which could not be lived with integrity – the very opposite of how Christians are called to live.”

This is exactly what we (LGCM) has been saying for decades about the duplicity at the heart of the Church of England’s (Anglican Communion’s)approach to homosexuals and the obvious need for gay people to live openly and with integrity free of this type of devious double-think!

In fact I could have written the entire last paragraph as a part of our propaganda!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 2:48pm BST

The website is disingenuous. It fails to mention Charles Darwin attending Shrewsbury Unitarian church as a boy, it fails to mention Emma (his wife) and her Unitarianism, and drivels on about his exposure to the Trinity as if he should have just absorbed it as true. But that was but one influence in many. The families mixed strong Unitarian influences with Anglican. It glosses over what Victorians clearly saw as clashes between religion and science - whatever may be said later on. Emma and Charles read and were much influenced by James Martineau, John James Taylor and Francis Newman, the first two staunch, leading and influential Unitarians, and the latter who passed through Unitarianism.

There are far better websites than this Church of England apology for itself when it comes to Darwin.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 4:38pm BST

I think I was being too subtle, or too wordy for my own good.

In brief - if there were to be a 'compromise' with Creationism then I would *much* rather be in terms of having it explained (not 'taught' as normative) in religious studies classes, in which scientism (the limits of applying scientific method to things beyond the natural world - you know, the stuff that leads to eugenics in the human sphere, etc.) might also be discussed, rather than see it shoehorned into science classes.

I think on the other hand there is a problem with science becoming increasingly a hostage to scientism (something that in the end does allow the ID folk to start aspiring to scientific 'credentials'); pseudo-science is often more pernicious than out-and-out irrationalism. Stalin supported the 'Soviet' science of Lysenko, and there's Social-Darwinism itself and its instrumentalist view of human beings: these are examples of really quite dangerous pseudo-science.

Personally, I find creationists to be bonkers, mostly to me because their creationism helps them just miss the point catastrophically. On the other hand, Dawkins is going for the religious throat, purely because science scientific experiments (equally mad to me). The one camp is faith-based, the other not, but neither appears to value rationality over rhetoric and politics.

If there is an ideological struggle whose baggage we should unpack, I'd just wonder what and who is so keen to have us repeat all these 19th Century arguments in this one.

Posted by: orfanum on Monday, 15 September 2008 at 4:56pm BST

Thank you Pluralist for injecting some common sense into this CofE 'official' line re Darwin. Total nonsense and cr*p.

Posted by: Neil on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 12:15am BST

I wonder if advocates of creationism would give up the marvels of modern medical science? They certainly wouldn't go to a doctor who practiced medicine using only the tools and knowledge of doctor who practiced medicine when the bible was being written would they? Why then is it so hard to say just maybe Darwin was/is on to something? We like the benefits of modern science but we're going to base other decisions on text written 2,ooo to 3,000 years ago?

There are two creation stories in the bible. Which one is right? Do these good folk know this?

I found this on the web for anyone who's interested.

"The first creation account, Genesis. 1:1 to Genesis. 2:4a, was written during or after the Jews' Babylonian captivity. This fully developed story explains creation in terms of the ancient near eastern world view of its time. A watery chaos is divided by the dome (firmament) of the sky. The waters under the dome are gathered and land appears. Lights are affixed in the dome. All living things are created. The story pictures God building the cosmos as a supporting ecosystem for humanity. Finally, humanity, both male and female, is created, and God rests.

The second Creation story, Genesis 2:4b to 2:25, found its written form several centuries before the Genesis. 1:1 story. This text is a less developed and much older story. It was probably passed down for generations around the camp fires of desert dwellers before being written. It begins by describing a desert landscape, no plants or herbs, no rain; only a mist arises out of the earth. Then the Lord God forms man of the dust of the ground, creates an oasis-like Garden of Eden to support the "man whom he had formed." In this story, God creates animal life while trying to provide the man "a helper fit for him." None being found, God takes a rib from the man's side and creates the first woman. These two creation stories clearly arise out of different histories and reflect different concerns with different sequences of events. Can they either or both be literal history? Obviously not. "

Posted by: Bob in SW PA on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 2:13am BST

What Erika said! Doubly.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 8:11am BST

So called "creationism" is mere superstition - and as intollerant as only superstition can be, e.g. the closing of Archelogical museums in East Africa.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 8:18am BST

Instructive episode this, isn't it.

First of all, the press reports are rubbish. It's not an apology. I hyped this up on my blog to something about Sunday School teaching and connected it to the controversies from Africa. I'm pleased I did that before the official thing appeared, which was different.

Then the official thing is arguably worse, because it is simply a piece of propaganda written in Anglicanese, and gives no sense about who the Darwins and Wedgwoods read and mixed with, that they would face the congregation when the creed was read (what a good idea!), that they obeyed the law for conforming and were Anglican for educational and social betterment. They were as exposed to the Trinity as I am, as if it is supposed to be like magic dust and turn you into something else. No doubt they did absorb a lot of Anglican culture, but these folks were discerning - Charles, his wife, his brother, the intertwining families. The Anglican site would have done better just to have put one link to the Cambridge origin archive website.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 11:48am BST

Thanks Plurlaist for the very interesting information on Darwin's Unitarian influences.

Posted by: The Rev'd LJ Roberts on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 3:10pm BST
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