Proving it’s never too late to evolve, the Church of England has apologized to Charles Darwin for vilifying him for having the audacity to question, wonder, and doubt.
Darwin has been dead for 126 years, so it probably doesn’t matter much to him, but the apology comes with a fascinating essay that could start a more intelligent conversation between religion and science, especially when it comes to the origin — or genesis — of the species.
“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,” Rev. Malcolm Brown, director of missions and public affairs for the Church of England, wrote in an essay entitled “Good Religion Needs Good Science.”
“We try to practice the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”
Brown’s amends include a much needed corrective that Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson and other Christian creationists might consider.
“Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection. There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6: 25-33),” Brown wrote.
“The anti-evolutionary fervour in some corners of the churches may be a kind of proxy issue for other discontents; and, perhaps most of all, an indictment of the churches’ failure to tell their own story – Jesus’s story – with conviction in a way which works with the grain of the world as God has revealed it to be, both through the Bible and in the work of scientists of Darwin’s calibre.”
Though Darwin is a hero to atheists, he was raised in the Anglican church, thought about becoming a clergyman, later attended a Unitarian church and described himself as an agnostic. “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God,” he wrote in 1879. “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.”
Darwin’s doubts about God weren’t just scientific; they were human. As Princeton historian William Howarth told Newsweek, those doubts date to his enounters with slave-owning Christians and the death of his 10-year-old daughter in 1851, eight years before he published “On the Origin of the Species.”
The Church of England isn’t the first to reconsider its previous views. Earlier this year, the Vatican erected a statue of Galileo, who the Church put on trial for heresy 400 years ago. Pope John Paul II issued a number of apologies for the church’s sins against Jews, heretics, women, Gypsies, native peoples and Orthodox Christians. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention renounced its racist roots and apologized for its past defense of slavery.
As Brown explained, “The trouble with homo sapiens is that we’re only human. People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception.”
Even the Church evolves.