|FAITH Magazine November-December 2008|
Science and Religion News.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND’S HELPFUL VISION OF DARWIN’S THOUGHT
On the 14th September last, the Church of England instituted a project of information about Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, to mark the approaching bicentenary of Darwin’s birth in 2009. In a series of new web pages on the Anglican website, Darwin’s life and work is commemorated. It is recorded how he was brought up and educated frmly within the religion of the Church of England, but how in his twenties he began to fnd that faith eroded in his own mind. It was an Anglican clergyman, the professor of botany at Cambridge, who encouraged him to move away from studies for ordination in the Church of England, and to take up botany, and indeed to take up the post of an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle – the research from which ultimately led him to the ideas he formulatedon evolution.
An introduction to the new material is provided by the Anglican bishop of Swindon, who writes: “The anniversaries associated with the life, discoveries and writing of Charles Darwin will no doubt prompt many to take a different view. On the one hand, that Darwin’s theories on the origin of species sounded the death knell for belief in a Creator God. On the other, that accepting a place for evolution in the development of homo sapiens is tantamount to atheism and fies in the face of Scripture. Such extreme and opposing voices are loud and hard to ignore. However, those using this site will fnd here a more balanced assessment of the role Charles Darwin has played in the conversation between the Church and the Academy.”
A particularly prominent section of the new website is the long essay by Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church of England’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, entitled ‘Good religion needs good science.’ He expounds on Darwin’s painstaking scientifc progress, emphasising that “nothing in [the] scientifc method contradicts Christian teaching.” He moves towards making a crucial distinction in stating that: “Humanity has acquired the capacity to refect, to imagine, and to reason from what is known to what is not yet known. Some animals may have these features in a very rudimentary form, but the human capacity is so much greater as to be effectively unique. It is our capacity to imagine other people as more than bodies, but as persons, which marks us out.” He doesn’t quite manage theunfashionable affrmation of the spiritual soul or mind in the image of the transcendent creator, which idea can complete the vision of man as having a privileged place in creation.
Brown concludes: “Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our frst reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise 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.”
The new webpages can be seen at www.cofe.anglican.org/darwin.
CATHOLIC CONFERENCE ON EVOLUTION
The very same week, the Catholic Church announced it was preparing for an international meeting in Rome in March 2009 on ‘Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories.’ The conference is subtitled ‘A critical appraisal, 150 years after The Origin of Species,’ with regard to Charles Darwin’s seminal work on biological evolution, published in November 1859. The conference will take place at the Gregorian, the Jesuit university in Rome, and is co-organised by the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university in Indiana, under the patronage of the Vatican dicastery, the Pontifcal Council for Culture. The purpose of the meeting is described on the conference website: “within the complex and multifaceted issue of the Science/Faith relationship, this event focuses on the possibility of reconcilingin the same philosophical position the ‘Creation’ and ‘Evolution’ thinking, without frst pretending to be a scientifc theory or secondly being affrmed as a dogma.”
By all accounts, the President of the Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi gave a very robust introduction at the conference’s announcement at the Vatican Press Offce on the 16th September. The National Catholic Reporter described him glowingly as ‘The Church’s great interlocutor with secular culture,’ and quoted him as saying, “I want to affrm, as an a priori, the compatibility of the theory of evolution with the message of the Bible and the Church’s theology.” It went on to report:
“ Ravasi pointed out that Charles Darwin had never been condemned by the church, nor was his Origin of Species ever placed on the index of prohibited books. Ravasi brushed aside a question about whether the Catholic Church should posthumously apologise to Darwin, as a senior British prelate has suggested the Church of England might do” (see http://ncrcafe.org/ node/2122).
The same page of the NCR website provides YouTube videos of this Vatican Press Conference, complete with subtitles! In his wide-ranging address, Archbishop Ravasi insisted that the conference planned was to promote an increased understanding between scientists and theologians: he used an image of those working ‘at the frontier’ on either side being given a better view of the other side.
The Faith Movement intends to have some representation at the conference. Full details of the conference, including the presentation programme and online registration, can be found at: www.evolution-rome2009.net.