Monday, February 2, 2009

Nothing Personal

This month marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth so I'm going to spend a few posts commenting on what Darwinism says, and where Darwinism is these days. Before I do however, I just want to set the tone by expressing my true admiration for the man, Charles Darwin.

I am no scientist but I greatly appreciate the scientific enterprise and the brilliance of those who demonstrate real scientific expertise. Charles Darwin certainly falls into that category. He was an extremely intelligent man who, I genuinely believe, was sincerely seeking to find the truth through his scientific investigations. Anyone who claims that Darwin was just a nasty atheist hell-bent (literally) on disproving the existence of God and undermining theism simply hasn't read much about him. But I have to wonder, when I consider his background, how his view of the world may have tainted his ability to examine things.

For starters, Darwin was brought up in a non-conformist, Unitarian, "freethinker" family that couldn't help but have left him with an unorthodox theological view of God in general and Christianity in particular, and a modern Enlightenment mindset wherein reason alone is seen as the only way to truly know anything (senses and revelation are deemed suspect and therefore unreliable). Darwin actually went to Cambridge to study to become an Anglican clergyman, and doesn't seem to have doubted the literal truth of the Bible as an authoritative source of morality. It seems that he was most assuredly not an atheist. In fact, Darwin said himself that "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind." Though he thought of religion as community survival strategy, Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver. He did seem to be suspicious of the Bible's historical reliability, but I do not think it is appropriate to label him as a anti-theistic monster. So I don't.

What I do believe, however, is that Darwin suffered from a serious case of The-God-I-Believe-In-Wouldn't-Do-That mentality that many others still share. In short, Charles Darwin could not handle the Problem of Evil. He could not, for instance, accept that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent Deity would be involved in all the pain and suffering he saw in the world. He could not accept that such a God would create a wasp that stung a caterpillar to paralyze it so that the caterpillar could act as an incubator, and then food source, for the wasp's soon-to-be-hatched eggs.

More importantly, Darwin could not accept that such a God would allow the death of his beloved 10-year old daughter, Annie. His pain in living with Annie's death followed Darwin for the rest of his life and is palpable in this passage from Milton's poetry that was found marked in one of Darwin's favorite books ...
Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom
But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? – That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
Annie died in 1851. From that point forward, Charles Darwin labored to remove God as Grand Designer and replace Him with some natural explanation for it all. He wrote On The Origin Of Species in 1859.

Charles Darwin was a very smart man who has probably been more maligned by the religious faithful in modern times than he deserves. I think we should be charitable to the man and, instead of demonizing him, we should extend him a gracious benefit of the doubt. Maybe the unacceptability of evil led Charles Darwin to attempt to explain its obvious reality in a way that would relieve God of the responsibility for allowing such a thing. Maybe Charles Darwin did so because he respected God too much to lay the blame on Him.

There is no doubt that later atheists and haters of God have used what has come to be known as Darwinism as a scientific explanation to support a Naturalistic Worldview that needs no God. But let's not blame Darwin for that. People like Richard Dawkins claim that religious people suffer from a psychological disorder that is delusional and a crutch for stupid, weak minds. I disagree with them. But even if they are right, my stupidity has no bearing on the truth or falsehood of theism in general or Christianity in particular.

So let's not do the same to Darwin. Let's play fair. Maybe Darwin did manufacture his theory because of a psychological inability to deal with the pain he saw in the world, but that does not make his view false. We all have to admit we struggle to accept the existence of a good God along with the reality of evil, but that's another question for another time.

Instead, let's just evaluate Darwin's theory in scientific terms. That is where I differ with Darwin. The evidence just doesn't support his case. We are to be respecters of men, but not of ideas -- especially ideas that are both harmful and untrue. I prefer to disagree with Darwinism and leave poor Charles Darwin out of the discussion.

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