Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What I Learned from Charles Darwin

In our modern society one name that is either feared or revered is that of Charles Darwin. To some he is the poster child of satanic lies that seeks to undermine the integrity of Creation as proclaimed in Genesis. To others he is a ground-breaking scientist and theorist that gave meaning to many of the mysteries surrounding the origins of life on earth.

I find it particularly interesting to see how this man’s name (or, more precisely, his memory) is characterized in silly bumper logos of fish, fish with feet called “Darwin,” and fish called “Truth” eating fish with feet.

So just what is it about this Darwin fellow that has people over 150 years after Darwin published “Origin of Species” so up in arms?

Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was a carefully researched theory that basically postulated one primary resolution to a basic question of life on earth. How do different species come into being? Darwin suggested that through the process of natural selection, species were not so much created out of nothing, but evolved from streams of common ancestries to adapt to changing and unique environments.

On the outset, Darwin’s theory clashed with the established religious traditions of the day that easily and faithfully accepted the biblically literal account of Creation as told in Genesis. Essentially, he postulated a dichotomy where two conflicting understandings of Truth seemed in such stark contrast that they could not coexist. In short, he threatened our religious understanding of Truth. Of course, when in doubt, people of faith clung tightly to God and the Biblical Truth that had guided humanity for so many years.

Yet I believe Charles Darwin did something far more radical—and threatening. Darwin’s theories, regardless of how inconsistent they are with literal readings of scripture, were brilliantly researched and exquisitely stated in ways that were difficult to challenge on any but strictly religious grounds.

At the core of Darwin’s theories was the presumption that biological life on earth was not divinely appointed in a matter of days. Even more frightening (or shall I say, offensive) to many was the presumption that humanity may have also evolved along a tract similar to those Darwin postulated in his theory.

I believe Darwin’s primary offence was never one of challenging religious orthodoxy or contradicting Biblical literalism. Perhaps what offended people the most was that Darwin’s theories required humanity to critically re-evaluate our place in the universe, creation, and even in God. Such deeply introspective revaluation of core identities is always difficult and will easily evoke hostile resistance. Yet, is such introspective analysis a bad thing? Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Issac Newton stand in a long line of great thinkers who challenged religious and human assumptions in frightening and revelatory ways.

Science and Religion are still at odds in many ways and perhaps may never see eye to eye. Yet, sadly, this never need to be the case.

Conflict between science and religion exists only when their core purposes are transposed or confused. Science is focused on the how of our world and religion on the why. In the case of Darwin, his theories postulate a theory that tries to explain how life came to exist as we know it today. It is up to religion to provide a meaning and purpose to that knowledge.

In short, religion and science actually need one another. I am not necessarily advocating for or against Darwinism or Creationism. I think both have their flaws and strengths. Likewise, there are valid reasons for each to be pursued in their own right.

As a person of faith myself, and one who’s deep belief in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scripture and experienced in the Holy Spirit, I believe the greatest lesson I can learn from thinkers like Darwin is to not fear their challenges to my faith but embrace them as strengthening something far more valuable—my own self-understanding and knowledge of place in this cosmos! 

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