Friday, March 6, 2009
Darwin vs. Divine?
Focusing on the important issues
What is really important in our Christian discipleship?
On March 10th I am due to give the final lecture in an eight lecture series on Darwin and Evolution, which are being given through the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College in Oxford. The title of my lecture is “The Challenge of Evolutionary Theory for the 21st Century Church.”
The lecture series has been chosen as 2009 marks the bi-centenary of the birth of Charles Darwin (February 12th) and the 150th anniversary of his major work on natural selection, the Origin of Species, (November 24th).
Darwin’s observation of natural variation and selection together with Mendel’s recognition of genetic inheritance paved the way for our modern understanding of the evolution of life. For biological research and our knowledge of life on earth this is truly important, but for Christian faith?
This scientific breakthrough has led to some heated debate both in science and in the church. There are scientists who believe that everything in this world can only be explained by science, and there are Christians who believe that the only way to understand the origin of this world and its life is through a literal reading of Genesis 1-3
By emphasising extreme positions both suggest that the theory of evolution leads to atheism, and both emphasise that the literal interpretation of scripture is the crux of the argument. This is bad science and bad theology: reducing life to a nothing but atoms and molecules, where there is no room for meaning or for human freedom, and a biblical interpretation that fails to recognise context and genre of the words – giving a one-size-fits-all approach to reading and understanding of scripture.
The result is a false dichotomy of nature or God, which is far removed from the ways in which both scientists and theologians of 17th and 18th centuries viewed the world – they saw the discoveries of science as a revealing of the ways in which God worked in the world.
Darwin’s theory of evolution put God back into the world as an active participant, rather than the machine minder of Sir Isaac Newton, who was outside of his creation.
It was therefore no surprise that Christian scholars Charles Kingsley, Frederick Temple, Aubrey Moore and John Henry Newman in the UK, and Benjamin Warfield, James Orr and Asa Gray in USA welcomed Darwin’s ideas. In fact Darwin himself and also his keenest advocate, Thomas Henry Huxley, both left room for God in their assessment of the origin of the world.
We know that God faithfully and lovingly ordered creation, and declared it to be good.
Evolution is a process within the universe’s story. This story is not a chance process but is constrained by the physical (God-given) parameters of the universe’s beginnings and by its (God-given) laws. I believe that we should recognise the way in which God has brought the universe and life of planet earth into being, and praise God for his faithfulness, his creativity, and every aspect of his grace that we find in our lives in this world.
When we have reached this conclusion we can move on to our calling as disciples of Christ to be Gospel people sharing God’s desire for all human beings to know him, and through the Cross of Christ to be brought into an eternal relationship with the creator of the universe.
In a radio discussion last month about Darwin and evolution on BBC Wales’ “All things considered,” presenter Roy Jenkins asked me if I thought there were more important issues for attention by the church. I responded with my sadness at the amount of time and money that is being spent in this debate, especially by those groups that advocate ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design.’
We are living in a time when the world is in the grips two crises: an economic crisis and the crisis of global climate change. Both require drastic and immediate action, and both are having a disproportionately adverse affect on the poorest in our world. If we are to act out our Christian discipleship standing up for God’s priorities of justice and mercy we will need to give priority to allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us and to change us, so that our lives will bring hope and life to those in greatest need.
Our priority is to focus on the important issues of life in Christ and life in all the fullness that God intended now, rather than arguments about how life on planet earth developed in past ages.
Posted by Simon Woodman at 10:27 AM