Kim Fabricius: Ten propositions on Dawwin and the diety

Kim Fabricius’s “Ten Propositions” on issues of theology are always worth a read, and his most recent list of Darwin and religion is well worth a read in full. Here are some highlights:

2. Should it be of concern to Christians that Darwin was never more than a nominal believer? Only if, rejecting universalism, you are concerned about the destiny of his immortal soul. Otherwise – well, are you concerned whether your surgeon, mechanic, or hair stylist goes to church? Of course not. Your only concern is that she wields a scalpel, wrench, or scissors with know-how and dexterity. So too with a scientist: one’s only concern should be that he is an honest and skilled practitioner of his craft. And Darwin wasn’t just an able and meticulous biologist, he was a bloody genius. If his theory of evolution by natural selection is the best theory in town that explains the evidence (palaeontological, morphological/taxonomical, molecular/genetic) – and it is – deal with it. Of course refute it on empirical grounds if you can, but don’t rubbish it because you don’t like its theological or moral implications, or because you have a political agenda. Fight science with science – not with the pseudo-science of creationism or the bad science of ID (not to mention the bad theology of both).

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6. For those who would still insist, confounding the biblical Creator with Paley’s watchmaker, that Darwin remains the implacable enemy of Moses, I cannot resist referring to a lovely little letter Karl Barth wrote to his grandniece Christine, who had become disconcerted by a classroom discussion. “Has no one explained to you in your seminar,” Barth wrote, “that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner – that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction?… The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation… So tell the teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side.”

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9. From the beginning, it was moral panic more than scientific scruple that drove Christians to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Darwinism. But it wasn’t just driven by the ignominy of the common biological ancestry of all hominids (captured by the joke of caged apes asking, “Am I my keeper’s brother?”); even more significant was the elimination of teleology from the study of nature and its implication for social ethics. But this is actually exceptionally good news. Because the fact that “the causal heart of Darwinian theorizing is against the idea of progress” (Michael Ruse) clears an intellectual space for biblical eschatology: more precisely, for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the world’s apocalyptic counter-evolutionary moment in which the weakest kata sarka turn out to be the “fittest” kata pneuma. John Howard Yoder famously said that “those who bear crosses are walking with the grain of the universe.” Strictly speaking, that should be: against the grain of “nature, red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson; cf. Romans 8:22), and with the grain of the new creation, where babies play with sidewinders (cf. Isaiah 11:8).

10. It is important, if trivial, to remember that Darwin was a man of his age. If The Descent of Man (1871) contains rather repugnant passages on “the savage races”, even the libertarian Walt Whitman could speak of Africans as a “superstitious, ignorant, and thievish race”. In fact, Darwin too was an ardent abolitionist, and he resisted the Social Darwinism of zealots like Herbert Spencer. Nor should we project the truculent scientism of the son Richard Dawkins back onto the ambivalent, even confused, religious views of the father who immersed himself in Paradise Lost during the voyage of the Beagle, who had actually studied the theology he finally rejected, and who consistently denied that The Origin of Species was inherently atheistic. Darwin was ever a humble thinker, keenly aware (in good Augustinian fashion!) of the dangers of intellectual self-deceit. John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor, reflecting on how Darwin’s theory has influenced our understanding of the deity, suggest that “two images of God took a beating”: “the artisan or mechanic”, and “the magician” of special creation. Which perhaps invites us to re-imagine the Creator more as an improvising artist or musician. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, anyone?

Read it all here. You can find read Kim’s many other “Ten Propositions” here, including my favorite: Ten Propositions: Why Baseball is God’s Game.

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