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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Darwinism and popular culture: The Anglican Church's non-apology to Darwin

An Anglican friend, Jane Harris Zsovan, smelled a rat as soon as she read headlines like "Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution" (UK Telegraph, September 14, 2008)

Sure enough, the headline was later clarified down to "Anglican official says Church of England owes Darwin an apology"

The official turned out to be Rev. Malcolm Brown, the head of the church's public affairs department, who explained
In a statement Monday, Brown faulted the church for initially misunderstanding Darwin's theory of evolution.

He says that initial failing has caused some people to continue to misunderstand Darwin to this day.

Brown issued his statement on an Anglican website launched to mark Darwin's bicentenary and the 150th anniversary of the seminal work "On the Origin of Species," both of which fall next year.

Brown says the Church of England should say it is sorry for misunderstanding the old Brit toff and, "by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand (Darwin) still." (Canadian Press, September 15, 2008)
Brown's apology, which appears at the end of an extended whitewash* of Darwinism, reads,
Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends.
Obviously, some in the Church "by law established," and by declining attendance consigned to oblivion, want to adapt the rhetoric of apology to their current political programs, including celebrating Darwinism.

Over at BreakPoint, Regis Nicoll calls it "An apology to a dead man by a dead church about a theory that is dead wrong."

Well, in fairness, that should possibly read "an apology by a deadly earnest bureaucrat in a dying church about a theory in its death throes" - but that doesn't have quite the resonance, does it?

Some observations overheard:

First, the apology faddists are correctly counting on pop media to replay the false claim that Anglicans in general in Darwin's day were horrified by his theory. In fact, as another friend writes to say,
The C of E was more upset about "Essays and Reviews" in 1860 than it was about Darwinism. While a big chunk of the clergymen (50 or 60%) signed a statement in response to Essays and Reviews, to the end of restating their belief in the divine origin of the Bible, I don't recall that Darwinism got much time ....
And of course some famous clergy, such as Charles Kingsley, were openly supportive.

As "Lord Ickenham" notes, over at Uncommon Descent,
Darwin was awarded an honorary degree from Cambridge, and is buried at Westminster Abbey. There was no persecution, no censure, only debates. Thus the apology for "misunderstanding."
His Lordship also observes,
The bigger question is why Rowan Williams and other senior figures in the C of E feel that they need to make the apology. After studying the actions of this man after he became archbishop of Canterbury, my answer to this question is the same to the motives of numerous other inexplicable actions he has made: It makes no sense and I cannot discern any thoughtful leadership. The only straw I can grasp is that the idea sounds good to a certain mindset, that it puts the C of E in the news, and gives him praise from some in positions of secular authority (though evidently the opposite has happened). Perhaps he was thinking there has been a constant stream of bad news about the Anglican Communion in the press, and this would be a nice break. What he doesn’t seem to appreciate is that it is precisely this kind of ridiculous statement (regardless of your views on theology or science) that is a symptom of the larger detachment from reality within the majority of the Anglican church of England, the US, and Canada.
Part of it might be a certain social detachment. I was an Anglican most of my adult life (I become a Roman Catholic in 2005). By and large, the local Anglican hierarchy was far more concerned about looking good in the eyes of people who do not go to church than building up the faithful Christians who are the backbone of any church - and are also the main cause of church growth, both by births and conversions. And it shows too.

An American Episcopalian friend echoes this thought, commenting on his own national church
Anyone who's been following the fracturing of the Anglican church ... knows that it basically consists of Washington Post/New York Times editorial writers who happen to wear religious robes -- stripped, by the way, of any Christian symbols. The theology of the Anglican church is determined by the attitudes of hostesses on East 85th street. Anglican leaders can't say anything that will draw a snicker at a dinner party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Judging from tanking church attendance, they can always hold their services around one of those dinner tables.

Apologizing to Darwin not only makes no sense but is an insult to those to whom apologies may actually be owed. Recently, the Canadian government apologized for removing Aboriginal children from their homes and educating them in residential schools, where many were victimized. But that apology was for harm done.

Darwin was not in any sense harmed by the fact that lots of people, including many clergy and fellow scientists, doubted his theory. That's just what happens when you come up with a theory.

*About that, another friend writes,
The other Darwin material on the site is lightweight. There are some bare-bones historical facts about Darwin, and some discussion of the reaction to Darwin in his day. Some of the information is accurate; some of it is misleadingly stated. There is also some fluff about the need to bring together religion and science, motherhood stuff which no one disagrees with, but stated in a shallow way. The site won't really do much to educate the average non-scholar or non-scientist about the real issues.
If so, a perfect setting for a faux apology.


Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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