on the occasion of charles darwin’s 200th birthday

 

Smithsonian)

Charles Darwin (photo: Smithsonian)

today is charles darwin’s 200th birthday. 200 hundred years. it seems like so long ago. and yet, we’re still so far away.

 many people of faith understand the so-called father of human evolution to be some incarnation of satan, sent to earth to tempt the faithful away from the truth of a biblical creation. others, the atheist fundamentalists on the opposite end of the spectrum, worship darwin as he who rang the death knell for a still believed modern myth. and somewhere in between, there are those of us who see darwin for who he was: a deeply moral man who asked a lot of questions.

darwin used his eyes and his brain. he observed and he thought. and he had the courage to ask questions. and once he did, he set in motion a revolution that was nothing less than an alternative way of understanding the world, or at least its origin. until darwin, many people simply believed what they were told despite what they saw, and feared social alienation or physical harm for failing to do so. but darwin took the next logical step and asked whether or not we had to blindly accept how the church understood the origin of the earth. in a sense, darwin is not unlike martin luther, who dared to question the catholic establishment’s authority over the interpretation of the world. thus, darwin was to the church what luther was, well, to the church. they both dared to ask the question of why we must accept what tradition tells us.

200 years later, people of faith are still wrestling with the question of whence we came. those with a fundamentalist understanding of the bible argue that if even a single part of it is not historical truth, none of it can be. they invoke a slippery slope argument in an effort to hold on to what ‘we’ have always believed, instead of asking questions, searching for truth no matter where it lies, and relying on faith to see them through. as an unfortunate result, much of science has been denied, or worse yet, ignored, in an attempt to cling to how a pre-scientific text explains the earth’s origins. and in its place, a pseudo-scientific amalgam of intelligent design and irrational archaeology has been exalted for the full viewing of the faithful.

so while, on lincoln’s 200th birthday, we can celebrate the fact that an african american has been elected president of a nation that once enslaved his like, we cannot yet celebrate a true reconciliation between science and faith. fundamentalists cling to a literal six day creation today like they clung to biblical teachings of ‘slaves obey your masters’ during the civil war. and like slavery, fundamentalist christianity and its black and white understanding of the bible must be overcome.

i am hopeful that just as we overcame a religious opposition to an equality among races, so too will we of faith one day embrace an interpretation of the bible that allows science to explain the ‘how,’ and frees the bible to provide a word as to ‘why.’ until such a time as this, those of us who have dedicated our lives to scientific inquiry, and who happen to live lives of faith, must continue to speak boldly and offer a hermeneutic for both science and the bible that asks the hard questions, follows the data, and lets the truth fall where it may.

so as we celebrate darwin’s birth, let him not be a lightning rod for controversy, but let him be a reminder that we should commit ourselves to observing and thinking about our world and our faith. for like the human species, our understanding of the bible changes over time, and so too must our faith. for both humans and their faith are endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, which from so simple a beginning have been, and are being, evolved.

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