Happy Birthday Eve, Mr. Darwin

Tomorrow is the 200th birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Tomorrow I’ll be writing about President Lincoln but today I want to remember Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin is best known for his book, The Origin of Species. He has become the flashpoint in a debate between evolution and creationism. Before the 19th century most people believed that the creation of the world happened as it was described in the Bible. Charles Darwin and others began to observe through scientific experimentation that there was another story.

Therein lies the rub. People who use the Bible as the only source for the world’s creation trace our orign to October 23, 4004 BC. You can read more about it here. Darwin and others began to posit the theory that the world is much older and that species evolved. In other words, the first people were not Adam and Eve. We, instead, evolved from other creatures and other primates are (in a sense) our distant cousins.

Almost immediately after the publication of his book there were those who believed that Darwin wrote his book only to destroy Christianity. They felt that anything that talked about evolution would cause well meaning believers to renounce belief in God and that the world would become atheists (and would therefore be condemned to hell.)

On the other hand, many of us believed that there is not problem in believing in both evolution and God. We were heartened by Pope John Paul II who claimed that Genesis answers the “why” of creation and not the “how.” As a lifelong Catholic it never occurred to me as a child that evolution was wrong. I never saw the connection between science class and church. I always believed in both evolution and God.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered that there were people who though the world was only 6000 years old. When I first learned about creationism (or its first cousin “intelligent design”) I couldn’t believe intelligent people could believe in such a thing. I quickly recognized that, despite their claims, this wasn’t science.

The scientific method, developed in the 1700s, follows a strict course: you begin with observation, which leads to a hypothesis, followed by experimentation. If the experimentation confirms the hypothesis, it becomes (over a series of experiments) a theory. If it doesn’t, the hypothesis is discarded in favor of another hypothesis. Over time the theory becomes more and more significant and more and more accepted (like gravity).

Creationism isn’t science because it doesn’t follow this course. It begins with the conclusion that must be found. It then develops a hypothesis that picks and chooses observations that lead to the conclusion that must be found. Any experimentation that leads in another direction is discarded, and any experimentation (no matter how suspect) that leads in the right direction must be true.

In the final word, I think the Christian Churches picked a fight with Darwin that didn’t need to be fought. Faith doesn’t mean you have to disbelieve what science finds to be true and it doesn’t mean you have to stop using your brain. My belief in God includes the possibility that God created the world and watches over its evolution. I pray for the day when all Christians believe this.

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