Thursday, March 01, 2007

More thoughts on Darwin

Charles Darwin has been the central figure in the "faith versus science" controvery for a century and a half. He was very uncomfortable with that role during his lifetime, and, my guess is, he would be even more uncomfortable with that role if he could join us today.

Janet Browne's two volume biography of Darwin paints the picture of an avuncular, modest, private man who followed his scientific thoughts where they lead. A gentleman of leisure due to inherited wealth, Darwin was a devoted family man, well respected member of his small community (Downe), and a good friend to many.

He knew that his theory could lead in a direction of atheism, but welcomed Christian believers and non-believers alike to review and understand the science behind it.

Much has been made of his personal journey of faith -- too much probably. The atheists who found in it the scientific basis to support their beliefs overplayed their hand, in his opinion. And yet, his own personal descent into agnosticism was a fact that men like Thomas Huxley and Ludwig Bruchner did not fail to mention in their quest to destroy faith.

Darwin was much more accepting of the Christian views of others than either Huxley or Bruchner. Indeed, the sense I get from reading of his life is that he was very conflicted on the matter.

Born a Christian, but surrounded by non-believers, Darwin did not abandon his Christian faith until 1851, when his ten year old daughter died. His wife Emma was a strong Christian throughout her life, and one can imagine the tension within the household when aggressive atheists came by to visit the retiring Darwin and his wife played the gracious hostess.

If Darwin were here today, I imagine he might send a gentle note of advice to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. The content of the note ? Probably a suggestion to focus on the science of his theory and not to apply it aggressively and publicly to matters of faith.

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