Jewish Journal

Southern Baptist leader angry with Anglicans for Darwin apology

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 22, 2008 | 1:37 pm

The Rev. Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who caused a big brouhaha last year when he suggested homosexuality was hereditary, can’t believe the Church of England wants to apologize to Charles Darwin, and he takes particular aim at the Rev. Malcolm Brown, the church’s director of mission and public affairs, in this column for the Christian Post:

Apologize to Charles Darwin? The Church of England may well need to apologize, but not to Charles Darwin. If anything, the church needs to apologize for its rightful embarrassment in considering an apology to Darwin. But, it seems, this church is not embarrassed.

Dr. Brown apparently is a big believer in Darwin’s theory of natural selection. “Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection,” he insists. “There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching.”

Well, Charles Darwin sure thought that the theory of natural selection contradicted Christian teaching. But, then again, he may have had a better understanding of Christian teaching than Dr. Brown.

I’m not one to cast stones, but that judgment seems a bit, well, judgmental. It also presumes that the Baptist understanding of Christian teaching, of which Mohler is a leading voice, is more righteous than the Anglican interpretation, which Southern Baptist leadership no doubt believes.

More of Mohler’s column is after the jump:

To the end of his life, Darwin identified himself as a “nominal” Anglican, but by that time he had long abandoned theism and any belief in a personal God. The relationship between Darwin’s changing religious beliefs and his developing scientific theory can be read either of two ways, and even Darwin appeared to have been unclear in his own mind how the two were related. The two options are these: Either Darwin’s theory of natural selection undermined his belief in a personal God who directed creation, or his abandonment of his belief in a personal God as the agent of creation led to his development of the theory of natural selection. Either way, Darwin himself was clear that the belief that God is Creator and the belief that life is evidence of natural selection are incompatible beliefs.

Darwin differed, for example, with the American botanist Asa Gray over just this question. Gray allowed for God as the agent of design, working through what appeared to be natural selection - a form of what is often called “theistic evolution.” But Darwin would have none of that, and he rejected any role for a divine Designer.

As Peter J. Bowler explains in Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence (Cambridge University Press), “The one thing Darwin could not admit was that God somehow played an active role in controlling the direction of evolution.”

Dr. Brown argues that Darwin was misunderstood. In his words: “Darwin’s meticulous application of the principles of evidence-based research was not the problem. His theory caused offense because it challenged the view that God had created human beings as an entirely different kind of creation to the rest of the animal world.”

No, his theory caused offense because it challenged the view that God had anything to do with the creation of any species at all. Dr. Brown’s version of Darwinism simply isn’t compatible with what Darwin actually believed.

Dr. Brown wants to make the apology to Darwin because he is embarrassed that some in his church rejected Darwin’s theories. This, Brown suggests, was due to the fact that the church is often fearful of new ideas. “When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it’s easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then do battle against the new insights.”

That kind of facile thinking is all too evident in today’s doctrinally disarmed church. Here a senior cleric attempts to do public relations by offering a posthumous apology to Charles Darwin, while dismissing any theological concern about his theory and instead insisting that nothing in Darwinism contradicts Christian teaching.

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