A Church Apology to Darwin?

If news reports are to be believed, the Church of England will apologise to Charles Darwin for rejecting his theory of evolution. This is how the story is being reported:

“Coming 126 years after his death, the church’s apology will focus on how wrong it was for senior bishops in the past to misunderstand and attack Darwin’s theory about man being descended from apes. Senior church officials will post the apology in the form of an article written by the Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown on the church’s website tomorrow. ‘Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth (in 1809), the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still,’ the article says, according to extracts printed by The Mail on Sunday newspaper.”

So what are Christians to make of all this? It is true that some believers have wanted to embrace Darwinism in its entirety, and make it fully compatible with Christian teaching. Known as theistic evolutionists, they have been in a minority position, and have pleased neither fellow Christians nor fellow Darwinists.

This is not the place to enter into a critique of theistic evolution. One can simply say that science itself is not fully convinced about Darwin’s theories. Indeed, they have undergone major revisions over the years. Neo-Darwinism today is also not something enjoying unanimous scientific support.

So if the science is still out – contrary to the huff and bluff of the hard core atheists and Darwinists – why in the world should the church be offering an apology? The truth is, Darwin’s ideas were in many ways quite dangerous.

As Benjamin Wiker points out in his new book, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World, Darwin’s other book was certainly one such volume that would have been better off never seeing the light of day. I refer to his second most important book, The Descent of Man, written in 1871.

Most people are aware of his 1859 book, Origin of the Species. It is one of those most talked about books which most people have never read. And most people are not aware of the full title: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.

As Wiker points out, “Reading Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man forces one to face an unpleasant truth: that if everything he said in his more famous Origin of the Species is true, then it quite logically follows that human beings ought to ensure that the fit breed with abandon and that the unfit are weeded out. . . It is impossible to distance Darwin from eugenics: it’s a straight logical shot from his evolutionary ethics.”

The concept of the survival of the fittest of course permeates his 1859 book. True, he did not include human beings in his arguments there. But the anthropological ramifications of his arguments certainly come to the fore in his 1871 volume. Wiker provides ample quotes from The Descent of Man, showing how Darwin’s ideas about the animal world were certainly to include the human world.

Indeed, according to Darwin, humans are simply animals anyway. Thus, as Wiker puts it, “Human races are like different breeds of dogs. They are the result of divergent evolutionary developments. The distinct human races, Darwin informs us, are best considered ‘sub-species,’ that is, somewhere between the transition from distinct breed to distinct species.”

He continues, “But for Darwin, evolution cannot stop there. As time passes, the difference between human races will lead to the evolution of entirely different species. This does not occur from the Chinaman turning into one species, while an Englishman and an African turn into others, but through the elimination of some races by other races according to survival of the fittest. It is a law of evolution…”

Thus, evolution is “driven by competition, and competition brings extinction. Darwin notes, matter-of-factly, that ‘extinction follows chiefly from the competition of tribe with tribe, race with race. . . . When civilised nations come into contact with barbarians the struggle is short, except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native race.’ That is not a moral complaint; it is a detached scientific description uttered without angst.”

Wiker concludes, “Having read the Descent of Man, we can no longer claim that Darwin didn’t intend the biological theory of evolution outlined in the Origin of the Species to be applied to human beings. Nor can we brush his pernicious words away with a dismissive, ‘He’s just a man of his time.’ Darwin made his time…”

Other scholars have of course pointed out the eugenics connection to Darwin’s biological theories. Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, put it this way:  “Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ led, when thoroughly assimilated, to something more like Nietzsche’s philosophy than like Bentham’s.”

Evolutionist Sir Arthur Keith said this: “We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy. The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people was organised slaughter, which has drenched Europe in blood … it is consistent with evolutionary morality. Germany reverted to the tribal past, and demonstrated to the world, in their naked ferocity, the methods of evolution.”

Hitler certainly agreed with the Darwinian worldview. As he said in Mein Kampf: “If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”

Indeed, whole books have been penned on the eugenics outcome of Darwinian thinking. Consider just three important volumes: Edwin Black, War against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003); Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (Oxford University Press, 1994); and Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Weikart’s book is well worth getting and carefully reading. Just two quotes: “Hitler’s morality was not based on traditional Judeo-Christian ethics nor Kant’s categorical imperative, but was rather a complete repudiation of them. Instead, Hitler embraced an evolutionary ethic that made Darwinian fitness and health the only criteria for moral standards.”

“Darwinian terminology and rhetoric pervaded Hitler’s writings and speeches, and no one to my knowledge has ever even questioned the common assertion by scholars that Hitler was a social Darwinist. It is too obvious to deny.”

In the light of all of Darwin’s bad ideas, why in the world do some in the Christian church feel compelled to apologise to him? Evidently the church has gotten onto the political correctness bandwagon big time. It seems to feel guilty about everything, and is offering apologies left, right and centre. Mind you, when the church really has done something wrong, then an apology is in order. But it does not need to apologise for everything, just because it has capitulated to the surrounding culture.

Indeed. What else should the church apologise for? Maybe we should ask the Nazis forgiveness for saying Hitler was wrong. Maybe we should apologise to atheists for saying unbelief is wrong. Maybe we should apologise to the jihadists for saying terrorism is wrong.

Should the church apologise for the way it treated poor Darwin? I don’t think so. But the church maybe should apologise for the silly remarks of people like Dr Brown.


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