Sorry, Charlie, No Apology from the Pope

In breaking news, New Scientist reports that the “Vatican said on Tuesday the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible but planned no posthumous apology to Charles Darwin for the cold reception it gave him 150 years ago.” Frankly, I doubt that Charles Darwin really cares.

I, myself, have never seen any conflict between believing in Jesus and believing in the theory of natural selection. The conflict only occurs when you interpret the Bible literally to say that God created the world in six days. I realize that not all Christians are creationists, nor should they be, because creationism is silly. The New Scientist article goes on to report that in 2006, Sarah Palin advocated teaching creationism in the schools, but she has since backed down. I pray that it is not “God’s will” that she be our next vice president.

For those of you not familiar with Charles Darwin’s life, I just want to throw out a few quick facts. Charles Darwin was raised as both a unitarian and an anglican. As a man of his times, he was a Christian and, early in his studies, he was influenced by both Lamarckism and William Paley’s notion of “divine design”. His views began to change after taking a 5-year voyage on the HMS Beagle and examining the fossils that he found during this trip. The idea of evolution was already around at this time, but most people believed, like Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, that it was based on acquired characteristics.

Charles spent two years researching and studying after returning from his trip. He spoke with zoologists, ornithologists, natural historians, even farmers and pigeon breeders, but it took two more years, while reading about the ‘struggle for existence’ in Malthus’ “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, before he struck on the idea of how evolution might possibly work. Thus, he did not discover evolution, but rather the mechanism, natural selection, by which evolution works. The important part here is, of course, that no divine intelligence is required to guide natural selection. Chance is enough to result in the creation of new species.

Charles Darwin delayed the publication of his idea for twenty years because he knew most people would find it heretical. He finally rushed to publication in 1856 after learning that another young scientist, Alfred Wallace, was reaching the same conclusions. As expected, his book “The Origin of Species” stirred up quite a controversy, and even today, 150 years later, some people still can’t quite get a grip on it.

Throughout his long and distinguished career, Darwin found his faith in Christianity constantly being tested and slowly dwindling. His religious flame was pretty much extinguished in 1851 with the death of his favorite daughter, Annie, at the age of 10.

My only question is who really cares what the Vatican thinks.

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