Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Spirituality of Charles Darwin

The Beagle
Charles Darwin was born over two hundred years ago (12th February 1809) in Downe House, Kent, England. He is famous for his development of the idea of evolution, though many claim that it was his followers after his death who developed this theory from his work. He was an English naturalist who wrote two books, "The Voyage of the Beagle" and "On the Origin of Species"  After much thought about the fossils he collected on his voyage and discussions with several other naturalists he conceived his theory of natural selection together with a logical explanation of the diversity of life.

Many people neglect to realize that Charles Darwin was a deeply spiritual man who came from a wealthy Christian family. He was the son of a wealthy doctor and financier, Robert Darwin and grandson on his mothers side of Josiah Wedgwood, of Wedgwood pottery fame. He married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. His father who was a devout Anglican encouraged him to be a free thinker and enrolled him in the the Shrewsbury School as a boarder. In 1825, he spent time as an apprentice doctor with his father caring for the poor in Shropshire. He was sent to begin studies towards becoming a Priest in the Church of England at Christ College Cambridge, but was far more interested in plants and animals. He was impressed by Paley's book "Natural Theology" which"made an argument for divine design in nature" and "explained adaption as God acting through the laws of nature."

The Victorian era was one of great interest in all things natural. People were greatly interested in knowledge of the world stemming from a deeply Christian morality and belief. This was the backcloth to his epic journey on the Beagle and his subsequent writings. He never set out to create a theory of evolution which would be at odds with the Creation Theory, but simply to explain the natural world and its creation in his own words. 

On the voyage of the Beagle, he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible but sought explanations in the laws of nature and saw adaption of species as evidence of design. He remained quite orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority on morality. Like the rest of us, he questioned the cruelty of nature when seen in the light of an all loving God. One such example was  the ichneumon wasp which paralyzed caterpillars as live food for its eggs. Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver.

Charles played a leading part in the parish work of his local church. In 1879, he said that he had never denied the existence of God. The importance of Charles Darwin lies not in the divide between Evolution and Creationism but more in the Christian atmosphere that enable him to think freely and challenge the assumptions of his day. He was brought forth by God to help us think more deeply about the environment in which we live and breath and have our being, and for that he should be remembered.

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron

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