Church of England Offers Dedication, Apology to Darwin

In a bold move, the Church of England launched on Monday a new section of its Web site dedicated to the naturalist Charles Darwin to mark the approaching bicentenary of his birth.

The Church even offers a posthumous apology to the late scientist, best known for his theory of evolution.

One UK blogger believes such a move makes the Church of England look "ridiculous," as stated on the well-known conservative blog named after Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

"In the creation of a cohesive society and for the pursuit of the common good, it is conceivable that one might entertain an apology to the descendants of slaves for the role the Church played in that trade, and even to attempt some sort of bridge-building exercise with Muslims by apologising for the Crusades. But who exactly is the target audience for an apology addressed to Charles Darwin? Who is grieving for reconciliation?" the blogger states.

The Church's apology appears in the essay entitled, "Good Religion Need Good Science," written by Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, director of Mission and Public Affairs of the Archbishops' Council. He writes:

"Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends."

Brown also characterizes critical arguments that say natural selection justifies racism and other forms of discrimination as a social misapplication of Darwin's discoveries.

He goes on to describe the "mistakes" of the Church, comparing the Church's reaction to Darwin's theory of natural selection as comparable to its treatment of 17th century astronomer Galileo who proposed that the earth orbited around the sun.

"People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and Churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges that changes the way people look at the world, it's easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights," offers Brown.

"The Church made that mistake with Galileo's astronomy and has since realized its error. Some Church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection," he continued.

"So it is important to think again about Darwin's impact on religious thinking, then and now," said Brown, who suggests that Christian teaching and science can be compatible.

In dismay, the Archbishop Cranmer blogger argues, "Apart from the fact that the Church has historically 'misunderstood' far more important things, the Church of England did not actually 'misunderstand' Darwin's theory at all, not least because (as always) it was divided on the issue."

"The bishops understood completely the significance of the nexus of the theory (and theory it remains) - that man is the progeny of apes. It really is so simple that even a bishop in the Church of England can comprehend it," the blog post continues.

The Church's essay is featured as the main highlight of the new section on its Web site, which also includes other resources that give insight into the relationship between the Church of England and Darwin. One sub-section gives a brief history of Darwin's achievements while another on provides links to Darwin's major written works and a listing of how various bodies will be marking the bicentenary.

Under "Darwin and Faith," the section quotes Darwin's own words to offer a look at how the famous scientist - who originally sought out to be a clergyman - slowly lost his personal Christian faith.

The Darwin section on the Church of England's Web site also timely anticipates the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The section went public in the midst of a debate in the United Kingdom on whether creationism should be taught alongside science in classrooms.

On the Web: The Church of England on the Origin of Darwin.