Sunday, 27 September 2009

Creation & the engagement with modernity

It seems that the recently released film Creation will do little more than trot out (if only by implication) the received view amongst the western secular intelligentsia that Darwin & evolution destroyed the credibility of religion once and for all. Before we get too defensive about that and swallow all the other ongoing consequences of the disastrous Wilberforce / Huxley debate, this is a reminder of the reaction of the great (and soon to be Blessed) John Henry Newman:

“Darwinism, for example was not necessarily atheistic: ‘ it does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter.’ He could not see why evolution, any more than human generation, was incompatible with the doctrine of creation. As for Adam being literally created from dust, the Bible also said that all men are created from dust, and seemed to say that the sun goes round a stationary earth. Again there might be well have been a ‘pre-adamite man’ with reason but without conscience, and therefore without ‘a natural knowledge of God, till he had a revelation’, since ‘ all the mental faculties are but latent, till elicited by external means, as invisible ink is brought out by heat.’ Christianity was certainly ‘on trial’, but he knew of no objection such that he ‘ could not fancy either that a fuller investigation would countermine it, or that the original mine when sprung would end in an abortive explosion’; whatever the ‘residuum of truth’ in the objections, ’the greater part of it will vanish before long like the froth and spray of the breakers on a coast’.

From Ian Ker’s John Henry Newman (page 624)

Pope Benedict, among other contemporary theologians and churchmen, has repeatedly warned about the tendency to treat science as having a prescriptive force way beyond its area of technical competence. Again, Newman is there first:

“I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the nineteenth century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for forty years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design...”
….. “Design teaches me power, skill and goodness—not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.”

(from a letter written in 1872.)

Wilberforce was an Anglican bishop, Newman a prophetic and orthodox Catholic theologian.

It may be going a little too far to cite Newman, as some have done, as a passionate supporter of Darwinism, nevertheless his view was clearly that theories of evolution per se and Darwin’s research in particular are in no way incompatible with the faith of the Catholic Church. Engagement with modernity, even if that engagement often means confrontation and the correction of error, is a necessary prerequisite of the Church's proclamation of the Gospel. On the other hand if you make the foundation of your faith the literal inerrancy of the Bible alone……?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I didn't know this quotation from Newman. Thank you.


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