Saturday, April 23, 2011

Darwin: Evolution and Faith

Last night, we watched Creation, with Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin. It is an unusually sensitive portrayal of a man's inner life, his grief and anxiety.

Trailers for the film focus on the obvious conflict between the skeptical scientist and his wife, Emma, who is conventionally religious. There is much more in this intelligent script, especially the love and grief for the Darwins' 10-year-old daughter and the emotional strength of the main character as he struggles to write his famous book.

Reading about this British movie today, I was dismayed to learn that US distributors have been reluctant to show it here because of pressure from the Christian right, whose websites blasted Darwin and his "silly theory" of evolution as well as the film as anti-Christian.

There is nothing anti-Christian about this fine film, unless you insist on watching movies that reinforce strict fundamentalism, unless you are afraid to consider a God who, unlike the one found in a literal reading of Genesis, did not create everything in the world 6,000 years ago in six days. Catholics know, or should know, that our tradition does not read Genesis in such a literal-minded way and sees no essential separation between the existence of God and evolution. I believe this applies to other mainstream Christian groups.

By coincidence (or was it?), I have just been reading in a biography of Cardinal Newman this statement from one of his letters (1874): there is "nothing in the theory of evolution inconsistent with an Almighty God." Since then, several popes have said similar things. Why? Because one must have an idea of God that is expansive: God is Being itself, the ulimate source of all life, the loving "I Am" who revealed Himself to Moses, the One who is beyond all limitations, including that of time and space.

Interesting, too, is that in real life, Emma and Charles Darwin lived out an amicable marriage of 43 years based on mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance; they coped lovingly with their differences, as suggested in the film. Emma even helped her husband edit and complete his Origin of Species, even though it slighted the conventional idea of a creator-God.

That is the spirit of openness and trust that should guide all Christians to learn more both about the relation of science and religion--even if those ideas seem threatening--and to open their hearts and minds to a wider notion of God than what we learn as children. It is only by being enlightened, as Newman was in Darwin's own time, that people of faith can coexist with the realities of science and reason.

Enlightenment and understanding of the mysteries of creation and life itself are essential if Christianity is to be a religion of love rather than of fear, hatred, and prejudice. This is asking a lot, I know--even on Easter with its message of miraculous illumination and total transformation.

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