I suspect this is going to be a very stream-of-consciousness post. Y’all have been duly warned.
It’s so interesting and peculiar that a guy who died almost 140 years ago still gets other humans’ panties in a bunch. Yes, I know, on the surface you could argue that it’s not the guy who upsets people so much, but his theories. Sure. But in most of the Christian circles I’ve moved in, the man himself is vilified to the point where he might as well have horns and a forked tail. The way he’s verbally depicted, you’d think his entire goal was to bring down Christianity single-handedly and desecrate its mangled corpse.
Charles Darwin is considered the founder of modern biology. I don’t recall ever learning much about him in school — surely, the German education system had to have taught us something about him? If so, it wasn’t much. Most of what I know of him, I learned post-college through the various apologetics texts I studied that tried to refute him.
Learning about a thing from the forces directly opposing that thing isn’t the most insightful or beneficial method of obtaining objective or even valid knowledge. Yikes.
So, Charles Darwin: founder of modern biology. One of the things this says to me is that without him, we might not have a lot of the modern medicines or medical technologies most of us take for granted these days. After all, you have to know how a lifeform’s biology functions before you can develop medicines or technologies to aid that lifeform. I’ve watched enough scenes set in Starfleet sickbays to know that. How many medicines and gadgets would we be without today, if not for Darwin?
Somebody with more scientific and historical knowledge can answer that, I’m sure. There have to be books about it. Where Would We Be without Darwin? or Charles Darwin, the Advent of Modern Medicine, and Other Stories. Somebody get to work and write those.
Today’s AfL text is a selection from Darwin’s Autobiography. In it, he writes of his deep struggle between piety and courageous, honest scientific exploration. The man didn’t set out to destroy Christianity; he fought desperately for the faith within himself; he was averse to following his own theories to their faith-abolishing conclusions. But he also called it like he saw it, and he just as desperately wanted to be honest about that.
This was not a cold, calculating, devilish science-monger who abandoned his faith with a light heart. Even in his Origin of Species, he refers to “creation,” and in public, he quoted the Bible as an unanswerable authority. He wished for incontrovertible evidence of the divine. And through it all — even in his later full agnosticism — he remained deeply sensitive to the religious beliefs of those around him, especially those of Emma, his devout wife.
Much of Darwin’s faith, while it lasted, was based on emotions, the deeply felt conviction for the existence of an Intelligent Creator. I don’t know if that was the predominant “type” of faith in Darwin’s time, or just in his personal arena. Eventually, he decided that “faith-by-feeling” would only be a valid argument if people of every culture in the world expressed the same inner conviction pointing to just one particular deity. Obviously, that’s not the case.
In spite of his own experiences, Darwin gave reason-based faith a bit more weight. He’d reasoned himself into a belief in an uncaused First Cause, but he still questioned whether a human mind could possibly factor in the whole of reality and sum it all up in a god-concept that was at all coherent. His final conclusion was “no,” and from what I understand, he remained an agnostic for the rest of his life.
I get where he was coming from. It’s never been my experience that “I feel that God exists and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, therefore I know it’s all true.” My parents taught me to reason out my faith, and that’s one of the threads that eventually led me into my intensive studies in apologetics. That said, as far back as I can remember as a child, I never questioned the reality of God’s loving presence in my life. It wasn’t a case of “I feel this, therefore I believe”; it was an “I feel this; and I believe.”
Since I also embraced the tenet “feelings are as changeable as the weather” (a phrase I enjoyed quoting in debates concerning emotion-based faith), I focused on maintaining my faith no matter how I might feel about God at any given moment.
You see…every so often, I’d find myself mulling over the masses of scientific explanation — biology, chemistry, physics (quantum stuff! spooky action at a distance!), astronomy (ooooh, astronomy! the chronological age of light, y’all) — and I’d ask myself, “In all of this, how can God possibly be real?” and I would answer myself, “No, I still believe,” and I’d bury the doubt again.
“I feel God’s presence; and I believe.”
“I feel the absence of something that can’t possibly exist; but I believe.”
Don’t ask me where I am now. I can’t put it into words.
Ask me where I am now! I can tell you exactly: I’m in the gap, the dash, that uncomfortable place between. A/theism. It’s not agnosticism. It’s an embrace of the antagonism. It’s all clear as mud.
How do I feel about it? I dunno. Comfortable. Scared. Unsettled. Free. Worried about what happens when our Sun dies in 5 billion years. Amused at my silly worrying. (Darwin pointed out that if you believe in the immortality of the soul, then the death of a Sol isn’t going to bother you much. Neither is an incredibly rapid change in Earth’s climate, for that matter….)
So there you go. Darwin didn’t have horns and a pitchfork, and I’m bebothered about the Sun going all Red Giant on us. Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.