Forgive Us our Sins, Mr. Darwin


The Anglican Church is fashioning a public apology to one of history's most shat-upon scientists, Charles Darwin:

The Church of England owes Charles Darwin an apology for misunderstanding his theory of evolution and making errors over its reaction to it, a senior clergyman said today….

"People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which 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.

"The church made that mistake with Galileo's astronomy, and has since realised its error. Some church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. So it is important to think again about Darwin's impact on religious thinking, then and now – and the bicentenary of Darwin's birth in 1809 is a good time to do so.

"It is hard to avoid the thought that the reaction against Darwin was largely based on what we would now call the 'yuk factor'—an emotional not an intellectual response—when he proposed a lineage from apes to humans."

While somewhat late to the party, the Anglicans are at least better at admitting their foibles than the One True Church, which is currently building a statue to commemorate Galileo:

"It's an effort to make him a symbol, an attempt to make Galileo one of the emblems of the church," says Mr. Galluzzi, whose museum houses two of Galileo's telescopes. "It's the church which needs rehabilitation on this case, not Galileo. He was right."

On the other side of the barricades, meanwhile, some Roman Catholics think the church has already done more than enough to make up with Galileo.

Atila Sinke Guimarães, a conservative Catholic writer, dismisses the church's mistreatment of Galileo as a "black legend."

The scientist, he says, got what he deserved. "The Inquisition was very moderate with him. He wasn't tortured."

As the western branches of the Anglican Communion have liberalized over the last several decades, their membership numbers have plummeted. In Africa, on the other hand, where Anglican ministers espouse a fire and brimstone theology akin to American Evengelicalism with a hint of Orthodox Roman Catholocism, membership is on the rise. 

It would seem that the more a Christian denomination Anglicanism encourages intellectual freedom—or doubt, as the believers call it—the less able it is to sustain or grow its membership. Why can't Anglicans be more like some Jews and some Buddhists, occasional intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age? Because Christianity Anglicanism thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.