Dear Mr Darwin,
Permit me to express my heartfelt sympathy with you. The Christian Church, to which I belong, has often been unkind to you. Things have been said and written about you that in my humble opinion are lacking in Christian charity. I even read that the Bishop William Wilberforce asked which side of your family descended from monkeys. That was uncalled for.
Let me be clear from the beginning, I do not believe in your theory. But I believe in your God-given, sorry, Nature-given right to claim that you are descended from whatever tickled your intellectual rib. Such quests as yours make for a better appreciation of the world and our place in it. I think even God encourages it, after all scripture tells us it’s good for one to take time out to seek and intermeddle with all wisdom. Proverbs 18:1
The creation debate antedated you. It will outdate my great-grandchildren. But there are signs here and there that help me navigate the labyrinth that the argument has become. It is a little matter of a people called Jews. I will not bore you with the whole story of this people. It’s long and I’m a tad too conscious that I’m keeping you from your rest. Permit me to narrow it down to the story of just one of them, a man by the name of Ezekiel. He is by no means a unique pointer in my outlook, but he will do for this letter.
What Prophet Ezekiel and others like him demonstrate is that we are possessed of a lot more faculties than are necessary for adapting to the physical world. They make short work of your theory of evolution.
About 2400 years ago Ezekiel claimed to have seen a vision of a valley filled with dry bones. Ezekiel 37:14 And a voice instructed him to command those bones to come alive. He had his doubts, but did as he was instructed. To his amazement, bones came alive, sauntered one to another, bone to joint, sinew to bone and before you knew it, a valley of death, decay and hopelessness was teeming with life.
About 500 years later, his vision started a very sorry journey to fulfilment. The Romans decimated Jerusalem and the Jews were dispersed all over the world. The wave of dispersal itself became perennial as they suffered a never-ending series of pogroms and relocations. For 2000 years they were homeless, families were torn apart, kith was separated from kin. Jerusalem and its temple, the point at which their heaven met their earth became the grave of their dream. God’s promise to the patriarchs was buried there.
Fast forward to the 1940s, events took a turn for the worse when an aberration of humanity called Hitler decided his calling in life was to liquidate Jews in realms within his dominion. The world may never recover from what he achieved. However his madness galvanised a momentum that led to the culmination of Ezekiel’s vision. Jews fought to reclaim their land. From Cape to Iceland, Mexico to Australia, Jews started making their way back home. Bone to joint, sinew to bone, the valley of death, decay and hopelessness has returned to life, Jewish life.
What I find fascinating in this summary is the capacity of one man to see so far into the future. To foretell a process that would begin 500 years into the future and end 2000 years later. He is by no means the only one possessed of this capacity. As I wrote above, he will do. What he and others like him demonstrate is that we are possessed of a lot more faculties than are necessary for adapting to the physical world. They make short work of your theory of evolution.
It follows, Mr Darwin, that the bit of God in us, when quickened, empowers us to do and experience things outside of and beyond the scope of the physical world.
You were preoccupied with our experience of and struggle with the physical world. There are those that have shown by their extraordinary abilities that there is more to humans than the challenges that the physical world demands. They prove that our existence is not about graduating from one species to another just to adapt and survive. We are capable of and do things that are beyond such needs. How did we come by this faculty? I’ll hazard a guess.
The bible, yes, the one you came to doubt, said that it is the breath of God that makes us living souls. Put in another way, the essence of a transcendent God is in humans. Since by transcendent we mean that God is outside and beyond nature and the physical world, it follows, Mr Darwin, that the bit of God in us, when quickened, empowers us to do and experience things outside of and beyond the scope of the physical world.
As far as I can tell, and I submit this is entirely subjective, monkeys, baboons, gorillas and the like do not possess these abilities. And I suspect, this is only a suspicion as I do not know for sure, you did not possess these transcendent abilities either. I imagined if you did, being intellectual and all, you would have included it in your reasoning. Such abject lack of transcendental dimension to your experience might be the reason that Bishop Wilberforce wondered which of your forbears were monkeys. He probably intended no offence.
A willingness to be enlightened by ideas and queries from non-faith, non-spiritual, other-wordly sources is not such a bad thing.
Having said all that, there is nonetheless no justification for the kind of abuse to which your memory has been subjected. Maybe if you had christened your theory as, say,’ The Origin of Species – of the Darwinian kind’, you might have saved yourself a lot of abuse. But then the world would have been denied a most enthralling contest between the world of faith and that of science. That’s too much a loss to even contemplate. I prefer things this way and I thank you for it all.
I hold that those who are most vitriolic in condemning you are guilty of an error equal to that with which they charge you. Both you and they cloak theory and allegory in the garb of fact. We call them Biblical literalists. They think you’re a threat to Mosaic account of creation in Genesis. God created the world in six 24-hour days. End of. Any proof to the contrary, and by God there are loads, have to be the design of heretics out to undermine Biblical inerrancy. As you lack transcendental capacity, they also lack exegetical capacity.
A willingness to be enlightened by ideas and queries from non-faith, non-spiritual, other-wordly sources is not such a bad thing. Scripture tells us Moses got close to God like no one else in history – biblical or otherwise. With him, God said he spoke face to face, like one friend to another, no proverbs, no dark speeches. Numbers 12:7-8 You would think that a man with such privilege and grace had all he needed to chart his course in life. You’d be wrong. Moses we would find consulted other authorities on his journeys. He kept one close to him and even promised to share his blessings with this fellow, if this person would accompany him on his journeys. Why? Hobab, his brother in-law, had experience of the wilderness that Moses considered crucial to navigating the challenges of the journey ahead of him. Numbers10:29-32 Moses was not the only biblical figure to seek guidance from man.
David had a coterie of prophets. There was Prophet Gad and Prophet Nathan among others. He set aside about 3000 Levites who were all prophets to sing and prophecy to the praise of God. Even he was capable of perceiving things of the spirit. The shape of the temple was divinely revealed to him. 1Chronicles 20:12-19 He was a man who kept access to the word of God close by. Nonetheless he valued the wisdom his friendship with Ahithophel afforded him. Though Ahithophel’s opinions were out of sheer sagacity, scripture recorded that his opinions were as though God had spoken. 2nd Samuel 16:23
John Stuart Mill said “If nature and Man are both the works of a Being of perfect goodness, that being intended Nature as a scheme to be amended, not imitated, by man”. Faith and Science are the tools by which we can do that.
However, we should also be humble enough to recognise the limitations that abound when we pit finitude against infinity. God’s works are unsearchable. Those who seek to unearth it have their works cut out for them. Those who seek to defend it are on a fool’s errand. In The Story of God, Lord Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies has words of advice for both sets of people:
“Man’s knowledge is incomplete. It is not that his science is unimportant – indeed, it is the most essential tool he has. But he must remember that it is limited…Science will never quite explain his personal existence, or the far flung universe beyond his grasp”.
It is human beings that closed the canons of scripture. God did not. To those who would search, the world of God remains an open-ended challenge for spiritual and intellectual expedition. Both faith and science are the gifts of God to us for such a quest. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill said “If nature and Man are both the works of a Being of perfect goodness, that being intended Nature as a scheme to be amended, not imitated, by man”.
Faith and Science are the tools by which we can do that.