Creation – film about Charles Darwin
Go to this movie.
It presents, strangely, one of the enduring, yet unnecessary(!) conflicts between Christian faith and natural science.
In 1859 Darwin published his account of the evolution of species. The film shows how profoundly this affected those who read their Bibles and believed in a literal account of the creation of the universe. Darwin’s work, according to the film then, yet also now, divided those whose theology led them to believe this was a matter which threatened eternal salvation/damnation, and those who believed that their science ‘killed God’.
A generation later (in the 1890s) the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch famously declared, ‘Alles wackelt!’ (Everything is tottering). Troeltsch recognised that the rise of the modern world, with its science, created a crisis for Christian faith. For Troeltsch the question was whether theology might learn from the Enlightenment and provide a future for faith.
As the film played on, it was not difficult to hear echoes of the Dawkins’ debate. The lines seem to be drawn up between those godless scientists who study nature, on the one hand, and the believing and praying simple folk on the other. It is of course a construction. I recall that many of the early natural philosophers (scientists) were Christian, often ordained ministers
The figures of Huxley and Hooker in the film are the personification of a Dawkins’ view of the world, where it is necessary to choose between a divinely propelled and directed universe, and a purposeless, ultimately meaningless, cosmos. And, of course, Dawkins has not made this up: a ‘Calvinist’ view of the world which regards life as subject to the ‘will’ of God, catastrophes as initiated by a kind but wrathful Creator, a Judge who consigns believers to heaven and sinners to the fires of hell. The film does well in presenting Darwin as the protagonist and spokesperson for evolution – a purposeless and self-directed process – wracked with emotion for those he loved. In his relationship, then, there was affection and passion – a purpose!
What we may recognise here is this: the philosophy and science of modernity had its own ‘faith’. This ‘faith’ brought presuppositions to the debate: a view of the world and human life which proposed that human beings should be set free by the light of ‘reason’. Human autonomy would be liberated from ‘darkened imaginations’, dominated by dogma and superstition, The case for such ‘enlightenment’ was ably assisted by poor theology that did indeed resist the use of human reason, and promoted a view of God that was entirely unchristian.
That is to say, this is a clash of theologies. And, as we see in the film, people are caught between divided loyalties. The figure of Charles Darwin who struggles with his love for his wife, against the evidence of his science, depicts this well. (Personally I recall growing up in a universe split between maths, physics and chemistry on the one hand, and literal biblical belief, on the other. It is an emotionally and socially crippling experience.)
There is absolutely no need for such a division.
Mainstream theology takes seriously the scholarly work of science , and seeks to learn from it, as it also interprets biblical writings in the light of the time and place of their composition.
The Basis of Union (the document which was the basis for combining three Protestant traditions in Australia makes this clear;
Paragraph 11: Scholarly Interpreters
The Uniting Church acknowledges that God has never left the Church without faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture, or without those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, God’s living Word. In particular the Uniting Church enters into the inheritance of literary, historical and scientific enquiry which has characterised recent centuries, and gives thanks for the knowledge of God’s ways with humanity which are open to an informed faith.
Theologians understand that Christian faith does have a distinctive view of the world, and of God as creator. A key element here is that God is not a ‘thing’ in the world. Rather, there is a qualitative and infinite difference between God and the world. Yet, Christian theology understands that God seeks to be known through special events, such as the exodus of slaved from Egypt, and the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Not that such claims are ‘provable’, for they are a matter of faith, hope and risk.
Key to this approach is the understanding that the world is not divine; we are therefore free to investigate the complexity, richness and beauty of the universe. In so doing, we learn to appreciate even further thecomplex simplicity, richness and beauty of God the Creator.
If you are looking for a way into this discussion, see:
Jeffrey C. Pugh, Entertaining the Triune Mystery: God, Science and the Space Between, Trinity Press International, 2003.
And: Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: an ecological doctrine of creation, SCM, 1985.
See some Wikipedia links, as below:
Wikipedia: Creation is a 2009/2010 film. The film is a partly biographical, partly fictionalised account of Charles Darwin’s relationship with his eldest daughter, Annie, as he struggles to write On the Origin of Species.
Origin of Species:
Wikipedia: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.