Two hundred years ago today, on 12 February 1809, Charles Darwin was born, sharing a birthday with America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
As the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth—and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species—approached, I wasn’t sure exactly how to celebrate or observe it. I knew that I wanted to post a little tribute to Darwin, but I wanted to do something a little more substantial. So earlier this week, I ordered From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin (ed. Edward O. Wilson), a single, hardcover volume (with slipcase!) collecting The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), On the Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). I felt that I needed to read Darwin’s works firsthand and not settle for someone else’s opinion (misinformed or not) of what Darwin wrote.
As it is with every individual who has contributed immensely to the progress of human civilization, no one knew quite what lay in store for the world the moment Darwin’s tiny body entered the world after 40 weeks of being knit in the womb via an amazing evolutionary process. Just as no one knew young Abe Lincoln would, approximately 54 years later, emancipate an entire community of American slaves through the issuance of two executive orders in 1862 and 1863, no one knew that little Charles Darwin would develop a scientific theory and publish a monumental work that would free mankind from the shackles of scientific ignorance.
Happy birthday, Chuck. I look forward to reading your stuff.
PS — The book arrived on your birthday. Coincidence? I think not.
Only by critical questioning can I tell whether I am reading into the text, not only my own presuppositions and questions, but also those of my own generation and even those of my own church and religious tradition. Evangelicals have been too afraid of the word “criticism,” when only by critical questioning can I sufficiently disengage myself from my own worldly or religious (even evangelical) tradition to ask: Is this what the Bible is really saying?
— University of Chester (UK) Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, BD, MTh, PhD, DD, DD
Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti (1857)
The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through, to see that which is beyond.
— Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
Beecher is correct, but only in terms of spiritual or theological matters; when it comes to science, Beecher’s methodology would fail miserably. I know that Beecher didn’t mean to be (mis)understood in this way, but I find it extremely useful to compare the “Beecher Method” with the
scientific pseudo-scientific methodologies used by young-earth creationists.
YECs insist that, in order to see and understand the physical cosmos both as it really is and was, one must look through the Bible first—as if it were a telescope—in order to “see that which is beyond.” Unfortunately, this is not the way science should be conducted. Young-earth creationists must adopt methodological naturalism so that their theology does not cloud their observations or warp the facts. They have nothing to fear from understanding that God can work through natural processes to accomplish His ends. Are not children born every day through natural means? Children who are predestined by God to accomplish great things (Ephesians 1:11)?
Little do YECs realize how much modern science has (unconsciously) informed their hermeneutic; it’s the only thing that’s kept them from being advocates of a 3-tiered universe and a geocentric cosmology. Instead, they understand biblical passages that teach such “realities” as purely “phenomenological” rather than reflecting the Bible’s “science of the day.” It’s time to complete the journey, Mr. Morris. It’s time to come home, Mr. Ham.