Church of England to Apologise to Darwin

Posted on September 28, 2008


This article is of interest for the continued strenuous relationship between the faith and science communities. Perhaps we can learn something about how we, in the faith community, can, and ought to listen more intently, and judge a whole lot more slowly.

23:40 AEST Sun Sep 14 2008

The Church of England will make an official apology to naturalist Charles Darwin for criticising his famous theory of evolution.

Coming 126 years after his death, the church’s apology will focus on how wrong it was for senior bishops in the past to misunderstand and attack Darwin’s theory about man being descended from apes.

Senior church officials will post the apology in the form of an article written by the Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown on the church’s website.

“Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth (in 1809), the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still,” the article says, according to extracts printed by The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

“But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.”

But the apology by Dr Brown, who is the director of mission and public affairs of the Archbishops’ Council, has been dismissed as “pointless” by Darwin’s great great grandson Andrew Darwin.

“Why bother? he said.

“When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.”

But Dr Brown says everyone makes mistakes, the church included.

“When a big new idea emerges that 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,” he writes.

“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.”

Dr Brown said there was nothing incompatible between Darwin’s scientific theories and Christian teaching.

Here is a follow up article that outlines a bit more of the debate.


I find it disheartening, that for many in this country, when it comes to this issue of evolution and creation, science and faith, the fight seems to value winning the debate of origins, more than expressing the grace, mercy, love, compassion, and thoughtful understanding that the rest of the Bible exhorts us to. When are we going to recognize that there are two very short chapters in the Bible that speak to this particular issue, and those chapters are ancient poetic Mesopotamian creation narratives that may never have been intended to be interpreted in the staunchly scientific literal way many are interpreting them? And, there are thousands of other passages that seek justice, mercy, compassion, kindness, love, sacrifice, a righteous heart and life, and hundreds of other values that we dismiss when it comes to discourse with our opponents.

Also, when we elevate our interpretations of Scripture as the only way of understanding, we actually create an idol out of the Scriptures, or worse yet, out of ourselves and our minds. That is clearly a dangerous practice. May we avoid “bibliolatry” and “interpretative narcissism.”

I thank the Church of England for taking this step. And for the other times that Churches have offered their sincere apologies and honest contrition, it is a joy to see the “greater commandments” being lived out in very real ways. If it is followed with true repentance, then the Church is truly living out the very calling of its identity, and for that we must celebrate.