My response to “Did Darwin Kill God?” part 1

This is part 1 of my appraisal of the hour long BBC special Did Darwin Kill God ?. This part is mostly concerned with my disagreement over Christianity’s historical position and its importance in the creationist movement. I’m a rank amateur in theological history, so I would be happy to hear from any suggestions or corrections. Part 2 is here.

I watched a BBC special awhile ago presented by Conor Cunningham entitled Did Darwin Kill God?  which possessed some disagreeable misappropriations of what Cunningham terms “Ultra Darwinism” as well as some fairly calculated observations about the history of Christianity in general. The program was not all bad- its investigation into the history of creationism was quite interesting, even if the staged walks and drives of the narrator/writer/producer do seem a little jejune.

To begin, Cunningham is very selective in his appraisal of how Christianity behaved up to the discovery of evolution. Cunningham suggests that orthodoxy, that is, the acceptance of translating the Bible as metaphor, has been a mainstay of Christian ideals since the advent of creationism. Citing the Christian philosopher Philosouras(who I have admittedly not come across), he uses the example of the two creation myths in the Bible to elucidate what was commonly believed- that there was an allegorical creation myth and a literal one. Let’s pull up here for a moment and consider what this entails. This means Philosouras meets Cunningham only half way, and as a result not at all. If Cunningham wants to promote a “Bible as metaphor” image, then he doesn’t do himself favors when he states that adherents really did believe parts of the Bible to be true. Modern extrapolations of this idea are manifest in the many varieties of Judeo-Christianity, each of whom take particular parts of the Bible to be true, and the rest either discarded or as metaphor to be interpreted in whatever way they see fit. As an aside, this is a dangerous attitude to promote; it is precisely this reason that inter-Christian violence spanning centuries has occurred, as well as rather unpleasant interactions with everyone in general including the Spanish Inquisition, Crusades etc.

Far be it from me to say that orthodox belief is what Christianity is concerned with. It was not, and remains, however lightly, still not to be the case. How does Cunningham respond to the cult of relics, which partially motivated the Reformation? These relics are things that Christianity and various churches ardently believed were actual physical manifestations of divine material, from Virgin Mother’s breast milk, to fragments of the actual cross, to feathers from the angel Gabriel. As I’m told, the whole affair became embarrassing when twelve churches each claimed to have the Virgin Mary’s mother’s nose. What does he say when theological arguments proposed that the rings of Saturn were Jesus’ foreskin? What reply does Cunningham have when faced with the enormous and bloody arguments waged throughout history regarding the state of transubstantiation, for which many believers to this day contend that the eucharist transforms into the actual flesh and blood of Christ based upon biblical reference? Indeed, what response can one make when one appraises the treatment of Copernicus and Galileo by religious officials, who were motivated to action in no small part from scripture?

I agree with Cunningham that this sort of zealotry on part of Christian organizations had reduced significantly by the time Darwin came around. They didn’t really have a choice, given the onus of scientific identity that came with the Enlightenment, the rise of the middle class, and the surrounding Industrial Revolution. What I disagree with is his suggestion that creationism is some sort of unexpected, perverted tangent of Christian belief. When approached historically, creationism in both tenets and origin, would have been the dominant belief system all the way up to Darwin, and endured for a great deal of time after, even without the evangelical howlings from American pulpits a few scant decades later that strengthened anti-evolution fervour. It was these evangelicals who first used the actual terminology of “creationist”. I believe that the terminology being implemented belied the fact that creationists were reducing to a non-majority population, thus needing identification in a world increasingly at odds with their beliefs, and not, as Cunningham suggests, an explosion of believers in misappropriated Christian values.

Part 2 of my response will be concerned more about something I’m a little more comfortable with, so-called Ultra Darwinism and Cunningham’s treatment of Darwin and science in general.

~ by freeze43 on July 23, 2012.

One Response to “My response to “Did Darwin Kill God?” part 1”

  1. […] This is part 2 of my appraisal of the hour long BBC special Did Darwin Kill God ?. This part is mostly concerned with my disagreement over Cunningham’s definition of “Ultra Darwinism” and his critique of meme theory. Part 1 is here. […]

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