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February 1, 2009: “Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin; Rewriting the ‘Creation Story'”

Novelist Peter deVries once said, in his book, Let me Count the Ways: “If you want my final opinion on the mystery of life and all that, I can give it you in a nutshell. The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.”

There is a wonderful, strange , Far-Side- like syndicated cartoon called  Bizarro  that I enjoy; one that made me laugh out loud. and had a theological theme with two natives in stereotypical native dress with a smoking volcano in background:. One says to the other: Am I the only one, or would you feel better if we invented an invisible, omnipotent being that controls our lives from inside the volcano?

One of the zookeeper noticed that the orangutan was reading two books: the Bible and Darwin's Origin of the Species.

 Surprised, he asked the ape, why are you reading both those books? Well, said the orangutan, I just wanted to know if I was my brother's keeper or my keepers brother.

I've told you before that someday I'm going to write down all the children's stories I've made up over the years on UU History that I call UUs Invented Everything-You know we invented air- Unitarian scientist, minister, and friend of Darwin's grandfather-in-law, by the way, Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen; we invented cooking-Boston Unitarian Fannie Farmer ran a famous cooking school and invented standardized cooking measurements- the teaspoon, tablespoon, etc...Well I also tell about how we invented humans- yes, that's right. Charles Darwin was a Unitarian and he discovered, not humans, of course, but evolution, that humans evolved from primates! He also killed God, well at least that's what a lot of people though! Indeed, he was worried himself that his discoveries might lead to the end of religious belief, though he, himself, was an agnostic. He actually sat on his writings and did not publish them until he found out that his rival was going to publish his findings, then he felt he had to.

"I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, he wrote, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biased by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion"

How do you suppose he would feel if he knew that these attacks would still be going on in this country at least in this day and age in scientific world view where a majority of people, however, according to most studies believe  that a supreme being named God created the heavens and the earth and the universe and that Satan is real and walks upon the earth.

What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature! he wrote. In an August 15, 2006 NY Times article on evolution and Creationism, astounding stats-

Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans

In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond ”true,” ”false” or ”not sure” to this statement: ”Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals. ”The United States had the second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true, researchers reported in the current issue of Science. Only 39.7% in US accept evolution! Only adults in Turkey expressed more doubts on evolution. In Iceland, 85 percent agreed with the statement.

"The fact of evolution is the backbone of biology, and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on an improved theory, is it then a science or faith?" wrote Darwin.

I find that incredible! Growing up in the liberal Congregational church in New Hampshire, science and religion were not at odds and Charles Darwin not an enemy.  But we discussed the biblical book of Genesis and the creation story as metaphor, and not as literally 6 24 hour days, because after all, it does not say when God created the hour and the minute hand on the clock! It was not until the fifth day, whatever that time period stood for, that God created humans. Just an interesting anecdote, in looking at Genesis recently, it does say, even in the new Revised Standard Version, that on the 4th day, God created Sea monsters! and told them to be fruitful and multiply! I wonder how folk who take the Bible literally explain that? But I digress...

The point for progressive Christians and actually most Jews, is that God can be seen to working n ways mysterious with evolution as well as any other explanation, so that science does not have to be the enemy of religion. Science seems only the enemy to fundamentalism and literalism.

Darwin writes: "On seeing the marsupials in Australia for the first time and comparing them to placental mammals: An unbeliever . . . might exclaim 'Surely two distinct Creators must have been at work'""

Thank you Charles Darwin for helping us see a different relationship with Nature and with God; while you wrote about a biological evolution you started a theological evolution as well!

We also know from history that you paid a dear price for your discoveries and theories, and that you were ill most of your life afterwards. You came from a British Unitarian family, but it should be remembered that most of early to mid 19th century Unitarianism or Universalism would have considered themselves good Christians as well. Indeed, early American Unitarian ministers called it PURE Christianity as well as rational, of course.

Darwin's book in the middle of the 19th century effectively changed Christianity and science in a way that led to a split between the two which has never been healed by many.  After all, as far back as 1650, Archbishop James Usher of Armagh, Ireland added up all the begats and generations mentioned in the Christian Bible and came up with the true creation story that God created the world on Sunday October 21, at 9:00 AM in 4004 BC. If the 18th century was a time of Enlightenment, the 19th century was a time of evolution, a revolution for traditional Christianity.

And what I find fascinating is that Europe continues to evolve religiously, if you will, and became more liberal, especially as state mandated religions fell away until today when church membership and attendance is way down and almost no one goes to church any more, it seems, and the churches may become museums. I think it may be because much of European religion WAS state mandated, required and therefore there was no need to please or serve the congregations, or to develop a sense of covenant or community. Like going to mass only because you are required, if the requirement is removed, you stop going and never miss it. On the other hand, religion in Russia is flourishing . perhaps because it was banned!  I do believe we might have a spiritual instinct, a connection with the interdependent web, that we yearn to find out how to connect with, and for some it is the liturgy of worship and others the hiking trail of nature. Still others find it in the concert hall with the closing strains of the orchestra and a fine concert or indeed a heavy metal band crashing power chords and flashing lights!

Harvard University, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Ernst Mayr writes: ...this is perhaps Darwin's greatest contribution - he developed a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person: the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology is invalid, and we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique (vital for education and the refutation of racism); natural selection, applied to social groups, is indeed sufficient to account for the origin and maintenance of altruistic ethical systems; cosmic teleology, an intrinsic process leading life automatically to ever greater perfection, is fallacious, with all seemingly teleological phenomena explicable by purely material processes; and determinism is thus repudiated, which places our fate squarely in our own evolved hands.

But traditional religion that is tightly controlled must keep that control at all costs, and threats to its power must be carefully controlled as well, of course. We see that happening in Fundamentalism in all religions today as well as in history. We see it in fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, of course, especially with the Taliban in Pakistan making a comeback. We recently saw the movie, The Kite Runner, based on a novel of a Pakistani man who grew up under the Taliban and escaped to the U. It reminded me of those books I read in high school about the nightmare of the future under Big Brother-1884 and Brave New World-The Taliban makes them look sunny! I believe that the Taliban perverts the teachings of Islam and that the God they worship is not the same as the God other Moslems, Jews and Christians who use the same term worship. But it's all a matter of opinion! It's all relative! That's the difficulty with religion if one wants to claim absolute truth!

Indeed, it was one of the things Darwin worried about. He was literally worried that his theory might destroy people's faith in God and perhaps the basis of civilization! He didn't want to be the one to kill God! Now The Enlightenment in the previous century had already started the more educated people thinking in more liberal terms about God. The Catholic Church had been notorious for trying to hold back scientific discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the founding of this country, was by men who were predominantly Deists, not Trinitarian Christians. Deists believed that God created the universe, then let it go on its own. Like a watchmaker makes the watch then sells it you! They wouldn't have any problems believing in evolution. Indeed, Jefferson, a Unitarian, was accused of being an atheist when he was running for President, and that almost cost him the election. Again, it seems strange to me that today, I'm not sure this country would elect an avowed atheist for President!

The science writer Stephen J. Gould writes "Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce." See here how he consciously or unconsciously assumes that natural process and God are mutually exclusive. Our UU saints Emerson and Thoreau in their Nature writings and transcendentalism were exploring the opposite that nature WAS God and therefore would have no problem with the idea of evolution or feel theologically threatened, because the transcendentalist idea of God was more of a process, not of a Supreme Being or  Divine king who ordered or created like a scientist and who must be obeyed or even worshipped OR ELSE!

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars" wrote Darwin. 

The reaction against Darwin and evolution is really against the idea that life could exist without a traditional concept and doctrine of God and further that there is only one way to salvation and that is through the salvation of Jesus through Traditional Christian Doctrine and part of that is right belief.

Yet Darwin was concerned with the moral law. If the misery of the poor, He wrote, be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. And a moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.

But listen to  Philip Johnson, the  creator of the idea of 'Intelligent' Design, who writes,
"The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the nonexistence of God.  From there people are introduced to the truth of the Bible and then the question of sin and finally introduced to Jesus."

Almost in opposition is this quote by Darwin: "Ignorance, Darwin writes, more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

Science and religion need not be either or, need not be enemies, but are so only to those threatened by open minds and more than one way of believing or interpreting the Bible.

I usually light incense before I write my sermons; I am currently listening to Gregorian chants as I write this, but not because I am instructed to, but because it is a part of my spiritual practice of setting the stage, invoking the muse, if you will, or inspiration. It might even be called my way of praying, of approaching the holy, the spirit of life which I can only imagine as mystery, yet other times find myself addressing by name, like God, or yes, even Lord, sometimes nostalgic. Sometimes I believe in God like in old times for a fleeting second or two as if I were a child again and I wished for that sacred protection that once enveloped me, and who here has not felt that way and perhaps feels that way still.

Darwin's Grandfather Erasmus Darwin was an avowed Atheist; Darwin himself said he was an agnostic, meaning, not, I think, just that he wasn't sure, or that Gods existence could neither be proved nor disproved, but that perhaps Darwin's God or should we more properly say God concept, God process, God philosophy, God Nature, was evolving with age even as Darwin was evolving with age as we all do.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. Darwin wrote, It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

The 200th birthday of Darwin's birth is being celebrated all over the country and Darwin Day is official and I'm sure there is a movement afoot to make it a holiday. Good luck on that! Interestingly, these are often sponsored by Humanist society and Freedom from religion groups as well as scientific and University groups who are struggling to keep separation of church and state especially out of science! I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free, wrote Darwin, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.   Maybe next year we can start an annual Darwin Day event for the community to publicize our liberal religious search for truth and Darwin's connection to UUism.

Darwin made more of a universal impact on science and religion and today r there are still people who want to teach only the literal Biblical account of creation. They are the people with the newest fish symbol, of a larger fish named TRUTH eating a smaller fish named Darwin! The great Scopes Monkey Trial over the teaching of evolution instead of what is now called Creationism of the 1920s was defended by Unitarian lawyer, Clarence Darrow. He lost, by the way, but we would eventually win, and not just us of course, but science itself was on trial, just as much as it was in 1859. Indeed, we might even say that religion was also on trial, or at least conservative Christianity.      The religion of tomorrow will evolve out of today's religion, out of how we live our religion, as well as how others live their religion. More and more the ancient, divisive, and intolerant religious doctrines must fall away for us to continue to evolve in the future. For ourselves, we must find the meaning and purpose in our lives to go on, and the world must do the same. Our liberal search for religious meaning calls us into community with other searchers, calls us to work together to save the world, not our souls, as if that would be too selfish. The transforming power of love calls us universally to become part of the one-ness, the at-one-ment- the unity the Unitarian Universalism of the future, now.

Thank you, Charles Darwin, for modeling the courage to think differently, outside the religious and scientific box, for helping us all evolve.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapdted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con Su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.


Tatsha Robertson, from The Boston Globe
Thursday, November 24, 2005
New York — The great-great grandson of Charles Darwin finds it hard to believe that so many people still think the world was created solely by a supernatural force when, in his view, science has proved otherwise. “I am disappointed so many people still feel happy with an explanation of the diversity of natural life purely in terms of creation by a supernatural being,” says Randal Keynes. “It doesn’t surprise me that people still hold to the idea because it’s actually so difficult to understand — the implications of evolution. I fully accept it as difficult to understand, especially just how close humans are to other animals, but this has been shown to be true so clearly through work with DNA.”

Keynes, who lives with his wife and two children in Cambridge, England, was in New York last week for the launch of a sweeping exhibit on Darwin, which opened Saturday at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Dubbed “the most in-depth exhibit ever mounted” about the naturalist, the show focuses on Darwin’s life and his theory of evolution. The exhibit can be viewed in New York until May 29 before it travels to Boston, Chicago and Toronto.

In addition to manuscripts, an iguana and two Galapagos tortoises, Keynes’ voice is heard at the end of the exhibit, reading from Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”

Keynes, 57, declined to discuss in any detail the debate going on in the United States between those who believe in the theory of evolution versus those who believe in the theory of intelligent design. But he said he had learned that he was a descendant of a controversial man in grade school.

“When I was about 6, friends who knew I was the great-great grandson of Darwin would make jokes about me being descended from a monkey,” he said. “I’d point out they were, too.”

His paternal grandmother was Darwin’s granddaughter. He said he had learned about Darwin on trips to her home near London.

“She simply told me how different he was from the very gloomy, severe figure everyone thought he was and how he was a man of great modesty and kindness, and he had a very lively sense of humor,” he recalled. “She talked about how almost obsessed he was about his science. His children, my great grandfather and others and his grandchildren would help him with his science. He would ask them to watch out for things. One thing his children watched out for was how earthworms burrowed in the soil.

“He was also interested in the expressions we make when we laugh and cry, and he saw they were actually close to the expressions other animals made, including apes. So, he’d ask his children to watch the expressions they made — whether they furrowed their brows when they cried or became angry.”

In the late 1990s, Keynes rummaged through his parents’ chest of drawers, which were stuffed with papers and photographs that once belonged to Darwin and were later inherited by his father. That was when Keynes found a box that belonged to Darwin’s eldest daughter, Annie, who died when she was 10, presumably of tuberculosis. The box included memos from Darwin about his daughter. In 2002, Keynes wrote “Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution,” which looked at how Annie’s death influenced the scientist’s thinking. After Annie’s death, Darwin no longer believed in a kind creator.

“I found this note written by Darwin about Annie’s condition …” Keynes said. “It was Darwin trying to find out what was wrong with her and hoping he could treat her. But they couldn’t find anything that would help.

“What he realized is that he just went on caring for Annie. He just couldn’t stop caring for her, even though she was dead, and year after year he found he still cared for her as much as he did when she was alive. He realized how fundamentally important the affections are between parent and child and how — to use a modern phrase — it must be a kind of hardwired part of our makeup. He went on to develop a view on our moral sense.”

Super Bowl Sunday? Let me share this prayer I found somewhere for this special Sunday.
“Our football, which art on television, hallowed be thy game. The fullback run, the passes be flung, in Pittsburg as it is in Arizona. Give us this day our four quarters and forgive our trips to the bathroom as we forgive our fumblers. And lead us not into conversation, but deliver us from thinking; for this is the distillate of the opiate of the masses forever. Amen”