No Forgiveness for Darwin
Sunday Homily for February 22, 2009
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (7B)
By Fr. Phil Bloom
Bottom line: Darwin's "Descent of Man" (not "Origin of Species") eliminates blame, but also removes accountability: thus, no sin and no forgiveness.
This year - 2009 - you will hear a lot about Charles Darwin and his book "The Origin of Species." He published it 150 years ago - on November 24, 1859. How should we as Christians (and specifically as Catholics) participate in this commemoration? For what it is worth, I will give my opinion. A few years ago, I sat down and read "The Origin of Species." I enjoyed Darwin's elegant use of the English language and I could understand why it received a broad and enthusiastic reception - including from leading Christians. Catholics in particular had no great problem with the book. After all, St. Thomas Aquinas had observed that God did not necessarily create all species simultaneously. As the Angelic Doctor explains, God could have created species over a period of time, using natural processes.* Because of the writings of St. Thomas and other great thinkers, Catholics in general did not react hostilely to "The Origin of Species."
The real problem came 12 years later when Darwin published "The Descent of Man." In that book he applied the concept of natural selection way beyond biology; he used it to explain abstract things such as conscience and morality.** Critics considered that he exaggerated the capabilities of higher primates and unfairly placed some races into inferior subgroups - in order to justify his view that humans gradually evolved from lower animals. While Darwin himself avoided controversies, many of his followers were only too willing to spell out the implications of his theories: That there is no essential difference between humans and other animals; that - like them - instinct alone drives us and that we have no real control over our behavior.
There is much more one could say about this theory. My purpose this Sunday is not to resolve the controversy surrounding evolution. I will say this: If Darwin's "Descent of Man" is correct, Jesus' words to the paralytic have no meaning. Remember that he said, "Child, your sins are forgiven." If we are simply a bit more complex animal, there is no such thing as sin. And rather than speaking about forgiveness, the best we can say is, "Don't blame yourself."*** One of the attractions of Darwin's theory is that it offers humans with the same "acceptance" we give to animals. For example, I don't blame my dog. I re-program him - or at least I try.
But there is the rub. If my dog runs loose and scares or - God forbid - harms someone, no one blames Sam. But they do blame me. And rightly so. I have a responsibility, an accountability that my dog or any other animal could never have. None of the people who talk about animal rights suggest corresponding responsibilities. They might want an ape to have access to legal defense, but so far no one has proposed bringing gorillas to trial for their misbehavior. Our economic stimulus plan has money for just about everything, but it contains no funds to build little jails for cats who wantonly attack smaller creatures.
As G.K. Chesterton said, there is a "division and disproportion" between us and other animals. For one thing, we have an accountability - a Stewardship - that we can never place on them. While Darwin's theory seems attractive because it apparently frees us from blame and guilt, it has a terrible downside.**** The person who takes his theory about man to its logical consequences, has closed his ears to the beautiful words, "Child, your sins are forgiven."