‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Monday, 6 April 2009

Did Darwin Kill God?

Professor Steve Fuller offers a very useful review of the recent BBC 2 programme 'Did Darwin kill God?' by Coner Cunningham shown 31st March 2009 Review: Did Darwin Kill God? Uncommon Descent Cunningham, it would seem, is involved with a theological movement known as ‘Radical Orthodoxy.’ An attempt apparently to recover a pre modern view of the world.

Here is my own review - The latest programme in the BBC’s pro Darwin propaganda series for the birthday celebrations was Did Darwin Kill God? Shown 31st March on BBC2 7pm, presented by Coner Cunningham. I found this programme to be very disappointing indeed.

Cunningham, who wanted us to know that he was a Christian who accepted Darwin’s findings, tried to make the case that the orthodox Christian view was that of acceptance of evolution, with the literal interpretation of Genesis considered un-orthodox and only a twentieth century invention by extreme fundamentalists. In order to make this point Cunningham used evidence very selectively, citing Philo and Augustine to make his case, ignoring the words of Jesus and the apostles writing, or biblical literalists such as St Basil. Philo though was Jewish with an interest in the works of Greek philosophers, hardly an example for orthodox Christianity. The other person he cited was Augustine, who was a convert from neo-Platonism. Even so Augustine gradually weeded the Platonism out of his theology by the time he wrote his third commentary on Genesis, considering that a literal reading should be accepted from day 4 of the creation week.

Peter Harrison, an Oxford Professor of theology, has also argued that the Protestant commitment to reading scripture literally actually enabled science to get going because the reformers then read creation literally, and not symbolically as had been the case in the past. Cunningham failed to mention this evidence, nor those Christians such as the Wesley’s and Luther who argued for a literal interpretation of Genesis in history.

Then we were told that young earth creationism was merely a twentieth century invention ignoring the hundreds of gentlemen scientists who were young earth creationists in British Victorian society, including the captain of the Beagle Robert FitzRoy. The founders of the Victoria Institute for instance were young earth creationists as were the nineteenth century scriptural geologists. Although Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis was interviewed his research on the scriptural geologists was ignored. Instead we were led to believe that most Christians merely caved in and accepted Darwinism within a few decades. For many years afterwards though Darwin’s claims were not widely accepted because the influential Lord Kelvin had given Darwin far too short a time span for his theory to work.

The funniest point was that we were then told that William Jennings Bryan was both a right wing Republican and a socialist! Yes Bryan was motivated to counter social Darwinism in America, and therefore he supported creationism of an old earth variety, but his politics looks decidedly mainstream being a conservative Christian with a social conscience, hardly the extremist that Cunningham was looking for.

A note about the programme from non-executive producer Jean Claude Bragard on the BBC website, comments that the producers wanted to explore how Christians harmonise Darwinism with their faith and Cunningham was asked to be involved and present the programme. Sadly, an accurate reflection of history was lacking, and we won’t hold our breath waiting for a more balanced approach that deals with the issues accurately. Instead, in this programme we were fed another set of Darwin myths that failed to get to the historical truth.
Andrew Sibley