Darwin, plus one.
Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution revolutionized our understanding of biology, and changed how we think about the world.
Among Christians, there have been objections from the beginning, from those who see Darwin’s theory as a contradiction of the Genesis account of creation. On that point, I always want to give a shout out to the people who put together the Elohim narrative in Genesis one, that has the basic evolutionary order correct a few thousand years before Darwin. But Darwin contradicts Genesis two, which has human beings created first, and his theory contradicts the literal “days” of Genesis one. Oddly, the folks who are upset by Darwin are untroubled by the contradictions between the first and second accounts, which come from the Elohim and Yahweh narratives, respectively.
But among Christian theologians and biblical scholars, the reaction was largely positive from the beginning. When they heard Darwin’s theory, their reaction was, “We knew that God created the world. Now we know how.” And the on-going nature of evolutionary change reminded them that God was still at work.
When they saw the biological world evolving, it reminded them that social relationships also needed to evolve. Progress, seen in nature, must be replicated in society. For the Social Gospel preachers, theologians, and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, progress was not just natural, it was divine. This did not mean it was inevitable; it meant that working toward a more just and humane world was what God was calling them to do.