American TV plays often imply that there is a continuous ‘war’ between Science, and Religion, Atheists, assisted by ‘Bible Preachers’ and the Press, invented this myth 150 years ago.

In July 1858 Darwin and Lyell made known their theory of evolution. In the following year, Darwin published his: The Origin of Species, and it was soon widely accepted. Darwin was, a deeply religious man and at the end of his book, we read:

“There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that while this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” [In his revised edition of 1860 he added: “by the creator.”]. Lyell was a Non-Christian, but believed that a ‘Spiritual Entity’ had promoted evolution.

Yet evolution appeared to contradict the reading of Genesis. ‘Bible only’ Evangelicals read the bible literally and so believed that God had created the world six days. They were strong in America and fought evolution in a very public ‘war.’ with atheists. To increase their sales the Press sensationalise condemnatory sermons by self-appointed ‘Preachers’ and hosted the resulting battles in their letter pages. This encouraged the: ‘Science verses Religion Myth’ which was being promoted by atheists.

The reaction of the Catholic Church was very different. Her attitude to understanding Genesis had been expressed by St. Augustine in the 4th Century. He had met the problem of Christians reading Genesis in a literal manner. He wrote:

”It frequently happens that something, about the earth, the sky, other elements of this world …may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, ... It is disgraceful …, that a non-Christian should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, as if in accord with Christian writings.  … I have, set forth for consideration the meaning of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better interpretation”. [From: ‘The Literal Reading of Genesis’].

He didn’t accept that the world was created in six days. Following this tradition, the Church didn’t condemn Darwin or his theory. His writings were not placed in The Index of Prohibited Books. Catholics could accept the evolution of the body but not of the soul. However, Rome saw the need to understand how legends in early civilisations had been used to teach religious ideas. Research showed that the author of Genesis could have used ancient legends, as teaching aids, to explain religious truths.

Darwin remained a deeply religious man although doubting some Anglican teachings. He disagreed with the very ‘low church’ theology of a new vicar appointed to his parish church and stopped attending services. But he continued to assist the parish. In 1882 the Anglican Church buried Darwin with great honour in Westminster Abbey.

Version: 23rd September 2011