Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Archbishop Rowan Williams

Some say the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is making a monkey of himself with a half-baked apology to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding the author of “Origin of the Species” 126 years after his death.

Nevertheless, that’s just what the Church of England plans to do today – make an act of contrition to the godfather of evolution.

Officials of the church said senior bishops wanted to atone for the vilification heaped on Darwin by their predecessors.

The church is also eager to counter the view that its teaching is incompatible with science and distance itself from fundamentalist Christians, who believe in the biblical account of the creation.

“Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still,” says the statement. “But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.”

The statement is written by the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, the director of mission and public affairs of the Archbishops’ Council, headed by Williams.

“People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception,” it continues. “When a big new idea emerges that changes the way people look at the world, it’s easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights. The Church made that mistake with Galileo’s astronomy and has since realized its error. Some Church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. So it is important to think again about Darwin’s impact on religious thinking, then and now.”

Before the statement was even officially released it was under attack.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, told the Daily Mail: “It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate? ‘We’ve already apologized for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.”

Andrew Darwin, a great-great grandson of the eminent scientist, said he was “bemused” by the apology, which seemed “pointless.”

“Why bother?” he said. “When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organization making the apology feel better.”

 


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