News reaches us from London that the Church – the Anglican Church, that is, not the One True Church – has apologised to Charles Darwin (right at the bottom of the page, after a screed of theological equivocation) for “misunderstanding his theory of evolution”. “About time, too!”, one might be inclined to say. But various commentators – including one of Darwin’s great-grandsons – have pointed out that the only conceivable reason for such an apology is to make the apologiser feel better. There is no doubt in the mind of any reasonably intelligent person that the Church was wrong and Darwin was right; the Church could usefully make a statement in support of the theory of evolution by natural selection and express its regrets at having been so offensive to Darwin at the time. But actually addressing an apology to him personally seems rather pointless, given that he’s not around to receive it.
Ah, but only if you’re an atheist. To a believer, of course, Darwin is still out there somewhere, paying rapt attention to what’s going on on Earth; keeping up with the papers, listening to the radio and watching the new-fangled television to see what’s become of the world since he left it, and interceding with God on behalf of his descendants and favoured others. Unless he’s gone to Hell, presumably, of which more in a moment. Assuming that the Church and its faithful adherents believe that Darwin can hear their apology, though, I have a few simple (or perhaps naive) theological questions:
Given that Darwin’s pronouncements were so obviously at variance with Church dogma, we can safely assume (on the basis of what the Church tells us of God’s policies in these matters) that on his death, he was consigned to the bowels of Hell for all eternity. My first question, then, is: can he hear the apology? We’re constantly assured that people in Heaven can look ‘down’ therefrom and keep an eye on the goings-on on Earth. Do the unfortunates in the fiery depths have the same facility, or is there some mechanism by which they can receive news relevant to their situation? And if (according to the Church’s beliefs, since we have no direct word from On High on the matter) there is no such messaging service, what good can possibly accrue to Darwin as a result of the Church’s apology?
Secondly, since the Church has now apologised (presumably on God’s behalf and with His approval), will Darwin now be allowed to quit the fires of Hell and ascend into Heaven? If so, surely that makes a nonsense of the policy of sending people to Hell ‘for all eternity’ and if not, it would seem that God is either a) powerless to intervene or b) infinitely cruel and staggeringly unjust.
Or is the Church, as its critics are saying, just trying to ingratiate itself with the reality-based community? I suspect the latter.
* That’s a Muppet Show reference, in case you wonder at the informality…