Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jaki: Darwin and Easter

S. L. Jaki, renowned historian of science, tells of Darwin's confrontation with "the most significant fact of history":
[A seventeen-year-old German student wrote to Darwin:] "I therefore come to you ... asking and begging, so that your kind reply may provide a directive that tells me what I should believe. Please, in your great kindness, don't brush me aside, keenly as I realize that my requests are improper and impertinent, because I know not where, apart from you, I can get hold of the truth."

With this the letter reached the crucial point, or Christ. "Please tell me," the youth continued, "can one believe in Christ as described in the Bible? What should one, according to your opinion, grant to Mr. Haeckel and what definition of God is appropriate to be held by one who accepts your theory?" All this had an existential backdrop: "If you, however, are kind enough to be generous with your answer, would you please tell me what one should think about life after death and whether one should expect to meet others in afterlife? This question has agitated me anew because, owing to the death of my best friend, I have been in the grip of most serious thoughts." Most accounts of spiritual crises set off by Darwin's theory have yet to match the plain but incisive reflections of a youth not yet out of high school or gymnasium.

By 1879, Darwin confessed that his "theology was a muddle." But he never saw with any comparable accuracy the muddle of his thinking about the scientific method. Was it a method or a "road-guide" into a specific area, the mechanism of evolution, or was the scientific method a guide about everything under the sun and even above it? Was it a method about something specific, or about everything that ever exerted the human mind? Not having even a modest amount of clarity about the limits of the validity of the scientific method, Darwin once more asked his son Francis to pen, on his behalf, a short résumé of his views on the bearing of evolutionary theory on matters theological, Christ not excepted: "I am much engaged, an old man, and out of health, and I cannot spare time to answer your questions fully, - nor indeed can they be answered. Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities."

Darwin's reply is important partly because it is very typical of views prevailing in a secularist culture about Christ and afterlife, a culture that claims to be scientific. A further importance derives from the extent to which Darwin's theory advanced the secularization of the modern world. Last but not least, Darwin's reply gives a glimpse of the Achilles' heel of that culture boastful of its empiricism. Darwin most likely thought that the strongest point in his reply related to that caution which familiarity with scientific method should generate. He did not suspect the extent to which the same familiarity could also give rise to an unwarranted discrimination among various kinds of facts and to a shocking insensitivity about the countless facts of history which, unlike "the facts" of science, do not repeat themselves.

Among those unrepeatable facts of human history - individual and social, obscure and famous - none created as much of a stir as the fact of the Prophet from Nazareth. Men of power, men of learning, men of violence, men of lust, men of political madness, all tried to dismiss that fact, time and again, as a mere myth of no consequence. Nobody in Domitian's entourage had the slightest second thought as the Emperor treated with contempt the simple relatives of "Christos" presented to him. Within two hundred years, the Empire had to fix on its standards the ignominious cross which that "Christos" alone turned into a token of victory.

The commodity of second thought has not been more plentiful in times that are known as the progressive de-Christianization of the Western world. All too often camouflaged in scientific garb, it is a process which effectively hides from view facts that are neither of the making of science, nor can science make anything of them. A "scientific" stance that stimulates insensitivity to those facts is a parody of science, worthy of being called plain antiscience. All the more so because among those facts belong also some facts of scientific history, facts so very different from the facts of nature. A close look at the "unscientific" facts of the history of science, which is offered in the subsequent pages, must have in its focus the fact of Christ if that fact is indeed the most significant fact of history.

[Jaki, The Savior of Science 6-8, quoting Darwin's Letters]

Alleluia! Christ has indeed risen! His Cross of defeat has become the Sign of Victory! Alleluia!


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