Cunningham- Darwin's Idea: Dangerous or Pious?
The received version about the humiliation of man's place in the cosmos usually begins with Copernicus informing us that the Earth goes round the sun and not the other way around, the inference being that we are not at the centre of things. This humiliation was compounded by the work of Newton who offered a purely mechanistic account of the universe. Now when we looked up into the night's sky we no longer gazed upon a place of meaning but matter, mechanism and emptiness: the heavens fell to Earth, passing right through us as well insofar as we are also a mixture of matter, mechanism and emptiness. But there was still one frontier left - the human mind. For surely our intellegence lay beyond the the explanatory reach of science? Then Darwin turned up and finished us off, for we, both body and mind, fell under the logic of evolution by natural selection. More recently, Daniel Dennett has characterised Darwin's theory as a 'dangerous idea', comparing it to a universal acid that eats through everything, leaving its wake a post-apocalyptic landscape. All is gone, it seems, and only nihilism remains, accompanied by the dull sound of selfish genes shuffling their way down the generations. But is this received version of humiliation, of Western History, really true - indeed might Darwin's idea even be pious rather than dangerous?
Dr Conor Cunningham is Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies and Assistant-Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham.