17
Nov
09

Strange Relations

I am always reminded at this point in the semester of the words of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce on the occasion of a debate among members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science over Charles Darwin’s thoughts on evolution.  Wilberforce summarized his reaction to Darwin’s thoughts by noting that the conclusion implied by Darwin, namely that “mosses, grasses, turnips, oaks, worms, and flies, mites and elephants, infusoria and whales, tadpoles of today and venerable saurians, truffles and men, are all equally the the descendants of the same aboriginal common ancestor” was certainly surprising, but one that must be admitted if the evidence so indicated.

Now Wilberforce didn’t find the evidence for evolution persuasive and he attacked it on precisely those grounds, noting the absence of fossil records as well as the lack of any evidence of new species.  At the end of the debate, he sincerely believed that his arguments had carried the day.  What always catches my attention, however, is how Wilberforce handled the relationship between the Bible and evolution.  He declined to critique Darwin’s inference of “our unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms” on biblical grounds because “it was most unwise to try judge the truth of scientific theories with reference to revelation.”   Wilberforce was certainly right about the difficulties involved in hasty comparisons of biblical stories with modern science, but it is his use of the expression “unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms” that just makes me laugh every time I read it.

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