Charles Darwin was center stage last week, being celebrated by some and condemned by others. A pro-Darwin atheist accused a Christian evangelist, who rejects evolution, of being "an idiot." The anti-Darwin Christian evangelist earlier credited Darwin with the rise of Adolf Hitler.
The 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was Nov. 24.
What triggered the public brawl?
Last Tuesday, Nov. 24, was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."
Additionally, this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. Museums have sponsored exhibitions. Universities have held symposiums on the science of evolution. Churches have sponsored conferences on creationism.
One Christian group is distributing on college campuses thousands of copies of Darwin's book with a 50-page introduction critical of evolution written by evangelist Ray Comfort, who dismisses Catholics as Christians and connects evolutionists to Nazis.
Accompanying Comfort in his anti-Darwin crusade is actor Kirk Cameron, most recently known for his starring role in the "Left Behind" movie series.
"If he [Darwin] was alive today, I am sure that he would quickly rise to the top of Disney's imagineers or earn big bucks as a Hollywood screenwriter for science-fiction movies," Comfort wrote dismissively.
Comfort was far from alone at throwing everything imaginable at Darwin, however.
Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a quasi-creationist organization, claimed that the public interest in Darwin teetered "on the edge of hero worship" and tied evolution to atheism.
William Dembski, research professor in philosophy and director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, accused Christians of being "infatuated" with Darwin and accommodating their faith to him. He found Darwin's theory "untrue" and "laughable."
"[R]econciling Christianity with Darwinism becomes a vain exercise, solving a problem that no longer exists," wrote Dembski, who was invited to teach at Baylor University by the school's former president Robert Sloan.
Some of Dembski's fellow crusaders met in mid-November at a conference to refute Darwinism.
"It is amazing to me that in this 'year of Darwin,' the whole world is bowing down to this man even while modern science is proving him wrong on all fronts," said one speaker, who claimed the Darwinian worldview was "collapsing."
The event was sponsored by the Logos Research Association, which "seeks to return science to a search for truth, as originally intended by its founders prior to the Enlightenment era."
The caustic atheist Richard Dawkins said on CNN: "There is no refutation of Darwinian evolution in existence. If a refutation ever were to come about, it would come from a scientist, and not an idiot," referring to Comfort.
"What matters is evidence. And the evidence is clear. The evidence is in favor of evolution," said Dawkins.
"If you don't understand evolution, you can't be considered scientifically literate," responded Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, to Comfort's claims.
Noting that her copy of Comfort's book was missing four critical chapters from "On the Origin of Species," Scott wrote, "Comfort's treatment of the human fossil record is painfully superficial, out of date and erroneous."
As scientists and creationists battled, Deborah Heiligman brought insight into Darwin the human being, not the straw man, in a column on the Washington Post's "On Faith" page.
Author of a new book on Darwin, "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith," Heiligman contended that Darwin was not an atheist and that God can be found in the pages of "On the Origin of Species."
"Darwin put God into his great book, not in the first edition, but in the second and every one thereafter. The last sentence reads, 'There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one,'" she wrote.
Her essay on the dozen reasons to celebrate Darwin is worth the read.
On a visit earlier this year to England, I had the spectacular opportunity to spend a good portion of a day at London's Natural History Museum touring the biggest exhibition ever about Darwin. The exhibition's most embarrassing item is a copy of the biology textbook used in Georgia with a disclaimer that read in part, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things."
Thankfully that sticker is no longer affixed to Georgia textbooks. And thank goodness for Charles Darwin.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.