Breaking Glass

The Christian in the Cave

I have a continuing interest in popular historical mythology—that is, the yawning gulf that separates what really happened in the past from what large numbers of even quite well-educated individuals think occurred.  Given contemporary cultural debates, it is scarcely surprising that such myths commonly focus on religious themes, usually to the massive disadvantage of religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular.

To take an example, I’m struck by the simple misstatements that surround Charles Darwin and his role in the intellectual world of his time.  To be sure, Darwin was a magnificent scientist who reshaped Victorian thought, but many of his supposedly revolutionary insights just were not that new in the context of the age.  Reading The Origin of Species in 1859, people did not throw up their hands in astonishment to find that the world was potentially millions of years old, or that it long predated 4004 b.c.  Nor would they have been too startled by the suggestion that animals developed from other forms.  Such ideas had been common currency since the 1790’s, and religious believers had for decades been striving, quite successfully, to integrate the new scientific paradigms into the worldview set forth in the Bible.  In itself, then, Darwin’s work clearly did not ignite a broad cultural crisis of faith.  The fact that we...

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