In the brief reading we had Jesus asked a question: ”˜what is the kingdom of God like?’ He gives two suggestions by way of an answer. He said ”˜It is like a tiny seed that a man sowed and in time it became a huge tree’. Then he said again: ”˜The Kingdom of heaven is like a woman who takes flour and yeast and from the leavening of the two an invisible, chemical change creates something wholly new’. In both parables Jesus is saying something like this: ”˜from the tiniest of events the most staggering mysteries can appear’.
Of course, human beings quite rightly do not like mysteries. We want to get to the bottom of things and we ask questions of mysteries.
This year our country is celebrating the achievements of one of the greatest scientists of all time; Charles Darwin. Born two hundred years ago he was from childhood a person with a profound sense of curiosity. He was an inveterate collector. His father wanted him to follow him into the medical profession- but he knew he wasn’t cut out for that. He went to university thinking that he ought to be ordained ”“ but, deep down, he knew that wasn’t his destiny.
Almost by accident he heard about the voyage of a ship, the Beagle, which needed a naturalist. He got the job and the five years he spent on the ship was to change him and change the world. Above all, he got people thinking and arguing about God. And Darwin himself was shaken by what he discovered. In 1859, 150 years ago, his magnum opus, On the Origin of Species, was published. He showed that the earth was in constant flux and that every species was interdependent; human beings too were part of creation and linked to other creatures. There is an astonishing diagram in one of his notebooks sketching the tree of life with the two words above the diagram ”˜I think’. He argued in his book that a process he called natural selection was at work in all life with survival dependent upon adaptability to change . Called ”˜the survival of the fittest’ Darwin challenged religious and philosophical thinking of his day.
I can only give you my personal take on this. If you believe that the opening chapters of Genesis are literally true, then Darwin’s colossal achievement will contradict you. If you believe, as I do, that the opening chapters of Genesis are allegories, pictures stories that belong to ancient peoples’ attempts to understand creation, then there is no difficulty for Christians seeing Darwin’s discoveries as enlarging their understanding of the universe.