Marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the 2009 film ‘Creation’ tells of how he came to publish his instant bestseller ‘On the Origin of the Species’, that later influenced almost every branch of science. His tense friendship with Reverend Innes due to the clashes of ideologies of evolution versus creationism is depicted via thought-provoking ‘dialogues’. A couple of them are as follows.
In a sermon, Reverend Innes preaches, ‘Let us pray. Lord God, we know the world is governed by thy plan, extending to the merest creatures thou hast made, such that even a sparrow falls not to the ground without thy will. Teach us that all misfortune, all sickness and death, all the trials and miseries of which we daily complain are intended for our own good, being not the whims of an uncaring universe, but the corrections of a wise and affectionate parent. Teach us this, in thy name, O Lord. Amen…
‘The lesson today is taken from the book of Genesis 1:26-30. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”‘ Before hearing him finish, Darwin walks out of the church in indignation, for he could no longer believe what was taught.
If this world is governed by an omnipotent creator’s plan, there is no hint, as to what grand plan he had for the sparrow that fell, suffered and died. The sparrow was not taught in time, as to how his misfortune, sickness and death was for his own good, that he was looked after by a wise and affectionate parent, that he was being corrected. If he had a perfectly wise and affectionate creator, why would he need the slightest ‘correction’, much more to say, the cruellest? Switch the words ‘a sparrow’ with ‘a human suffering injustice’ in the speech and the same question would apply.
The universe is not exactly uncaring in nature though, as there are those in the universe who care, who have compassionate efforts that can be experienced tangibly. Though there is no perfect guardian creator logically, we can, as according to the Buddha’s teachings, all be Bodhisattvas who work towards Buddhahood, by evolving towards the perfection of our compassion and wisdom for all beings – including sparrows.
Over the course of time, many have interpreted the scriptural verses in the sermon to mean that humans have the rights to use and even abuse animals, to exploit them for their flesh and produce – since they are ‘designated’ to be their masters. Are such abusers made in the image and likeness of an omni-benevolent creator? If so, why should the slightest cruelty be actualised by any human? Unless they were not made by any such creator, unless they imagined their ‘creator’ in their imperfect image and likeness. And if humans are all ‘perfect creations’ who can fall from grace, the creator must be not omniscient, as he seems unaware of the latent imperfections of his continual efforts.
In another scene, when Darwin was troubled by whether he should write his classic-to-be while grieving over his recently deceased young daughter, Reverend Innes arrives and ‘comforts’ him, saying that, ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways’, to which Darwin sarcastically and bitterly retorts… ‘Yes, he does, doesn’t he? … how he has endowed us in all of his blessed generosity with not one but 900 species of intestinal worms, each with its own unique method of infiltrating the mucosa and burrowing through to the bloodstream. And on the love that he shows for butterflies by inventing a wasp that lays its eggs inside the living flesh of caterpillars.’
Darwin was not lamenting against an unjust creator, but expressing his exasperation at the futility of refuge in an absent creator, whose ‘presence’ was being impressed onto him. Subscribers of creationism often marvel at the beautiful aspects of nature, being satisfied with that alone. Darwin was reminding Innes of its prevalently dark side, that is often ignored, swept under the carpet, out of sight. Surely, if a creator and sustainer of everything is believed in, the Dukkha (the Buddhist term for suffering or existential dissatisfaction) of every sentient being would be his responsibility too. What justifies the smallest iota of suffering to be created for any being in the first place?
‘It is part of [early] spiritual evolution to believe in God. It is part of [later] spiritual evolution to not believe in God.’ Darwin’s immeasurable contributions surely constitute a landmark in this evolution.
The Middle Path Between Creationism & Evolution?