9/11 and Charles Darwin

Michael Metzger

Falling leaves & towers.
When you first saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11, what was your candid response?  Most of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing.  But what did you feel?  If we polled a hundred people, we’d hear the same three or four responses – horror, shock, disbelief, and anger.  Whether Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian; the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker – most everyone responded with shock and horror to the events of 9/11.1 And that’s exactly what the Judeo-Christian tradition predicts.

But it’s not the reaction Charles Darwin forecast.  This is not meant to trivialize the events of that horrific day; nor to demonize Darwin.  But if he was correct about who we are, there should have been no difference between our reaction to the WTC towers collapsing and what we feel when we see autumn leaves falling.

Darwin & design.
Charles Darwin was born the son of Robert Darwin, an avowed atheist who sent young Charles off to Cambridge University, where he would eventually graduate with a degree in theology in 1831.  In the midst of his studies, however, Darwin concluded that he could not embrace Christianity.  Upon graduation, he instead accepted an invitation from a friend to be the official naturalist on a voyage around the world on H.M.S. Beagle.

The five-year voyage furthered Darwin’s ideas about evolution.  Over the course of the next decade, Darwin completed his book published in 1859, The Origin of the Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  The central claim of Darwin’s theory is that an unguided material process (random variation and natural selection) could account for the emergence of all life.  Let’s see whether this “unguided material process” accounts for 9/11.

What Darwin meant by unguided is that there is neither architect nor architecture in the universe.  Darwin’s worldview is today’s whatever… stuff happens.  Insects eat other insects.  Baby sea turtles are consumed by birds.  Leaves fall on the ground every autumn.  There is no up or down, right or wrong.  Second, material means we live in a material world and my daughter is a material girl.  Period.  She has no soul.  Finally, process means evolution isn’t necessarily going anywhere – it’s random, dude.

Now let’s revisit our reaction to 9/11.  Horror is the revulsion we feel when something ought not to have happened.  Shock is not anticipating horror.  If Darwin’s ideas are correct and life is merely an unguided material process, then we should have shrugged at the mess New Yorkers, Pentagon officials, and Pennsylvanians had to clean up.  The towers falling were no different than leaves fluttering to the ground.  We shouldn’t be shocked.  Stuff happens.  The loss of life was tedious; but not terrible.

For over two thousand years, the Christian gospel has promoted a different vision – one of life as having architecture.  This gospel says the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker have been created with an intuitive code embedded in their soul.  We all share a feeling about how life ought to be, recognize life as it actually is, dream about how life can be made better and what it will be one day.  Christians throughout the ages have known this gospel as a “four-chapter” story – creation, the fall, redemption, and the final restoration.  It fits the way we really live.  This story predicts everyone would be shocked and express horror at the events of 9/11.  And that’s exactly how we reacted – without thinking twice.  Collapsing towers are different than falling leaves.

G.K. Chesterton once observed: “In answer to the historical inquiry of why [Christianity] was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life.  It is one among many stories; only it happens to be a true story.2   It is one among many philosophies; only it happens to be the truth.”   Perhaps the best test of a faith – be it Christianity, Darwinism, or any other philosophy – is whether it fits what we feel and say in the unedited moment.

1 Granted, some Islamist radicals went on the air and expressed glee.  But that was not the norm and is representative of a marred conscience.
2 G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ft. Collins, CO: Ignatius, 1987), p.380-381


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