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Msgr. Knox’s Wise Words on Darwinism



It is generally accepted that Darwin’s theory of evolution is consistent with a strongly orthodox theistic faith. But I have rarely seen this truth asserted with such verve as in the following passage from a retreat sermon by the legendary Catholic writer, Msgr. Ronald Knox:

What a lot of dust was raised last century over the evolution business! People went about with long faces cursing Darwin and the other people for tracing man’s ancestry, with a certain amount of genealogical license, from some monkey or monkeys unknown. They minded that terribly; not so much, I think, because they were Christians as because in their heart of hearts they were good old solid Victorians, who thought that the human species, as represented by Lord Macaulay, was the highest kind of existence that could possibly be conceived; it was a sort of blasphemy to connect it in any way with the zoo. But if they’d looked in the Bible, instead of being so anxious to defend the accuracy of the Bible, they’d have found something much worse than that. The Bible says the Lord God formed man out of the slime of the earth. That’s what we are, Lord Macaulay and all the rest of us, slime. We belong, on the bodily side of us, to the world of matter; are taken out of that common stock-pot from which all the rest of the visible creation comes. We are animals, we are organisms, we are matter — slime of the earth.

I guess I need to point out, for the benefit of readers entirely unfamiliar with Monsignor Knox and his works, that, as a fully orthodox Christian, he believed that the foregoing account of man was incomplete! Man also has the dignity of the image of God, and a destiny of immortality. (Some of Knox’s understanding of man is laid out more broadly in this essay.) But few writers have ever phrased as well as he has, in this passage, the creaturely bodiliness of man. And I think he is right in his diagnosis of the social and emotional roots of 19th-century opposition to Darwin’s basic insights. (I’m sure Monsignor Knox would have had very little time for the efforts of such figures as Richard Dawkins, who build a counterfeit ideological superstructure of anti-theism on the basis of Darwinian truths; but I’m also sure he would have recognized that Dawkins is a intelligent man who has valuable things to say when he is talking about matters within his sphere of competence.)

The quoted paragraph is from the Monsignor’s posthumously published book, The Layman and his Conscience: A Retreat, which appears to be out of print; used copies are available rather inexpensively on the Internet.


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