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Charles Darwin, His Name is My Name Too

Late yesterday, as the world was celebrating Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, we spoke to, um, Charles Darwin -- by which we mean the pastoral counselor and life coach with a practice in Dallas. Unfair Park wasn't the first and won't be the last to approach Darwin about the relationship between his name and his career choice. And Charles Darwin is actually a Charles Darwin aficionado.

So, what was today like for you?

I get a lot of teasing, jokes, some of them not so funny from friends that it is his birthday. I usually come back with, "I bet I'm a lot younger than you thought I'd be." It's fun to have his name.

Have you had a hard time being a minister with your name?

I am ordained as a Baptist minister and served several churches. Churches seem to enjoy it as much as I did until they started saying things like, "Surely, you don't believe that stuff." And, of course, if I believed in that, then there was no way I could also be Christian.

So, do you believe in natural selection?

[He laughs.] Darwin, with The Origin of the Species, put forth the notion of natural selection, and that's mostly what people who haven't read him think of him. That he is saying that man came from monkey.  And it's a little more complex than that. If anything, if we're going to talk about that, we need to talk about man coming probably from chimpanzees, not monkeys. It depends on what folks think a monkey is.

Has your name inspired you to become an expert on Darwin?

I had the opportunity to speak to high school classes, and there was a time when I did a lot of that and talked about faith and science. I think that that opened the way. And when I began to offer a somewhat articulate idea of some of that, people were fascinated.

How do you teach about science and faith?

The big differentiation I make between faith and science is that they are two different approaches to understanding reality. Faith is much more interested in why we were created than it is in how we were created. Science is entirely caught up with finding out how a thing was done -- gaining information and putting theories together that are then proved or disproved using empirical and scientific methodologies.

Darwin was a theologue; he was attending seminary before he sailed on the Beagle. And he went as a naturalist to simply observe what he saw in the natural order. Of course they went to the Galapagos Islands, and there what he saw was indeed astounding to him, and he wrote about it in as clear as scientific terms as he could. He had no idea, absolutely none, that what he wrote had any religious significance at all. And when the church reacted so negatively to him, he was devastated. Apparently [it] was such a drama to him that he lived most of the rest of his life very depressed. Apparently he met with some of his ecclesiastical friends and began to realize that the Church of England and the Church Eternal is two different things.

I think, at least on the basis of the bibliographies I've read, his impression lifted some when he began to realize that he hadn't been irreligious or anti-religious or even a disbeliever, agnostic, which is what he was being charged with. Fortunately the church didn't try to throw him in jail and burn him at the stake like was done to Copernicus. So the church had gained enough sensitivity and wisdom that that would be counter to who they really are. It's a very interesting dialogue when the folks in the dialogue are willing to be open about what they believe or what they think and avoid judgment.

Your grandfather, father, son and grandson are all Charles Darwins. Are you descendants?

Our roots came from England and Scotland. It's possible.    

Then how does your career choice to become a life coach fit in with Darwin's theory of natural selection? You are helping people who are struggling?

I've been real thoughtful about my career choice -- not because of my name, but because of who I am. The dynamics of natural selection play into that to the extent to that those whom I coach both formally through my practice and informally through my family could make choices that would have a negative impact on their lives. It's always my hope and prayer that they will make healthy choices. But I try not to over-influence them as much as possible. You want them to make their decision not your decision.

Could you say that you are helping the weak survive?

Yes, that's possible.

But, then, that would be very anti-Darwin?

Not necessarily. I see a lot of people who have had a blah life.  They know they need some help with decision making.  So assisting them to make decisions that are going to have a set of consequences that are somewhat predictable and describe the kind of life they want to live, I believe is very significant work. And the individual who makes those decisions becomes much stronger.

So ... do you think that helping the weak survive in the end is making all humans weaker?

Hmmm. Well, from a spiritual standpoint, I believe that God has a purpose for every life. And our fulfillment is based on finding our life's purpose and living it out. So, um, I certainly hope that people who come into see me are seeking to have some control over their evolving and not just letting nature take its course. You with me?

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Kimberly Thorpe
Contact: Kimberly Thorpe

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