Friday 20 March 2009

Creation vs Evolution

In this year, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, it is amusing to find the creation versus evolution debate written large on the Paris skyline. Genesis informs us that “God created the heavens and the earth” and that “by the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing”. It seems that whilst he was resting, an artist came along and commented on that work. Then I came along and took a photo of the artist's work.

The fundamentalist creationist wing of the church would have us believe that the earth is young, approximately 6000 years old. Is it for this reason that an artist has slipped up a conveniently placed ladder, possibly belonging to Jacob, and pasted an Ammonite fossil on a church spire? According to carbon dating techniques, it is estimated that Ammonites are at the very least 65 million years old, but were also living creatures possibly as long as 400 million years ago.

It was the discovery of such fossils that led Darwin to develop his theories of evolution, and whatever your belief systems are, the creation here is a striking homage to this great man in his two hundreth year. Has the artist chosen the right target though?

This simple picture becomes a tale of two men named Charles. Seeing the image makes me think immediately of Darwin, but what is the steeple on which it is painted? The answer is written on the street name on which it is situated – the Rue du Pasteur Wagner. The Pasteur was Charles Wagner, and the church is his, a temple known simply as the ‘Foyer de l’Âme’ (a shelter for the soul).

Charles Wagner (1852-1918) was an interesting man, a talented orator and writer. He belonged to a wing of the church known as Liberal Protestantism, but claimed independence from all creed and orthodoxies. After going on a conference tour around the United States, supported vocally by the President Theodore Roosevelt, he managed to raise enough money to build his temple in Paris. Opened in 1907, from the exterior it is one of the more discreet places of worship in Paris, with just the little wooden steeple peeping over the top of a school on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir near Bastille indicating that it is there at all.

Inside though the temple sits up to 1200 people, proof that Wagner was a popular orator. He was known as a left-wing preacher and attracted many curious visitors from the working class corners of the city. Liberal Protestants very largely accept the advances of science and the the principle of evolution, seeing Genesis as giving only rough metaphors for the process, so it is likely that Wagner celebrated the teachings of Darwin.

The 'Foyer de l'Âme' when first opened (photo taken from official website).

At the entrance to the church, a further clue that this was not a centre of fundamentalism. A sign reads "Ici on enseigne l'humanité" (here we teach humanity), and a quick look at the church website reveals discussions about encouraging homosexuals into the fold. It seems then that the artist chose the worst possible steeple in the city to place the evolutionary comment!

The Protestant faith remains very minor in France, with this temple apparently attracting mostly British and American expatriates. The story ended quite sadly for Wagner too, with his church opening two years after French laws decided on a strict separation between church and state. His temple backs onto a school, but his dreams of universal teaching and of avoiding the schism of the various Protestant factions in France proved to be in vain. He died half way through the First World War, an event which also caused many Liberal Protestants to question their belief system.

Perhaps the artist has chosen this steeple for another reason. The work of art brought my attention to this hidden, but interesting site in the city and it could almost function as a beacon for the particular identity of the church. If this were the case, a perfect title for the work would be that of a famous Liberal Protestant sermon from America in the 1920s – “Shall we let the fundamentalists win?


Gina V said...

Ahh...ammonites...such a powerful symbol of the almost unfathomable age of this tiny sphere we dwell upon!! [There is a life-size bronze statue of my husband holding just such a fossil in a grand hall of commerce!!...not that he is such a heroic figure - he was the model for the casting of "male nude"!]
But very interesting find, Adam...this church is near where I stay...I will be sure to check it out.
Did you read on Archidose that Paul Auster has a new book coming out later this year entitled "Invisible"??...looking forward to it!

Starman said...

Interesting. I must have walked past that place and never even noticed it was there. I'm not one hundred percent certain that Darwin was correct, but neither are the creationists. Did you know that some fool actually opened a religious theme park in the US in which they depict children playing with a T-Rex?

PeterParis said...

How interesting! Only you could make this little church tower story to a complete thesis about creation vs Evolution! I mean it as a real compliment!

martha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
martha said...

Isn't is possible that the church fathers - or mothers - invited the artist to paint his ammonite there?

Eric said...

"According to carbon dating techniques, it is estimated that Ammonites are at the very least 65 million years old, but were also living creatures possibly as long as 400 million years ago."

If you actually think that carbon dating can date anything that old than I'm afraid that you have no idea how carbon dating works. Carbon Dating can not date anything older than 30,000 years. In fact Carbon Dating is very good evidence for a young earth. It has been said that if take a brand new earth and set it out orbiting the sun that it would take about 30K years for that earth to reach equilibrium. I have to tell you my friend that this earth has not yet met that mark. Do some more studying, maybe you'll see the truth some day.

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