The Church of England will tomorrow officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.
In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.
But the move was greeted with derision last night, with Darwinâ€™s great-great-grandson dismissing it as â€˜pointlessâ€™ and other critics branding it â€˜ludicrousâ€™.
Church officials compared the apology to the late Pope John Paul IIâ€™s decision to say sorry for the Vaticanâ€™s 1633 trial of Galileo, the astronomer who appalled prelates by declaring that the earth revolved around the sun.
The officials said that senior bishops wanted to atone for the vilification their predecessors heaped on Darwin in the 1860s, when he put forward his theory that man was descended from apes.
The Church is also anxious to counter the view that its teaching is incompatible with science. It wants to distance itself from fundamentalist Christians, who believe in the Biblical account of the creation of the world in seven days.
An article to be posted on the Churchâ€™s website will say: â€˜Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.
â€˜But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.â€™
The article has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the director of mission and public affairs of the Archbishopsâ€™ Council, the Churchâ€™s managing body, which is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.