Sunday, February 2, 2014

Western Tradition Compendium: Darwin

Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species

Darwin’s magnum opus is some 600 pages long. It deals with the noticeable distinctions and classifications of animals. The language can be technical, and remarkably dry. Published in 1854, it is a remarkable text. On barnacles.
‘The Origin of Species’ meanwhile wouldn’t be composed for another five years, fully twenty years after he began writing up his account of the HMS Beagle’s voyage. Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was a biological expert (who determined, to undermine some of Darwin’s ideas, that there is no such thing as a fish – the term is too broad to have scientific meaning) and commented in an essay as to why Darwin took so long to write up his theory of evolution:
            “Thus Darwin waited – so the usual argument runs – simply because he had not completed his work. He was satisfied with his theory, but theory is cheap. He was determined not to publish until he had amassed an overwhelming dossier of data in support, and this took time.
“But Darwin’s activities during the twenty years in question display the inadequacy of the traditional view. In particular, he devoted eight full years to writing four large volumes on the taxonomy and natural history of barnacles. Before this single fact, the traditionalists can only offer pap something like: Darwin felt that he had to understand species thoroughly before proclaiming how they change…”
The great English biologist later commented he considered the work on barnacle to have little value. New looks at Darwin’s notebooks from the 1830s suggest a different answer to why he waited: fear. Namely fear of that his particular evolutionary theory (for there were competitors at the time, and predating his writing) was too materialist. Gould suggests that Darwin feared his explanation proved that matter comes before the spiritual, the latter being a by-product of the physical. That was the radical idea – not evolution – the idea something so complex as the brain could be determined by natural forces alone.
Others agree with Gould’s interpretation of Darwin’s materialism as the reason for his delay. However, once it was published so began a very public debate regarding evolution and whether human beings, made in God’s image, could be just material constructs of a ruthless process. Scientifically, of course, there is no debate. Evolution is the explanation for the diversity of life on the planet and the origin of life on the planet.
For a simplistic example of evolution at work, consider the flu. The influenza virus, a living organism, is not particularly complex compared to a radish, polar bear, or human. As such it can change with alarming frequency: come winter a new round of flu vaccines is needed, every year. Satirist Gary Trudeau put it nicely in the Sunday funnies, when a doctor is treating a creationist for tuberculosis he asks if he wants him “to treat the TB bug as it was before antibiotics, or as the multiple-drug-resistant strain it has since evolved into.”  Although, tragically, a number of anti-vaccine lunatics are causing rise in preventable diseases and child deaths due to some idealistic commitment to a fundamentalist cause. In one city recently nearly a thousand children ended up with whooping cough, potentially fatal – due to ignorance. This unfortunately wasn’t the Taliban’s control of vaccinations in Pakistan (that was polio) but instead in San Diego, California.
The idea that science is somehow pick and choose is woefully misguided. You can’t accept that scientific method, inquiry, and experimentation has given you the automobile and light bulb, but that evolution is bunk: this is the mark of the oblivious and unknowing. Those who profess as such don’t understand science, and therefore, not knowing, should study for themselves the real answers, or, barring drive and curiosity, accept the expert’s words which state that evolution is obvious, and that we’re surrounded by examples of it.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) perhaps foresaw the culture wars that would arise from his biological research in the Pacific. Materialist evolution has made our selfish little species radically rethink its presumed privileged place in the world. We are no more worthy of life than a snail. We were not, literally, created a day after the animals. And that’s humbling for those who wish to exert their will upon their domain. Would Darwin have thought, though, nearly two hundred years later, in the 21st century, some still refuse to acknowledge his findings?

1 comment:

Karen said...

I heard (read?) that Darwin didn't publish b/c his wife begged him not to. They both recognized the ramifications of his work, and his wife was a Christian, and also fearful for Darwin's soul.