In Praise of Darwin
I stopped arguing about religion quite some time ago. I stopped thinking about God when I was about seven or eight years old. It seemed pretty pointless back then and even more so now. Death seems to be a particularly insignificant issue to consider in anything other than practical terms. Everyone dies and we don’t know anything that happens afterward. Get over it.
I don’t see how a lifetime of religious education makes someone more qualified to discuss something that cannot be proved. If you get the Pope, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Billy Graham, 20 esteemed rabbis, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir together to discuss religion, the result wouldn’t be any more profound for me than listening to the stoned teenagers in Super Troopers talk about who owns the water. “You can’t own the water…it’s God’s water.” Well put, your Excellency. I don’t think the Ayatollah could have said it any better.
There are dozens and dozens of creation and salvation myths out there all vying to dominate one culture or another, or one culture over another. The Enlightenment was so named because it was thought that mankind could finally accept the light of more rational explanations for the world around him instead of relying on the tyranny of church teachings. Hundreds of years later the Enlightenment looks like a single match flickering weakly in a drafty cave. Most of the world’s established religions would love nothing more than to snuff out that dull flame and let man continue in ignorance and superstition.
The science of evolution has been caught in the crosshairs of this battle of superstitions going on in America (and only in America). I like to start at the source of these arguments, so I recently read Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. What struck me about Darwin was his insatiable curiosity. I doubt that he ever came across a single object that he didn’t measure, weigh, probe, dissect, and document. He had an unyielding lust for answers. You would find it difficult to name a single scientist who brought man more of an understanding of the world than Darwin. He has been called the Newton of biology.. It is criminal that American Christianity is trying to refute a century and a half of Darwin’s scientific legacy simply because they find his work threatening to their absurd creation myths.
The people who oppose the teaching of evolution seem to be pulling America towards some sort of Amish mentality—a culture that rejects most of modern science and technology. Most of this anti-intellectual crusade against evolution has been orchestrated by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. I don’t understand what could possibly explain their motivations for pushing America back into the medieval era. They single-handedly fabricated the “intelligent design theory” which is anything but intelligent or a theory. If this sort of doggerel is taught in schools, it can only come at the expense of true scholarship and learning. Intelligent design just sounds like corporate-sponsored stoner talk to me.
As a lay person, I find that the study of evolution has been a constant source of marvel over the course of my adult life. I can’t remember the subject even coming up in high school, and my college career in biology consisted of a couple of required classes. Like most of what I know, I am self-taught in the field of evolution. I am indebted to the works of Stephen Gould and Robert Leakey, among many others.
It isn’t possible to have even the smallest knowledge of birds without being overwhelmed by their ability to adapt to their environment. Darwin raised pigeons and studied them endlessly. Jared Diamond, who has revolutionized the study of human cultural development, began his career studying the evolutionary patterns of birds. If you want to believe that this is all part of God’s plan, I don’t have a conflict with that. Just don’t try to teach your superstitions in our public schools. Let’s teach our kids the basics and let them make their own decisions on all of the creation and afterlife myths. Instead of intelligent design, let’s teach our kids more about birds.