Darwin Day - A Celebration of Humanity

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm a fangirl of science. While my own genetic gifts lie more in the area of the Liberal Arts, I still love science, and many of my Nerd Loves are scientists.

At the top of that historical list would have to be Charles Darwin. Eric has already done an admirable job of explaining why Mr. Darwin was not only a good human being, but a scientist of incomparable worth, so I'll skip that part, other than to comment on how very tickled I am that The Origin of Species is currently sold out at Amazon.

My own thoughts on this day pertain to how Darwin's work allowed humanity to look at ourselves in a new light. Instead of relying on supernatural explanations for our consciousness, for our intelligence, for our search for meaning, Darwin allowed us, as a species, to shift our focus to the natural.

How incredible - how awe inspiring - this is. That humanity has evolved into the species we are today, with all our foibles and all our glory, is the most amazing thing I've ever heard. It humbles me, it makes me proud, it fills me with hope for our future.

And I don't think Darwin's ideas and science are incompatible with the spiritual life that so many human beings believe in. Like Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, I think people who live a spiritual life can reconcile their beliefs in a creator god with the science of evolution without compromising themselves. I also think people who believe the existence of a creator god is an open question can recognize the desire for grace in other human beings, and attempt to meet them half-way.

Because for me, this is what it means to be human. We're animals, evolved from less complex life forms, attempting to survive - or even thrive - in an inimical world. We're conscious, and sentient, and search for meaning in our lives. Whether we find that meaning in spiritual quests, in service to others, in discovery - we all want to feel that our presence in this world made a difference. Evolution gives us the choice to embrace our animal natures, or to rail against them, or to seek the spark of the divine in our animal selves. Prior to evolution, we had only the creation stories of the cultures in which we were born. Now we can write our own stories, based on our own conscience, belief or education.

This was Darwin's gift to humanity. The freedom to write our own stories. And to act on them.

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.

7 comments:

Eric said...

NPR's story this morning included the last lines of Origin, which I'd long forgotten. Darwin wrote:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Clearly, Darwin shared your awe (as do I, by the way). Darwin's critics have often focused on the ugliness of the natural world as if that were somehow a repudiation of evolution by natural selection--as if intra-species struggle for limited resources must be a cause for revulsion instead of something to be observed and noted, and as if our being a part of that struggle for life somehow diminishes us. But the larger picture Darwin painted wasn't of a gruesome world "red in tooth and claw" (as Tennyson put it) but of a world of magnificent depth and beauty arising from competition and interplay.

This vision--Darwin's real vision--is, as you say, a gift.

Janiece Murphy said...

Thanks for that quote, Eric.

I currently have the audio version of The Origin of Species in my iPod queue, and I'm looking forward to reading it again.

Eric said...

Came back to see if there were any new comments and noticed the new pic, which is made of awesome!

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, I have to admit I stole it from Cosmic Variance, which is also made of awesome.

I think I'm going to make a T-Shirt out of it...

Karl said...

Or you could get one from here.

Darwin's Posse

Janiece Murphy said...

Squee! Thanks, Karl!

Karl said...

heh heh - I figured you could pick a favorite subspecie instead of just creating one ;)