Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Evolutionary Sanity

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday.
The New York Times had two articles devoted to his commemoration. One praising his foresight and the other wanting to kill off his memory.
My take on this, and I'm just a humble high school history teacher, is that Darwin should be acknowledged for his greatness, not dismissed or disregarded. I also agree that his name needs to be removed from being equated to what is now a fairly well understood natural occurrence.
Evolution will remain a quasi-religion as long as it's called Darwinism. And I'm pretty certain that most biologists and other scientists would be more than happy to drop his "ism" from the branch of science they work in.
It's the the anti-evolutionists, the religionists who can argue against what can be construed as a cult based around a name. That is the only way  they can get people to listen to their arguments and come across as half way believable. One religion against another religion.
I see great danger in trying to make science a religion. They're opposites. Religion is about accepting tradition and  believing what has been written and revealed. Science is about figuring things out on your own: asking questions, finding answers that lead to more questions...

The one sticking point for Darwin and why he is so hard to accept is that he sees no meaning and purpose in natural selection It just happens. That's just the way it is. He equates our concept of altruism and morality to the animal behavior of sympathy. Perhaps this is why the superstitious have such a hard time accepting his ideas, but that doesn't have to be the case.
Maybe our morality can be linked genetically and biologically to other animals, but there is one thing we humans have other animals don't: Free Will.
John Rosemond is a syndicated columnist who writes about child development. He had an interesting article last week explaining why behavior modification doesn't work. He says it works on dogs, cats (well it takes a bit of patience to get it to work with cats), horses and other animals, but it doesn't work on humans because we have Free Will.
It is our Free Will that gives us purpose and meaning; be it from a deep faith in God, our family, careers, charity work, etc. Without meaning and purpose there is just existence, which is a rather bleak way of looking at life.
Darwin opening the door to understanding how all life on this planet started and is interconnected doesn't change who and what we are or can become. It is still up to each of us to make as much out of the life we've been given. It can be purposeful, meaningful and happy, or it can be just the born, lived for so long, had so many children, died. Our Free Will makes the difference.

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