Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin Day/Inaugural Post

Darwin Day seems like a great time to reboot the latest of several attempts to start a blog. Blog for Darwin is trying to combat a hijacking by folks who want to portray Darwin as something of a proto-Nazi intent on introducing godlessness and euthanasia. He wasn't anything like that personally; any biography of Darwin shows him to be a mildly religious man who had very progressive ideas about racial equality for his time. He was also something of a mensch, he ensured his friend and intellectual rival Alfred Wallace had a regular stipend at the end of his life.

Thus it's troubling that Darwin is still considered something of a heretic in some circles. The Economist notes in an article on the 200th Anniversary of Darwin's birth that although everyone accepts Einstein (while very few actually understand him), Darwin represents science's most troubling ideas.

That Einstein is beloved and Darwin is still controversial would be funny if it didn't have the political implications it does. The only other person that I can think of that has had even close to the same kind of denialism has been Georg Cantor and his proof that there are infinitely more rational numbers than integers (Here's a good story about an attempt at a counter-proof in one of my favorite math blogs, "Good Math, Bad Math.") Still, Cantor gets the grief because his theorem is mind-blowingly counterintuive; Darwin on the other hand makes a great deal of sense if you ponder it long enough. Plus Cantor doesn't have dozens upon dozens of articles, websites, theologians and politicians trying to blame his ideas for everything from the Holocaust to imperialism to street crime.

So why the problem? I think one subtle reason is that Darwin was the latest scientist to knock humans off their Western Divinity pedestal. It (arguably) starts with Enlightenment materialism and gets pushed along by Galileo's heliocentric solar system, but Darwin finally proved that if humans were made in the image of God, God is ultimately a great ape. It makes me feel bad for the future scientist that solves the hard question of consciousness. He or she is in for one helluva historical ride.

Go check out my buddies' Darwin Day posts: Bookishgal and minds alive on the shelf. Good stuff.


Phyl said...

Excellent first post! And I think you're dead on when it comes to why Darwin gets such animosity. I was amused and sad simultaneously when I went to that Darwin exhibit, and one plaque listed the main arguments against his theory at the time he first published -- and commented that the very same arguments are still being used against it (and him), 150 years later.

Laura said...

I think we have left behind the legacy that science and faith are mutually exclusive. My late father-in-law was an organic chemist, believed in evolution and a Christian. He took flak from his scientific community and his church.

Lisa said...

I don't think that science in any way endangers faith. The more we learn about the wonders of the body and the universe, the more room there is to see the divine. It's a controversy I will never really understand.