In Praise of Darwin. In defense of faith.

While hunting for the Greek proverb I used in my last post, I came across this article I had written over at LiveJournal on the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. I thought it worthwhile enough to share here, slightly modified.


Around 153 years ago, Charles Darwin published his “Origin of Species“. And then the fight started.

The man was a genius of observation, analysis and synthesis. He looked at a jigsaw puzzle spread out all over the world, with virtually millions of pieces, and managed to pull together a single, coherent picture, even though it still has many gaps in it where pieces are missing.

I know of no scientist more praised and more maligned at the same time.

I remember when the Macintosh computer was a relatively new phenomenon, there was this great game called “Darwin’s Dilemma”, which required you to solve puzzles by pushing life forms around on a board and causing them to evolve. The version I had was won when the last two pieces combined to create a tiny image of a nude couple. Sweetly ironic. And, it was a ruddy difficult game to beat, and terribly entertaining to play.

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Screen capture from a PC version of Darwin’s Dilemma. The Mac version had better graphics. As usual.

Today, the atheist community is holding up Darwin as a standard to which they hope humanity will flock. And militant atheists, just like militant Muslims, or militant Christians, or militant segregationists, or militant anything, are anathema to a society that works for everyone; any ideology which seeks to impose itself on others by dint of coercion  must be fought with all the vigor we can muster as a global community, or we are doomed to perpetual servitude.

The Greeks have an interesting saying: “Η γλώσσα κόκκαλα δεν έχει και κόκκαλα τσακίζει” (the tongue has no bones, but it breaks bones). An ideology can also be imposed without physical weapons; money, lawsuits, media, spin doctors, mockery, academic intimidation and peer pressure can often succeed where violence and terror would not. And today’s evangelical atheists seek to mainstream two main ideas:

1) Religion can be proven false, and
2) Religion is usually or always harmful

The irony in using the Darwin flag as a vexillum for the armies of the unchurched is that Charles Darwin himself professed only to be an agnostic. In Francis Darwin’s biography, (among others), he is quoted as saying, “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God.”1

Whether religion can be proven false is irrelevant – since the dawn of consciousness, there have been those who have looked outside themselves for a source of strength, and those who have not. Whether religion is a force for good or evil is irrelevant, because religion is like a weapon: only the person who wields it can decide how it will be used.

On this pale blue dot, there’s room for everyone’s personal beliefs about our place in the universe. If you believe in a power greater than yourself, and it moves you to improve yourself and raise the human condition, that’s a good thing. If you believe in the notion of the greater good because it’s logical and reasonable, and this moves you to improve yourself and raise the human condition, that’s good. And, our great freedoms of thought and speech guarantee you the right to share with others what makes you happy. But to impose your beliefs by the sword is ungood. And to impose your unbelief by social activism is equally ungood. Either way, if you’re a jerk, your personal philosophy isn’t working.

Remember:

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So whatever you happen to believe, let’s lift a glass to Darwin today. His life’s work has gone a long way towards explaining the miraculous diversity of earth’s biosphere. And if I were God, I’d pin a medal on his chest. [2]

The Old Wolf has spoken.


1 Darwin, Francis, The Life of Charles Darwin. London: Tiger Books,1995, 55.
2 So it’s incongruous. So sue me.

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4 responses to “In Praise of Darwin. In defense of faith.

  1. I’m not really for shaming or belittling anyone, or anything, really. But, Wise Wolf, do you think that atheists who call out religious dogmas and beliefs for what they are (and perhaps being a bit agressive about it – not my style, but for some it works) are doing ungood?

    Cause there are so many religious claims that indeed can be proven false, or are at least falsifiable. Ones that are particularly harmful. What that says about religion as a whole, I’m not sure. And my opinion’s largely my own opinion; not based on facts or stats. But surely it’s undeniable that there are a lot of religious dogmas that need to be brought down, or at least highlighted for what they really are? Perhaps not in the malicious way that many go about it, but still in a way that’s organised? (I’m really curious. My mind’s not made up on the matter. Structures don’t sit well with me, but on some days I believe they’ve their place).

    • Like all things, matters of faith are never black and white. Calling bullshit on parents who let their child die because they’d rather pray over him than get needed and efficacious medical treatment is entirely appropriate. Mocking someone because they happen to believe in transubstantiation (I’m not Catholic, just an example) is just being ignorant. There’s a difference between shining the light of reason on a sexual abuse scandal and publicly shaming religion to increase one’s own social standing, as people like Christopher Hitchens did. I think the dividing line comes down to whether the dogma in question is harmful; I’m thinking People’s Temple, Branch Davidians, Solar Temple, child marriages (FLDS), Scientology (no mass suicides with the last one, but there’s no question in my mind that Hubbard established this cult solely as a vehicle for personal enrichment and that it’s not now, nor ever has been a religion.)

      It’s not an easy question, because there are those who think that members of a faith who are perfectly content within their own structure are intrinsically “being harmed” by being taught things like creationism and the rejection of scientific reality. To me, that seems like reaching. I’d be intrigued to know some of those dogmas you think ought to be challenged, to see if your ideas and mine intersect somewhere.

  2. Well, most of the ones that stand in the forefront of my mind are fairly black and white to me. Gay rights, generally. Women’s rights, generally. The use of contraception, which, if my memory serves me correctly, I think the new Pope might have actually made a backflip on, huzzah. Genital mutilation, boys and girls. The medical assistance.

    I also agree with Dawkins when he says that teaching the idea of hell to children like it’s a sort of eternal punishment in hell and brimstone to reprimand “bad” deeds is akin to child abuse. Don’t know if I’d say that people being taught creationism are being harmed. But, I’d say the line’s crossed when those kids (people being taught it) want to look outside the box, and are punished for doing so – especially when family’s disown their children for something so simple as believing in evolution.

    There’s another problem with rejecting scientific reality. I think it can stagnate mental development. It’s got nothing to do with the whole science v religion thing, it’s merely a case of, the world changes, new discoveries open, and we should let all the information flow. When religion acts as a sort of propaganda like censorship, then the door for children’s suffering opens – not directly, and not for all, but for the curious ones, as an indirect consequence for having to repress their curiosities to keep in alignment with their norm. (Perhaps for fear of going to hell).

  3. Pingback: Avag Co Bepsig: These coins are Evil! | Playing in the World Game

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