I’m not sure how to decorate or dress for Darwin Day, but I assume it would be something pragmatic and sensible. But as some people make it their religion — the way they relate to life — some take it too far. One blogger I’ve encountered (among many others no doubt) has taken this day not to praise the human faculties of understanding as the fruits of reason, but as an excuse to bash the infidels. And for them this includes anyone who does not ascribe to or limit themselves to a purely secular, atheistic, or empirical worldview.
This saddens me because I have too much respect for Darwin, for Science. Historically, to many religionists, his Theory and even his person have become the embodiment of atheism. On the outside, it might be seen as reason being a rejection and replacement for faith, and was even touted by some as light dispelling the darkness of superstition. And in many ways it was. (Many of the ways it mortally pierced blind notions of belief are still used as straw men today to dismiss all notions of faith altogether, but I digress.)
But it was never about God really. It’s not even about logic versus the spiritual. Humanism itself was the main battlefront, religious AND secular. More accurately, a reason-centered world-view was rising, along with its political twin, egalitarianism. Anyone could test the validity of an idea, having the ability (and responsibility) to think for themselves. It appeared that anything could be called into question, examined anew. The threat was the to the authority of the Church (and the Crown by virtue of divine right, even if such a belief wasn’t consciously accepted). After the decline of Vatican power (and monarchy), the threat was internalized into an ideological war, religion versus science, now so sadly personified as God versus Darwin. I reject that any such battle need even exist, and have written about it for many years.
Anyone who wears a clerical collar (I own such garb but am not speaking of myself here) may wish to fence off the flock from not just other shepherds but from the very thought they could shepherd themselves. The fear was not of DNA or the Big Bang, but that people would QUESTION in the first place. Faith, in so many times and places, was not holding something dear by which to guide oneself and live, but the active absence of doubt (and obedience by extension). New ideas — especially those which impinge on the concurrent extolling of accepted truths — must be wrong and quashed accordingly. It was a spiritual nationalism that gathered energy from deriding heresy and apostasy rather than a spiritual patriotism that brings fellow Man closer to themselves and each other. And militant atheists are all too eager to condemn or ignore the virtues of the latter under the sins of the former.
So what does this have to do with Darwin? Nothing.
The battles for people’s minds was the meta-context of his life and findings. It was about the accepted worldview being challenged, and such a thing never goes smoothly. But to be true to science, we must let evidence and logical argument keep center stage. Instead, we have put the man and other people’s criticism in the spotlight to nearly the exclusion of all else. And politicizing science is its own sort of hypocrisy.
I have found myself more than once defending Darwin to fundamentalists and the legitimacy of theism to militant Atheists, sometimes in the same discussion. And both, being fanatical, could only see my allowance for the other’s views as being the other extreme — I was a Bible-thumper to one person and a Godless heathen to the other.
And that is why I lament Darwin’s place in the debate. Making him the poster child for why “believers” are wrong is nothing more than being reactionary to the extreme among believers proffering him personally up as the devil incarnate. It’s bigotry, making no metaphors here, under the guise of intellectual enlightenment. Yes, bad science used to rationalize beliefs needs to be called out. But the collateral damage — the vast number of people who do not base their faith on the world being 6,000 years old or some other empirically disprovable “belief” — does not deserve the disrespect of being lumped in with the unthinking or incurably ignorant. Instead ignorance is matched with ignorance. The inability to even imagine scriptural fallibility* matched by an autistic inability to see the greater epistemological forest for only specifically empirical trees. They are more alike than they dare think.
Darwin’s life’s work was not about finding God or killing the concept of a god. At all. It was what it was, using it’s own tools to gather its own knowledge and understanding about an aspect of our world. Nothing we have explored or discovered or discerned has given us those over-arching answers we have sought. But asking those fundamental questions about who we are, why we are here, our place in the universe and its meaning — those are the impetus by which both religion and science were born.
It is my observation that both modalities have lost sight of this. Both have dug their heels into their own assumptions. They have stagnated in their own way by insisting any given thing can be known or cannot, making a dead end of one and a denial of the value and existence, however subjective, of the other. It reveals an ignorance and even hubris on BOTH parties, ignoring common ground in favor of misapplying their exioms to the other, if it were even possible.
Forgive us Darwin. You’ve become a spectacle, a sideshow, a pawn. Your brilliance has become a cheap mockery to some and a snide bludgeon to others.
May we someday learn to give to Science what belongs to the realm of Reason, and to God (or whatever metaphysical Absolute there may be) what belongs to the realm of Faith.
* Or, a given interpretation of scripture rather. Although they may never admit it, the infallibility is in the person’s BELIEF about the written word, which varies so greatly the notion of a literal correct interpretation cannot be argued, only rationalized.