Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin

Attacked by the religious right, he could be done in by the atheists ...

Elsewhere in this meandering blog I have railed against those who would have us throw science out of our schools and embrace a world view which is on a par with believing in a flat Earth sitting motionless at the center of the universe.

But I'm equally irked to hear that a local Atheist Society is vocally supporting a celebration of Darwin Day. Don't the Creationists -- I mean, Intelligent Designers -- have enough arguments already without a bunch of disbelievers feeding the frenzy by confirming the idea that Darwin's theory is tantamount to godlessness? This is like a US political candidate getting an endorsement from the Communist Party -- thanks for your support, guys, but ...

Now, I don't mean to demean atheists by comparing them to Communists. Even though Karl Marx famously condemned all religion as "the opiate of the masses," and even though the Soviet Union worked diligently to stamp out religious practices, there is of course no reason why a believer in democracy can't also be a disbeliever in divinity -- and many are. But my complaint is that by publicly endorsing Darwin's theory at a time when it is a source of such contention, they are only making things more difficult. And by appearing to embrace the theory as evidence to support atheism they are doing as much harm to the truth as those who consider it a negation of religion.

The reality is that Darwin described a mechanism to explain the observed fact that species change and evolve over time. He realized that human beings were an integral part of this process, and must have emerged from earlier ancestors just as all other plants and animals have done over the billions of years since life first came into being on our planet. Anticipating the furor that could result over this concept, he waited twenty years before publishing it, and was nearly beaten into print by Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the same theory independently. This is yet another example of how the truth will emerge when the time comes, regardless of who takes the credit. It would be no different to us today if it were called Wallace's Theory of Evolution.

As products of their age, neither man was an atheist. It was a time when science and religion were seen to cooperate more than compete. Wallace in fact had some wild ideas of spirituality that made him suspect in the scientific community. But their work was not done either to prove or disprove the existence of God. It was simply to learn more about how our natural world works, and to learn more about our place in that world.

So I have similar questions to pose to both ends of the radical spectrum. If you are a fundamentalist Christian, can you not still find wonder -- even greater wonder -- in considering a God who brought a whole universe into being in a single explosive instant, and who molded its stars, planets, and living things with a single set of basic rules that made it inevitable that beings like ourselves would arise from the dust? And if you are an atheist, can you not find the same sense of wonder in contemplating that same universe, and can you not admit that your sense of awe in the presence of that reality corresponds to what the religious feel in the presence of their God?

We are all human. We all belong to the same world in the same cosmos. And none of us really knows why. All the rest is argument about terminology.

Google celebrates Darwin

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