As always, this is not a book report. Rather, it is an opportunity to discuss some ideas that stuck with me while reading “Ever Since Darwin” by Stephan Jay Gould.”
The Debate Should Be Over
During the 2012 Republican Party Primary run, a debate was held where the nominees were asked to raise their hands if they believed in the theory of evolution. Most of the candidates raised their hands. As I watched, I was baffled that this is still a debate. Sure, we have learned much since Darwin first established the theory. If anything, what we learned has moved us closer, not further away from this truth. So, why the debate? Simply, religion. Evolution flies in the face of intelligent design. There are those who believe evolution might be a tool used by God, but there are vast swaths of believers who profess to biblical truth; the world was created in 7 days, man was made in the image of God, and we may have lived while dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Evolution pokes holes in the story of creation. This keeps it from being widely accepted.
Legacy of Debate
One of my favorite quotes from this book is the following:
"As the new Darwinian orthodoxy swept through Europe, its most brilliant opponent, the aging embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer, remarked with bitter irony that every triumphant theory passes through three stages: first it is dismissed as untrue; then it is rejected as contrary to religion; finally, it is accepted as dogma and each scientist claims that he long appreciated its truth." -Stephen Jay Gould
The theory of evolution unleashed debate across the world. Like any good theory, it was debated in the scientific community, tested, peer-reviewed, and then accepted. To this day, it is debated on the grounds of philosophy, religion, sociology, and still within the hallowed halls of academia. No theory has had such a profound impact on humankind. Beyond the debate itself, the way in which we’ve conducted ourselves while in the midst of debate has revealed much about ourselves. In my opinion, this theory and the theory of global climate change have caused something dangerous in our culture to rise, a war against intellectualism. In this war, facts don’t matter, and opinions win the day. A civil society built on the legacy of debate cannot prosper if there is no clear winner.
Mankind has a way of misusing new findings. Evolution was and is no different. Think of Hitler. Think of all those conversations about a superior race. Think of eugenics. Think of the harm we’ve done to each other because we didn’t fully understand a theory. When I think of the greatest invention of my lifetime, the internet, I think of the profound good connecting the entire world together can do. I also think of the myriad of ways in which it has been used to hurt people. Reflecting on evolution and where we currently find ourselves, I can’t help but think this may be the natural order of human discovery: theory, misuse, course correction. If that is the case, I hope we are soon arriving at a point in human history where the greatest inventions of our time are used for their most noble of intentions.
Evolution has much to say about human nature. It can begin to explain the way we are. It can begin to answer some of our most profound questions. How did we get here? How did the world begin? Where are we going next? How we choose to use this information is up to us. It can inform or cripple. It can answer or sow seeds of deceit. It can close gaps or deliver us to questions that can never be answered. My hope is, as with all things, that we will use it for good and to enlighten ourselves. Anything less would be a disservice to the pioneering man who first brought such an idea forward.
Be good to each other,
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