Armchair: Darwin the origins of misuse

Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret...
Image via Wikipedia

My friends at ‘Of Buckley and the Beatles’ have recently posted an article on the revered naturalist, Charles Darwin. (Please see here for their article and other quite enjoyable reading: http://ofbuckleyandbeatles.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/happy-darwin-day/)

Darwin’s birthday has just passed and the great man is being celebrated for his contributions, his theories, and the straightforward intellectual heavy-lifting required to achieve the Origin of the Species.

What is sadly not being celebrated (or condemned) and indeed is often cast aside in reference to this fine work, is the fact that few outside those who study evolution and natural selection have even read the book or truly understand what it postulates. Moreover, it is today, very likely, more useful for its misuse than the rightly praised work of theory that it is.

Now, before anyone gets their secular knickers in a knot about my use of the term ‘theory’, permit me to clarify that I am using it in the proper sense, theory:

  • a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained : Darwin’s theory of evolution.
  • a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based : a theory of education | music theory.
  • an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action : my theory would be that the place has been seriously mismanaged.
  • Mathematics a collection of propositions to illustrate the principles of a subject.

So, there we have it. I don’t mean – a guess.

Generally, opponents to natural selection focus on the word ‘theory’, incorrectly believing that the idea postulated is unproven and therefore no more than a guess. This is especially interesting in the hands of Fundamentalist Christians or Extremists of any Religion as proving the existence of God has, at least to the knowledge of this author, yet to be achieved. However, that being said, how one is able to prove, disprove, or even comprehend the comings and goings of a transcendent being is beyond me.

In fact, members of the extreme side of religious belief have concocted some marvellously inane ‘guesses’ to address those annoying paradoxes that one encounters when claiming the Bible is not merely the word of God, but also an irrefutable historical record.

Sorry folks, but human’s didn’t ride dinosaurs.

However, on the other side of the riot barrier are the fundamentalist secularists the religious scientists whose view is purely tied to evidentiary proof and testability – if it cannot be tested it cannot be true.

Sadly, in a Universe where so much cannot be tested, or in fact measured, basing one’s life on that which can is terribly limiting.

These two groups demonstrate the greatest misuse of CD’s work. On the one hand he’s a charlatan who has bilked people into a false philosophy since the 19th century. In others he’s the definitive proof, ‘the ‘skewer’ of God’. Rubbish on both these views. Rubbish as well on the notion that they cannot be compatible, let alone exist without one necessarily believing the other.

The polemics by both sides in this argument serve to co-opt the work of Darwin as the club of anti-religion, or of the voice of non-delusional reason; it is neither. This has nothing whatever to do with Darwin himself, or what he believed. Darwin, like any good scientist was – it appears – objective and aligned only with the observations he made. So it should be.

Often anyone failing to believe absolutely in the petty pronouncements of either side of the ‘reason’ and ‘God’ argument, brands the un-accepting and likely intelligent person a delusional fool or follower of Satan. This is the very reason that sensibility has failed these two sides of the same coin. That they have each tried to use Darwin to their own ends warrants their immediate and summary condemnation. I recommend a darts board with two sides, one with your favourite tele-vangelist portrait on one side and one with Dawkin’s portrait on the other; pick your target and toss away!

Darwin is the voice of reason, but also of questions. Why are we as we are? How did this creature or that change and adapt to the conditions in which it found itself? Why did this change occur? All good questions, and reasonably answered or at least theorised.

The idea that in a universe as vast and seemingly filled with annoying complexity as this one, can be ‘rationalised’ by a theory about how biological creatures progress in their development from one generation to the next, adapting to change through the survival of minor mutations better suited than other minor mutations is just plain silly. Our world is mindbogglingly complex and Darwin helped make it a tiny bit clearer. This is more than most people do – especially those trying to fill the grey area between the natural and the ‘spiritual’ with one or the other. The grey is meant to be there – it provides for the opportunity for the most intelligent response to certain complex questions that can be provided – ‘I-don’t-know’.

This response drove Darwin to create what might be classed as a paragon of scientific achievement. “The Origin of the Species, by Means of Natural Selection” is his attempt to answer the ‘I don’t know’ question. Thus far, it’s been a pretty good answer. Have no doubt though, someone will improve upon it, and no it won’t be from the ‘Selfish Gene’ and ‘Meme’ camp. Nor will it be from the absolutism of myth crowd. It will be from someone willing to say, ‘I don’t know.”

Kind regards,