Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th birthday, Darwin

There is no lack of media coverage of Charles Darwin's 200th. I thought the CNN article I linked to here, suggesting ways to celebrate with travel, was an interesting sidelight.
COMMENT: An inevitable component of this celebration is the evolution-creation debate. I've never held the view that Darwin's thoughts and religion are incompatible, merely that the work done on natural selection and evolution indicates the Old Testament account of Creation cannot be read literally. (I speak here only of the Judeo-Christian tradition.) There are many religious thinkers aligned to this view, which is also endorsed by the Vatican. There are aspects of human behavior, including altruism, the tendency toward an innate moral (as opposed to merely practical) code of ethical behavior, the ability and the need to engage in theology, and the ability to appreciate beauty, that seem to me to defy a strictly biological explanation. I'm aware, of course, that strictly biological explanations for all these things have been advanced - I've simply not found them convincing. All that said, Darwin, while he was not the first to ponder natural selection, was the indispensable thinker who turned it from speculation into a well-reasoned scientific approach. Without him, it would have advanced over time, in bits and pieces, but it would not have become the paradigm shift that it was. So Happy 200th.

Remember: Also the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. (It would have been interesting if the two men had met - Lincoln would have been very interested.) Lincoln was not a scientist, but he had an appreciation for engineering and technology. He backed the radical design of the Monitor when his admirals thought it unworkable, and he held a patent on a device to refloat stranded barges.

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