Saturday, February 12, 2011
A famous Victorian story reports the reaction of an aristocratic lady to the primary heresy of her time: "Let us hope that what Mr. Darwin says is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known." Teachers continue to relate this tale as both a hilarious putdown of class delusions (as if the upper crust could protect public morality by permanently sequestering a basic fact of nature) and an absurdist homily about the predictable fate of ignorance versus enlightenment. And yet I think we should rehabilitate this lady as an acute social analyst and at least a minor prophet. For what Mr. Darwin said is, indeed, true. It has also not become generally known, at least in our nation. ...
The biblical Psalmist evoked our deepest fear by comparing our bodily insignificance with cosmic immensity and then crying out: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8). But he then vanquished this spatial anxiety with a constitutional balm: "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels . . . thou madest him to have dominion . . . thou hast put all things under his feet." Darwin removed this keystone of false comfort more than a century ago, but many people still believe that they cannot navigate our earthly vale of tears without such a crutch.
Denigration and disrespect will never win the minds (not to mention the hearts) of these people. But the right combination of education and humility might extend a hand of fellowship and eventually end the embarrassing paradox of a technological nation entering a new millennium with nearly half its people actively denying the greatest biological discovery ever made. ... Factual nature cannot, in principle, answer the deep questions about ethics and meaning that all people of substance and valor must resolve for themselves. ... [But] for sheer excitement, evolution, as an empirical reality, beats any myth of human origins by light-years. A genealogical nexus stretching back nearly 4 billion years and now ranging from bacteria in rocks several miles under Earth's surface to the tip of the highest redwood tree, to human footprints on the moon. Can any tale of Zeus or Wotan top this? When truth value and visceral thrill thus combine, then indeed, as Darwin stated in closing his great book, "there is grandeur in this view of life."
- Stephen Jay Gould, "Darwin's More Stately Mansion," I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History
Denigration and disrespect will never win the minds (not to mention the hearts) of these people. But the right combination of education and humility might extend a hand of fellowship and eventually end the embarrassing paradox of a technological nation entering a new millennium with nearly half its people actively denying the greatest biological discovery ever made.
It seems to me that we all denigrate religious folks who reject evolution.
In this case, I think that Gould was propbably thinking about ordinary religious folk rather than hard core creationists, who he also denigrated.
Oh well, profundity is not my strong suit. :)
When we stop demanding more than nature can logically provide (thereby freeing ourselves for genuine dialogue with the outside world, rather than clothing nature with false projections of our needs), we liberate ourselves to look within. Science can then forge true partnerships with philosophy, religion, and the arts and humanities, for each must supply a patch in that ultimate coat of many colors, the garment called wisdom.