Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" at 150

by Dick Mac

Darwin's landmark book, "On The Origin Of Species" was released 150 years ago yesterday.

Darwin's tome, for those who are not familiar with it, discusses the evolutionary process on this planet, the survival of the fittest, and natural selection, among other now-commonplace topics.

Darwin wasn't the only thinker of his day discussing evolution, but he managed to publish the most popular book on the topic and is, hence, the godfather of evolutionary biology.

Like other forward thinkers and scientists before him, Darwin's theories were met with great resistance, especially from religious zealots whose investment in Bible stories prevents them from opening their minds to reality.

In the 150 years since publication, many people have been educated, communication and publishing has improved to allow instantaneous publication, and blind religion has been met head-on by intellectualism. That's a lot!

Fifty years ago, on the hundredth anniversary of the publication of "Origins," the United States was a remarkably progressive culture. Between the years of 1959 and 1979, Americans became perhaps the most enlightened culture in the history of humanity.

The implementation and defense of civil rights and human rights became regular topics of conversation, and only a tiny minority of Americans embraced the xenophobia that so often defines Western Civilization.

At the end of the 1970s, the United States was mired in an economic morass that wasn't actually that bad, but it became the lynchpin of a campaign by far-right-wing modern-day industrialists (mostly bankers, actually) who saw an opportunity to return the American to a mid-19th Century economy and culture.

Campaigns against intellectuals, the disenfranchised, and the poor were launched around the country. Campaigns to burn books, deny rights to homosexual taxpayers, restrict access to medicine and education, and promote the deregulation of industry were waged, mostly in the name of Jesus Christ.

Americans who were struggling financially were convinced (and many remain convinced) that their economic woes were because of the poor and disenfranchised (who have no control over the economy). How this can be true, I will never know. We have eliminated most funding for the poor and disenfranchised, and American families struggle more now than they did thirty years ago. This tells me that the problem is the rich, not the poor . . . but I digress.

Or do I?

These campaigns against thinking and progress, which continue today in publications like the New York Post and the Washington Times, and on broadcast outlets like Fox News and CNN, succeeded at turning America from a culture of progress to a stagnant swamp of religiosity and hate.

Although I have no statistics, I am pretty certain that the theory of evolution was a pretty widely accepted notion among all Americans in the 1960s and -70s. I was raised a Catholic in Boston, and I don't recall anyone (even the clergy) declaring that creationism was the only accurate analysis of the origin of species and that evolution was questionable.

My memory is that most Catholics believed that God would create a universe where evolution was obvious.

Today, I actually know people who question the validity of evolution. None of them are Catholic; they all call themselves conservatives, all are college educated, and none of them participate in religious practice. Somehow, though, politicians have convinced them that evolution is questionable and creationism is valid.

Are you friggin' kidding me?

If you think the theory of evolution is not valid, or as my friend Joe's brother told him: you think the jury is still out on evolution, I ask you to please open your mind and stop parroting what you hear on Fox News. Evolution is real. I believe that God would expect us to accept that evolution is real. I believe that God gave us brains so that we could grasp evolution.

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