Happy Birthday, Charlie Darwin

Today, as you’ve probably heard, is the 200th anniversary of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Lincoln always gets lots of ink, so it’s especially nice to see all the attention being paid to Darwin; this piece is particularly good.

Is Darwin less respected than he ought to be in certain quarters because his science overturned the religious belief in divine creation? Perhaps. It is worth remembering that Darwin himself believed in creation before he took his famous five-year voyage on the Beagle; but he was ultimately won over by the data.

The friction between evolution and creation will likely live on at least another 200 years but, in the interim, let me offer the following song. It was composed this morning by my friend Jonathan Rosen, a very good writer whose most recent book, The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature, is just out in paperback. It is meant to be sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”

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Jonathan wrote it so that his daughter Ariella could take it to school and maybe sing it in class if the opportunity arose. She goes to a Jewish day school. I think it does a pretty good job of satisfying any Darwin admirers, whichever side of the evolution/creation aisle they sit:

Happy Birthday Charlie
You come from the sea
You look like a monkey
And so do we.

Happy Birthday Charlie
We come from the sea
But what’s really odd:
We were also made by God.


Stacey

Great song!

Evolution does not "overturn" belief in divine creation, it just changes the modus operandi. If people could believe God spoke everything into creation in 7 days, surely they can believe he ordained a natural process.

MikeM

The current friction between evolution and creationism isn't 200 years old. It is a product of the 20th century and the advent of American fundamentalism that led to the Scopes trial and the friction has continued ever since. More so than today, Christians in the 19th century had no trouble believing in evolution and holding onto their faith.

EP

Darwin's theory has yet to win over everyone because of the incompetence of evolutionary biologists at properly applying it to science. When properly understood, Darwin's description of natural selection is not at odds with any Biblical Truths, hence the Vatican's acceptance of it. Evolutionary biologists have distorted, misrepresented, and made unverifiable claims about evolution. The primary issue is their inability to apply the scientific method to their investigations. The issues are not with the theory or with Darwin, but with the many bastardized versions of it posited by so-called scientists, many of whom are actually journalists, philosophers, or just commentators.

Brian

Here is an interesting article I found recently because of Darwins 200th anniversary.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/180103?gt1=43002

Maybe this is another reason why evolutionary biologist are having troubles, EP.

Mark Wolfinger

Speaking of Darwin and Lincoln, this blog post uses some of their quotations to provide investment advice: http://blog.mdwoptions.com/options_for_rookies/2009/02/two-giants.html

jonathan

I always thought that becasue much of the US was antiintellectual (a serious candidate for the Republican partys presidential nomination in 2008 does not believe in evolution), Darwin is neglected in favor of intellegant design (creationism).

htb

What bothers me about the people paying homage to Darwin is the nobody ever talks about the half of his life's work that turned out to be complete bunkum.

Darwin's theory about natural selection is true enough -- ask anyone who's bred animals what happens if you only allow those with a given trait to breed -- but his explanation for the existence of these traits and their method of propagation was pure Lamarckism, which is utterly rejected by modern genetics. To give the classic illustrations, the blacksmith's son does not have strong arms because his father spent all day pounding things at the forge, and the giraffe does not have a long neck because a hundred generations stretched to reach leaves at the top of the tree.

Ciara

Lincoln gets lots of ink?
This is the first year I found out Darwin and Lincoln shared a birthday- in Ireland, as elsewhere outside of the US I'd imagine, we don't get as much newspaper coverage of dead US presidents' birthdays as you might think!

Michael F. Martin

Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew are arguably Darwinian:

http://waywords.wordpress.com/2008/10/05/the-kingdom-of-heaven-as-organism/

thecools, UK

Are we all made by god??

You show me a god who would choose the constant suffering, murder, fight, flight, hunger, thirst and early death of natural selection to propagate life and I'll show you a callous, uncaring, cruel god.

Come to Europe, were godless but loving life

But on a far more serious note. Of course Darwin was wrong. He was a scientist, the vast majority of what we know is wrong.

We will get to to know more and eventually contempory theories will be replaced. That is the scientific method. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't celebrate those like Darwin who made great leaps because he didn't get it all right.

For example, Einstein denied Quantum Mechanics, he "didn't believe God Played Dice." We that is now scientific orthodoxy. Einstein is still immensely relevant and you would be a fool to suggest otherwise.

Good work Darwin,

Mike

I don't see how that song would sit well with anyone on the evolution side of the aisle. He blew it on the last line.

Lauren B.

My strong religious beliefs have always prevented me from agreeing with Darwin's theory of evolution. However, I am extremely eager to learn how evolution and creationism can fit together peacefully.

The birthday song was wonderful.

Tyler

Tyler wants to thank all the organisms
that came before him
from the fish that climbed over the rim
to the apes that came down from limbs
no god required, look to Darwin.

a_c

Charles Darwin is a secular saint to much of the well-bred, well-read public. While they may not know the details of Darwinism, they do know that if rightwing fundamentalists are against Darwin, then they're for him. And on the principle that your enemy's enemy must be your friend, nice people with nice liberal arts degrees assume that Darwin scientifically disproved all those not-nice ideas like sexism and racism. Not that they've personally read Darwin, but Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould (author of "The Mismeasure of Man") has assured them that that's what Darwin meant. Or, to be precise, that's what Darwin would have meant if only he'd been as enlightened as Stephen Jay Gould.

These intellectual disputes produce real victims. Stalin even shipped the Soviet Union's Darwinian geneticists to the Gulag. And though Western scientists typically enjoy more rights than that, our traditions of free speech, academic freedom, and scientific inquiry didn't stop the former Attorney-General of Ontario, Ian Scott, from ordering a lengthy police investigation of the U. of Western Ontario psychologist Jean-Philippe Rushton. His supposed crime? Publishing a Darwinian theory of the causes of human biodiversity. And others, such as biologist Edward O. Wilson and psychologist Arthur Jensen, have been the victims of assault, threat, firing, censorship, character assassination, and non-stop harassment.

Although the Darwinian demolition of Old Testament fundamentalism was logically irrelevant to the question of whether all souls are of equal value to God, it made the whole of Christianity seem outdated. Thereafter the prestige of evolutionary biology encouraged egalitarians to discard that corny creed of spiritual equality - and to adopt the shiny new scientific hypotheses that humans are physically and mentally uniform. And that eventually put Darwinian science on a collision course with progressive egalitarians.

For Darwinism requires hereditary inequalities.

The left fears Darwinian science because its dogma of our factual equality cannot survive the relentlessly accumulating evidence of our genetic variability. Gould, a famous sports nut, cannot turn on his TV without being confronted by lean East Africans outdistancing the world's runners, massive Samoans flattening quarterbacks, lithe Chinese diving and tumbling for gold medals, or muscular athletes of West African descent out-sprinting, out-jumping, and out-hitting all comers. No wonder Gould is reduced to insisting we chant: "Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow: ... Human equality is a contingent fact of history" -- like Dorothy trying to get home from Oz.

There is much chatter lately that because we can never all agree on the exact number, names, and members of the various races, therefore "Race does not exist; it's just a social construct." Darwin knew better. Although races are indeed fuzzy, extended families are even fuzzier, yet no one denies their reality. In fact, a race is not just like an extended family, it is an extended family. A race is simply an extremely extended family that inbreeds to some degree.

Read more...

JorgeBurgos

Everyone knows that the world was created from the petals of a lotus flower by four-headed Brahma. So you western barbarians think it was someone else's handiwork and the the poms think it was monkeys that made man. But how can you disprove the truth?

thecools, UK

"Gould, a famous sports nut, cannot turn on his TV without being confronted by lean East Africans outdistancing the world's runners, massive Samoans flattening quarterbacks, lithe Chinese diving and tumbling for gold medals, or muscular athletes of West African descent out-sprinting, out-jumping, and out-hitting all comers. No wonder Gould is reduced to insisting we chant: "Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow: ... Human equality is a contingent fact of history" - like Dorothy trying to get home from Oz."

And? East Africans can on average can run farther and harder than me.

West Africans can on average "hit harder"...

Chinese are more limber... on average

I guess you are sort of right. But, in what way do these arguments invalidate the simple fact that we are all morally equal? That we are all deserving of the same opportunities?

Races are social constructs. You show me how the ability to run further would cause the social inequality in the USA between races and I will admit that race is not a social construct. There are differences, of course, but they pail into insignificance compared to the similarities that should level them.

Read more...

Joe Smith

Darwin is not respected because the romantics have always outnumbered the rationalists. The rationalists only get to run most of the world because the romantics can't. See Iran for an example of what happens when you put romantics in charge.

Avi Rappoport

Wow, even Freakanomics readers get stressed by the fact of evolution, in the person of Charles Darwin.

The word "theory" is just a technical term: all of modern biology is based on evolution. DNA is a record of evolution! Science is about proposing an explanation for something, and then testing whether or not that explanation works. Because we can't re-create the evolution of all life on this planet, it's still a theory. But all the biology based on that theory is based on facts, because the theories have been proven by scientific tests. These facts support medicine and biotech and agriculture: scientists are not just making them up!

Do Creationists want to go back to the days of leeches, ergot and potato blight? I'm going to assume ignorance, rather than evil intent.

Fred

2 points.

I've got to Agree with Mike (#11). Not sure how one would argue that the Birthday song works for those who support an evolutionary view point. The last line has nothing to do with the scientific method or rational thinking that led to one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time.

Clearly I'm a strong supporter of evolution, and understand exactly why it is the hot-button issue that it has become. Charles Darwin's theories describing the mechanisms of evolution (natural and sexual selection) represent the first instance where science offered a rational basis for atheism. Prior to Darwin, there was never an explanation for "where we came from". He offered that, in a clearly laid our, demonstratable, scientific theory.

Cheers to Darwin!

Scott Hanes

Check out-
Finding Darwin's God by Ken Miller (recently honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science)

or

The Language of God by Francis Collins (head of the human genome project)

Both great books aligning Darwinian evolution and religion.

Folks who fuel the controversy had both a bad science teacher and a bad religious teacher.