Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Limits of what Darwin Knew

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

If you have never read On the Origin of Species, then you should consider it. I found it to be very readable. His essential points are very well-known, but the book that lays it all out is worthwhile and accessible to just about everyone. The distinction between understanding his basic point and reading the seminal text is kinda like the difference between knowing what Abraham Lincoln (also born on this day 200 years ago) did versus actually reading the Gettysburg Address, or knowing what Dr. Martin Luther King did versus listening to his I Have a Dream speech.

Rick Weiss' Something Darwin Didn't Know is like a miniature flashlight into my dark, dank intellectual soul. It gets at the essential core of my view of the whole evolution vs. creationism thing. Like Darwin, I believe in the power of evolution, but (also like Darwin) am unwilling to assume that it negates the possibility that everything was set in motion by some divine force. I'm not a creationist, but not because I think Darwin and The Big Bang provide all the answers. I am not a creationist because I don't buy in to anyone's story that describes how it happened, and I believe that knowing the real answer is unknowable.

Note that this also ties into A Church's Enlightened View Toward Darwin. Some people have extrapolated too far with Darwin's ideas. This is true of many religious folks, but also of many scientifically-minded people. He didn't say that his theories meant that theism was wrong. On the contrary, he was able to separate the role of a creator from the processes we can study scientifically. To Darwin, there was no conflict between science and faith. Here is a quote from a letter Darwin wrote to a Dutch student in 1873:
I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came, and how it arose.... The safest conclusion seems to me that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect....
I'm not anti science, but believe that science has its epistemological limits.

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