Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 and February 12, 2018 Darwin Day is the 209th anniversary of his birth and the 159th anniversary of the publication of his master work “On the Origin of Species.” To make a long story short, his thesis seemed to suggest that survival of the fittest of every form of life is the law of nature. Homo Sapiens, he suggested, were no different from other species in that they were also the result of no special “creation” but of at least 3 billion years of the evolution of life. Needless to say, this was deeply upsetting to many. This went against all the “creation myths” imagined by myriad religions since the dawn of varying forms of “homo” with their ever expanding brains, expanding enough to ask “How did we get here?”
About 2.5 million years ago there is evidence of the genus HOMO in Africa. Two million years ago saw humans spread in Africa and Eurasia and the evolution of different human species. One half million years ago saw the existence of Neanderthals of which most of us with European backgrounds have traces of DNA. Modern humans according to the bestselling book “SAPIENS” by Yuval Noah Harari has Homo Sapiens being the only surviving human species since about 15,000 years ago. So to my mind, human beings are amazing, as is all of life on earth, but also we humans are really nothing more than big brained mammals.
What are the implications of us humans being not special, not created by a God, not having eternal significance or an eternal life? What should we believe in if anything? I believe the answer in a word is humanism, absolutely secular humanism which would encompass an attempt to transcend parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, class, sexual orientation or ethnicity and to strive to work together for the common good of humanity and for planetary balance. The very least that can be said is that religion is extremely divisive. Let’s let go.
One deep question I have is why has the human species evolved so that in almost every culture, the male model is on a higher rung than the female model? Is this evolutionary, biological or cultural or both? Where does gender inequality come from?
One aspect of religion, all religions, is that it has attempted to tame sex, the sex drive, which evolutionarily is crucial to survival. Religious admonitions about combining sex with love and commitment can easily also come from humanist philosophy and common sense.
When my daughter was in Junior High in the early 90s, her science textbook had a chapter with illustrations on evolution. The teacher skipped over this chapter completely. I registered a complaint. I think the word “education” come from the Latin for “lead out,” out of darkness or ignorance into knowledge. My guess is this still happens. And I believe much of the “home schooling” done today bypasses the subject of the truth of human origins. This is regrettable.
Darwin Day is now celebrated around the world. Somehow I doubt if the Trump Administration will issue a Darwin Day resolution. For example, it seems to denigrate science by downplaying the truth of climate change and by cancelling out common sense regulations that seek to protect the planet. And of course also by playing to the prejudices of evangelical Christians in particular. A tragedy in the short and long term.
Well, enough of politics. How about some ice cream and cake on February 12? Charles Darwin was a visionary scientist, and an admirable human being. His discoveries and writings led to a big dose of “truth.”
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