Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

February 16, 2009

On Feb. 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in his little log cabin in Kentucky, and Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

The two could hardly have been from more opposite socio-economic poles.

Lincoln was born in a tiny cabin to poor settlers. Darwin was born to wealthy society doctor and financier Robert Darwin, and Susannah Wedgwood Darwin. He was the grandson of naturalist Erasmus Darwin on his father’s side, and of pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood on his mother’s side.

Abraham Lincoln, or a tweaked and deified facsimile thereof, is recognized the world over as the emancipator of slaves, martyr to freedom and the Union.

Charles Darwin is recognized throughout most of the world, at least the parts of the globe that actually have secular education, as the man who freed us from sorcerous mythologies about how life shaped and continues to shape itself.

Darwin and his research came along at a time when a number of thinkers, including his grampa Erasmus, were pondering such things as the origins of life and the age of the earth. It was Darwin who wove it all together into a cogent theory

Sadly, the good ole U.S. of A. isn’t one of those enlightened countries. In fact, among all the first-world countries, the U.S. is the only one where a relatively high percentage of its residents – just shy of half – do not believe in evolution.

Their disbelief is rooted, bluntly, in an enforced scientific illiteracy.

Back in 2004, the school board of the Dover (Pa.) Area School District put out a policy that required teachers in the middle school science department to inform the kids that there were books available for them at the school that gave an alternate view of evolution than that proposed in Darwin’s work.

The books were provided through the efforts – and funding — of some of the board members and their fundamentalist church.

It’s probably a good time to point out that the world’s understanding of all life and how it interacts is based on Darwin, up to and including the cures for disease and understanding of genetic disorders. To the credible scientific community, there is simply no debate about evolution. On minor details, yes. On the theory itself, absolutely not.

The “alternative” was so-called “Intelligent Design,” which is the latest expression of the Creationist’s holding on to their corner of the argument by postulating that evolution is real, but argues that even the most basic life-forms are too complex to have come along without a “designer.”

Anyway, back to the point.

Eleven parents sued the district in federal court. During the course of the six-week trial, one witness after another got up and showed ID for the sham it is. They did this by explaining, in layman’s terms, the scientific facts that back up the “theory” of evolution.

The witnesses for the district, including a scientist or two, made fools of themselves, because their arguments were shown up for what they were…religious dogma dressed up to look like science.

The upshot was that the judge threw the whole ID thing out because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In short, you could teach it as religion, but not as science.

The key point here, though, how my friend Lauri Lebo, an author and former newspaper reporter, described the journalists in the court and their reaction to the perfectly understandable explanations of evolution by the scientists on the witness stand.

“We were looking at one another, saying ‘why didn’t we learn this in school?”

(By the way, Lauri wrote a book about the trial, which took place in the area where she grew up, and it’s a terrific read. “The Devil in Dover.” I recommend it.)

The answer, of course, is that the religious right, in its various shapes and permutations, has intimidated public schools everywhere from purchasing science texts that go into Darwinism to any depth.

As for private schools, well, the bulk of those are backed by, if not outright owned by religious organizations, some of them quite zealous, so I think we can rule them out as havens for real scientific educations.

The biggest misconception about evolution is that it is antithetical to religious belief. Well, to fire-breathing fundamentalism, maybe. But plenty of people who understand and believe that life evolved over time are also believers in one or another of the world’s endless buffets of religious faith.

Another misconception is that Darwin was an athiest. He was not. In fact, he was deeply troubled by the implications of what he was discovering through his research and thinking.

Read that paragraph again. He was a scientist. He let the evidence lead him where it would, no matter that what he was finding in his notebooks and specimens was forcing him to re-examine the dogma in which he was raised.

I think it is time that we, this country, have the grit to do the same.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


2 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin”

  1. Val Webb said

    When my now-grown daughters were small, we were part of the back-to-the-land movement. Our rural lifestyle included homegrown food, homeborn babies and homeschooling. In our county, out of more than 40 families in our homeschool support group, we were the only non-ultraconservative members. As the group’s token heathens, we defied the local norm by using science textbooks that lacked vivid illustrations of antediluvian folk strolling placidly among grazing dinosaurs. It always amazed me to think that otherwise rational adults — including some bankers, engineers and certified teachers in our parent group — accepted something that was, at best, a wildly whimsical version of science.

    Thanks for a great piece, Terry.

    • Lauri said

      i realize i’m late to noting this, but i just ran across it in my email and gave it the thorough reading it deserved. what a terrific summation of the issues that are dividing this country. thanks, terry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: