Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Origin

Bert Cates: "For our science lesson for today, we will continue our discussion of Darwin's theory of the descent of man. Now, as I told you yesterday, Darwin's theory tells us that man evolved from a lower order of animals. From the first wiggly protozoa here in the sea to the ape and finally to man. Now, some of you fellahs out there are probably going to say that's why some of us act like monkeys."

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Back in February, on the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I observed that it was also the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth. In the history of mankind, rarely have two such influential individuals been brought into the world on the same day.

I am reminded of that because today is the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," which is regarded as the foremost scientific work on evolutionary biology.

I am not a scientist, but one does not have to be a scientist to understand the profound influence Darwin's work has had. Certain evolutionary theories already existed before Darwin's book was published, and Darwin's writing served to put many of those theories into context for people like me.

Unfortunately, it also drove a wedge between those who accepted the Bible's account of the beginning of human life on earth and those who found answers in Darwin that supported recent biological discoveries.

That conflict between biblical literalists and those who believed Darwin had solved some of the riddles of existence has continued for 150 years.

It could be seen in the famed "Scopes monkey trial" of the 1920s, in which John T. Scopes was convicted of "teaching evolution" in public school — in violation of Tennessee state law. That trial was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies, "Inherit the Wind."

It could be seen in the conflict produced by laws that were passed (and then struck down in court) in recent decades that required balanced teaching of "creation science" and evolution in public schools.

And it has been seen recently in the "intelligent design movement."

Well, it's all theoretical, I suppose. What bothers me is how people so often feel they must support one side or the other. Those who take Genesis' account of creation literally probably cannot be persuaded to accept Darwin's theories, and vice versa.

As for myself, I have never believed that Darwin's writings were, in any way, irreconcilable with religious faith. In fact, it seems to me that the theory of evolution supports the belief that life is a long, ongoing miracle.