British anthropologist Desmond Morris recently paid an essay tribute to Charles Darwin, who coined the theory of evolution by natural selection. An excerpt from his essay on the DailyMail which I recommend you read for greater appreciation of Darwin:
What kind of a man was Charles Darwin? To the naive mind he is sometimes pictured as a giant intellect of Victorian England, with his long, flowing white beard and his solemn expression, the product of a brilliantly studious education and intense academic application.
Well, no. In reality he was a mess, both physically and mentally, which makes his gigantic contribution to human understanding even more extraordinary.
An interesting part of Morris’ essay is his description of the on-going debate between evolutionists inspired by Darwin’s work and the Creationist camp largely composed of religious fundamentalists:
The point is, Charles Darwin was one of those rare individuals who devoted themselves entirely to the pursuit of knowledge, to the detriment of everything else in their lives. He was, and remains, one of our greatest ever thinkers – a man whose discovery changed the way we see the world.
As a lifelong naturalist myself, he is not only a personal hero but the root from which all my own professional studies stemmed. Which is why I feel it so important to celebrate the anniversary of his birth – if only because I fear many of his core discoveries are in danger of becoming muddled through the prism of modern spiritualism.
For there are plenty of people today – not all of them religious fundamentalists – who seem to think Darwinian evolution cannot explain why, for the most part, humans are a uniquely civilised species.
After all, they posit, how can Darwinism explain empathy, charity or self-sacrifice? How can it explain the ‘good deeds’ of humans, whether religious or not?
With its emphasis on ‘the survival of the fittest’, isn’t Darwinism simply an excuse for rampant capitalism and personal greed?
To answer this attack, we need to take a closer look at the biology of our species. In our ancient past, when we were evolving as a tribal species, the competition between individuals had to be tempered by a greatly increased urge to cooperate with our companions if our tribe was to flourish.
By a division of labour and by assisting one another, we also helped ourselves to succeed. And one of our great survival weapons was our ability to communicate with one another in much greater detail than other species.
We are not helpful to one another because of some sophisticated moralising, but because we have evolved that way. It is as much a part of our animal nature as is our urge to compete with one another.
That is the way we are, and there is no need to introduce the pious teachings of the Church to make us good – it is already in our genes.
Creationists will have none of this, and insist that all of nature is the work of what they now call an ‘intelligent designer’.
If such a being existed, this monstrous designer would have to accept the responsibility for having created all the wonderful life forms we see around us, and then of cruelly inventing countless unspeakable agonies for them in the shape of leprosy, cholera, cancer, syphilis, plague, malaria, AIDS, fevers, parasitic worms and the rest.
What a charmer this designer must be; creationists are welcome to their hideous creation.
Do check out the rest of Morris’ critique in his essay. Meanwhile, I join him in his salute to Darwin and as a perfect companion to his essay, here is a video clip on Darwin by biologist Richard Dawkins which is just as entertaining and thought-provoking:
Meanwhile, the above clip as well as parts 2 and 3 can be viewed in my personal blog here.
Cheers to Charles Darwin for his extraordinary contribution to science and critical thinking.