Monday, November 30, 2009

Rethinking Darwin

This is the 200th anniversary year of Charles Darwin's birth (Feb 12, 1809). It's also the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, my candidate for the most important science treatise ever written, and certainly one of the most readable.
I read recently an interview in which the interviewee suggested that we should rethink Darwin. The reason, he opined, is that the ideas Darwin put forth have been misused. He referred to the "Social Darwinism" of early 20th Century thought, and the "survival of the fittest" mentality of some nutcase people.
The idea that we should "rethink" Darwin is pure nitwittedness at its simple-minded best. For one thing, how do you rethink what Darwin did? All he did (!) was to give a cogent explanation for the way species are born and change. How do you rethink that? It's like saying, "We have to rethink gravity, because all those people out there are falling down." This sort of thinking I've noted before. It's a sort of fuzzy, treacly belief that if something is unpleasant or harsh it must be wrong, and if something ought to be so, then it is so.
At times I get so exasperated that I wonder which is worse -- crazy kids with AK47's or people who would have us turn our backs on reality.

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