Posted by: LucidMystery | February 21, 2009

This Year’s Bicentennial Man

Well, two people had a 200th birthday on this past February 12th. One was the greatest president this country has ever had, and the other came up with the same hypotheses as his contemporaries but beat them to publication (poor Alfred Wallace.) The way I figure, we’ve already been ignoring Lincoln so much, I might as well continue the trend and instead extol some of the great sayings of the Charles Darwin.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

I love the irony of this statement considering how confident he was in the assertion, cuz now we all know where confidence comes from! Maybe it was too early in history for him to realize that science has done its fair share of screwing us over too. The atom bomb, literal tons of our garbage floating around in space, the infamous Tuskegee study–yeah, we scientists got it all figured out.

“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

To each his own.

 “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

So wait, where did life gets it meaning if there is nothing else out there?

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Man, makes me happy life has so much value. I better not waste another hour of blind, pitiless indifference.

“A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.”

Wait…didn’t he just say there was no evil and no good? Why’d he go drag morals into it?

“It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man: but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a pas.”

In his defense, feminism really hadn’t happened yet.

“A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, – a mere heart of stone.”

So that’s why the polio vaccine was first tested on mentally handicapped orphans! Good to know.

“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

You know, the Nazis really didn’t have to twist much of what he said to justify the Holocaust.

Well, aren’t you excited about social Darwinism now? Me too! Let’s go party like 1899! I’ll bring the beagles, you bring the finches.

Ok, let me be honest. Darwin was a brilliant man; very intelligent, made very important observations, and did really hone in on natural selection first; and there is no way you can deny that organisms change at least somewhat over time. Deny the full-scale prokaryote-to-humans tree of life all you want (or all I want), but just the yearly changing flu shot ought to point out that life isn’t static. So he was on to something.

But I don’t understand the complete praising of him that is going on this year! There are so many scientists who have made incredible and life-saving discoveries, but do we honor them like this? No. Yes, Darwin “enlightened” but did that really change anything significant other than literature? Would drug companies not be able to make stronger antibiotics without him? They might not understand the full reasoning behind why bacteria became immune, but that wouldn’t stop them from being able to produce new meds. And heck, if we want to praise anyone like this, it should be Gregor Mendel! The whole world of genetics wouldn’t be the same without him! Darwin’s own theories wouldn’t have taken off if it hadn’t been for Mendel’s work. He understood the selection process, but not the inheritance process. Or what about Watson and Crick who even further brought to light how inheritance works!

What is it about Darwin that has stirred up a year-long celebration? Why is he worthy of this honor but not the others on whom his own theores rest? I have my own thoughts on that, but I’ll let you think about it too.

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