Charles Darwin, it is said by Richard Dawkins, made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist. He’s right, you know. Darwin provided a framework for life having a natural explanation. For a naturalist—an atheist—natural explanations rule the day. They are, after all, the only kind of explanations that should be taken seriously.
Except for the fact that we still don’t have natural explanations for where life came from, as Darwin’s theory begins with the assumption of the existence of a self-replicating organism. Or, to mention another minor problem, we don’t have a natural explanation as to where the entire universe came from. But don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm for the day.
February 12th is set aside to remember the man responsible for intellectually satisfied atheism. His famous book The Origin of Species was published the same year the school where I teach was founded. In fact, the first professor to be relieved of his faculty post due to teaching outside of our founding doctrinal statement was Crawford Toy, who had fully imbibed an evolutionary view of humanity. He boarded a train in Louisville and left for Boston, Massachusetts, where he would end his career teaching at Harvard University.
Darwin is still an intellectual lightening rod over a century and a half later. If not a foreseen possibility by the bearded scientist, it has become a certain reality by his contemporary devotees. The neo-Darwinian disciples are quick to tell us how brilliant evolution is, how absolutely clever this mindless process turns out to be in the end, how fully capable it was to have led us out of a prebiotic puddle and into the prestigious ivory towers from which they pen their pronouncements.
But Darwin is not without his dissenters. Public intellectuals like the philosopher David Berlinski, a secular Jew, or the late New York Times best-selling author Vincent Bugliosi, an agnostic, both call for an exaggerated yawn in the face of contemporary evolutionary campaigning. In the words of the nobel-prize winning scientist Flavor Flav (okay he’s not a scientist), “Don’t believe the hype.”
So, happy Darwin Day, however you might take that. Go and watch some finches, I suppose. But if we are to celebrate the day right, I think it is fitting to offer a hymn written by the late, great C.S. Lewis that was originally set to the tune of “Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us.”
The Evolutionary Hymn
Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there’s always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.
To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,T
owards that unknown god we yearn.
Ask not if it’s god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.
Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,’
Goodness = what comes next.’
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.
Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).