Birthday Shout-Out to Charles Darwin on Madison's Regent Street

Charles Darwin was born two hundred years ago today, and On the Origin of Species was published 150 years ago this year. When I first saw this sign the other day, I thought, "Cool -- somebody actually spent money to put up a billboard honoring Darwin."

 

Then I saw it was promoting an agenda that didn't necessarily have a lot to do with Darwin or evolution, but made use of the language for a catchy slogan: "Evolve beyond belief." The Freedom from Religion Foundation has done some good work in support of the constitutional separation of church and state, but this hardly seems to be designed to promote healthy dialog with the faithful. And while I know they're just trying to be catchy, the idea of evolving "beyond" anything has more to do with the 19th century idea of progress than contemporary evolutionary thinking. Evolution is not about a relentless progression from lower to higher states of being. Evolution is about process, not progress.

 

Evolution happens. It just is, like gravity. It's accepted in most parts of the world, where religion and evolution coexist without much of a hassle. In America, we just go on wrangling. Believers and nonbelievers brandish Darwin like a club, the better to beat up straw men consisting of oversimplified and distorted caricatures of religion and Darwinism alike. Get a life, people. And let's teach some science in the schools.

 

Note: Heet Myser in the comments brought up Carl Safina's piece in the New York Times Feb. 9. It's a marvelous essay celebrating Darwin's genius, but also all the things we have learned since his time, when the tools just didn't exist. He explores in much more detail the things I just tried to hint at. Take a look: Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live.

 

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Taken on February 8, 2009