Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, February 13, 2009

What's The Deal With Darwin?

Yesterday was the 200th birthday of two very famous men. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Now, I'm guessing it's not necessary to give biographical sketches of either man. If you aren't familiar with one or the other, please stop reading my blog, go to the door of your bomb shelter, and let in some sunlight.

Who did Google choose to honor? Chuck Darwin. Who got more time at Little Green Footballs? Darwin again (Although in all fairness, based on recent posting, Charles Johnson seems to consider creationists and jihadis to be equal threats to American liberty. Maybe it's their shared given name.) Newsweek seems to feel a tad guilty over calling Lincoln the more important figure. Even Pepperdine got in on the act. My question is...why?

First off, THIS IS NOT a creation versus evolution debate. For the purposes of this post, let's all assume that Darwinian evolution is the soundest, least-controversial scientific theory since the fire=hot days. I still can't figure out why, based on his scientific achievements, Darwin is held in such high esteem. He didn't even come up with the idea of evolution per se, just the process by which it occurred (i.e. natural selection through competition). Evolution as a concept has been around since the days of the Greek philosophers.

I've heard many people just blandly assert that evolution underpins all of modern biology. Really? All of it? Even the genetic stuff, which seems like it is MORE fundamental than evolution, since evolution only operates BECAUSE of genetics, rather than vice versa? Doesn't that mean genetics is fundamental for properly understanding evolution, not the other way around?

In physics one can realistically argue that the foundations of the discipline rest on the shoulders of Isaac Newton. While classical mechanics has been modified and complemented in the modern age by ideas like relativity theory and quantum mechanics, for several centuries physics MEANT classical Newtonian mechanics. It really was all there was on the topic. Evolution, on the other hand, is just a tool for understanding how species differentiate over time. Does it really shed substantial useful light on a doctor's study of heart disease, or chemical reactions within a cell?

If someone can give me an intelligent answer as to just how Darwin is as fundamental to modern biology as Newton is to physics, I may re-think the topic, but until then, I'm going to have to assume that ending slavery in the US while guiding us through the bloodiest war in our history scores a little higher on the charts than figuring out that if two blue birds get busy, their offspring are more likely to be blue as well. My own personal theory is that Darwin's value to modern society is as a representative of a concept, not his actual value as a naturalist. Darwin represents the triumph of secular reason over backward religious superstition. He's the reason guys like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris feel superior to backwards rubes like C.S. Lewis or Francis Collins (yes, I know both of them believe in evolution, but they're on the SAME TEAM as the crazies, which makes them no better).

If anyone has a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.