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June 25, 2007

Darwin’s Intuition (Logical/Historical)

What were the factors, which in 1831, allowed a curious young man to recognize a logic of sorts behind the obvious complexity of the multiple exotic life forms he’d been privileged to observe during a short visit to a remote cluster of islands?

That list is both long and arbitrary. It starts with the fact that Charles Darwin had been lucky enough to be born into a well-to-do English family with an interest in scholarship. Also that he had a fair-minded father who allowed him to accept the position of naturalist on the Beagle despite his own misgivings. At least part of those misgivings had been provoked by Darwin’s extended education, which included dropping out of Medical School in 1827, and investigating a number of other scientific disciplines before seeking the position of naturalist on the Beagle. We do know, however, that once Darwin finally settled on his career choice, he pursued it with singular dedication and intellectual honesty for the rest of his life.

Another factor that shouldn’t be taken for granted is luck; mere survival of a five year ocean voyage during the first third of the Nineteenth Century was not something to be taken for granted; witness the misfortune of Wallace, Darwin’s slightly younger (and far less famous) contemporary who lost his entire first collection of specimens on the return voyage from South America and was lucky to survive at all.

 Finally, there’s the role played by the Galapagos Islands themselves: from our modern vantage point, with its better understanding of the complex geological dynamics responsible for such unusual Island formations as Iceland, Hawaii, New Zealand and Madagascar, we can understand that the Galapagos probably offered Darwin the best opportunity of all for the critical insight he brought home with him and then nurtured carefully for 28 years until it was finally published as a coherent hypothesis in November 1859.

However, despite its anticipation of several biological disciplnes that were literally undreamed of in Darwin’s time, and its almost seamless subsequent integration with our knowledge of what we now call the cosmos, there is still intense oposition to Darwin’s theory from those with a “creationist” view of reality. Even as the October 2009 bicentennial of Darwin’s birth approaches, well educated people with advanced degrees can still find ample support for sneering denunciations of his work which, if one bothers to read them at all, inevitably betray an ignorance of both Science and Logic. 

The point being, of course, that neither Science nor Logic will ever convince those with a firm conviction arrived at through anti-scientific religious thinking. Such is the nature of (blind) “faith.”

That we all seem to be capable, at some level, of similar faith based conclusions does not inspire confidence in the  future of our species; nor does the fact that there may have never been a greater dearth of competent world leadership at a more critical time in its human history.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 25, 2007 06:52 PM