Tuesday, February 24, 2009

my favourite brief snippet of Darwin

OTOOS has a lot of great lines, but the first (and now second) times I have read through it, one particular section really hit me. It's hiding in plain view really early in Chapter 9.

"He who can read Sir Charles Lyell's grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognise as having produced a revolution in natural science, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume."

He spends page after page trying to convince both scientists and lay people of his time how small inheritable changes could lead to complex behaviours and new species and all the biodiversity on the planet, and shows an astounding amount of patience in that endeavour.

But when he's faced with a young-earth creationist... he recognizes they are hopeless, can not be reasoned with, and that there is no way he can argue his science with them, because they can't even recognize deep time.

For a statement from Chuck D, it's fairly confrontational. But it's so true. If you can't accept that the Earth is billions of years old, then it's no use trying to teach you that common descent is the overarching law of biology. You are willingly ignorant, and if geology can't sway you, then neither can biology.

And yet we as scientists, as palaeontologists, or geologists, or evolutionary biologists, or some Frankenstein's monster combination thereof, are willing to jump through their hoops and "debate" them. To defend our position as if they have any science to stand on. We have to fight them at school board meeting after school board meeting to make sure they don't poison science education for the next generation.

So it's just refreshing to remember that Darwin was fighting the same forces of ignorance 150 years ago. And depressing that the same battles still exist, since some people are not using their naturally selected brains.


David Baker said...

It is quite true, as you say, the same forces of ignorance existed 150 years ago.

As a historian I can affirm, having put in long nights of research, there is no shortage of stupidity in any century.

I only wish NS would hurry up and sort that out.

Tonya said...

You may have seen this?