Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Darwin Day

Today is Darwin Day. In this endlessly fascinating and intricate time of relative easy access to seemingly infinite amounts of information, at least for those in socioeconomically established nations with reasonable political freedom, information in the sciences, in philosophy, in art, in literature, a time when exchange of knowledge has never before been so immediate nor so textured, yet the central tenet of biology remains brutally and incredulously attacked, it is not only fitting to commemorate this day, it is critical. Despite the volumes of sound scientific evidence, compiled and synthesized according to rational and controlled observation and process, and despite the vehemence of the science community and its advocates, the theory of evolution and its vehicle natural selection, its plausible and predominant mechanism, remain packaged and contextualized as objects of contentious debate in the sociopolitical and cultural media-arenas. The frequency with which I see not only vitriolic and uninformed strikes against the basic, elegant, and accepted biologic phenomenon, but basic explanations or cursory details ignorantly misconstrued in purportedly reputable media sources, is unacceptable, appalling, and frightening.

At an admittedly embarrassing pace, I have been reading Consilience, by famed sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson. Born and raised in a rural and incredibly Baptist southern town in Alabama, in a section I read the other morning, he gives little pause to design by an intelligent deity, the contending theoretical foe to evolution, and some of his reasoning and prose is both frank and glib. Essentially, he argues, the God of Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the God who so many in my country proclaim designed this world and all in it a few thousand or so years ago, is mysterious and awesome and powerful, sometimes angry, sometimes merciful, but never tricky. If, for those who read the text absolutely literally and refuse to conceive the narrative as possible allegory, this God wanted humanity to believe that they were designed specifically in his image and the world shaped in only seven days, it seems unnecessary and strange that he should imbue this world with an exorbitant about of information and clues to confound that creation story, and that support biological evolution and Darwinian natural selection. It would be surprising, in the least, if evolution and all the data collected to support the theory were a whimsical prank.

I have heard, from other texts and other sources, the contrary argument, that such solid data and evidence were placed here specifically to serve as tests of faith. I, and Dr. Wilson likely as well, would argue that if this were so, this test is so holistic, so intrinsic to every aspect of how every living organism interacts with other living organisms, how every unit of biochemical reaction interacts, based on what has been observed and understood for decades and generations, that it is impossible to dissect from our physical realm. It would be the perfect test, too perfect for the perceptions and the reasoning of the human mind; a test designed such that we could, based on our senses and our conscious interpretation, we could only fail. So, a test rigged and dishonest.

The image of the tree of life carries significant phylogenetic meaning and symbolic mythology. This particular tree was designed in the nineteenth century by prolific biologist and taxonomist, and artist, Ernst Haeckel. The illustration is strong, steadfast, true, and it is beautiful. Its branches may be sheared, and its trunk may be hacked, by ignorance blissful or chosen, but the tree will continue to stand.

(image taken from Brain Pickings)

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