Saturday, February 21, 2009

Darwin and Religion

I wondered how Darwin was able to let go of all the usual religious beliefs of his time and thus propose his theory of evolution. At one point he studied to be a clergyman, but apparently that was because he thought he could spend his time observing and experimenting and writing. Ultimately it was the loss of his ten year old daughter that ended his belief in God. She died of tuberculosis and he was heartbroken. His theory of evolution is not what led to his lack of faith. One of the reasons he held off from publishing his findings was his sensitivity to his wife's beliefs and he was concerned that he would offend the average British citizen. In the end, he published his work when he heard that a scientific colleague had made the same observations and was about to write about it before Darwin did.

The scientific community responded positively to his theory. The public was not as welcoming. When I was in school I do not remember there being much debate about evolution. Religion did not enter the classroom. It seems that in the last ten years or so, the resistance to evolution has grown, at least in the United States. I am interested in hearing what the participants in the program will be saying. Occasionally the students will challenge Eric when he is lecturing on the boat,. I am always surprised when he listens respectfully to their comments and does not challenge them in return. Of course, arguing about evolution does not make much sense; comparing religious beliefs and scientific theories is like comparing apples and giraffes.

Darwin spent most of his life in the country living a quiet life far removed from everything except his family and his books and his experiments. He was often in poor health, but his symptoms were vague and he lived a long life. He devoted his time to observing his surroundings and developing his scientific theory. I wonder what kind of life he would have had if he lived today. Most likely he would be a university professor hiding away in his lab. If he published his ideas for he first time today, how would he be received? Would he have a greater impact today than 200 years ago?

I find it curious that the Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador. They are so far away from the mainland. Eric tells me that no one wanted the islands and Ecuador was the closest country. I wonder if the Ecuadorians knew what the islands would hold for them. The islands were not occupied by indigenous people before Friar Tomas de Berlanga discovered the islands in 1535. It was annexed by Ecuador in 1832 and the Beagle arrived in 1835.

Our journey will be an abbreviated version of that of Darwin. I wonder if we would have the patience and enthusiasm that he had to observe and record his observations and think about them for years and years to develop his devastating theory.

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