Giving Darwin his due

Perhaps you weren’t aware—we weren’t until we got a press release on the subject—that next Tuesday, Feb. 12, besides being Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, is also Darwin Day, the celebration of the birth 199 years ago of the great scientist who first described biological evolution via natural selection. This year’s celebration probably won’t be as grand as next year’s, the bicentennial of his birth as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, The Origin of Species, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

That’s especially true when we consider that three 2008 presidential candidates—Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback—have said they do not believe in the theory of evolution. Like some 43 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup poll, they choose instead to believe, all scientific evidence to the contrary, that God created human beings in their modern form sometime within the last 10,000 years.

OK, we’re all entitled to our beliefs. But if someone said to you, “I believe the Earth is flat and the sun revolves around it,” you’d probably question his or her grip on reality. To those of us who see the evidence of evolution everywhere we look, just as we understand that the Earth is round and revolves around the sun, the idea that God created human beings some 8,000 or 9,000 years ago simply makes no sense.

Yes, science has limits. It can’t help us understand our relationship to the great mystery of existence or develop core ethical values. But in today’s competitive, science-driven world, a nation in which nearly half the people don’t respect a fundamental scientific truth is in serious intellectual trouble.

Besides, there’s really no incompatibility between spiritual life and the theory of evolution. Evolution is part of creation, and creation will always be too vast for science to comprehend fully and too wondrous for words to subsume. Whatever people choose to call creation’s source—universal energy, God, or, as the poet Dylan Thomas so beautifully described it, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower"—it will always remain, ultimately, ineffable.