dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Happy Valentine’s Day, Darwin

February 13th, 2009 by dk

Yesterday was Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. And today is the unluckiest day on the calendar. Should we stop teaching evolution in the schools? Until students reach upper level biology classes, I say yes.

Evolution has proven itself to be sound biological theory, but evolution as a concept has evolved into something more powerful and less helpful than that.

The verb “evolve” has seeped into the popular culture as a synonym for “improve,” but it means no such thing. Evolution is rooted in adaption, not improvement. It makes no value judgment. It’s completely utilitarian. If it works, it’s favored. It doesn’t necessarily survive, but it’s favored to survive. Every move is still a crap shoot. Nothing is assured.

Before Darwin, there was a faction of Medieval Christians called post-millennialists who believed that human history would culminate in a millennium of peace and prosperity. They believed that the world was getting slowly better and that we would eventually reach a heaven-on-earth state of bliss.

Darwin sought to debunk this movement, but his ideas are now being used to revive it. Darwin objected to a system of thought that required a “special act” to create a species. It fostered a superstition that was debilitating both science and religion. He wanted to show natural causes for the diversity of life forms. He did that.

He offered a system that no longer required a “special act.” We’ve plugged his ideas into a system that forbids “special acts.”

We’ve overlearned his lesson and built a view of the world and ourselves that insists that every action has a cause. We’ve conceived a world without caprice. Everything happens for a reason. There are no senseless acts, only misunderstood motives. We inhabit a chain of intersecting causes and effects and call it life.

Modern man has simply swapped superstitions. Instead of an implacable God calling the shots, the “invisible hand” of evolution or market forces or love at first sight is our new master. We can’t understand it, but we must obey. Superstition remains.

Darwin would insist we observe the world around us. If we did that, we’d see “special acts” all over the place. People often do good things for no good reason. In fact, altruism is a force that drives the world. Gradualists have attempted to reduce every act of charity to measurable cause, but they have failed. How do pheromone explanations differ from “the devil made me do it?”

Romance is not reducible. Every attempt to explain it succeeds only in undoing it.

Evolution explains why we have ten toes and not webbed feet, why we have lungs and livers, and lidded eyes of a particular color — but not why you have your own ten toes, your own lungs and liver, and your own eyes expressing what no one else could. Those can only be explained by a “special act,” performed by our parents approximately nine months before your birth.

That “special act” was not determined, or slow, or unnoticed. In the best case, it was an intentional choice between two people, expressing a love and devotion to each other and the world. Each new baby is a lightning bolt of life, hurled from the heavens.

We celebrate that ongoing and delightful mystery tomorrow, but today we can put aside the suspicion and fear that invisible forces rule our lives in ways we cannot understand.

Young people steeped in misbegotten gradualism believe that they cannot choose something new “just because.” They think that everything around them is determined already and that their actions and reactions are all inevitable. But free choices are the very ones that make life worthwhile and better.

I’d rather have our young people understand that, even if it means they don’t hear what Darwin learned from his travels to Galapagos.


Don Kahle ( writes for The Register-Guard each Friday. He lives in Eugene.

Tags: 2 Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BillThePoet Feb 19, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    How does an English major pass on the chance to use the word “chiliastic” in a piece that mentions millenialists? I mean, when are you going to get that chance again?

  • 2 Anonymous May 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    it’s a good thing that you don’t shape education policy. Science education is under attack enough these days without professional journalists declaring that the underpinning theory of biology shouldn’t be taught until high-level classes.