“Keep your eyes lifted and your head turning“. A simple yet key phrase in the advice given by the brilliant sociobiologist, Edward O. Wilson to young scientists, but good advice to us all. “Ideas emerge when a part of the real or imagined world is studied for its own sake.”
Browsing one evening at B & N, the 1,706 page tome From So Simple A Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin, edited with introductions by Edward O. Wilson, caught my eyes.
Yes, reading Darwin has been on my bucket list for some time now. His writings are something that virtually all of us have been exposed to in some form or another, but comparatively few have read in the original. And this long holiday weekend I’m giving thanks in part for still being here and am pursing my reading bucket list in earnest. Suffice it to say that in my youth what little I knew about Darwin placed him at odds with the ideas of God and Creationism. That is one reason, among others, why it is so important in weighty matters to go back to the original texts rather than the representations made of those sources.
Permit me to take you to Darwin’s Recapitulation and Conclusion (Chapter XIV) of On The Origin Of Species:
“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual … There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms on into one; and that whilst this plant has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
It seems that Darwin, in very plain English, acknowledges the role of “the Creator” as a specific spiritual force who put laws and principles into place to guide the universe, but who (or that) does not necessarily micromanage its operation. This in turn affords Darwin the opportunity to diversify his spiritual portfolio within the fund of naturalist knowledge that enabled him to hedge his bets.
Darwin was considerably humble and qualified in his writings. In Chater IV of The Descent Of Man he writes:
“Thus a very large yet undefined extension may safely be given to the direct and indirect results of natural selection; but I now admit, after reading the essay by Nageli on plants, and the remarks by various authors with respect to animals, more especially those recently made by Professor Broca, that in the earlier editions of my ‘Origin of Species’ I probably attributed too much to the action of natural selection or survival of the fittest. I have altered the fifth edition of the Origin so as to confine my remarks to adaptive changes in structure. I had not formerly sufficiently considered the existence of many structures which appear to be, as far as we can judge, neither beneficial nor injurious; and this I believe to be one of the greatest oversights as yet detected in my work.”
In his introductory notes to On the Origin of Species, Wilson observes that Darwin took the very original step of conceiving evolution as a phenomena of populations. He observes: “It is the ensemble of individuals, exchanging hereditary material each generation by recombination, that evolves as a whole in the crucible of environmental pressure.”
It is within that crucible of environmental pressure, I would contend, that we diversify our spiritual portfolios.