September 5: Making you feel small

I guess it's always Darwin time, what with a creationist-friendly national candidate and mentions in The Onion and all.

That Darwin would be enjoyable to read is one of the things I've learned on this journey. Today, talking about extinction, he reminds me of a guy whose grill won't light, so he tests various theories -- is the propane connection? But then why would be hearing that propane hiss? Maybe there's a tube blockage? Are we sure we see a spark from the lighter? We have to think of all the causes that might be contributing to this situation:

With respect to the apparently sudden extermination of whole families or orders, as of trilobites at the close of the pal├Žozoic period and of ammonites at the close of the secondary period, we must remember what has been already said on the probable wide intervals of time between our consecutive formations; and in these intervals there may have been much slow extermination. Moreover, when, by sudden immigration or by unusually rapid development, many species of a new group have taken possession of an area, many of the older species will have been exterminated in a correspondingly rapid manner...
Then there's this passage:
We need not marvel at extinction; if we must marvel, let it be at our own presumption in imagining for a moment that we understand the many complex contingencies on which the existence of each species depends.
While this is an appealing attitude to me -- marveling at presumption is an excellent stance for a comedy writer -- I begin to see why a certain type of religious person might hate Darwin. If you have a personal relationship with God, you're Mr. or Ms. Big -- you can get God on the phone. Then there's Darwin, who says we don't know a lot and is unsurprised at extinction -- including, presumably, our own. It isn't literally contradictory -- you can still believe that we are just like the other animals on this tiny wet dot floating through a vast universe and that you can get God on the phone -- but you start to see that God might be a little distracted when he takes your call.

0 comments: