There has been a merging of spheres within modern thought. Their harmony is conducive toward a continued enlightenment. The first is the Darwinian process of evolution by natural selection, while the second is the secular endeavors rising against the tumult of religious obfuscation, absolutism, and dogmatism. It is important to disengage the harmony to listen to the singular music of each sphere. By so doing, we are able to realize why it is that secularism and evolutionism as so intrinsically entwined.
To begin, it is necessary to give a general answer: “Darwin made it possible,” says Richard Dawkins, “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Though I find the term “atheist” superfluous, the meaning here is clear: those of us who see meaning, beauty and fulfilment of this life within this life, rather than from an external source, have a need to explain the diversity of the natural world. If one is shackled into a religion, the origin of species is easily explained by postulating a great deity. Without a deity, how on Earth (notice this pun) could this apparent design arise?
Arise, Darwin, to claim the mantle of greatness.
Darwin called his idea as overwhelming and shocking as “confessing a murder”. Why? The main reason for its tether to humanism is the removal of the godlike pedestal Man had stood on. It was from his great intellectual height and insight that he looked down upon other animals as “lower”, that he looked upon the earth made for his delight. But, placing Man squarely as part of the natural process-as just another ape-the greatness of existence, the egotistical focus on humanity’s “purpose”, crumbled into dust. Today, people are still revolted at not being “more special”, at being at base a “wild animal”. Darwin put it beautifully when he said, “Man still bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”
Given to superstition, sounds, faces, voices, conspiracy-theories, complicated over-analysis, ghosts, demons, humans want their lives to be part of something more: a battle between good and evil, governments focused on manipulating them, and so on. The natural explanations for all these things, including for the diversity and beauty of life, are somehow “less” interesting than “magical reasoning”. Science has demolished ordained knowledge, which crumbled with the edifice of Man’s egotistical “purpose” as part of a god’s “plan”. Hence, the reasoning why evolution by natural selection is often tethered with the hopes and exploits of Reason’s defenders.
The most incredible impact that something external can have on us is through the visual; thus something overwhelmingly (visually) breathtaking would have the greatest impact on us. And the natural world, surrounding us every day, demanding an explanation for its complexity, is just that.
Thus we struggle to say that something so beautiful and essential can be explained-in general, simply, and specifically, quite intricately. But it is part and parcel of the project to demolish the superstitious and supernatural and external sources of wisdom. Nothing is grander than the wonder of the world around us-and explaining it does not remove its beauty. Thus, my co-thinkers and I have a big job on our hands: fighting for natural explanations for all things (ghosts, life, nature), and instilling wonder and appreciation for life’s poetic qualities. This is all very humanist and why it is closely linked to the enterprise. Thus the sphere of evolution by natural explanation harmonizes with the enterprise to remove the supernatural and capture the present as most beautiful.
- R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books), p. 5
- D. Quammen, The Kiwi’s Egg: Charles Darwin & Natural Selection (London: Phoenix Books)
- C. Darwin. The Indelible Stamp: Four Essential Volumes in One. J.D. Watson (Ed.) (London: Running Press).
- S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (London: Penguin Books)
- Ibid. 211 – 284