Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart


Happy Birthday, Darwin!

As my husband had surgery today, and I’ve been helping him prepare (yesterday), and then spent today at the hospital, today’s post is an extended  riff on one from last year, also on Darwin’s birthday.

170px-Charles_Darwin_by_G._RichmondI love science. And of course Darwin — like Da Vinci, like Einstein, like Copernicus — dominates it. Today is his birthday, and I promise this post has to do w/ beginner’s heart (at least eventually!). One semester — and one only — I tried to teach Darwin in a lit class. We do a lot of nonfiction in literature (Benjamin Franklin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Scott Momaday, just to name a few), looking at figures w/ long-term literary impact. Several of my students (and this was an honours class) flat refused to read Darwin. Nope, they told me. He’s … well, Darwin. And against their religion(s).

Just to read him? I asked, incredulous. You can’t even READ him, to see what he said in his own words? And to a student, they shook their heads. I promise I’m not exaggerating, nor am I over-stating their adamant refusals. No negotiating — Darwin may as well be the anti-Christ.

Because this had never happened to me before, and because I don’t believe in putting students on the spot, I allowed them to read something else. But I’ve never forgotten that class. Nor the quiet, back-door responses of other students to this small cadre of their very vocal and conservatively religious colleagues. One told me she felt totally disdained by the students in the class, because she was an atheist. Another told me that he felt his religion — Judaism — was both maligned and dismissed by the conservative Christian students.

I offer no facile comments or final conclusions about this class. I don’t understand it now much better than I didn’t then, if that makes sense. It’s always been incomprehensible to me that any literature is ‘forbidden.’ I did ask my students why they had been forbidden to read Darwin. They hadn’t been expressly ‘forbidden,’ they assured me. But to a person, they said that Darwin was evil, and they were ‘discouraged from’ reading his work. After all, he denied the divine plan.

But here’s what I wonder: how can mere human beings even discern the divine plan — always given that there is one…? If something there is that created the spark that became today — the dark flavour of a hot mocha with an extra shot, the break in winter cold, the exceptional kindness of a nurse at the outpatient clinic where I spent the day with my husband — how can I, addled mortal that I am, comprehend that? And why should faith feel threatened by knowledge? Note: I didn’t ask the students to accept Darwin; just read him.

My students were not interested in discussing their decision. I did ask if they followed the Old Testament, and the Laws of Leviticus. This is what hurt my Jewish student — the Darwin-deniers were appalled at the idea. But it’s the Old Testament —  Genesis et al — that drives the Young Earth creation myth. And to be a Young Earther means you also deny the following scientific fields, as I’ve touched on elsewhere: physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, cosmology, paleontology, molecular biology, genomics, linguistics, anthropology, archaelogy, climatology, and dendochronology. In 2011, 30% of Americans said they took the Bible literally — no interpretation. In other words? They  believe in the Young Earth philosophy. No wonder we don’t have many scientists!

So, Darwin, what do you have to say about this? Baptised Anglican, raised in the Unitarian church, you studied to be Christian clergy. You refused the label ‘atheist,’ preferring to be known as an agnostic. You even included a quote from Charles Kingsley in Origin, in which Kingsley argued that it was “just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self development… as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which He Himself had made.”

Now, here we are, almost 200 years later. And like my students, many Americans refuse to even read Darwin. And I’m no closer to understanding why. Still, I suspect  Darwin wouldn’t care a jot. Evidence, he would say, trumps faith. But it needn’t cancel it out. Darwin might be not a test of faith, but of scientific imagination.



Previous Posts

it doesn't have to be perfect (the enemy of good)
  Last night's dinner was brought to you by some obscure soup company. Canned clam chowder, w/ the addition of cracked pepper & white corn. YUM! Served w/ water crackers, & a side of tabbouleh

posted 12:59:47pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

of waiting, and childhood impatience
As I wrap presents, write out menus, email to find out who's bringing what to the holiday feast, I can't help but think of my mother. She was NOT organised, nor was she an organiser. Tell her what to do, and she did

posted 9:35:25pm Dec. 15, 2014 | read full post »

love (and happiness) like ribbon
Love is, I think, like ribbon. It's beautiful, for one thing (I adore pretty ribbon!). But it tangles, gets easily wrinkled and needs care to last. At the holidays, when I'm going through SKEINS of it, I find myse

posted 10:21:22pm Dec. 13, 2014 | read full post »

the curse of the holiday meltdown
All the ornaments are on the tree. The newest riff on the family tabbouleh is chilling, waiting for us to taste-test it after the flavours meld. The three packages needing mailing -- well, the ones that have arriv

posted 6:43:01pm Dec. 11, 2014 | read full post »

patience
It's been four weeks since our new cat Hector came to live with us. During that scant month, he's made himself more (or less...) at home upstairs. But he still won't come downstairs. And he won't engage at all

posted 3:29:59pm Dec. 10, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.