Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Patron Saint of Reason

From the ancient Greek philosophers to the leading edge of 21st-century physics, there has been no more insightful and iconic example of reason than Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882). From ignorance to enlightenment, he took mankind farther than any other person in our quest for self knowledge: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, gnōthi seauton, nosce te ipsum, temet nosce. If knowing who we are and and our place in the universe is the essence of religion, then Darwin was our greatest theologian. Reading aloud from the Book of Nature, he taught us that we are a part of the natural world, created not by mythical gods but by the planet itself. Though the question remains the same, the childish answers of religion give way to the grown-up answers of reason: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection tells the real story of Genesis.

Love That, Not Man Apart from That
Robinson Jeffers

Then what is the answer?— Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness.
These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociously ugly.
Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things,
the divine beauty of the universe.
Love that, not man apart from that,
or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.

There are, of course, much more popular views of man and nature. In 2013, only 2/5ths of Republicans polled admitted to belief in human evolution.