Happy New Year everyone!
The Xmas edition of New Scientist asks the question of who matters most: Darwin in the 200th annviversary of his birth or the 400th anniversary of Galileo using a telescope?
If we go by sacrifice, Galileo wins by being under house arrest for his convictions based on empirical observations. Darwin had others, like Huxley, to vocalize his findings. Whether Darwin was “agnostic” for personal loss or philosohical science reasons, what is clear is that he had regard for how people used faith. Galileo spoke for himself, vigorously, his battle with papal idiocy not shaking his catholic faith.
While that matters not in terms of the value of their findings, it is a measure of what they had to go through. For those reasons I admire William Tyndale – I may disagree with all theology but his stand on free speech paid the ultimate price, one that paved the way to deciding for myself the truth or otherwise of the bible.
Acceptance of truth would also favour Galileo. We may point out time to get used to the idea, but anyone that claimed the sun went round the earth would be a laughing stock. Claims that evolution is wrong are cloaked as a different point of view – the verification of the theory distorted in a way that, if there was a prime mover, brings discredit on their works and culminates in dishonest inquiry that goes to any lengths to support a conclusion.
The value of humanity, as dust or apes in origin before being human, seems unchanged with either assumption. We are mammals, as Hitchens reminds us, but no less for it due to the modifications that make us as a species stand out. It may mean we are not so much a steward as a part of the animal kingdom. Our abilities mean we have moral responsibilities to behave like one.
The controversy gives Darwin an edge. That and the simplicity of a theory that explains increasing complexity, that has a body of evidence supporting it. It needed more than a telescope to prove, and Darwin devoted much of his life to collecting material to make his findings evidence based.
Rocks flying around, or the mysteries of life itself unfolding? Darwin set up biology on the path that would lead to genetics and to network theory. His thinking has set us on a path of discovery that directly effects us.
Yet both are to be celebrated. For humanity is better off for such men as these to grace us with findings that added to the sum of knowledge and paved the way for empirical observations rather than traditional orthodoxy, and discoveries that are the backbone to understanding what we are.