Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin!

On this day 175 years ago, the H.M.S. Beagle was near the tip of Cape Horn. Seeing an 8000-foot snow-covered peak in the distance, the captain named it Mt. Darwin, after the ship’s brilliant young naturalist, who was celebrating his 25th birthday. The journals from this voyage capture a moment in history when a creative young mind was engaged in some of those inexplicable flashes of insight that add immeasurably to the body of human achievement.

As a student in Catholic schools, I was extremely fortunate (as I found out later) to be taught by well-educated and enlightened orders of nuns and priests. My teachers celebrated the greatness of Newton, Galileo, and Darwin, carefully explaining that there are many different ways that truth can be expressed. Devoted to scripture, they also revered science and taught that science and religion are totally compatible. I was out of college before I realized that there were people who seriously believed that the allegory, symbolism, and poetry of the Bible should be taken literally.

Thus, I have always been free to contemplate, with no trace of conflict or guilt, the ability of Charles Darwin to see deeply into the nature of things and share with others his incredible leaps of understanding. That he took the trouble to do so is something that all of humanity should celebrate today.

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