Charles Darwin

The Indispensable Silver Lining

by Wisława Szymborska, from Poetry (April 2006)

They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.   

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,   
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,   
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.

See also: "Wisława Szymborska," by Janusz R. Kowalczyk, Culture.Pl  


Charlie Darwin

by Low Anthem, from Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

Set the sails I feel the winds a'stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water's all around us
Oh my god, it's all around

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
The lords of war just profit from decay
And trade their children's promise for the jingle
The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

Oh my god, the water's cold and shapeless
Oh my god, it's all around
Oh my god, life is cold and formless
Oh my god, it's all around

We Find Beauty in Something Done Well

“The next time you pass by a jewelry shop window displaying a beautifully cut, teardrop-shaped stone, don’t be so sure it’s just your culture telling you that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. Your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it—even before they could put their love into words.”

~ Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

Condemned to Freedom

Excerpt from “The Limits of the Coded World,” by William Eggington, New York Times (July 25, 2010):

In Immanuel Kant’s view, the main mistake philosophers before him had made when considering how humans could have accurate knowledge of the world was to forget the necessary difference between our knowledge and the actual subject of that knowledge. At first glance, this may not seem like a very easy thing to forget; for example, what our eyes tell us about a rainbow and what that rainbow actually is are quite different things. Kant argued that our failure to grasp this difference was further reaching and had greater consequences than anyone could have thought.

rainbow Taking again the example of the rainbow, Kant would argue that while most people would grant the difference between the range of colors our eyes perceive and the refraction of light that causes this optical phenomenon, they would still maintain that more careful observation could indeed bring one to know the rainbow as it is in itself, apart from its sensible manifestation. This commonplace understanding, he argued, was at the root of our tendency to fall profoundly into error, not only about the nature of the world, but about what we were justified in believing about ourselves, God, and our duty to others.

The problem was that while our senses can only ever bring us verifiable knowledge about how the world appears in time and space, our reason always strives to know more than appearances can show it. This tendency of reason to always know more is and was a good thing. It is why human kind is always curious, always progressing to greater and greater knowledge and accomplishments. But if not tempered by a respect for its limits and an understanding of its innate tendencies to overreach, reason can lead us into error and fanaticism…

As much as we owe the nature of our current existence to the evolutionary forces Darwin first discovered, or to the cultures we grow up in, or to the chemical states affecting our brain processes at any given moment, none of this impacts on our freedom. I am free because neither science nor religion can ever tell me, with certainty, what my future will be and what I should do about it. The dictum from Sartre…gets it exactly right: I am condemned to freedom. I am not free because I can make choices, but because I must make them, all the time, even when I think I have no choice to make.

Read the entire Opinionator post…

Evolution and Wonder

"The two books for Francis Bacon are the word of God and the works of God, the Bible and the works of God in nature.

Transmutation Notebook B, Tree of LifeIt's very important to realize that in return for telling us how texts of the Bible should be interpreted, people who investigated nature, call them naturalists, were also expected to supply evidences of God's beneficence, power, and wisdom in the works of nature. So the marvelous way in which a bivalve shell is constructed or the wonderful joint in your elbow or the patterns of life, the beauty of butterflies, all of these things can be studied by naturalists and said to be evidence of the Creator's wisdom and beneficence.

Darwin's starting point were these wonderful adaptations of organisms to their environment. Things seem to be made perfectly to live where they are: fish to swim, ducks to paddle, and so forth. These traditionally were evidences of the Creator's wisdom and goodness. Darwin says, 'We can explain how nature produced these adaptations to environment. We can explain how the beauty of a butterfly is useful to that butterfly in pursuing its way of life. I can come up with causes for this and it's up to you to believe that God created these things through these causes or not.'

Darwin evokes the works of God, the works of natural theology, the greatness of nature at the beginning of The Origin of Species because he really does believe those works in nature are beautiful and astonishing, and the adaptations are there. He's at one with the spirit of natural theology. Just read his prose in The Origin of Species. It exudes wonder at nature, but he can explain how it happened…

…Darwin has a vision of nature and it takes quite a while studying Darwin from when he was in his twenties really until, at the end of his life, he's working on earthworms, of all things. I do have the most profound respect for the way he doggedly pursued his vision of the history of life on Earth and how great things are caused by little things. Mountains move up by small increments, the soil of the Earth is recycled through earthworms, coral reefs grow by tiny increments over tens of thousands of years. No one can see these things happening. One has to be able to imagine them happening. And Darwin had that wonderful imagination. He had the capacity to sit still or stand still in a field or in a wood, for an hour at a time, and just watch and listen. There are few of us who have that today, and we're the worse for it”

~ James Moore, from "Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin," Speaking of Faith, Feb. 5, 2009.