Charles Darwin, to me, can be compared to a hard working, ingenious artist. He provided a second look into a world that religion thought to have discovered, filled with interpretations of the deep natural beauty of the world around him, and the value of his contribution was not totally understood during his time. Today, Darwin’s studies are crucial in understanding our place as humans in the world. The question is, were Darwin’s findings truly revolutionary, and not just ‘evolutionary (mind the pun)? I say Yes.
Revolution refers to an overthrow of the standing order of things. Was Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos islands and the 35 pages of sketches on its face revolutionary? No – but the challenges (perhaps even unintentional challenges) that these sketches made to the status quo were revolutionary and not just intriguing. At some level, the Darwinian revolution destroyed forever the notion of humans as somehow miraculously special, symbolically and literally the greatest species on earth, risen above the rest on the basis of some religious mandate. This occurs on two levels.
Religion promotes the idea that humans were created by God himself, in his perfect form. The idea that we evolved from apes pretty much blows that to pieces. Obviously, that is why Darwin was so hated by the churches during his time, but religion always has trouble accepting real foundational discoveries in science and this is no different. The one interesting branch to cling to, from the religious perspective, is the idea of consciousness, and where that comes from – something Darwin and other scientists have yet to discover. I expect scientists and neurologists especially will develop a greater understanding of our origins of a unique consciousness and religion will have to adjust yet again, but for the moment that is an area of question that makes some people believe our species lives by a moral code that makes us better than apes, for example.
The second level is a more tangential outcrop of Darwin’s discoveries. The idea of Natural selection, that the best of a species survives and adapts to their environment, has been morphed from a purely scientific argument to a more political/ideological argument – but I’ll get back to that in a moment. One of the core basis of the church is the idea of the ‘weak’ being meant to inherit the earth. Natural selection destroys that notion as well. Unfortunately, Darwin’s correct ideas have been used to promote an agenda of certain humans being more valuable than others, culturally, genealogically, and intellectually, and that has led in the past to dangerous ideas of eugenics and genocides such as in Rwanda or Germany during world war 2. Hopefully, Darwin’s ideas moving forward will be expanded upon in a positive way, and not used as a shield to defend the evil actions of individuals who don’t understand the purpose of them.