Monday, March 12, 2012

Trying to Understand How the World Works

"There is grandeur in this view of life."

--Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

Today, on a break between classes, I started wandering around the Cal State Fullerton campus, which is one of my favorite “breaktime activities.” There are a lot of interesting things going on at a university, and you never know what you might stumble upon.

Today, I wandered into Dan Black Hall, which is the science building. Not being a scientist myself, I was fascinated and intrigued by the signs and posters that adorned the walls of Dan Black Hall. There were labs whose function I didn’t even understand. There were presentations of complex experiments. It was really cool.

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Recently, I started reading Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, which has always carried with it an aura of fear and dark power. Growing up in the church, I was told repeatedly that Darwin was a fraud and that evolution was not only a lie, but a direct insult against God.

But then I watched a movie called “Creation” which is a drama about Darwin’s struggle to write that controversial book. His wife, a devout Christian, was opposed to his research and his findings. He was not a man who had a vendetta against God. In fact, his discoveries on the Galapagos islands and his subsequent experiments on variation and mutation caused him great inner turmoil and suffering. He did not want to “kill God.” He was, rather, a curious and sincere scientist who simply wanted to understand how the world works.

Reading On The Origin of Species as an adult, I get that vibe from the book. There is a tone of quiet wonder at his discoveries and the theories they spawned. He knew his book would change the way lots of people looked at the world. He was afraid, but not so afraid that he would keep quiet about his findings and ideas.

Last week, I ran into a man on campus here at Cal State who was reading loudly from the Bible and holding a sign that read “Evilution is a Lie.” I asked him what “evilution” meant. He said it was a play on words, combining “evil” and “evolution.” We got into a particularly one-sided debate (he was practically shouting at me) on evolution. Pretty early on, I realized the silliness of two non-scientists debating evolution. We were both terribly ignorant on the subject, but he acted like he knew the “Truth.”

Now, as an adult, I approach evolution the same way I approach any academic subject, with curiosity and humility. Reading On The Origin of Species is showing me that Darwin was not the villain I had previously believed. He was, like me, a lonely, quiet seeker of understanding. He wanted to understand how the world works, and he wasn’t satisfied with the explanations he had been given.

It gives me great comfort to know that there are lots of students at Cal State and at other universities who are doing the quiet, hard work of trying to understand how the world works. People can and will debate evolution, with varying degrees of ignorance, but the impression that I got from wandering Dan Black hall is that the important work of hard science goes on, and will continue, and this is a very good thing.

Here is the trailer for Creation, a very thoughful movie:

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