Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Poetic and Religious Aspects of Darwin

One of the most prominent results of Darwin’s theory is the fact that there is no goal, plan or purpose to evolution. Organisms simply evolve based on what characteristics are most advantageous in any particular habitat at any particular time. In the grand scheme of things, one cannot say that life is going in any particular direction for any particular overarching reason other than what is immediately necessary to live in any particular place. Darwin’s theory therefore, in a sense, does not really leave room for life, including human life, to be inherently or eternally meaningful or purposeful. Human religion, on the other hand, typically takes it upon itself to discuss how and why life is inherently meaningful. Because of this, it would seem at first glance as though Darwinism and religion oppose one another on this point quite seriously.
However, I would like to argue that Darwin himself did not necessarily allow the idea of the meaninglessness of life that logically extends from his theory to penetrate the larger scope of his writing. Darwin was an intensely poetic, and in many ways, religious writer. The term religious, in this context, is intended to imply a sense of existence being purposeful and important.
When Darwin discusses how natural selection works, he repeatedly uses the term ‘struggle for existence.’ He goes on to elaborate on how organisms compete with one another to the point where some will lose, and therefore die, and some will win existence as their reward for being victorious in the ‘struggle.’ What this terminology does is set up of a conflict, wherein opposing sides battle in order to win a specific coveted award. If there is no inherent meaning or purpose to evolution and life, then why would Darwin choose such poetic language, that more than anything implies order and significance to the entire process? Darwin also uses the term ‘advancement’, namely in his chapter on instinct. What exactly does advancement imply, other than advancement towards some kind of goal? If Darwin simply means advancement relative to what a particular habitat requires for life to succeed, then in my opinion, advancement is too grandiose and implicative of overarching direction to fit what Darwin intends to say.
Through these examples, it can be seen how Darwin’s use of poetic and ‘religious’ language is in many cases, at odds with certain aspects and implications of his theory.

1 comment:

  1. One thing that grabbed my eye in this post was that Darwin's theory doesn't leave any room for life. What is intriguing about your thought is that Darwin's theory is ABOUT life - yet his writings and research seek to destroy all value and meaning of it. In a sense, what Darwin has done in his attempts at describing life - as Max Weber coined it - he has successfully begun the disenchantment of the world. Similarly, we discussed earlier in the semester that to name something takes the life out of it. Darwin has done this.