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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Method, Mind & Spirit

Today, we commemorate the 200th birthday of Charles Robert Darwin. On Feb. 9, The New York Times published a collection of articles to celebrate this occasion and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most influential work entitled "On the Origin of Species". On Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, National Public Radio's Morning Edition devoted segments of almost eight minutes to Darwin's work and life.

Confronted with forms of life on the Galapagos Islandsthat seemed in shape related, yet diverse, Charles Darwin concluded that two rules best explain his observations.

Variation: The first rule required that each creature contained the information for its species' blueprint known as Bauplan to German scholars. The blueprints needed to be permanent, passed down to a great extent conserved through the generations. This permanence would achieve the regularity of Bauplan observed within a species. Yet, the blueprints needed to be mutable, allowing variation of form such that the species may be resistant against or take advantage of emerging novel conditions in its environment.

Selection: The second rule stipulated that the variations of Bauplan within a species would guarantee that the best adapted form survived, procreated, and eventually evolved into an entirely new species.

Applying the two rules in due diligence on the material he collected, Darwin was able to construct a tree of life. Darwin's Theory of Evolution was born.

Darwin provided us with hypotheses that could be tested with comparisons of the fossil record of past life forms, in as much as they were open to experimentation in laboratories as well as in contemporary natural environments. We have gained enormous insights from these studies into the fashion with which life may fit into the history of our planet and the history of the universe. His theory of evolution helps us to explain where we are coming from and where we may go to, using the scientific method.

The scientific method constitutes a natural extension of our innate playfulness and curiosity. Our mind is very sensitive to the extraordinary. It bothers us. We immediately wonder why things seem different, and thus we experiment unrelentingly with cause to unravel the mystery of effect, until we arrive at satisfactory explanations. Without this gift, we would not be here today. The scientific method requires that cause and effect are reproducible, that experimental conditions can be adjusted to influence results in a predictable way, and eventually that any theory emerging from experimentation is mutable, that it can be replaced with an improved theory, if our assumptions prove irreconcilable with our observations.

By contrast, faith is unrestrained, boundless, free from experimentation. Faith, thus, constitutes a complement to the scientific method. Hence, attempts at setting articles of faith against the scientific method are bound to end in futility.

Addenda

  • The Economist provides an interesting statistic in an article on today's acceptance of Darwin's ideas on Feb. 5.
  • The Tennessean's Bob Smietana posted an insightful article entitled "Darwin still Divides Believers in the Bible" on the possible reconciliation of Darwin's theory and faith on Feb. 14. The comments are of note.

The trip with which the journey began:

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