Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Charles Darwin was like

I heard well over a thousand sermons at the Union Gospel Mission during my period of years as a dirt-poor homeless Sacramentan.

While there are many preachers at the mission who were spectacular; some were terrible. There were a couple that came to the mission to orate in opposition to Charles Darwin, calling him all manner of mean, cruel  names and impugning his character.

I would speak up to defend Darwin to the preacher of the night, only to suffer a lambasting directed at me and my possibly-foul character.

Wright's 1994 book
A recent book by Robert Wright -- an author in whom I have taken great interest -- has, in an early section of his 1994 book "The Moral Animal: Why we are the way we are: the new science of evolutionary psychology" a depiction of Darwin that is stirring and stunning and Right On! [I know of what I write. I've read more that a little about Charles over the years. Those who knew the man are near unanimous in their high regard for the fellow.]

There is this, from pages 14 & 15 of Wright's book, that captures Darwin splendidly:
Darwin's life will serve as more than illustration. ... Advocates of evolutionary theory -- including him, including me -- have long claimed that it is so powerful as to explain the nature of all living things. If we're right, the life of any human being, selected at random, would assume new clarity if looked at from this viewpoint.
Darwin doesn't seem like other organic phenomena. The things that come to mind when we think of organic selection -- the ruthless pursuit of genetic self-interest, survival of the fiercest -- don't come to mind when we think of Darwin. By all accounts, he was enormously civil and humane (except, perhaps, when circumstance made it hard to be both; he could grow agitated while denouncing slavery, and he might lose his temper if he saw a coachman abusing a horse.) His gentleness of manner and his utter lack of pretense, well marked from his youth, were uncorrupted by fame. "[O]f all eminent men that I have ever seen he is beyond comparison the most attractive to me," observed the literary critic Leslie Stephen. "There is something almost pathetic in his simplicity and friendliness." Darwin was, to borrow a phrase ... a true gentleman."
Here is something from the book that Darwin wrote or said [Dunno which; wrote, probably.] in 1882, at the age of 70:
“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”
Now, I would extend yet further Darwin's noble sentiment ...
There is no bar that should prevent men and women from recognizing the artificiality of economic measurements as right-to-life barriers. Our brothers and sisters out on the streets, in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer are as much “us” as we are “us” and should be taken in to our hearts.
An interesting factoid about Darwin: He and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day, February 12, 1809.

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