Monday, May 04, 2009

Notes on a Darwin Weekend

Further Exploration

There can be no doubt that the difference between the mind of the lowest man and that of the highest animal is immense. . . Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

The weekend study retreat on Charles Darwin that I just attended included two additional lectures; one on Saturday afternoon by Michaelangelo Allocca, Basic Program Instructor, with the tongue-in-cheek- title, "More Fun than a Barrel of Monkey Trials: Darwin's Complex Relationship with Religion", and one on Sunday morning by George Anastaplo, Basic Program Instructor, "On the Suggestive Origins of Darwin and Lincoln". Professor Anastaplo opened with an epigraph from the movie, King Kong, "It was beauty that killed the beast," and went on to once again demonstrate the fecundity of his ideas, centering his comments mainly on the similarities between the thought of Lincoln and Darwin who share more than simply the same birth date. These similarities included both their approaches to anti-slavery and their relationship with technology. In spite of similarities they were not successful in assessing each other's work.
Michael's presentation was informative in highlighting the complexity of Darwin's relationship with religion from the his early training as a vicar to his specific references to it in his works and letters. Perhaps most interesting, Michael noted the Catholic Church's muted criticism of Darwin in contrast with that of the Anglican church in his day. Continuing to the present the strongest critics of Darwinian evolution have generally been more fundamental Protestants. In addition Michael contrasted Darwin's views on religion with those of Alfred Russell Wallace who, while almost simultaneously developing a similar theory of evolution, held much more eccentric views of religion and the supernatural.

The highlight of the weekend was a multi-media presentation with song on Saturday Evening by Richard Milner, Anthropologist and Historian of Science Extraordinaire. His musical presentation of the life and thought of Darwin was spectacular. A taste of it can be found at his own web site, Darwin Live.

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