That the publication of the “Origin of Species” marked an epoch in the development of the natural sciences is well known to the layman. That the combination of the very words origin and species embodied an intellectual revolt and introduced a new intellectual temper is easily overlooked by the expert. The conceptions that had reigned in the philosophy of nature and knowledge for two thousand years, the conceptions that had become the familiar furniture of the mind, rested on the assumption of the superiority of the fixed and final; they rested upon treating change and origin as signs of defect and unreality. In laying hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency, in treating the forms that had been regarded as types of fixity and perfection as originating and passing away, the “Origin of Species” introduced a mode of thinking that in the end was bound to transform the logic of knowledge, and hence the treatment of morals, politics, and religion.
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
Alfred North Whitehead
Plato believed that, for everything we encounter in the corporeal world, there is a perfect instance of it in a world that exists someplace else. Consider dogs, for instance; we have big dogs, little dogs, dogs of all colors, dogs with long snouts, dogs with smooshed-in snouts. Plato believed that in the other world there existed the form of an ideal dog of which all our familiar dogs are merely poor copies.
Christianity adopted that idea, layered-on Original Sin to explain why we are unable to enter that other world and encounter the ideal dog, its form, and that dubious bit of nut-jobbery has indeed shaped the thought of the West for the greatest part of 2000-years.
It’s important to understand that bit of intellectual history to grasp why Darwin’s insight had such a seismic effect; literally, he rocked the organizing principles of Western thought — its metaphysics, the ideas that enveloped everything else. Darwin didn’t merely undermine the Adam and Eve tale, he said reality itself is not what Christianity has always said — a poor, corrupted copy of a perfect world someplace else — but a relentless shape-shifter.
Darwin was right and Christianity is wrong, or Christianity is right and Darwin was wrong; it comes down to that; there is no middle ground.
Our relentless, contemporary fights over the content of science curricula are relatively recent; such things were all but unknown when I was in high school. They have accompanied the rise of the Evangelical Right, from Jerry Falwell’s founding of the Moral Majority in 1979, which is reacting against the advances of science and the associated death of their failed ideas — their organizing principles.
Now, rather than face reality, the yahoos have successfully installed a deeply anti-science cohort in the White House and Congress, and science and reason are under attack as never before. The reality of global warming is denied, belligerent morons like Franklin Graham have Trump on their speed-dial, Creationist buffoons like Ken Ham (proprietor of the so-called Creation Museum) are figures of regard rather than objects of public ridicule.
All of which is why you should find the location of the nearest March for Science on Saturday and make an appearance. The progress of The Enlightenment itself is at stake, and it will be lost if we don’t conscientiously defend it.