Revolution #119, February 10, 2008
Celebrate Darwin Day February 12
Darwin Day, February 12 each year, is an international celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin, who first developed the modern scientific theory of the evolution of life.
What would the world be like today without Darwin and the science of evolution?
It is no exaggeration to say that this world would be a much more terrible and impoverished place—in every dimension. There would be no modern medicine—no way to know that we could use tissue from animals sharing a common ancestry to fix a failing human heart valve. No chance to stop infections that evolve and grow resistant to treatments, or discover cures for viruses like AIDS. Moreover, we’d be deprived of the wonderment and exhilaration from learning how the natural world actually works. Conversely, because Darwin did make this contribution, his work also served to strengthen the scientific method and its role in modern society. And that is very important.
There is beauty as well as usefulness to the truth that Darwin discovered. As Darwin himself put it poetically in the conclusion of On the Origin of Species, the path-breaking book which first put forward his theory: “It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life....”
Evolution is true. There is evidence of it everywhere (and nobody has ever found evidence to disprove it). To take just one example, the book The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why it Matters by Ardea Skybreak explores the evolution of whales: First, the earliest ancestors of all animal life on land evolved from fish and developed the capacity to walk on land, and then one branch of those animals, the ancestors of whales, over many generations, evolved to live in the sea again. From the sea, and then, many millions of years later, back into the sea! That’s why examining the skeleton of a baleen whale reveals the remnants of hipbones that once supported legs!
Evolution shows that—starting from simple forms of life—all living things transformed out of other living things in a tremendous branching tree, including humans and all their mental capacities. This has been firmly established by scientists from many different fields coming at this from different angles. And all this happened without any overall preset direction, let alone being orchestrated by a (non-existent) god (what kind of an inept god would create a whale with tiny skeletal hips?). The changes in life forms are driven by naturally occurring variations (changes) in the genes that make up living things. And many of those changes are then “sorted out” through natural selection, as different plants and animals confront and either survive, or die off, in constantly changing environments.
As Ardea Skybreak put it: “Everyone needs to understand the basic facts of evolution as well as the essentials of the scientific method.…When people are deprived of a scientific approach to reality as a whole, they are robbed of both a full appreciation of the beauty and richness of the natural world and the means to understand the dynamics of change not only in nature but in human society as well.” (The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why it Matters, p. viii)
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During its rise to power, the capitalist class generally supported science in opposition to the Catholic Church and the established ruling feudal system that was behind it. The powerful productive forces that capitalism brought into being could never have developed without a leap in science, and the scientific method. But the rising bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) never supported a thoroughly scientific outlook. It warped science to serve its system—both through the rule of profit and the demand for ever-greater weapons to serve that rule. And, once it came to power, it required religion to console and stupefy the masses.
Today, with people agonizing about the future and feeling alienated and isolated, the core of the U.S. ruling class supports the most backward and outright obscurantist religious fundamentalism as a way to channel this anxiety into hard-core support for the system. And it supports this fundamentalism against science. Bush himself states that “the jury is still out” on evolution. Research into realms ranging from global warming to preventing the spread of AIDS to stem cell research for cures to tragic diseases is suppressed because it conflicts with political programs and ways of thinking that are integral to keeping people ignorant and enslaved.
As part of this war on science, the theory of evolution is suppressed, banned, distorted, and just not taught. Recently, an administrator in the Texas school system was forced to resign simply for forwarding an e-mail announcing a speech by a prominent scholar on evolution!
There is battle raging in society over epistemology—that is, over the nature of truth and how people come to know the truth. Is this to be done by seeking the real material causes of things in reality? Or, instead of that, by turning off critical thinking and seeking answers from some supernatural being that doesn’t even exist? Darwin Day contributes at this important time to supporting the understanding that we can and must know how the world changes through developing and testing theories in relation to the evidence of the real, material world.
There’s another dimension as well. An important aim of the communist revolution is to “free the spirit from its cell,” as the song the Internationale says. That is to say, to liberate people’s minds from the chains of ignorance and traditional ways of thinking—including the shackles of religious belief in non-existent supernatural powers (gods). These “old ideas” both justify oppression and foster a dog-eat-dog mentality, and also keep people from understanding, appreciating, and being inspired by the real world. In the case of religion, these ideas ultimately justify “the way things are” (“render unto Caesar”) and instill passivity and ignorance in people (“God works in mysterious ways”). Firmly grasping science, in all its rigor and wonder, is essential to the crucial rupture with that kind of thinking.
Correspondingly, in a revolutionary socialist society—and on a whole other level when humanity reaches the goal of worldwide communism—the method of scientific discovery will be taught in schools and promoted throughout society. Science, and a scientific worldview, will be made the common province of all society—including those who have up to now been locked out of that. Scientific research—including scientific inquiry that does not promise any particular immediate practical benefit, as well as research that is directed to the most pressing problems of the masses—will be unleashed on a level far beyond anything humanity has seen. Previous socialist societies have accomplished great things in this—and overcoming weaknesses and tendencies to narrow this sphere in those revolutions is a critical element of Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning of communism.
Finally, if we are to bring forward a real revolutionary movement, then it must involve people engaging in science and the scientific method. If we don’t understand the world as it really is— its underlying dynamics and driving forces, including as a key part of that where the possibility for big revolutionary changes can come from and how to seize on such potential opportunities—then we won’t be able to change it in the direction that it needs to go for humanity. Making that change—making revolution—will take millions struggling to figure out and grasp the truth and moving to act on it, decisively—not only from among the intellectuals, but also and especially from the brutally oppressed and exploited people who must and can be the backbone force of a revolution to throw off and put an end to all forms of exploitation throughout the globe. To emancipate humanity, we must emancipate our minds.
In this spirit, and from this perspective, we encourage all our readers to find and attend Darwin Day events, and to engage Darwin’s work in this annual celebration of a wonderful breakthrough in human understanding.
A list of Darwin Day events is available at darwinday.org. There are events all over the world—from Spain to Australia to Bangladesh. In San Francisco, people are being invited to an “Evolutionpalooza to celebrate Darwin Day with your fellow primates”; Darwin’s Bulldogs are gathering in Grayslake, Illinois; and a whole week of programs at Indiana State University includes “The Adventures of Darwin’s Chihuahua.” In the U.S. hundreds of religious congregations are planning to join in, with talks and sermons upholding evolution on Evolution Weekend, February 9 and 10. (butler.edu/clergyproject/rel_evolution_weekend_2008.htm)
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