Opinion » Bill Cope

The Flutter: Issue 4

The "Society For Making People Better" newsletter


We have a birthday in the house. Sing along, everybody! C'mon, it'll be fun.

Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday to you!

Happy two-hun-dredth birth-day, Charl-ie Daaaar-win.

Happy birthday to you!

All right then, the Creationists among you are dismissed. Go rinse your mouth out with Listerine if you think that will help.

Welcome to the last The Flutter of 2009, and I apologize for being so tardy with this nod to SFMPB Honorary Member Darwin. His actual birthday was way back in February, but I missed it. Some-body forgot to invite me to the party.

However, I simply could not let 2009 slip by without acknowledging Chuck's big Two-Oh-Oh. We owe him much, by cracky. Had he never been born, I imagine someone else would have eventually figured out the evolution thing. But then, had Archimedes never been born, someone else would have eventually figured out that "pi" thing. And without Copernicus, somebody else would have eventually figured out the sun doesn't revolve around Earth, and without Newton, someone else would have eventually figured out gravity.

But there is much to be said about being first, and Darwin was first. And those of us who operate under the principle that it is better to try to understand the workings of our universe through the disciplines of the scientific method rather than the "Taketh my word for it" provinces of faith have to be grateful he came up with his theories so long ago. He got the hard work done early. Really, can you imagine what would happen if a contemporary Darwin had just recently proposed that Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin are relatives of apes? Woowee! That earth-shaking thesis would be gathering dust in a sub-basement somewhere, along with Jimmy Hoffa's mummy and the Bush administration policy on global warming.

One more thing about Mr. Darwin and his theory: We here in the SFMPB general offices have become aware of criticism being leveled at Chaz's legacy, and as he isn't here to answer those critics, we thought it proper if we did it for him. After all, without Darwin and his stunning revelation that humanity has evolved from humble beginnings--thereby implying that we may be capable of evolving much further; that there is possibly no limit to how far our species might progress--there would be little to be gained by investing our hopes in the Society For Making People Better. I personally, as the Founder and So-Far-Unchallenged Grand Marshal of the SFMPB, consider Darwin to be our society's original inspiration, a central figure to the proposition that we have a fine and noble potential, if we so choose to aspire to it.

Yet there are those who say Darwin's revelations have resulted in all the terrible things that have happened since the publication of On the Origin of Species 150 years ago. In a letter printed in another local newspaper, a Meridian man (definitely not me) credited Darwin's discoveries as being at the root of everything from Lenin's communism to the Holocaust to the sexual revolution of the '60s.

If this nonsense were coming only from a lone Meridian man, we might sluff it off as further proof that it's highly unlikely the next wave of intellectual advance will come from Meridian. But a British journalist--Dennis Sewell, interviewed by Time--has made similar accusations. Sewell even implies that the Columbine killers must have had Darwin in mind, as evidenced by a "Natural Selection" T-shirt Eric Harris wore that tragic day.

Our experience tells us that if there are even a few examples of such superficial tripe loose in the world, there is probably a powerful current of it flowing through society among people eager to believe in superficial tripe. We find it worthwhile to answer this tripe, even if that's all it is. For instance, if Mr. Sewell's and the Meridian man's line of logic were applied throughout the realm of scientific discovery, we must blame Isaac Newton for every death by gravity, since Newton is the first to describe that natural phenomenon in depth. Archimedes must take the blame for Hitler's V-2 rockets and Saddam's SCUD missiles, as rocketry (not to mention atomic weaponry) could not exist without an understanding of "pi."

And honestly, if a book such as On the Origin of Species could be the provocation for millions of murderous acts, would we also not be better off without the Bible?

But the biggest lesson here is not to be drawn from taking absurd notions to even more absurd extrapolations. The real point is that the truths unveiled by science are not to be confused with what works out best for society. "Pi" would always be a mathematical relationship, even if it had never been used to compute a missile's trajectory. Gravity would still be the clockwork to the cosmos, even if there were no Golden Gate Bridge and no sapient apes to jump off it.

That's right, a tree falling in the forest makes a noise regardless of whether anyone's around to hear it, and species evolve even if they don't all evolve into Baptists. That's what we owe our man on the H.M.S. Beagle--an invaluable truth that has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever man-made evil that truth is used to justify.

All of which leads us to the newest entry in the SFMPB rule book: Rule 10) Never start thinking the universe revolves around humanity. That makes you stop seeing what's really happening.