Memorial Days

Law of the jungle or God's plan?

For Darwin's double anniversary in the year 2009: The 200th birthday and 150 years of "On the Origin of Species"

(Published in GralsWelt 51/2009)

February 12, 2009 is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), one of the most influential natural scientists of all time for our view of the world. On November 24, 1859 - one hundred and fifty years ago - Darwin's epochal work "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" appeared. This fundamental work instantly made Darwin famous - and infamous.

His theses contradicted the creation story of the Bible. They promoted materialistic thinking, helped the natural sciences to emancipate themselves from religions, widened the gap between science and the church, and required a profound rethinking that was painful for many.

Darwin's theory of selection
There were three very simple assumptions that were understandable for everyone that turned the thinking of biologists:
· The individuals in a population are never exactly alike. There are always (minor) differences, the variations.
· Every living being produces more offspring than can find their place in its natural environment. A large proportion therefore cannot reach reproductive age.
· The best adapted, ie the “most suitable” individuals have the greatest chances of passing on their hereditary traits to offspring. A natural selection ensures that mainly the life forms that are best adapted to their habitat reproduce, while those that are less suitable are excreted. That is the often quoted catchphrase “survival of the fittest”, which is not very happily translated as “survival of the fittest”.

According to Darwin's theory, over the course of many generations, in the interplay of variation and selection, living beings that are better and better adapted to their habitats developed. In small and very small evolutionary steps, new species were formed until finally the entire, unmistakable abundance of life that we admire today emerged from a simple "primordial living being" (the eobiont). This evolution continues; it will never come to an end as long as our earth remains habitable.

As soon as it was published, "The Origin of Species" triggered violent ideological discussions that revolved particularly around a topic that Darwin had barely addressed:

Man as a product of matter
At the end of his work "Origin of Species" Darwin indicates with only one sentence that humans should also be regarded as part of nature: "New light will fall on the origins of mankind and its history".

Years before Darwin published another pioneering work "On the Descent of Man" in February 1871, criticism of the question of the origin of the human species ignited. The Bible shows that man emerged directly from the hand of God; there was no doubt of that for believers of Abrahamic religions.

Now man is being pushed from his throne as the “crown of creation” and a new self-understanding of man as part of nature is forced. In the Darwinian worldview, humans cannot claim any higher rank than that of a highly developed primate with a particularly large brain. One should not expect high moral standards or a pronounced sense of responsibility from an "intelligent monkey". In contrast, ruthlessness and the willingness to use violence can be explained and justified as a consequence of the struggle for existence.

Believing Christians were shocked by this "destruction of the divine plan". Natural philosophy and religion were at war with each other. What should a person orient himself towards? According to the “Holy Scriptures” or according to the “Law of the Jungle”, the “Fight in Nature”? His feeling, his common sense rebelled against the new and found support in the churches.

The dispute of the century
One hundred and fifty years after Darwin's Origin of Species was first published, the controversy over the theory of evolution has not quite subsided.
Much research has been carried out since then, and new findings, such as genetics, have fundamentally changed Darwin's approaches.
In Darwin's day, inheritance of acquired traits was taken for granted, which is considered to be refuted. Today we speak of the "synthetic theory of evolution" in which the following evolution factors are included:
· Random mutations (hereditary changes) as an important cause for the variations postulated by Darwin.
· Recombination (new combination) of genetic makeup during sexual reproduction. Plant and animal species have been bred for many centuries; the laws of inheritance were only discovered in the 19th century.
· Selection, i.e. different reproductive success of the individuals of a population due to different suitability.
· Genetic drift (random fluctuations that are not based on selection).
· Isolation or separation. Populations of the same species are separated (e.g. on islands) and then develop into new species.
There are also other approaches that are not shared by all researchers. Apparently, cultural influences such as food or traumatic experiences in childhood can also permanently change the genetic make-up in the brain. (1 and 2).

Since the mutations (changes in the genetic material), which are so important for evolution, arise randomly according to current theories, today's diversity of living things would be owed to a game of chance; the interplay between mutation and selection. If some "accidental" mutations had taken a different course in an important development phase, the evolution of life could have taken completely different paths.
To many people this view seems somehow illogical.

Not only religious people do not experience themselves and the world as a result of chance. Senselessness, purposelessness and aimlessness, the “characteristics” of chance seem insufficient for a positive development. Every engineer knows that.

So many search for the causes and for the meaning and purpose of the whole. These are more far-reaching, more religious questions that arise from human consciousness. Your answer is beyond the capabilities of the natural sciences.

Critic of the theory of evolution
The great majority of natural scientists accept the modified theory of evolution as the only logical explanation for the development of life in the course of natural history. These evolutionists are accused by opponents of sticking to their materialistic hypothesis, despite many inconsistencies, mainly because the theory of evolution tries to get along without the postulate of “supernatural” influences or a creator god. Therefore, natural scientists are often exposed to the charge of atheism.

The critics of selection theory can be found in part in the camp of the letter-believing fundamentalists, the creationists. They do not believe in a natural lawful development of life, but in individual acts of God's creation. Whether Jew, Christian or Muslim, whoever takes his holy scriptures literally, has to believe in direct divine interventions in natural events. Natural scientists accuse creationists of theological delusion.

Representatives of the "Intelligent Design (ID) theory" (cf. "A constructed universe", under "Science") - including respected scientists - found a lot of evidence in nature that living beings must be well thought-out "constructions", which cannot have arisen purely by chance. A “planning intelligence” (such as natural beings) would therefore have to promote and control evolution. However, the ID theory is so far neither provable nor refutable and therefore not recognized as a scientific theory in the strict sense.

The sometimes heated discussions between evolutionists, creationists and representatives of the ID theory continue.

The future of Darwinism
Charles Darwin died at the age of 73 on April 19, 1882. He is considered one of the most important natural scientists. What will take of his work?

The history of development, the evolution of the living from the simple to the complex, will remain an integral part of our knowledge. The mechanisms that brought about the rise of organic life are in dispute: is it “blind chance” or a “higher principle”?

Our current scientific worldview is inconceivable without Darwin. But the sciences continue to evolve, and evolutionary biology will change, as will our ideas about natural history. It is therefore uncertain whether Darwin-based evolution will still be taught at the end of the 21st century.

Perhaps one day the Darwinian theory of evolution will be as outdated as Ptolemy's cosmos is today, but it will remain a part of Western cultural history. In my opinion, people of the coming centuries will see in the great Englishman a scientist who has provided new facts and given important food for thought. And the name Darwin will continue to be called with the same respect in the future as that of Aristotle, whose physics has long been disproved.

You can also read about this under "Science" "Darwin" Part 1 - 7.

(1) Der Spiegel, 29/2008, p. 139.
(2) Der Spiegel, 32/2008, p. 110.
(3) GralsWelt special issue 21/2008.