The new year brings special cause for celebration, as 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. In an apology posted on the Church of England’s website last fall, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown expressed regret to Darwin for the treatment he’d received from the church and also warned that the struggle to secure the great evolutionary biologist’s reputation isn’t over yet, pointing not only to religious foes but also to “those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.”
Insomuch as humanists’ interests are humanity’s interests, we celebrate Darwin as a humanist of the highest caliber, a man whose curiosity about the origins of humankind and strict scientific approach to supporting his theory of evolution created intellectual chaos and fascination, out of which philosophical naturalism broke stride with religious dogma. But humanists don’t claim Darwin. Rather, Darwin helped claim humanity for us all.
This issue of the Humanist is therefore dedicated to Darwin and his legacy as we examine how humans are alike and how we differ, and what it all means for our success. Dr. Robert Stephens argues that Darwin Day should evolve as a global, unifying celebration. Frederic March, stating that “non-rational instincts have their own Darwinian logic,” examines the evolution of the mind and issues a provocative challenge to view science as myth in order to identify what is truly important for human wellbeing. In his fascinating look at the presently evolving human genome, Kenneth Krause warns: “We should never confuse the social construct with the scientific reality. Denial is the least mature and, certainly, the least progressive response to fear.” Also in this issue, Judge John E. Jones eloquently recalls his landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in 2005 and Hannah Hussey and Fred Edwords discuss the evolution of the crisis in Darfur. “What is civilization, after all,” Edwords asks, “but humanity’s effort to repeal the law of the jungle?”
As we cheer Darwin and the theory of universal common descent, let us also consider civilization’s ascent. Analogically speaking, when arriving at a summit we will often first look down or back to affirm how far we’ve come. Catching our breath, we may then cast our gaze outward to assess where we stand in this elevated terrain and, eventually, look up to determine how much farther we must go. Americans celebrated an arrival on November 4, 2008, in electing Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States. Inarguably, we have evolved from the days of slavery and segregation and it can now be said that we are evolving humanistically in our selection of a non-white, multicultural, self-described son of a secular humanist to the highest office in the land. Hooray for us.
But as a people we also slipped on Election Day, approving bans on same-sex marriage in three states, along with a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and lesbians from becoming adoptive or foster parents. On the same day, North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan took Elizabeth Dole’s Senate seat after the public decried Dole’s accusations that Hagan was godless, or at least fraternized with members of an atheist organization.
Yes, let’s enjoy Obama’s election as the lofty peak it is. And then let’s set our sights on the others–to affording LGBT individuals their human rights and to accepting nonbelievers as having all the potential as their fellow citizens. Look up as in a mirror. And happy New Year to you all.
Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.