Current/Recent Reading List

16 February 2009

Coincidence by Design?

Honestly, I had no idea last week marked a Darwin anniversary of some sort until I saw a note about how Google had changed their homepage design to commemorate the date. It was pure coincidence then, I'm sure (?) that I was at the time delving into a fascinating read: John Carroll's The Wreck of Western Culture .

Carroll, an Australian intellectual, begins with the Renaissance and proceeds to march down the centuries until the 9/11, showing how humanism's first assertions of the great I ("we can become what we will") eventually led to the total unraveling of western culture in all but material aspects. Humanism, he posits, is now dead, and we live in its ruins, awaiting a new chapter. He utilizes brilliant readings of certain paintings, pieces of literature, and pieces of music to narrate his tale, and his heroes are the painter Poussin and the composer Bach, both of whom offered visions of life which still led to cogent answers for the three great questions: where did we come from? what is the meaning of our lives? where do we go when we die? Unfortunately, few others living under humanism's roof could address these questions - which tends to happen when we make ourselves the measure of all things.

Yesterday I read Carroll's chapter on Marx and Darwin, the final twin wreckers of the west. Marx, he points out, was full of rancor and bitterness (he actually never even toured a factory, and lived as a conventional bourgeois). Darwin's story is, to me, even more disconcerting - he wrote with no rancor, but with stereotypical scientific coldness, all along explaining how, in essence, the only god is the god of skulls (ape and human).

Now, whenever I read about the full Darwinian explanation for EVERYTHING (as opposed to the demonstrable portions of his observations), I'll admit a chill runs up my spine. Partially it is the worry that the largescale implications of his theory are correct, and that life is an absurd accident, ending merely in negation of being. Partially, it is the way so many embraced (and continue to embrace) this dead end, quite gleefully.

How to deal with this? How to answer Darwin, for those of us who stare out into his abyss, but recoil from it, not believing we do so in an effort to delude ourselves?

Well, I guarantee I have nothing profound to add, and can only speak for myself, but I find it amazing that all my Darwinian anxiety tends to lift as soon as I find myself in the company of others, working within the context of my relationships with them. Relations with my family, my friends, my students - they all put the lie to the nihilistic worldview, and for a Christian this should not be a stunning revelation. At its core, our faith is a faith in relationship - THE Relationship.

Perhaps it doesn't seem much to stand on, especially among the ruins of western culture. But from relationship comes a knowledge that the intellect, I believe, can only stand in awe of, and must follow. Darwin, when he overstepped his bounds, be damned.

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