Darwin Day

Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Portrait of Charles Darwin, head and shoulders. Half-tone Geschichte der organischen Naturwissenschaften im Neunzeehnten Jahrhundert Franz Carl Muller Published: 1902 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Portrait of Charles Darwin. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Today is the 207th birthday of two great world citizens: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.  The fact that they were born on the same day is one of those fabulous coincidences that mean little but command a lot of attention.

Well, of course it would.  We are evolved to notice patterns - and we're so damn good at it, that we don't know when to stop.  We have had to develop an entire branch of mathematics to check on whether the patterns we notice actually mean anything or not.   Sure, it's all fun and games when the false pattern has you running from a lion that isn't actually there -- but the next thing you know, you're burning women at the stake for witchcraft.  Not cool.

False pattern perception is responsible for stupid brain tricks like pareidolia, and without that, there would be no face on Mars!  What fun would that be?  It's probably also a big  factor (but not the only one) in the enduring popularity of religion, which is as fair a bet to end humanity's brief reign on this planet as nuclear weapons or climate change.

Abe Lincoln worked to put an end to slavery, but he could not foresee Wal-Mart.  Charles Darwin worked to put an end to superstitious fantasy about the origin of our species, but he probably did not foresee the American religious response of LA-LA-LA-LA LA-LA-LA-LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! (q.v.)

This article was updated on May 9, 2023

David F