Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Synopsis

Jesus and Darwin do battle on car bumpers across America. Medallions of fish symbolizing Jesus are answered by ones of amphibians stamped "Darwin," and stickers proclaiming "Jesus Loves You" are countered by "Darwin Loves You." The bumper sticker debate might be trivial and the pronouncement that "Darwin Loves You" may seem merely ironic, but George Levine insists that the message contains an unintended truth. In fact, he argues, we can read it straight. Darwin, Levine shows, saw a world from which his theory had banished transcendence as still lovable and enchanted, and we can see it like that too--if we look at his writings and life in a new way. Although Darwin could find sublimity even in ants or worms, the word "Darwinian" has largely been taken to signify a disenchanted world driven by chance and heartless competition. Countering the pervasive view that the facts of Darwin's world must lead to a disenchanting vision of it, Levine shows that Darwin's ideas and the language of his books offer an alternative form of enchantment, a world rich with meaning and value, and more wonderful and beautiful than ever before. Without minimizing or sentimentalizing the harsh qualities of life governed by natural selection, and without deifying Darwin, Levine makes a moving case for an enchanted secularism--a commitment to the value of the natural world and the human striving to understand it.

Excerpt

Some months ago, my son, knowing a great deal about the full range of my beliefs, sharing most of them, and aware that I was still fascinated by Darwin, gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Darwin Loves You.” My son is given to an irony and comic cynicism that I have always admired and partly feared, and I was a little uneasy about the obvious aggression that would be entailed in putting the sticker on my car. But there were reasons other than the aggressive and massive public push to religiosity that has so marked the early years of the twenty-first century in America that led me to paste the sticker on after all. I had come to realize that in a perhaps comic, at least ironic way, the bumper sticker was implying something true and important about Darwin that had attracted me to him in the first place and that had continued to attract me after twenty years of study.

It was that realization that led me to shift away from my original intentions in writing this book and to develop them in different directions. I had wanted to consider the strange cultural history of Darwin's scientific theory, the fact that it has been used as support for the most extraordinary variety of cultural, political, and ideological projects. Many who have taken opposed ideological and moral positions have considered themselves true Darwinians. Part of my point was (and remains central to the book as I finally have written it) to defend Darwin from some of the popular conceptions of Darwinism, in particular, from the view that his theory intrinsically entails both a radical denial of moral and aesthetic value (because it attempts to explain these phenomena naturalistically) and a simple sanctioning of the worst aspects of dog-eat-dog capitalism.

My overall point was to develop further the argument I have made elsewhere, that scientific and philosophical theories have no intrinsic connection with particular political or social positions. Conceding from the start that any philosophical or scientific idea . . .

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