What Does It Mean?
Cold comfort, perhaps, this unhallowed sacredness. That Darwin loved the world despite his illness, his losses, and all he knew may seem not to have much to do with our own particular conditions, most of us not scientists steeped in the particularities of nature. Scientists often take joy in a world that, as they describe it, may frighten and appall the rest of us. As the distinguished physicists George Charpak (a Nobelist) and Roland Omnès have written, “The universe and its laws evidently arouse strong feelings in researchers committed to their work. They derive great pleasure from it.”1 Darwin clearly did. This pleasure would seem to be singular and specialized, and whatever Darwin suffered when one thinks of the overall conditions of his life, it is difficult to imagine them as the norm for most of us. Certainly, Darwin had relatively little to complain about: a prosperous life that fairly rapidly brought him international fame, a lovely house, a totally dedicated and loving wife, many successful children. Most of us confront the strains of ordinary living and the spiritual emptiness that Weber described and lamented under much less supportive circumstances.
What if we have no income to speak of, no lovely house or dedicated spouse? The enchantment I have been invoking through the example of Darwin does nothing to justify the staggering inequities and disasters that characterize human society and the natural world, nor did I mean to suggest that it would. It would be merely absurd and entirely inhumane to insist that in the midst of poverty, brutality, suffering, or catastrophic natural disasters, like the recent tsunami or the hurricane that wiped out New Orleans, people wake up to the astonishing beauty and diversity of life. The world is a hard place, but it need not be disenchanted; wonder at the natural world does not disappear with