Biology and philosophy: how our culture shapes our knowledGle
Overall, Darwin faced far less opposition than biologists with similar ideas. Darwin’s key advantage was under- standing his audience. Metaphor and abstraction served as a cautious method of presenting ideas that had the po- tential to challenge so much of the public understanding of the world. Darwin’s presentation was distant enough to not appear radical, but illustrative enough to prove credible. Thanks to the success of this writing, the name Darwin has become nearly synonymous with evolution, despite the many other scientists who contributed to this field. Even modern-day creationists, who take the Bible so literally as to believe it incompatible with the well-supported theory of evolution, still reflect Darwin’s language and refer back to his own examples to in order to denounce it. Despite the common misreading of Charles Darwin as antithetical to religion, Darwin’s writing style was likely shaped by his background in theology and philosophy. Like biology, religion and philosophy attempt to explain the world around us. However, the humanities use narra- tive to approach what science approaches through data. Darwin arrived at On the Origin of Species through both. He discovered evolution through careful observation, and spent years crafting the metaphors that filled his lit - erature. The same patterns that structure countless origin myths permeate On the Origin of Species. Birth, death, and time are characters in their own right. Darwin writes again and again about “The Struggle for Existence”, the topic of all human narratives. Darwin does not just pre- sent facts; he tells a story. The interaction of philosophi- cal narratives and a scientific framework makes Darwin’s theories feel relevant and familiar. “The tree of life” is an especially common motif in Christianity as well as
potential threat to the church, was a risk to Darwin’s reputation within both the public and the scientific communities. Evolution eventually would have been discov - ered even without Darwin, and several other scientists at the time were approaching similar findings. Yet, Darwin is the name we know. On the Origin of Species served as an entry point to evolution. The book was successful because, in addition to supporting his ideas with test- able evidence, he also creates a cast of char- acters that structure his argument like a story. Darwin’s writing does not always flow grace - fully, but it is effective. Rather than arranging ideas technically, he employs metaphors. For example, the “tree of life” illustrates the con- cept of growth and change stemming from a common origin. The book concludes with an image of the “tangled bank”, where a wide range of species interact. These images stuck with Darwin’s audience. The idea that species change over time could have created contro- versy (and certainly does within some groups even today). But at the time, the idea gained credence as a branching of the tree of life.
Science differs from arts and literature, in that the knowledge gathered would exist whether humans studied it or not. Paintings, music, and novels require artists. DNA replication, the suc- cession of ecosystem, and the evolution of a species are automatic processes, more than capable of carrying on without human interfer- ence. All the same, few would argue against the usefulness of biology or chemistry as a field of study. Learning how our world works helps us live better within it. We can learn how to con- serve limited resources, how to cure and treat disease, and how what we eat affects our bod - ies. But research alone does not dictate the path of scientific discovery. The philosophy and culture of a people shape what we know of the world, and how we know it. Evolution, a process as old as life itself, truly broke into the public awareness in 1859, with Charles Darwin’s book, On The Origin of Spe- cies. The concept of a species changing over time had been introduced before this, but never with widespread acceptance. Presenting such new ideas, especially ones that could pose a
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