Darwin. A Pedagogical Principle in Science and Religion

Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 66 (4):739 - 758 (2010)

Roland Cazalis
Gembloux Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques
There is no doubt that the publication of Origin of Species began a new era in thinking about the origins of mankind. The book found a readership that had been waiting for it for some time and many had already developed their own ideas on the subject. In Darwin's book, many readers recognized their own ideas, or their fears, even if they did not always grasp the onginality of Darwin's proposals. Origin of Species came out amidst a certain fever, provoked by Wallace's letter. The rushed synthesis of the opera magna that Darwin had planned, containing analogies that were not always adequate, with his sequencing of the mechanisms implicated in the generation of species that did not respect their chronological order, certainly did not help the understanding of this new theory. Origin of Species had the effect of Pandora's Box, giving use to different interpretations. Darwinism as a theory of descent by modifications seems simply to indicate that variations are produced in the living world on which natural selection acts. Whereas the latter is presented as a principle of conservation, the principle of creation is variations, without which natural selection remains powerless. Origin of Species is not like one of Newton's laws applying to the evolution of the living world. The reading of this work will thus appear a frustrating experience, if the reader finds answers which are not within the scope of the book. The title promises much but the contents are less generous, in particular on the origin of variations. In addition, Darwin remains rather quiet on certain consequences of his proposals, as if inviting the reader to go further. On the other hand, the work generates a model that helps understanding. Origin of species indeed opens up a new space of understanding which makes it possible for natural history to become an applied science, therefore a space able to generate explanatory mechanisms instead of sticking to descriptions. For that, and beyond, being a naturalist, Darwin must be considered to have put forward a pedagogical principle which stipulates that any space of understanding must be a matrix able to evolve and, in particular, able to assimilate what comes outside in a creative way. Thus, before thinking of interactions between science and religion and more precisely, between science and theology in connection with the theory of evolution, it is critical that the field of understanding of each realm be equipped with an evolutionary capability, an aptitude which should not be compelled. Darwin, for example, invites us to seek the laws which produce and govern the appearance of variations. Biological sciences must thus work to elucidate this question, but with a mind set free from certain orthodox tenets which delay the progress of scientific knowledge. In the same way, and in the framework of religion, the understanding of a religions own body of doctrines is destined to evolve, because the course history does not stop. Thus, it appears that being a true matrix - a quality that each realm grants or does not grant to its understanding space - determines the aptitude to incorporate foreign elements without being poisoned. In this paradigm, the relationship between the realms of science and theology is not basically different from that existing between strains of micro-organisms in a given biotope. This relation can vary from neutrality, safeguarding of territory by antibiotic release, up to various types of symbiosis. Thus, the real or phantasmatic toxicity of a type of Darwinism with regard to the religious approach to the living world history qualifies above all the type of metabolism of each realm
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