This view of life

Perhaps I should consider editing the text which accompanies the Pairodox Farm logo? Sustainability was certainly the focus of this endeavor at its inception and if one scans contributions to the ongoing Retrospective series it still is, but it would seem that the topics addressed, especially of late, have been disparate to say the least. However tangential a particular photo may be to the intended focus of sustainability I have always tried to show where the two overlap. For example when I posted an image of an abandoned grist mill I contrasted agricultural lives of perhaps one hundred years ago with our own and mused about how it is that our contemporary lifestyles are, in many ways, more complex (and perhaps less sustainable) than the lives of folks who came before us. Having said that let me point out that this current post has nothing to do with the usual subjects which preoccupy this blog. It isn’t even accompanied by a pretty picture. Instead, I wish to talk about three of my favorite quotes from the world of science. Here is the first as it appears in one of Charles Darwin’s personal notebooks …

Allow me to transcribe … Thought (or desires more properly) being hereditary it is difficult to imagine it anything but structure of brain hereditary, analogy points out to this. – love of the deity effect of organization, oh  you materialist! Read Barclay on organization!! Avitism in mental structure a disposition & avitism in corporeal structure are facts full of meaning. – Why is thought being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity a property of matter? It is our arrogance, it our admiration of ourselves. [From p. 166 of Darwin’s C Notebook, 1838]

And, now allow me to distill … Thoughts, consciousness, and our love of God must result from no more than the inherited substrate of the brain. This is as reasonable a postulate as gravity is a property of matter. But why do we not accept it? It is our arrogance and admiration of ourselves.

You may ask why I consider this to be one of my favorite quotes? I admire the ease with which its last two sentences (beginning with Why is thought …) so easily and deftly cut through, and resolve to my satisfaction at least, all of the nonsense surrounding the contentious, and senseless, debate between science and religion which pervades so much of American popular culture.

My second quote appears in a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell, written in October of 1861. The sentence reads … But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything. I have always enjoyed this one because of the way in which it so clearly reveals the human side of Darwin who was every bit as capable of experiencing a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, as are you and I. For me at least the words put a very human face on a man whose legacy has been perhaps the most influential on our views on the proper place and meaning of man (in the generic sense of course) in the cosmos and has, therefore, taken on almost mythical proportion.


Among all quotes, my all-time favorite follows. Interestingly, these few lines (which begin with a phrase which stands alone as famous in its own right, There is grandeur in this view of life …) comprise the very last of Darwin’s famous text On the Origin of species (its full title continues … by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life). Take a read and see what you make of it. You may be interested to know that Darwin’s single use of the word evolved occurs in the very last sentence of the book; and it is the only instance in which he uses it in any form throughout the entire volume. Strange, don’t you think, for a text which is supposed to be all about evolution? Darwin avoided the word because of its vernacular meaning; but perhaps this is a topic for another day? I don’t mean this post to end in a way which you may have been expecting, as perhaps a rant against Creationist views or Intelligent Design or the Theory of Irreducible Complexity. Instead, and although I am a supporter of Darwinian Theory (the word is used here to mean body of knowledge rather than guess or conjecture), I close by telling you of my deep appreciation for the following phrase … with its several powers having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one … because I believe it effectively leaves the door open for something other than a purely materialistic view of history and especially for an explanation of the origins of life itself. I am not a Darwin scholar but I do know that his wife Emma Wedgwood, a Unitarian and an intellectual, was not without influence on her husband. I leave you with my most favorite quote (beginning with There is grandeur …). Enjoy.


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