Today is the 200 anniversary of the birth of 2 great men, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln is known for his stance on ending slavery in the United States and Charles Darwin for his development of the theory of the evolution of life. What do these two men have in common? I believe that they both had passionate commitment to upholding and promoting an unpopular truth, Lincoln fought for a humanist truth and Darwin revealed a natural truth, and because of this both were vilified and ridiculed during their lifetime.
Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”. You may know that the phrase “all men are created equal” comes from the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This phrase all men are created equal over time has evolved into the concept that all humans deserved equal treatment under the law.
But, are these truths really self-evident?
If the idea that all humans should be treated equally and fairy is self-evident, (self-evident means obvious), why did we fight the civil war? Why the need for the civil rights movement? Why did we fight for the rights of women to vote and even just last week have to pass a law to promote equal pay for women? and Why do we need diversity day at IMS. Apparently, some truths are not self-evident.
Look at the theory of evolution. Over the last 150 year this theory been proven to be true over and over again by hundreds of experiments and observations. This theory is not a just a hypothesis. It is one huge unifying theory that has been able to make sense of the relationship between all animals and plants with evidence from genetics, embryology, organic chemistry, and fossils. Yet, people who have no real knowledge of the theory or of the underlying science are dead against it.
I think that when it comes to seeing and understanding a truth, previous beliefs get in the way. So, if you as a child are influenced to believe that women, or African Americans, or Jews, or Native Americans are inferior, you may have trouble accepting the idea that “all people are equal” and deserve equal rights. If you believe the creation stories of ancient religious texts are historical truth, you will have trouble accepting the scientific truth of evolution. Don’t get me wrong. I think that religious texts contain great wisdom and teach valuable lessons; however, they are unable to enlighten us about evolution and the real origin of the human animal.
As a teacher, I believe I must teach both scientific and humanistic truths. We cannot let the evidence of the truths that visionaries and scientists have discovered to chance. That is to the chance that people will rediscover these truths on their own. The evidence in support of the theory of evolution is vast, and lessons we should learn from evolution are not easy for us to accept. First, just to understand the theory and its overwhelming evidence, we must have an open mind. If your family, friends, and church all condemn the theory how could you even begin to see this truth? I also believe that we need to teach the effects of hatred and bigotry. For example, by presenting evidence of the holocaust, despite the sheer disgust and pain that it causes just hear about the atrocities of genocide, we will learn about the immense destruction that false beliefs and bad leadership can cause.
The theory of evolution and the evidence from fossils and genetics tell us that Human’s evolved, like all other animals, from simpler creatures. Only 5 million years ago our ancestors were chimpanzee like apes. The implications are clear. We are no better or more entitled that any other animal to dominate the Earth. Some ancient stories suggest that we should multiply our numbers and subdue the Earth and all of it’s creatures for our own gain. Evolution says otherwise. Being no better than any other creature, we need to simplify our lives and rein in our population growth. I am delighted to see the green revolution in progress, but if our commitment to being green is just a fad, we as a species will incur immense suffering. I believe we must continue to improve, and develop scientific and humanistic truths so that when we speak of equal treatment under the law we include all living beings on Earth.