Darwin as Philosopher: Puya Gerami

Third Place — High School Essay Contest

Puya was awarded a $500 cash scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Founda­tion for his third-place entry.

By Puya Gerami

The ideal thinker is the revolutionary: revolutionary in its most basic sense, as an iconoclast who seeks transformation, a philosopher who examines the conditions of our world in pursuit of rational truth.

The history of Western thought has rightly been this sort of endeavor—the progressive liberation of the individual from the ideological fetters that reduce humankind to immobility. The humanist project embodied in the unforgettable thinkers of the past few hundred years has been the precise effort to scientifically historicize our species. This process is governed not by any external force but by the laws of science and the powerful interactions that are catalyzed by the will of human discovery.

Charles Darwin is an exemplary case of the scientist as revolutionary, and this designation is twofold: Darwin not only effectively altered the very foundations of Western thought, but he also proposed an ingenious perspective of our scientific past, one focused on evolutionary flux. Darwin’s greatest achievement is that he freed the history of all species from the fixed domain of rigid stasis. Darwin proved that we live in a world of perpetual change that is propelled by particular patterns of active growth and scientific interaction. This is Darwin as philosopher: All species are involved in an intricate framework of constant metamorphosis. He closes The Origin of Species by writing, “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Furthermore, Darwin’s worldview is a profound secularization of science. All individuals are now empowered actors in a world determined not by God or Fate but by the powerful forces of nature and the role of human agency.

However, Darwinian evolution involves considerable political and ideological implications. Most importantly today, Darwin’s theories stand imperiled by the dogmatic movement that fuses religious conservatism with a frightening defense of a flawed status quo. The battleground chosen is the American schools, and there is the danger that education is being corrupted by those who, in the name of traditional belief, wish to discredit Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection, which are overwhelmingly accepted by scientists and contemporary thinkers.

Any discussion of evolution vs. creationism is always presented as a conflict over the underlying concept of America. The United States was established as a secular democracy, and if we are to constantly reaffirm the values of natural rights and basic freedoms, then it is also a political obligation that we remember that our country was conceived as a nation having a deliberate, definitive separation of church and state. This contemporary debate is rooted unnecessarily in the nuances of religious belief. An educated democracy should be steered not by supernatural irrationalism, but by the progressive forces of secularism. In fact, this is itself a form of religious freedom. The United States ought to be a polity that exists not only for the pursuit of happiness but also the pursuit of truth—truth untouched by dogma, truth firmly grounded within the soil of rational inquiry. If we can realize that the history of the United States has been a struggle to establish a secular republic, then the defenders of creationism are helplessly stranded by empty argument.

How can a young American student defend those two bastions of Western thought: secularism and Darwinian evolution? It is a matter of courage and total commitment. Students must educate themselves tirelessly. We must read about the preceding generations who have defended the dream of a secular nation: Paine, Jefferson, Ingersoll, Darrow. It is imperative that students be uncompromising, decisive, and demanding in the wish to keep science class scientific. Additionally, there must be a restless spirit that values the worth of unceasing questions.

However, above all else, I think that students must envision Darwin and his work as a component of a seamless intellectual narrative.

The idea of “thinker as revolutionary” is a powerful concept that must be galvanized today. We must view Darwin as a player within an encompassing philosophy that gives power to a world structured by scientific laws. If evolution vs. creationism is a political issue, then students must organize around a grand political project that defends democracy, protects education, promotes the separation of church and state, and above all else commits to a philosophy that pursues Darwin’s objective—to discover sound truth and to unveil the reality that underlies our very existence. George Orwell wrote, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” By emulating Darwin’s revolutionary pursuit of truth, we may be able to recognize the beauty of evolution and the corrupting nature of religious dogma.

Puya says,”I will be attending Columbia University in New York City as a John Jay Scholar. I will be studying Political Science, and specifically I wish to study political theory. I am interested in understanding the fundamental social and economic forces that determine the way our world works, and I love to read political philosophy and literature.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation