Waiting for Gestalt

Waiting for Gestalt

By Gene Wilburn

Gestalt (ge STALT). A word meaning, roughly, when the brain perceives with clarity that the whole of a system is greater than the sum of its parts, and everything clicks into one awareness. One can have a gestalten moment. But can one achieve a gestalten existence?

When I was coming of age intellectually at university in the early to mid 1960s, there were a number of explorations of the mind making the rounds. Existentialism, the sometimes bleak philosophy that arose strongly in Paris after the Nazi occupation at the end of World War II, was alive and well. Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus were still publishing and there was something compelling in the message that you’re responsible for who you become, creating a personal integrity in the face of the meaninglessness and absurdity of the universe. This is, of course, an over simplification.

Along with the primary existential philosophers came “Theatre of the Absurd,” a literary form of existentialism, perhaps best seen in the play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, in which “logical construction and argument give way to irrational and illogical speech and its ultimate conclusion, silence.” [Wikipedia, “Theatre of the Absurd”]

Another prevailing line of thought came from the field of psychology, in the form of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” with “self actualization” at the top of the pyramid. In its wake people were self actualizing all over the place, or at least that’s what they professed. It certainly launched a full-blown pop psychology business and fuelled New-Age-style thinking before “New Age” had even become a word.

A different branch of psychology, from Germany, had earlier in the century introduced Gestalt Theory, a holistic psychology that seemed to imply that if you could attain a gestalt with yourself and your environment, you could flow through it with understanding, and perhaps appreciation, in the way that listening to a symphony is an experience that transcends the individual notes of the musical score.

Looking back on this fifty years later, I think existentialism has held up rather well, especially when augmented with a generous helping of late Roman-style stoicism. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs still has a sound feel to it, though there is a sense that Western society, as a whole, has slipped down the pyramid a bit in this era of anti-enlightenment, anti-science populism.

But the one that still teases my mind is gestalt theory. At the turning of each decade I’ve been waiting for that gestalten moment when everything would click into place and I would reach an understanding — “Because something is happening here / But you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mister Jones?” [Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”]

The problem is, how does one achieve gestalt when everything keeps changing?

The Impact of the 1960s

I emerged from the 1950s like most boys who had reached their teens by the start of the 1960s, interested in cars, playing basketball, grooving to the week’s Top–10 radio, and thinking about going to university after high school. In other words, I was as cookie-cutter naive as one could be.

It was the folk music era which, in my relative isolation, I took to be the music of the Kingston Trio, Limelighters, Chad Mitchell Trio, Burl Ives, and that new group on the radio, Peter Paul and Mary. It was when I heard Joan Baez sing a couple of old ballads like “Barbara Allen” I began to perceive a different kind of folk music that was less slick and more personal. Back then it was just music I liked. Later it would change me.

My intellectual life began when I went to university where I first majored in engineering. It was a tough study, but I was getting by, being moderately good at math and logic. There was, however, a problem. I enjoyed learning folk music more than studying STEM subjects and the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs left me questioning what I was doing. I bought a guitar, learned a fistful of chords, and learned to sing and play the songs that were haunting me.

My taste in folk music had also led me to discover the Weavers, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and a rich vein of black blues singers from Big Bill Broonzy and the Rev. Gary Davis to Mississippi John Hurt. I loved all these voices of the people.

I couldn’t square my study of engineering with my awareness of what was happening. The civil rights movement in the American South highlighted the inappropriate treatment of black people. President Kennedy had been assassinated, then Martin Luther King, then Robert Kennedy. There was a strange, unpopular war being waged in Vietnam.

Things were changing, blowing in the wind, as it were, and the gestalt of the time was changing with it. I switched my major to English and my minor to French, and began studying literature with its plays, novels, poems, and essays. In French classes, we frequently read the existentialists Sartre and Camus. I studied philosophy, social history, and art history. I met and became friends with dozens of like-minded individuals, some male, some female, some straight, some gay, a few who were black or hispanic, all of whom shared a passion for literature, art, philosophy, and music. I had found my people.

Something happens to your mind when you embrace the Humanities — something that comes as a series of epiphanies that raises your consciousness into new realms of thought and feeling resulting from contact with the great writers, poets, playwrights, philosophers, artists, and musicians of all eras. It’s intoxicating and exhilarating and, as Thomas Wolfe proclaimed in the title of his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. You’re changed.

You reach for a higher kind of gestalt, the gestalt of the modestly well-educated. You begin to read the New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Le Monde, The Times (London), The Guardian, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, The Globe and Mail, and university quarterlies. You listen to folk music, cool jazz, classical music, and opera. You see Verdi in the same tradition as Shakespeare, and taste the richness of Old English in Beowulf and the delightful Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer.

It’s a heady experience, all in all, but the question always arises: what are you going to do with all this when you head out into the “real” world?

One Pill Makes You Larger, and One Pill Makes You Small

For one gestalten period it seemed as if the world had changed. The war in Vietnam was vigorously opposed, campus radicalism was on the rise, and hair got longer. The folk music I’d grown up with was woven into a new kind of rock music and the voices of Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young filled the airwaves, along with new bands like the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Frank Zappa.

Alan Watts taught us about Zen, the tarot deck came back into fashion, and decorated VW vans filled with flower children with headbands, victory signs, peace medallions, and bloodshot eyes were common sights.

Among the reading favourites were One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Catch–22, The Vedas and The Upanishads, The Teachings of Don Juan, The I Ching and The Whole Earth Catalog.

Everyone was for “getting back to nature” and many communes were started, mostly ending in failure, and from the broadway musical Hair to massive rock concerts, it was assumed that the Age of Aquarius was upon us. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz described it as an “explosion of consciousness.”

It’s sometimes said that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there. My own memory of the time is patchy, with psychedelically-coloured gaps and an enduring sense of mysticism. But, like many, I didn’t see how it was sustainable. In the words of the Jefferson Airplane, “You are the Crown of Creation / And you have no place to go.”

The Origin of Species

The flower-power era couldn’t last, of course, because someone has to pay the bills. I trimmed my hair, picked up a degree in library science, and took a job. Through sheer good fortune I ended up as Head Librarian at the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto. It was there that I began hanging out with ornithologists, palaeontologists, mammalogists, geologists, mineralogists, ichthyologists, and entomologists, as well as archaeologists. It has shaped my thinking to this day. I had encountered the gestalt of scientific thinking and research.

One of the curators, a palynologist (one who studies modern and ancient pollens) challenged me with the question: “Have you read Darwin’s Origin of Species?” Being a lit major, I hadn’t, so I decided to give it a go.

What surprised me the most was how clear Darwin’s Victorian prose was. I was mesmerized by the concept of “descent with modification” or as it came to be known, “evolution.” Shortly after reading Origin, a new volume by Stephen Jay Gould passed through the library — a collection of essays entitled Ever Since Darwin. I gave this a read and subsequently read every book of essays Gould produced, culled from his monthly column in Natural History.

As a newly-minted amateur naturalist and birder I became hooked on reading science books written for the general public. The 60’s mantra “all is one” took on a philosophically material interpretation when I studied how the universe started, how suns ignited and planets formed, and how, on this one we call Earth, life sparked and evolved, going through great periods of diversity, extinction, more diversity, more extinction, and so on, leading eventually to a group of suddenly sapient simians. As Carl Sagan pointed out, we are made from the remnants of star dust, and every living thing on the planet is related.

My readings in science and science history led me to reaffirm the existentialist theme that life can be heaven or hell, but human beings mean very little in the face of the universe. I shed any last remnants of religion. Materially, we are bodies that live and die, each of us randomly sorted into different situations, different cultures, different countries and it’s these things that shape our sense of who we are.

There are people for whom science is enough. To paraphrase Darwin, there’s a grandeur to this concept of life and its descent with modification through time and its tangled branches and the sudden bursts of evolution that Gould referred to as “punctuated equilibrium.” This is a gestalt that most naturalists come to feel through their observation of life’s many remarkable species.

But is science alone enough to sustain the human spirit, or psyche, that je ne sais quoi that some people call a “soul”? Perhaps, and perhaps not, depending on the individual. What science does, for me, is to throw into relief all the amazing works of mankind, from art, history, philosophy, literature, and music to the increasing technological achievements that accompanied the industrial revolution.

By the time I had begun to assimilate this naturalistic view, information technology was picking up the pace. Television, radio, newspapers and other media shaped us and moulded us in ways that perhaps only Marshall McLuhan could sort out. But that was merely a preface of things to come: the computer revolution.

Bits, Bytes, and Qubits

From the late 70s onward the computer revolution picked up momentum until it reached nearly Biblical proportions: “And in that time a great change came across the land” [my paraphrase]. Computing became personal, portable, and profoundly ubiquitous.

Like others, I joined the revolution, pivoting my career from librarianship to Information Technology (IT). From the earliest whimsical days that included an ad in Byte Magazine for dBase II, entitled “dBASE II vs The Bilge Pump,” to the corporate adoption of personal computers as strategic tools in the workplace, to the computer (aka smartphone) in one’s pocket or purse, a virtual Pandora’s box of consequences was unleashed.

My work involved setting up workstations, email servers, database servers, storage servers, web servers, and firewalls, with a little programming tossed in for spice. I enjoyed decades of computing projects and by the time I retired, in 2006, the industry had progressed from 8-bit personal computers such as the Apple II, to 64-bit powerhouses running Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, and a few dozen lesser-known operating systems. Smartphones and tablets had become almost a birthright.

Computing begat digital photography, streaming audio and video, automobile electronics, appliance electronics, social networks, and, with lesser success, self-driving cars. I now listen to streaming music, watch streaming videos, and get my news and opinion pages from the Internet.

On another level, machine learning (ML) has grown and penetrated the Internet to such a degree that one can examine a product on Amazon and see ads for it within hours on Facebook. Privacy has suffered. The Internet, invented for the purpose of sharing scientific information, developed a dark side, the extent of which is still being assessed — surveillance, phishing attacks, the hacking of personal information, and possibly enough manipulation to sway elections.

The pace is still swift and the increasingly successful bids to harness Quantum Computing (whose basic unit of information is called a Qubit) will likely bring unforeseen changes. Nothing stands still.

End Game

“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret, is to press play” ~ Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

In my retirement, I’ve once again become a student. I read incessantly, both fiction and nonfiction, I take the occasional online course, and I think, if not profoundly, at least genuinely. It aids thinking to have a philosophical framework to compare one’s thoughts to, and I continue to find the challenge of existentialism worthwhile for this. It’s an honest philosophy, derived from the human spirit looking at an irrational and uncaring, absurd, universe and deciding to carve out a personal meaning for being human. It’s a difficult challenge (never underestimate existential angst) but it’s more open and honest than clinging to a derived set of values, liberal or conservative, from those around us.

I’m beginning to understand why Camus used the story of Sisyphus to highlight the challenge. In the Greek myth, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a huge boulder to the top of a hill. Every time he reached the top, the boulder would roll back to the bottom and he was required to repeat the procedure, for eternity. “Camus claims that when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. With a nod to the similarly cursed Greek hero Oedipus, Camus concludes that ‘all is well,’ indeed, that ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy.’” [Wikipedia, “The Myth of Sisyphus”]

It would be neat and tidy, at this final stage of my life, to wrap up my thoughts with a pretty bow attached, but I’m unable to do so. There have always been random elements in our story that change the story itself: a colliding meteor, a world war, an economic depression, climate change, the overthrowing of the monarchy and aristocracy, the re-establishment of a wealthy set of plutocrats, the place you were born, the family you emerged from, the schools you attended, the number of freedoms, or lack thereof, of the prevailing government, and, not least, who you fall in love with. It is difficult to piece all this together into a holistic understanding. I am, in my final years, still waiting — waiting for gestalt.


More Trouble for Darwin


When Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he suspected it would cause a storm of protest and indignation from religious quarters. He was right. Evolutionary studies, along with the new geological studies of the 19th century, posited the first awareness of “deep time,” as Stephen Jay Gould would later call it. It hypothesized that the earth was older, incredibly older, than had been previously thought. The evidence, corroborated by scientists then and since, has supported the hypothesis and shown that The Bible of the Christian church isn’t a reliable guide to the history of the planet.

Worse, from a Victorian point of view, was the evidence that man, along with the great apes, had descended from a common ancestor, through a long process of natural selection. One measured in millions of years for our branch alone.

Darwin had a hard time of it publicly and was lampooned in the newspapers of the day. But, continued studies through the next 150 years plus a new understanding of genetics, has shown that, with minor exceptions, Darwin got it right. For this he is justly honored for being one of the great figures of science.

Among scientists of natural history, the theory of evolution fits the facts, full stop. Nothing scientific has ever been put forward to challenge this point of view, and the so-called “gaps” put forward by those who don’t want to believe the facts, have been closed one by one as more discoveries have been unearthed. The fossil record and the genetic record are both consistent with evolution having taken place in the deep time of the planet Earth. To most scientifically literate people, the theory of evolution is as solid as the theory of gravity.

But there are still those who resist facing the facts. While visiting a cave in Arkansas last spring, I innocently asked our guide how long it took for the magnificent large limestone formation to form. She replied, “It depends on whether you believe in the ‘millions’ theory or the ‘thousands’ theory of the earth. I’m in the ‘thousands’ camp so I’d say a few thousand years.”

The “thousands” theory? This derives from Bishop James Ussher in the 17th century who speculated that the date of the Biblical Creation could be dated by calculating the lifespans of Old Testament patriarchs. Ussher’s conclusion was that the earth began on October 23, 4004 B.C. This totally Biblical calculation has somehow survived into present times, within sects of fundamentalist Christians who believe therefore that the earth is some 6000 or so years old, despite scientific (and rather obvious) evidence to the contrary.

What people choose to believe as an article of faith, rather than reason, is a basic right in the Western world. There are people who believe in the efficacy of quartz crystals and “power spots” as well. The problem begins when beliefs such as these spill out from personal and congregational spaces into public spaces.

You’d think that 150 years of solid evidence for the evolution of life on our planet, including our own evolution into Homo sapiens, would be sufficient reason for having it taught in schools. Yet there are still fundamental Christian lobbyists who want it taught alongside something they call “intelligent design.” Judge John Jones III ruled in the Dover, Pa., case in 2002, that “intelligent design, by its very nature, is a religious belief, not a scientific fact or theory, and therefore should not be taught in schools.” Intelligent Design is a tarted up name for Creationism — an attempt to give it scientific trappings.

But the debate continues. A recent Washington Times article, “On teaching evolution: New year, old fight,” reports that “at least two U.S. states in 2012 will consider bills that downplay the notion man evolved from animals and call for Charles Darwin’s famous theory to be taught as just that – one possible explanation, not the definitive answer.” Alongside Intelligent Design, that is.

Rep. Gary Hopper of New Hampshire is quoted as saying, “I want the problems with current theories to be presented so that kids understand that science doesn’t really have all the answers. They are just guessing.”

Guessing? If this is any indication of how some people think science works, it’s clear that we need more, not less, teaching of science and scientific literacy. Certainly science doesn’t have all the answers. That’s the nature of science. A scientist, like a good detective, follows the evidence, wherever it leads. In fact science is based on challenging the evidence. Whenever a new study emerges, other scientists try to pick it apart. If it withstands the challenges and is replicated by other scientific studies, a consensus forms around the results. If, eventually, evidence points to something entirely different, then previous views are updated and a new consensus is arrived at. In brief, science is self-correcting.

Religious faith does not operate this way. It instead harbors the concept of “immutable” truths. Which is not to say that a scientist can’t be a religious person. It’s just that he or she doesn’t confuse the two “magisteria” as Stephen Jay Gould would call the different mental spaces of science and religion.

That we live in an age of science is indisputable. And the scientific consensus is that Darwin got it right. There are no evidence-based challenges to evolutionary theory, only faith-based ones. To become good, participating citizens of a scientific world, students need to be taught how science works and not have their publicly-funded science studies entangled with the religious beliefs of fundamentalist Christian (or, for that matter, Islamic) faith.

In a modern world, church and state must be kept separate. The teaching of science must be taught in the context of following the evidence, not of comparing it to religious beliefs. To do anything else would be a disservice to the students.

A New Way of Walking


Everybody’s talking ’bout a new way of walking
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy let your mind roll on
— Rooftop Singers, “Walk Right In”

I remember an incident from the late 70s. At the time I was Head Librarian at the Royal Ontario Museum and my main reference and cataloguing duties were with the museum’s science departments. As a result of this, I got first look at most of the new acquisitions, which included Scientific American reprints. One of the reprints was on bipedalism and one of the articles articulated the mechanics of walking upright.

The context of the reprint was on early hominids and what was required for them to walk on two legs. We now think bipedalism was a very early evolutionary development and that some of our ancestors who walked upright were apes with craniums no bigger than a chimp’s. In other words, bipedalism goes a long way back.

What I recall the most, after reading the reprint, was how for the next few days afterward I got stoned on watching people walk. It was if I were witnessing bipedal walking for the first time. I could see the mechanics in action, and the beautiful flow of balance and energy efficiency. (Of course pretty girls made the observation additionally interesting.) It was as if encountering a new idea for the first time, then seeing it applied everywhere.

All this came back to me sharply a few months ago when, getting out of bed in the morning, I’d step on my right foot and gasp at the sudden, sharp pain in the heel. Yikes, what was this? I thought at first I’d bruised it badly somehow, but the heel didn’t, well, heal. It hurt worse and worse as the days went on. So much so I had to grab a cane to walk any distance, and even that was painful.

It turned out I was “blessed” with a common condition called plantar faciitis, in inflammation of the plantar fascia in the feet. For which there is no quick or easy cure. I started walking less and icing my foot at least once a day. It significantly reduced my walking radius which in turn impacted my photography. My doctor told me to be patient, and that I might benefit from custom orthotics.

I did the next best thing. I hobbled to The Running Room where I found generic orthotic arch support inserts. As soon as I tried a pair, the relief was instant. Not a cure, but it made putting weight on my foot somewhat less painful. I bought them, transferred them from shoe to shoe in all the shoes I wore, and continued the ice treatments. My doc also prescribed an anti-inflammatory that helped with the pain.

As a result I began, gradually, to walk more easily. But with a difference. Whereas previously I would hit my heel down hard as I walked, I began to shift my downstride more to the middle of my foot. I didn’t do this consciously — it simply hurt less to walk that way. But it felt awkward, for awhile.

Today as I was walking, relatively pain free, I realized I had a new way of walking. That the small muscles in my legs, ankles, and feet had adjusted to the new stride, and that I was walking very comfortably. Now there are people who posit that walking in shoes is unnatural and that shoes rob us of the natural gait we evolved. This I don’t know the answer to. Perhaps.

All I know is that I felt comfortable, almost floating, and that my mind was rolling on.

Darwin’s Birthday

Google Log for Darwin's Birthday (by StarbuckGuy)

Thank you, Google, for your lovely Darwin’s 200th Birthday logo!

Happy Birthday, Charlie!

Scientific American has posted a Darwin Day Special podcast:

Darwin Day Special: Bicentennial of the Birth of Charles Darwin

In part one of this special Darwin Day podcast, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin on February 12th, Richard Milner performs part of his one-man show about Darwin; Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie and Darwin descendant Matthew Chapman read from the Origin of Species; and Chapman talks about his book 40 Days and 40 Nights, about the Dover Intelligent Design trial, as well as about his efforts to get Presidential candidates to discuss science, a project called ScienceDebate.

If you’re of a singing persuasion, break out the guitar, banjo, autoharp, kazoo, or just plain voice (with a pint of brew to slake the thirst) and belt out The Ballad of Charlie Darwin.

The Ballad of Charlie Darwin

Charles_Darwin_aged_51 (by StarbuckGuy)

In this Year of Darwin, I hope you will help me celebrate his birthday on Thursday, Feb. 12, by singing this little ditty I wrote in 1979 for the ROM’s annual Charles Darwin Birthday Luncheon. The event was an informal brown bag lunch originally held in the Paleobotany Lab and hosted by Curator Dr. John “Jock” McAndrews, the museum’s palynologist. For years thereafter I would lead the lunch meeting in this song on Charlie’s birthday.

The Ballad of Charlie Darwin

A topical ballad to be sung on Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12
Written for the Annual Charles Darwin Luncheon at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Verses: Gene Wilburn (gene@wilburn.ca), 1979
Chorus: Dave Barr (dwbarr1@gmail.com), 2009
Creative Commons 2009
Melody: “The MTA” a la Kingston Trio)


Now this here song is the tale of old Charlie
Darwin of Shrewsbury
How he disappointed his mammy and pappy
When he went to the university

Charlie Darwin was the one to bring out the sun
On eevo-lution to shine
May we never regress to that dark wilderness
Of intel-li-gent design

Well he never was a grade A student
He muddled through a pass degree
Then he packed his Lamarck and set off on a lark
And sailed all out to sea

He sailed into the Galapagos Islands
Saying “What will become of me
These finches don’t conform to the Gideon’s Bible
I picked up in the hotel for free”

He sailed and he sailed and he sketched and he drew
Conclusions from every tree
He said “In a little while I’ll be just like old Lyell
And write me a natural history”

He didn’t know about genes and all them things in betweens
DNA and such chemistry
But when he got to thinkin the ideas started clinkin
He said “Selection’s natural, you see”

He sailed back to England and he married Emma
And the moved to the counteree
He settled down at Down where he worked with a frown
And he raised him a family

He was a quiet man for the rest of his span
As he worked on the family tree
Of the orchid and the barnacle and earthworm and the bee
And the likes of you and me

(last verse slowly)
Now old Charlie’s gone but his spirit it lives on
As we gather in his memory
And when you think you’re poor and recession’s* at the door
Just remember that Evolution’s free

*(or “inflation’s”, depending on the economic climate)


Please feel free to sing this, distribute it, improve on it, change the chorus, anything you like. I’d appreciate a complimentary copy of any changes you make, or even better, an audio file of your singing!

– GW, 2009

Here’s a PDF version of the ballad with suggested guitar chords in the key of C

Note: Chorus by Dave Barr added, 5 Feb 2009. Thank you Dave!

2009: Year of Darwin

HMS_Beagle_by_Conrad_Martens (by StarbuckGuy)

A watercolour by HMS Beagle’s draughtsman, Conrad Martens. Painted during the survey of Tierra del Fuego, it depicts the Beagle being hailed by native Fuegians.

My interest in Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory started when I began reading the late Stephen Jay Gould,  invertebrate palaeontologist and professor at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. His elegant essays, appearing monthly in Natural History, were gathered together on an annual basis and published in book form. My first Gould anthology was Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History, 1992, and perhaps because it was my first, it’s still my favourite.

I was already an amateur naturalist by the time I caught up with Gould’s popular and scientific writings — birding, wildflower identification, and nature photography were (and still are) among my favourite activities. You can’t become a naturalist and not be interested in evolution.

Gould introduced me to some of the more modern interpretations of ways evolution might have occurred, including the theory of punctuated equilibrium Gould co-proposed with his colleague Niles Eldredge. One thing that stood out for me in the discussions of modern evolutionary theory was the singular achievement of Charles Darwin, who provided the fundamental insight of how evolution occurred, without any knowledge of genetics or DNA. The concept of natural selection changed the world view and continues to right into the present. (I’ll leave aside its co-discovery by Alfred Russel Wallace — an interesting topic in itself.)

Eventually I bought a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species. I can’t say I’ve read it — more I’ve read at it, large chunks of it — but never cover to cover. What surprised me was how clear it was. Darwin, as I learned later from reading sections of Voyage of the Beagle, was an excellent writer. And knowing what he was proposing was going to have a profound impact on the Victorian world and beyond, he attempted to make his observations and arguments as logical, easy to follow, and convincing as he could.

The year 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin’s birthday, and sesquicentennial of the publication of The Origin of Species. I found a website called Darwin Year 2009 that is dedicated to the celebration. The site is sponsored by the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS).

Darwin is one of my heroes. I don’t have many, but this quiet, somewhat reclusive man living with his beloved family in Down, had the courage to look directly at the truth of the evidence and the courage to present it to the world, even though he anticipated the furor that would, and did, ensue.

It’s a pity that, after a century and a half of rigorous scientific investigation, religious fundamentalists still fight the teaching of evolution in the schools. Fundamentalists are welcome to their religious beliefs, as long as they keep them out of public policy, but they must not be allowed to introduce those fantasies into the school curricula, trying to disguise them as science.

Bless President Obama for stating “science will be restored to its rightful place.”

I’m tempted to add “Amen!”