It’s International Darwin Day!

We all know who Darwin was, of course. He was the guy who gave us the theory of evolution, which really, that seems like enough for us secular students to give him props. After all, up until that point, the origin of the human species was generally ascribed to various creation myths. But we secular students have another reason for celebrating Darwin Day.

Darwin was the guy who said:

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficient and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.”

Ichneumonidae are parasitic wasps, of which there are at least 60,000 species, so I’d say Darwin has a point. That seems like a lot of time and attention on a fairly gross form of parasitism – more Alien than influenza. Actually, it’s worse than even Darwin knew – some of those 60 000 wasps are the kind of parasite that controls the mind of its host – something that isn’t actually all that uncommon. We see it in species like ants, snails and mice – and there is even some controversial discussion on whether or not that mouse parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, has a behavioural effect on humans.  In fact, as many as half the species on earth can be defined as parasites.

Seems like a bit much for a kind and loving God, I agree, Darwin.

So today, spare a thought today for the great scientist and thinker, Charles Darwin. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Or, at least, an intellectually fulfilled biologist like me.


Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Neil Degrasse Tyson is my hero. Pretty much anyone who engages me in any sort of “big picture” conversation will eventually get a reference back to him, generally in the form of a YouTube video.

So I was having a conversation about the meaning of life (as one does when one should be working on one’s homework) and, as my brain often defaults to “does Neil Degrasse Tyson have anything worthwhile to say on this topic?” I ended up rewatching one of the newer ones, by Minute Physics.

And thus, a meeting topic was born. Because while I agree with the substance of what he says, there’s a step further I think we need to go. If the universe doesn’t have the stated purpose of making us, and supporting us, and being generally awesomely designed for us, then (it has been argued) there is no meaning in anything we do. I disagree.

So for this week’s meeting, I thought we could talk about creating purpose in life. If there is no external goal to existence – if we create all the terms and definitions – then what matters is up to us.

After all, in a sense, we are the universe.

It might also be vaguely possible that some of you don’t agree with Neil Degrasse Tyson (/clutches pearls), in which case (I suppoooose) we can debate that as well.