Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Annie

In 1851, Charles Darwin's eldest daughter and treasured child, Annie, died at the age of ten of what is presumed to have been tuberculosis. During the girl's illness, Darwin was at her bedside night and day. Her death gave poignant meaning to his developing notions of the amorality of nature and the struggle of all creatures for survival.

Charles' wife Emma searched for the divine meaning behind Annie's death. A widely-held view among Christians at that time was that death is due to sin -- either the victim's, another person's, or Adam's. Most assuredly Emma did not blame Annie. If she thought Charles' apostasy was implicated, she did not say so. Since God cannot cause evil, she assumed that Annie's death must be meant for good in some mysterious way. Charles did not believe there was any divine purpose behind Annie's death. For him, death was a purely natural process, part of the machinery of life that drove evolution towards "endless forms most beautiful." The only comfort he had at Annie's loss was that during her brief life he had never spoken a harsh word to her.

Humans are animals, Darwin believed, and like all animals we are locked in a struggle for existence, which, left to itself , eliminates the weak. But he also firmly believed that humans can escape the relentless logic of natural selection, and that by exercising our moral conscience and caring lovingly for the sick and weak we lift ourselves above our animal natures.

(Thank you, Judge John Jones, for affirming the constitutional bulwark against the establishment of an American theocracy.)