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Happy Birthday Darwin! Evolution and God in the pet world

Posted Feb 19 2009 4:27pm

Share your home with some intelligently designed indoor fauna? Yeah, me too. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand when I explain how their presence constantly gives rise to thoughts of ancient dogs on the range and slinking cats in prehistoric prowl mode. While my feline ferals may be most reminiscent of their animal antecedents, I can even picture my Frenchies’ forbearers snuffling, rat-like, on the plains and lapping water, creek-side.  

Yet for all my scientific leanings, I can’t manage to conjure up romantic thoughts of our early human brethren. It’s an irrational sort of lapse born arguably out of dedication to our Homo sapien history, from misplaced human pride and/or the influence of another extreme...over-romanticizing animals at the expense of our selfish genes. 

***

On this 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, we toast to no one man, really. This celebration is more a moment to contemplate the revolutionary change in how we humans came to understand the natural world as a result of the theories he and his colleagues advanced...with Darwin as the inevitable target of accolades and attacks, alike.

Given our own modern reluctance to find the romance in our monkey cousinry, it’s not shocking that Darwin waited fifteen years to publish his findings. After all, we’ve evolved another 150 years since then and many of us have still to reconcile his science with our religious beliefs. What must it have been like for a British man of nineteenth century religiosity to wrap his head around another Galilean blow to our worldview? 

150 years is a blip in the rhythm of time, we now understand. Yet some may observe an irony in how little humans have changed since then, particularly with respect to religious intransigence when it comes to Darwin’s message. Others may even advance our human lack of progress as a refutation of Darwin’s assertions. And the rest of us on the sidelines watch as each side digs in and hurls invectives at one another. 

***

In the spirit of Darwin’s birthday, I’ll offer a semi-conciliatory framework by which to contemplate the concept of evolution, one not-so-uniquely veterinarian and only obliquely religious:

I’ll ask you to consider yourself the “intelligent designer” of a breed of dog. You may envision an animal with any sort of canine look and function you prefer, with one huge caveat: It must be blessed with extraordinary longevity, tremendous aptitude for positive socialization, orthopedic soundness, cardiovascular perfection, respiratory clarity, integumentary integrity, etc... In short, this will be the healthiest, soundest breed of dogs in the known world. 

You envision the ideal outcome, yet as you progress through phase after phase of pups and their progeny, you begin to recognize one thing...your goal, elusive though it may have been at the outset, becomes increasingly more so as new health issues arise, veterinary medicine advances and your dogs display new behavior patterns that affect their survival. Your goal is loftier now, perfection elusive.

Yet in 50 years you’ve allowed for an exciting, intelligently-designed “evolution” of a new breed of brilliant animals. It’ll never be perfect...as you are not perfect, as your environment is not perfect, as nothing we know is perfect. 

***

Of course, we utilize the scientific underpinnings of Darwin’s Origin of Species when we breed dogs or horses, fruit flies or bacterial colonies. We successfully manipulate molecules using the theory of natural selection to create life-saving drugs and novel therapies. Thanks to Darwin’s ideas, we live better...and so do our wild animal-evoking pets.

For my part, I accept Darwinism and all its fruits. I don’t have to rely on an impressive degree of faith to reconcile my religion with the science I’ve learned and the technology I employ. While I don’t disparage those who do, I do admit to a less-than-tolerant brand of confusion. 

Sure, some may consider my view of God as a hands-off architect either simplistic and self-serving or revisionistic, faithless and ultimately unsatisfying. But what can I say? Can I help it if I see intelligent design behind every sly maneuver and graceful leap of my pets? No. No more than I can help knowing that the Darwin-accepting God I believe in has been revealed to me as a serious animal lover...and a  genius breeder of dogs. 

 

With that in mind, is it any wonder Darwin loved his terriers so?

 

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