Charles Darwin, natural novelist

From Adam Gopnik’s essay in the New Yorker, now online (via Afarensis),

Darwin’s strategy was one of the greatest successes in the history of rhetoric, so much so that we are scarcely now aware that it was a strategy. His pose of open-mindedness and ostentatiously asserted country virtue made him, in his way, as unassailable as George Washington. The notion persists to this day that Darwin was a circumspect observer of animals, not a confident theorist of life…

Darwin was humble and modest in exactly the way that Inspector Columbo is. He knows from the beginning who the guilty party is, and what the truth is, and would rather let the bad guys hang themselves out of arrogance and overconfidence, while he walks around in his raincoat, scratching his head and saying, “Oh, yeah—just one more thing about that six-thousand-year-old Earth, Reverend Snodgrass . . .” Darwin was a civil and courteous man, but he was also what is now polemically called a Darwinian fundamentalist. He knew that he was right, and that his being right meant that much else people wanted to believe was wrong. Design was just chance plus time, greed not a sin from the Devil but an inheritance from monkeys…

Darwin was a Darwinian fundamentalist. But he was not a Darwinian absolutist.


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