Charles Darwin and the Mental Midget

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on February 12, 2009

Nothing shakes up the religious fundamentalists in this country more than evolution. That’s why Bible thumpers everywhere may not be feeling very happy today. Atheists, agnostics and persons who believe in reason should be celebrating. It’s Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. The naturalist, biologist and zoologist may be long gone, but his influence in human history has not waned. He’s as controversial today (at least in America) as he was back when he first proposed that humans evolved from chimps whom we now know share 98-99% of our genetic makeup.

Darwin was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His family was wealthy. Both his father and grandfather were doctors. His mother was from the family that founded the famous Wedgwood china company.

Darwin may have wanted to follow in his daddy and grand daddy’s footsteps, but after a brief and unpleasant stint at the University of Edinburgh’s medical school (he was repulsed by the operating procedures of the day, which were often sans anesthesia), he was sent to Cambridge to study theology. It wasn’t a good match. He would later write: “My time was sadly wasted there, and worse than wasted.” It’s a good thing for humanity that he felt that way about theology school.

After graduation, Darwin set sail with the ship, HMS Beagle, spending five years exploring the flora and fauna of many areas of the globe. Seasickness plagued him much of the time, but it didn’t deter him. His findings on that voyage eventually led to the development of his theory of evolution.

Two hundred years later, Charles Darwin is both hero and heretic.

How incredible that with so much evidence in its favor the teaching of evolution in public schools is still generating headlines in this country. In 2005, U.S. District Judge Stephen Jones ruled unconstitutional a disclaimer that Dover, Pennsylvania teachers were being asked to read to students before talking about evolution.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation recently placed a billboard in Dayton, Tennessee and other places, urging viewers to “Praise Darwin, Evolve Beyond Belief.” Dayton was home to the famous 1925 “Monkey Trial” that pitted the American Civil Liberties Union and a teacher who taught evolution against the state of Tennessee.

According to several polls, an alarmingly high number of Americans (50% or more) still do not believe in evolution. More people in our neighboring country to the north concur with Darwin’s findings. What’s wrong with Americans that they prefer the Bible’s unproven and unprovable account to that of a scientist who spent his life painstakingly researching the evidence?

We may be considered a super power when it comes to weapons and might, but when it comes to rationality, America is often a mental midget.

Happy birthday, Charles Darwin!

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which will be published June 1 by City Lights Books. His website:

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