Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld III’: Chapter 12, Part II / Chapter 13

In the second half of the twelfth chapter and the thirteenth chapter of Darwin’s Watch, I learn about Darwin’s path to natural selection, and Ponder tires of the arguing, but I DO NOT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld. 

Oh, y’all, a succinct, six-point summary of Darwin’s theory of natural selection! RIGHT THERE. I know this might not seem exciting to you, but I can’t believe how much I needed something like this when I was younger. Over the course of these Science of Discworld books, I’ve gotten the chance to talk openly about the difficulties of growing up in an anti-science community/household, so I hope by now it does make sense that this has a personal meaning to me. This is much more straightforward than how it was explained to me or even taught to me once we got to it in school. But, as I said on video, there are so many other details that were left out of my education on the subject. I had no idea that Darwin put his doubts and limitations into the book itself. (Granted, I don’t even think my schools had a copy of the book to even check out, and I must admit that I never read it. 150,00 words??? Why did I think it was way shorter than that?)

That was an interesting point, though, because I was taught that Darwin was arrogant, that his ideas were haughty and considered condescending. I KNOW THIS IS ABSURD. And look, it’s not like Darwin’s Watch has ignored that there were detractors. I’m curious if we’ll hear about more of them or what sort of things Darwin got wrong that we now understand better. But that’s why the whole anti-science, pro-God mentality can be so damaging. I was basically lied to by people who claimed to know better, who claimed to be authorities on this sort of thing. But no one told me about how much Darwin doubted his work, how long he studied and researched and thought about his ideas (twenty-five years!!!) before committing them to a book, or how much he deeply cared about presenting an argument that held up to scrutiny. 

And this context matters. I think that absolutely informs the Discworld chapter, too, and I’ll get to that in a second. The authors briefly touch on the absurd notion of Christian fundamentalists and their decision to “fight their corner on the weakest of grounds, completely needlessly.” I’m thankful that this book isn’t taking to task the idea of believe in a Creator; that’s a completely separate point, and you can absolutely still believe in evolution and an intelligent god, even if that’s not what these authors believe. But there was no possibility for that growing up in the world I lived in. It seemed unfathomable. Evolution and natural selection was the work of Satan. TRULY. THAT IS AN ACTUAL THING SOMEONE TRIED TO TEACH ME. 

Anyway, let’s go back to that idea of Darwin wanting his argument to hold up to scrutiny. I really do believe it matters that he tried so hard, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to state that Darwin’s ideas survived as long as they did because of all the work he did prior to publishing them. So: I absolutely enjoy when the wizards bicker and go in circles. It’s probably my favorite thing about them. And Ponder’s painful conversation with Archchancellor Ridcully is definitely another example of that. But it’s also an exhibition: Darwin’s ideas are brought forth and challenged. Here, there’s a different context. The work of The Ology is much more in line with Disc experiences, so Ridcully struggles to understand why any of this is important or meaningful. But that means we get stuff like this:

‘Darwin—I mean our Darwin—thought that no god would make so many kinds of barnacle. It’s so wasteful. A perfect being wouldn’t do it, he thought. But the other Darwins, the religious ones, said that was the whole point. They said that just as mankind had to strive for perfection, so must the whole animal kingdom.’

Which might seem ludicrous, but Pratchett isn’t actually far from a train of thought that exists on the Roundworld, you know? Some of the more fundamentalist religions do preach a move towards perfection, that we humans are born broken and flawed and must always strive towards perfection in order to get into heaven. Perfection! Actual perfection! An unattainable ideal!!! And yet it’s something that some people believe not only exists, but that they HAVE achieved. It might seem laughable now, but when I was younger, this was a terrifying prospect to me. 

Anyway: onwards to some science! Or maybe some more history??? I don’t know!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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