Sid Caesar is dead. Unlike a lot of old icons, I actually knew that he was still alive. He was 91. As I get older, I am more and more aware that I’ve died a thousand deaths. When you get into your 90s, are you still the same person? What I’m getting at is the old joke/observation about an ax that has its handle changed and then its head changed. There’s a continuity there, but at the end, it isn’t the same ax. Anyway, Caesar was a funny guy—a bit broad for my tastes, but still funny. It is sad for his family, but the rest of us have all his movies and bad video tape of his shows. He ought to be able to rest in peace; he lived a worthwhile life.
On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born. He was a very impressive man who did a lot of good. I think that it makes perfect sense that he is such a hero to Barack Obama. I tend to see them very similarly. Neither were especially ideological. Lincoln had greatness forced on him by totally unreasonable southerners. Obama had mediocrity forced on him by totally unreasonable southerners. There are a lot of similarities. The kicker is that Lincoln’s secretary was named Obama, and Obama’s secretary was named Kennedy Lincoln. You can’t make this stuff up! Oh, wait, I guess you can.
Other birthdays: German physicist Heinrich Lenz (1804); novelist George Meredith (1828); labor leader John L Lewis (1880); Russian painter Marie Vassilieff (1884); theoretical physicist Julian Schwinger (1918); great film director Franco Zeffirelli (91); quiz show guy Charles Van Doren (88); actor of sorts Joe Don Baker (78); musician Ray Manzarek (1939); musician Michael McDonald (62); Pretty Good Privacy creator Phil Zimmermann (60); comedian Arsenio Hall (58); and actor Christina Ricci (34).
The day, however, belongs to Charles Darwin who was born on this day in 1809. I could write a whole book just bouncing around things that I associate him with. One example: I was working a Church-run computer lab last night. And in the other room a tutorial session was going on. I noticed that one of the tutors was carrying around a book with a title something like, “Evolution is a Myth.” I thought, “Great. And that’s the tutor!” That isn’t to say that one can’t be a perfectly fine tutor of math while holding such a ridiculous belief. But still, it doesn’t bode well.
A big issue with Darwin is that even most people who accept natural selection don’t really understand it. It is a shockingly simple but powerful idea. You know, I tend to be pretty hard on Richard Dawkins around here. But his books on evolution are really great. I highly recommend them. But by far the biggest honest misunderstanding is that somehow, all species are evolving into us. By this theory, alligators are not as evolved as monkeys. But that’s an honest mistake. The biggest deceitful misunderstanding is that we evolved from chimpanzees. By this logic, animals evolve and then some just stop. So animals were evolving into chimps and then some of them stayed that way but the better ones struggled on and became us. Now, I’m not saying that people don’t actually think this, but it is almost always the result of religious disinformation.
One thing that annoys me about Darwin is how many atheists use evolution to argue God doesn’t exist. That is such a pathetic argument. It does, of course, argue against Creationism. But we really need to be clear about what we are doing. I think it is sad that for both atheists and theists alike, evolution has become theological. It isn’t. It’s science. The only way that it is at all theological is in that many theists get their science from religious texts. Beyond that, we should let it rest.
Happy birthday Charles Darwin!