Today there is a great excuse to have a glass of wine and raise a toast: it’s the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. We gays and lesbians, bisexuals and trans owe a lot to Darwin. He arguably did more than anybody in Western history to push aside oppressive Christianity from its central position in most people’s lives.
Before Darwin, almost everybody, including scientists, believed that a god had put people on earth, had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. And that all the creatures and plants that surround us were put here by God to feed and clothe us, give us shelter and give us aesthetic pleasure. Yes, they really did believe that.
Darwin, studying fossils and living finches and tortoises (and domesticated animals and plants), gradually came to realize that species change over long periods of time. He understood that some small changes — mutations — among individual plants and animals were beneficial for survival and so are passed on from generation to generation until it becomes widespread.
And he proved that humans had gradually evolved from simple creatures to what we are today.
You cannot imagine the impact this had on the world. In his great 1858 book, The Origin of Species, Darwin laid it out so profoundly that a critical mass of scientists were convinced almost overnight.
But the implications were massive and went far beyond scientists of the day to reach average people. If we evolved, then God didn’t create Adam and Eve. And God didn’t put the other species here to amuse and sustain us. In which case, maybe other parts of the Old and New Testaments are also wrong. Or maybe they’re all wrong.
Maybe gays and lesbians are not meant to be put to death. Maybe there are other ways of living other than those dictated by the Old Testament.
And thus began a massive opening of minds that changed history. Of course, there were many fights along the way.
As you know, the fight for scientific truth goes on. In British Columbia, for example, some of the school boards in the Fraser Valley refused to teach Evolution in science classes until forced to by an NDP government in 1999 or so. The public school trustees insisted that Genesis Creationism was the literal truth.
This battle continues in the United States, where literal readings of the Bible are enjoying a resurgence and where just under 50 percent of university graduates there express doubt about Evolution. And, of course, the advocates of Intelligent Design are trying to force their re-tread of Creationism into schools across that nation. It’s already in the latest versions of science textbooks — their publishers could no longer withstand the economic boycotts of Creationist school boards.
We realize, of course, that the same people who don’t want to deal with scientific truths tend also to have outdated and bigoted views about gays and lesbians. It was no coincidence 200 years ago, and it’s no coincidence today.
So, please join me today, in raising a glass of wine to Charles Darwin, a man who once wanted to be a country preacher but who, by taking the path of science and really, truly thinking about what he actually observed in the world around him, changed our world. And moved us one giant step closer to our own liberation.