Smattering Reflections on Darwin Day

Ahsanul Akbar

Published on Darwin Day (February 12, 2006)

I read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time in my early teens.  I am harking back to a time when chapters on reproduction in my biology textbook were all that took my fancy.  I did not enjoy Professor Hawking's style all that much and the reason was obvious: I did not really concentrate.  Fast forward to my late teens, I picked up the book as part of my recommended text for A Level Physics.  Redolent of all that was astonishing and mysterious, this time I took a lot of interest in Hawking's explanation of the Big Bang theory.  I marveled at his intellect and his way of simplifying complex topics on black holes, theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.  The book did not answer many questions I had bubbling effervescently in my head but it made me think about the vastness of this stupendous thing we call the universe.  It raised the level of my thinking.  I could ignore a lot of pettiness around me, all the small, narrow-mindedness that so often engulfs our thought process.

I went on to study economics at university, learning two fundamental laws.  That for every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist.  While the second law states: they are both wrong.  An unfunny joke to you, if you never read economics but throughout my undergraduate years, I spent time figuring which of the multiple schools of thought stood better.  This anecdote comes handy because on Darwin's theory of Evolution, I bet there are a lot of us out there who would dispute the theory.  This is more complex than economics; to many it entangles the idea of committing blasphemy on religious grounds.  This particular write-up is not about proving whether Darwin's theory is right or wrong.  I shall leave it to the experts: scientists and religious scholars.  However, it is an alternate take on how we perceive the theory of evolution in Bangladesh and how science, in general, can open the windows to progressive thinking.

The irony of the science lessons I had at school, when dealing with evolution, was the fact that they became the most unscientific exercise ever.  Our teacher conveyed evolution to us with an undertone of disbelief and presented with no less enthusiasm than the substitutes hold in a losing match.  Before we could get to grips with the concept, and I am not talking about going into minutia details, we were told to be dismissive.  In hindsight, I like to think my biology teacher took over the role of a religious preacher for those hours.  That was a fine conceit, although some of you would prefer this approach.  We did not start asking ridiculous questions, there were none of the ultra progressive loops or digressions.  At the same time, thrown in the dark end, of course remorselessly, we seemed to have lost the central narrative the theory itself!

In Bangladesh, the bickering legacy of ignorance is exacerbated on us by the poverty of freedom of the mind.  The theory of evolution through natural selection sparked so powerful a jolt of recognition that even today I see museums and universities dedicating sections to Darwin's name.  I wonder if you, like me, wish that you did not remain oblivious to the mammoth world of genetics, DNA, and so on.  The nurturing of the mind is only possible through learning.  The parochial mindset of a certain group in Bangladesh, whose Neanderthal approach to establishing their platform is through bombings, have the potential to be heavily influential.  One way to discourage the next generation from joining a band of schadenfreude muggers is to condemn that path.  For them, it could mean "just a bit of action", as the tendency to break the law is by far the popular choice in Bangladesh.  Therefore, an intelligent alternative would be to give them the knowledge, which in turn would enable them to help themselves with their thought process, aided by scientific analysis and reasoning.  The bland part to this is the fact that we are yet to have a magazine that could act as a bridge between the complex world of science and the average reader. 
Ours is a generation of colossal confusion.  More poignantly, the level could reach cataclysmic heights in no time.  If you do not conform to certain social norms, inevitably you will be reduced to being a philistine, perhaps due to, shall I say, unmitigated circumstances.  Have you wondered how science is bowled over by the tomfoolery that is passed on from the elderly: not to look into a broken mirror, never to help yourself to a single serving of rice, never to jump over another, et al.  The first will bring ill fate, the second will be responsible for drowning me in deep waters and then you shall be doomed to being a dwarf as I leapt over you in our school playground!  And tell you what, if you somehow get to see the sole of my Speedo flip-flop, I am almost certain to have a quarrel with you.  How about this idea for a bestseller a collection of all homegrown beliefs and shall we call it The Origin of Superstitions?

If Hemingway taught me how I can be destroyed but not defeated, if Camus got me in a despair with Sissyphusian absurdity, then the likes of Hawking, Sagan, Dawkins and other science writers I cannot recall at this very moment, challenged me to look beyond the "norms".  Social norms, which are really a moronic euphemism for superstition, and we know they only cripple our thought process.  On this Darwin Day, I urge you, regardless of your personal beliefs, read all you can.  Browse through this site, follow hyperlinks, and even grab hold of a science publication.  What do you have to lose?  In contrary, you might find cure to some of the superstitions you are conditioned to, you might be able to raise the level of your thinking and at the very least, let me promise you: you won't remain an ignorant anti-Darwinian!

Ahsanul Akbar runs a financial management consultancy in Clerkenwell, London Comments to [email protected]