One of the greatest problems facing evolutionary biology is that many people do not see the economic value of understanding how life came to be as it is. Many sciences suffer from this PR problem, and science in general is typically overlooked in standardized tests and public schools. While we may think of this as a modern problem, it has plagued scientists for centuries, the exploits of the independently wealthy (especially in terms of paleontology) being essential to giving new fields of study adequate investigation. Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adan Beringer, in his infamous 1726 work Lithographiae Wirceburgensis (as translated and printed in The Lying Stones of Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer), appeals to the higher sensibilities of those curious about the natural world;
While I personally would agree with Beringer and Aldo Leopold (who wrote over two centuries later), both of whom argued that the study of nature should not have to be deemed economically advantageous to be warranted, although those who are not inclined to be awestruck by nature will continue to bang their fists against the table, chanting “Progress!”, and thinking little of any “extracurricular” enlightenment that don’t make their bank accounts more pregnant. I firmly believe that this is part of the reason why many conservatives have a problem with evolutionary science; they see it as arrogant scientists jetting off to tropical locales to go bird-watching, the taxpayer footing the bill for the “fruitless” study. They are completely comfortable in all the trappings of their own society, imagination, wonder, and curiousity being deluded and undermined by prime-time TV and fast food that is to addictive and unhealthy that it could be deemed suicidal to zip through the drive-thru for a burger and frieds (Super Sized, of course).
Even if I am wrong about American society as a whole, my writing here reflects my own personal disconnect with modern society. I simply cannot understand why people do not want to know about the world around them, or even their own history. The wonders and horrors of centuries past can teach us much, but most people I have come to know are only concerned about the future; when am I getting paid? when is the new hollywood blockbuster coming out? when can I eat? Lip service is paid to great minds that have gone before, but their works are largely forgotten or mutated; the name “Charles Darwin” is immediately recognizable, but how many could explain his ideas about evolution?
This is all a bit heavy for a Friday, but tomorrow I’ll be walking the 4th floor of the American Museum of Natural History, admiring the inner architecture of animals that invigorate my imagination, and pose far more questions than one lifetime could possibly answer. While my contemporaries might find it more relaxing and enjoyable to escape into trashy novels, multi-million dollar movies, or tabloid gossip, my refuge is a time that I’ll never see, when there were no protagonists or antagonists in the big picture, only nature producing forms both monstrous and beautiful.