A Tear


From Evolution of household articles, animals etc. according to Darwin’s doctrine, Fr. Schmidt. Via Wellcome Library

From The Threepenny Review:

I remain stuck with the fact that Darwin cannot explain the origin of The Origin of Species. The story of evolution would be very different if the narrator weren’t one of the beings described. The telling of the tale is something above or beyond or next to, but in any case not part of, the world described.

Imagine that the concept of evolution had never seen the light of day, because the process stopped with the chimpanzee. This would mean there was never any flickering light in a Neanderthaler, nor that first bright spark in Australo-pithicus. This is more or less the stage of development one would expect life on other planets to have reached, if we ever came across any. If this light had never been switched on, then the entire incredible process would not be incredible, nor would it be miraculous or monstrous or accidental or beautiful or cruel; it wouldn’t even be nothing. There just wouldn’t be any opinion about it. No one would admire it or try to understand it.

And if, after billions of years, the whole thing had gone up in flames without any human ever having had the chance to say anything about it, then the entire idea of “life on earth” would never have existed. Life would never have begun, and it would never have ended either, because “beginning” and “end” are human concepts we impress on our surroundings in order to lend some coherence to an otherwise random universe. But even “random universe” is a human qualification. It’s enough to make you crazy, this impossibility of saying something that will stand up against our absence, something that would make sense even if we had never arrived on the scene. Are we up against a wall here, or dangling above an abyss? You might almost become religious. Nietzsche fully realized this when he warned us: “The death of God is much more terrifying than you people think.”

Who could have foreseen that the colossal relief we all felt at His interment would gradually turn into a panic when it became clear that He really was no longer around? Because now we think: wasn’t it nice to know that someone had an opinion about us? But we made it up ourselves, that opinion.

“Table Talk”, Bert Keizer, The Threepenny Review