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Here’s hoping… for Charles Darwin’s spirit

Of course, Charles Darwin can’t come back to life. But somehow I wish his open-minded spirit and dogged intellectual honesty could visit our 2008 political arena where the question of how we humans got our origins will, once again, divide America.

Full disclosure: The editors asked me to write about my greatest wish for next year. This isn’t my greatest wish, given wars raging around the world and many other reasons to worry about my children’s future. But I’ve wanted to write this piece ever since I had a chance last summer to view Darwin’s papers at Cambridge University in England.

Schooled by clerics, Darwin wrestled with faith in an omniscient creator even while he stretched his mental horizons to ponder evidence that mysteries of Earth’s intricate life could be explained by a scientific theory.

“I am in an utterly hopeless muddle,” Darwin wrote to his friend Asa Gray in November, 1860. “I cannot think that the world, as we see it is the result of chance; & yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design.”

That muddle is central to my wish. It isn’t easy to open the mind and think creatively about America 2008, its urgent needs and its role in the world. Such thinking requires the humility to drop partisan defenses and listen to the other side. It demands attention to the details of national policy at a time when the overwhelming preferences are entertainment and shopping.

Darwin did it and came up with a theory that gives a common thread to all life on earth — the lives of Christians and Muslims, Hutus and Tutsis, lowly microbes and astrophysicists.

Maybe this is my greatest wish after all. Maybe Darwin’s spirit even could make a difference in those wars around the world.

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