03 April 2009

A brief essay on the general attitude of common folks towards the natural world inspired by a passage in a book by Charles Darwin, Esq.

The following is from Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle (1839). Darwin was in Chile at that point.

My geological examination of the country generally created a good deal of surprise amongst the Chilenos: it was long before they could be convinced that I was not hunting for mines. This was sometimes troublesome: I found the most ready way of explaining my employment, was to ask them how it was that they themselves were not curious concerning earthquakes and volcanos?—why some springs were hot and others cold?—why there were mountains in Chile, and not a hill in La Plata? These bare questions at once satisfied and silenced the greater number; some, however (like a few in England who are a century behindhand), thought that all such inquiries were useless and impious; and that it was quite sufficient that God had thus made the mountains.
It is probably not an exaggeration to proclaim that the general attitude of the common folks towards the natural world hasn't changed much since then. Darwin's comments reminded me of a conversation I had during a yachting trip along the southwestern shores of Turkey about 11 years ago. One day we wanted to explore the hills behind the coast where we were anchored. We asked a young peasant in his late teens who was working at a nearby makeshift restaurant if he knew of any interesting places to visit. His response was "İnsan yapısı mı, Allah yapısı mı?", human-made or God-made? To him, the ruins of ancient cities on hilltops, rather common in those parts of Turkey, were human-made, while everything else, including the limestone cliffs that were full of snails, were "God-made". Obviously, the poor fellow couldn't comprehend that there were objects around him that originated, developed or evolved without any intervention whatsoever from humans or supernatural beings.

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