A refutation of Darwinism?
On Loren Eiseley’s “The Star Thrower”
“One cannot pluck a flower without troubling a star”
Loren Eiseley was an anthropologist, archeologist, poet and wonderful writer. I encountered him many years ago when the book that made him famous, The Immense Journey, fell into my hands. It captured my imagination and almost impelled me towards anthropology as a profession. I even took some college courses, but the dryness of most of the literature and the materialistic academic approach of the professors, as well as their assurances that a doctorate was a sine qua non to be able to work in that field, dissuaded me. I forgot about Eiseley for a long time and the book disappeared from my library, either having been loaned to someone who so fell in love with it that they couldn’t part with it, or it got lost in the shuffle of my many moves from place to place, country to country, continent to continent. Now I have his last book before me – The Star Thrower, with an introduction by W. H. Auden – and the man’s genius and message has again captured my mind and heart.
The title of this essay should not give the impression that Eiseley denied evolution; quite the contrary, he was fascinated by it, but he was also dismayed by the Darwinists’ interpretation of its meaning. So the title essay is not a refutation of the theory of evolution, but about the effect Darwin’s theory has had upon the psyche of man.
In 1977, the last year of his life, Loren Eiseley selected and arranged some of his writings and poems for an anthology. A few lines of the title piece, The Star Thrower, were the impulse for my Eureka! Moment: This is the ultimate refutation of Darwinism.
But before we get to that, here’s Loren’s preparatory paragraph:
“‘Tarry thou, till I come again’ – an old legend survives among us of the admonition given by Jesus to the Wandering Jew. The words are applicable to all of us. Deep-hidden in the human psyche there is a similar injunction, no longer having to do with the longevity of the body but, rather, a plea to wait upon some transcendent lesson preparing in the mind itself.”
The story is simple. Loren is walking at dawn on a beach full of flotsam from ships and nature. Many sea creatures are tossed up onto the beach by waves and, when the tide goes out, are no longer able to get back to the water. Scavengers abound, not only seagulls, also human ones. He sees a lone man in the distance who seems to be throwing things into the sea. When he reaches the strange man he sees that he is throwing stranded starfishes back into the sea:
“In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.
‘It’s still alive,’ I ventured.
‘Yes,’ he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sank in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
‘It may live,’ he said, ‘if the offshore pull is strong enough.” He spoke gently, and across his bronze worn face the light still came in subtly altering colors.
‘There are not many [collectors] come this far,” I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. ‘Do you collect?’
‘Only like this,’ he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. ‘And only for the living.’ He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water.
‘The stars,’ he said, ‘throw well. One can help them.’”
“…I turned as I neared a bend in the coast and saw him toss another star, skimming it skillfully far out over the ravening and tumultuous water. For a moment, in the changing light, the sower appeared magnified, as though casting larger stars upon some greater sea. He had, at any rate, the posture of a god.”
At first Eiseley the scientist is ironically skeptical of the eccentric’s practicality: “The star thrower is a man, and death is running more fleet than he along every seabeach in the world.” But the scene and the man remain in his thoughts. He remembers: “’Tarry thou, till I come again’ – and old legend survives among us of the admonition given by Jesus to the Wandering Jew. The words are applicable to all of us. Deep-hidden in the human psyche there is a similar injunction, no longer having to do with the longevity of the body but, rather, a plea to wait upon some transcendent lesson preparing itself in the mind itself.”
But for the mind to recognize the transcendent lesson, an experiential event is required, or at least most helpful. And Eiseley’s event, or one of them, was the star thrower.
Goethe sensed something which the Victorian biologists refused to see: the war between form and formlessness, chaos and antichaos – “the dangerous gift from above”, he termed it, “with uneasy foresight.” Darwin saw this as the insatiable war of nature. On the same page of The Origin of Species, he makes two astonishingly contradictory statements: that he could look forward “with some confidence” that man might continue to exist during a future “of appreciable length”; and “…of the species now living very few will transmit progeny to a far distant futurity.”
Darwin saw life as a selfish struggle in which nothing is modified for the good of another species without being directly advantageous to its associated form.
“If, he contended, ‘one part of any single species had been formed for the exclusive good of another, ‘it would annihilate my theory’ … The subject is dark and subtle. Let it suffice to say here that the sign of the dark cave and the club became so firmly fixed in human thinking that in our time it has been invoked as signifying man’s true image in books selling in the hundreds of thousands.”
But Loren Eiseley had seen a single man born of the strands of evolution who effectively annihilated Darwin’s theory. He saw the star thrower – a human being who eccentrically but lovingly acted for the exclusive good of another species. And we know that he is not alone, that there are many more star throwers who are not particularly concerned with starfish but are deeply involved in saving our natural environment and its creatures – other species - from annihilation. Man alone in the world is capable of love and such loving acts. Man alone is capable of an imagination strong enough to envision the spirit and annihilate a theory.
And this is only the title essay, one of thirty plus a few poems. I heartily recommend that you now read W.H. Auden’s introduction to the “The Star Thrower”, and then get the book A.S.A.P.
Frank Thomas Smith