13 Feb Adam Gopnik

The space between the tiny but heartfelt time of human life and the limitless time of Nature became Darwin’s implicit subject. Religion had always reconciled quick time and deep time by pretending that the one was in some way a prelude to the other – a prelude or a prologue or a trial or a treatment. Artists of the Romantic period, in an increasingly secularized age, thought that through some vague kind of transcendence they could bridge the gap. They couldn’t. Nothing could. The tragedy of life is not that there is no God but that the generations through which it progresses are too tiny to count very much. There isn’t a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, but try telling that to the sparrows. The human challenge that Darwin felt, and that his work still presents, is to see both times truly – not to attempt to humanize deep time, or to dismiss quick time, but to make enough of both without overlooking either.


The hardest Darwinian view of all is still roomy enough for ordinary love to breathe in. Darwin was a Darwinian fundamentalist. But he was not a Darwin absolutist. He knew that what feels to us like soul or spirit 0 the flash of understanding at an infant’s smile or grief at a child’s death – can never be argued away. He thought that head found the secret of life. But he knew that nothing could solve the problems of living. That takes all the time we have.