Posts Tagged ‘Darwin’
Happy New Year everyone!
The Xmas edition of New Scientist asks the question of who matters most: Darwin in the 200th annviversary of his birth or the 400th anniversary of Galileo using a telescope?
If we go by sacrifice, Galileo wins by being under house arrest for his convictions based on empirical observations. Darwin had others, like Huxley, to vocalize his findings. Whether Darwin was “agnostic” for personal loss or philosohical science reasons, what is clear is that he had regard for how people used faith. Galileo spoke for himself, vigorously, his battle with papal idiocy not shaking his catholic faith.
While that matters not in terms of the value of their findings, it is a measure of what they had to go through. For those reasons I admire William Tyndale – I may disagree with all theology but his stand on free speech paid the ultimate price, one that paved the way to deciding for myself the truth or otherwise of the bible.
Acceptance of truth would also favour Galileo. We may point out time to get used to the idea, but anyone that claimed the sun went round the earth would be a laughing stock. Claims that evolution is wrong are cloaked as a different point of view – the verification of the theory distorted in a way that, if there was a prime mover, brings discredit on their works and culminates in dishonest inquiry that goes to any lengths to support a conclusion.
The value of humanity, as dust or apes in origin before being human, seems unchanged with either assumption. We are mammals, as Hitchens reminds us, but no less for it due to the modifications that make us as a species stand out. It may mean we are not so much a steward as a part of the animal kingdom. Our abilities mean we have moral responsibilities to behave like one.
The controversy gives Darwin an edge. That and the simplicity of a theory that explains increasing complexity, that has a body of evidence supporting it. It needed more than a telescope to prove, and Darwin devoted much of his life to collecting material to make his findings evidence based.
Rocks flying around, or the mysteries of life itself unfolding? Darwin set up biology on the path that would lead to genetics and to network theory. His thinking has set us on a path of discovery that directly effects us.
Yet both are to be celebrated. For humanity is better off for such men as these to grace us with findings that added to the sum of knowledge and paved the way for empirical observations rather than traditional orthodoxy, and discoveries that are the backbone to understanding what we are.
1. “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.” (Autobiography)
2. “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.” (Letter to John Fordyce, May 7 1879)
3. “I hardly see how religion & science can be kept as distinct as [Edward Pusey] desires… But I most wholly agree… that there is no reason why the disciples of either school should attack each other with bitterness.” (Letter to J. Brodie Innes, November 27 1878)
4. “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” (Letter to John Fordyce, May 7 1879)
5. “I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” (Letter to John Fordyce, May 7 1879)
6. “I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.” (Letter to Frederick McDermott, November 24 1880)
7. [In conversation with the atheist Edward Aveling, 1881] “Why should you be so aggressive? Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind?” (Edward Aveling, The religious views of Charles Darwin, 1883)
8. “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Letter to Graham William, July 3 1881)
9. “My theology is a simple muddle: I cannot look at the Universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent Design.” (Letter to Joseph Hooker, July 12 1870)
10. “I can never make up my mind how far an inward conviction that there must be some Creator or First Cause is really trustworthy evidence.” (Letter to Francis Abbot, September 6 1871)
From The Times.
I first read The Onion in when staying in Washington DC for the Atheist Alliance International Conference last year. A satirical publication, I remember their story on Pokemon being banned from a school because it promoted evolution caused outrage on the Dawkins site because in the UK people did not realise it was not true.
Enjoy this latest article from The Onion – note latest stories are available in the side bar of this blog:
Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain
DAYTON, TN—A steady stream of devoted evolutionists continued to gather in this small Tennessee town today to witness what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.
“I brought my baby to touch the wall, so that the power of Darwin can purify her genetic makeup of undesirable inherited traits,” said Darlene Freiberg, one among a growing crowd assembled here to see the mysterious stain, which appeared last Monday on one side of the Rhea County Courthouse. The building was also the location of the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial” and is widely considered one of Darwinism’s holiest sites. “Forgive me, O Charles, for ever doubting your Divine Evolution. After seeing this miracle of limestone pigmentation with my own eyes, my faith in empirical reasoning will never again be tested.”
Added Freiberg, “Behold the power and glory of the scientific method!”
Since witnesses first reported the unexplained marking—which appears to resemble a 19th-century male figure with a high forehead and large beard—this normally quiet town has become a hotbed of biological zealotry. Thousands of pilgrims from as far away as Berkeley’s paleoanthropology department have flocked to the site to lay wreaths of flowers, light devotional candles, read aloud from Darwin’s works, and otherwise pay homage to the mysterious blue-green stain.
Capitalizing on the influx of empirical believers, street vendors have sprung up across Dayton, selling evolutionary relics and artwork to the thousands of pilgrims waiting to catch a glimpse of the image. Available for sale are everything from small wooden shards alleged to be fragments of the “One True Beagle”—the research vessel on which Darwin made his legendary voyage to the Galapagos Islands—to lecture notes purportedly touched by English evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace.
“I have never felt closer to Darwin’s ideas,” said zoologist Fred Granger, who waited in line for 16 hours to view the stain. “May his name be praised and his theories on natural selection echo in all the halls of naturalistic observation forever.”
Despite the enthusiasm the so-called “Darwin Smudge” has generated among the evolutionary faithful, disagreement remains as to its origin. Some believe the image is actually closer to the visage of Stephen Jay Gould, longtime columnist for Natural History magazine and originator of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, and is therefore proof of rapid cladogenesis. A smaller minority contend it is the face of Carl Sagan, and should be viewed as a warning to those nonbelievers who have not yet seen his hit PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
Still others have attempted to discredit the miracle entirely, claiming that there are several alternate explanations for the appearance of the unexplained discoloration.
“It’s a stain on a wall, and nothing more,” said the Rev. Clement McCoy, a professor at Oral Roberts University and prominent opponent of evolutionary theory. “Anything else is the delusional fantasy of a fanatical evolutionist mindset that sees only what it wishes to see in the hopes of validating a baseless, illogical belief system. I only hope these heretics see the error of their ways before our Most Powerful God smites them all in His vengeance.”
But those who have made the long journey to Dayton remain steadfast in their belief that natural selection—a process by which certain genes are favored over others less conducive to survival—is the one and only creator of life as we know it. This stain, they claim, is the proof they have been waiting for.
“To those who would deny that genetic drift is responsible for a branching evolutionary tree of increasing biodiversity amid changing ecosystems, we say, ‘Look upon the face of Darwin!’” said Jeanette Cosgrove, who, along with members of her microbiology class, has maintained a candlelight vigil at the site for the past 72 hours.
“Over millions of successive generations, a specific subvariant of one species of slime mold adapted to this particular concrete wall, in order to one day form this stain, and thus make manifest this vision of Darwin’s glorious countenance,” Cosgrove said, overcome with emotion.
“It’s a miracle,” she added.
Libby Purves reviewed for “The Times” Dawkins’ first episode on “The Genius of Darwin”. That, and Dawkins’ reply follows. The issue it raises though is whether science ultimately leads to atheism as the only rational choice in the face of the evidence we can assimilate and know anything about.
There are many more pressing issues to contend with; war, disease, hunger. Yet the idea of whether there is a god responsible for everything, if so what plans does this being have, and whether such a being is worth bothering about seems to have a hold on people despite the era of magic and superstition giving way to empirical observation and the scientific method.
Dawkins admits that evolution convinced him that there was no need for a god. His honesty that this personal realisation based on facts of the origin of species has for those that wish to build bridges or at least well codified areas of separation between faith and science roll their eyes. That some people believe that the earth has to be a few thousand years old (Answers in Genesis) and that a species could not over time evolve into a recognisable different one seize, not so much on the facts and what they do reveal, but on that evolution leads to a lack of belief in god. Also, that secularism too leads to a lack of belief in god and so both hand in hand lead to a slide into deprivation and immorality.
When it comes to education children need the tools to analyze the facts, what people are saying, and differentiate between the subjective and the objective. These reasoning skills are essential for children to come to their own realizations about life, the universe and everything. Dawkins was careful not to tell the children not to believe in god. However, what he did do was to explain evolution and what fossils are.
There really are people that literally think there was a talking snake in the Garden of Eden. That god can order genocide as in 1 Samuel 15 against the Amalek (including babies) and get pissed off when the best animals are kept alive but that is alright because by the New Testament god is all loving although the idea of eternal hell as a burning torture gets it’s first airing there. The Church of England allows Christians not to believe in hell – not on pragmatic or theological grounds but by Act of Parliament. The law recognises that just disavowing hell does not stop you being a Christian.
So in the face of these things we may argue that religious indoctrination should be left out of the classroom, and that people should be given the tools to discover the world for themselves. But as those children revealed they were already prejudiced against something they had not yet learned. The reason why we should care about faith and its battle with science? Quite simply because whether overtly or by undertone how war, disease and famine are tackled is effected by those that claim that faith has an impact on issues from overpopulation to sex to just war. We must recognise that people differ in how their religious belief impacts on their politics, philosophy and understanding of the natural world.
For example when I introduced my friend to Dawkins and she mentioned that she read Theology at our university I jokingly mentioned she should have said that she knows the earth is billions of years old. Faith is not a barrier to science and understanding the world. The issue is that some people try to make it a barrier saying that evolution is not compatible with a belief in god – people are using their own dogma to close people to finding out what and how we know things, often resulting to slight of hands which at best are misleading implications of observed events as I discovered at a talk by Ken Ham.
Watching the episode it was clear that Dawkins was opening the kids up to evolution as a scientific fact, only criticising that allowing the faith you happen to be born in stop you investigating what science reveals – not to fear other ideas despite the faith you happen to be born in. That is not about saying it is either god or science. That is about being open to what gets us closer to the truth of how things are.
Richard Dawkins, the naive professor
It’s not a simple choice between God and evolution: none of us can know that there is nothing out there
Firmly I believe and truly that Professor Richard Dawkins is an honest scientist and great communicator. He’s magic on telly: his programmes sending up New Agers were fun, especially when he let a lady “replace his Atlantean cells” by blowing on him. As for his reverence for Darwin and evolutionary theory, I share it. Have done ever since school.
My convent school, to be exact. The chief science-nun, despite her wimple and veil, was dead keen on Darwin. Most educated Christians are. Which is why the first episode of the professor’s Channel 4 series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, had me alternately cheering and cursing. Talking about evolution, he is terrific. But every few minutes he spoils it by announcing that natural selection means there is, categorically, no God. Not needed as wildlife designer – ergo, non-existent.
Professor Dawkins met a class of children, some of them indoctrinated by that crazily literal minority who think the world began 6,000 years ago on a divine drawing board. Instead of explaining natural selection and letting them work out that maybe the Creator works in more mysterious ways than the Genesis myth, he offered them a choice as stark as any bonkers tin-hut preacher from the Quivering Brethren shouting: “Repent or burn!”
Evolution or God – take your choice, kid! The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism. OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists. Some are scientists. They reckon that an omnipotent being capable of giving humans free will is equally capable of setting a cosmic ball rolling – Big Bang, abiogenesis, all that – and letting it proceed through eons of evolution, selection and struggle. One of the oddest aspects of Dawkins’s TV programme, rich in antelope-mauling and gobbly snakes, was his emotional implication that, gee, Nature is too cruel to have been invented by God! A wet, mawkish, bunny-hugging argument.
Darwin shines; evolution is as marvellous as Dawkins says. But it is not fair to use Darwin’s beautifully evolved brain to bang the drum for your private conviction that there is nothing out there. Nobody knows. Not really. Teaching children real science is one thing, making them choose God or evolution is another.
Stupid, too, in a Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. If you offer a choice between science on one hand and faith and tradition on the other, too many people will reject science. A subtle and well-evolved species like us can accept both ammonites and Alleluias. Live with it, Prof.
Richard Dawkins replies to Libby Purves
Professor Richard Dawkins on his television programme about Charles Darwin, evolution and atheism
Yesterday, Libby Purves wrote about Professor Richard Dawkins’ television series about Charles Darwin. Richard Dawkins writes in reply:
Sir, In her article about episode 1 of my television documentary, The Genius of Charles Darwin, Libby Purves says that I offered the children a choice “as stark as any bonkers tin-hut preacher from the Quivering Brethren shouting: ‘Repent or burn!’ Evolution or God — take your choice, kid! The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism” (Opinion, August 7).
That is unjust, to the point of outright mendacity, and an insult to any professional educator. It was the creation-indoctrinated children themselves who made the leap: “Evolution = atheism”. I was scrupulously careful not to make that connection in the presence of the children, although I have made it elsewhere, spelling out the nuanced argument in The God Delusion.
She goes on to say, “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists.” I expect it’s true that the few believers Libby Purves meets over canapés are not creationists. But “most believers”? Most believers in Bradford? The Scottish Highlands? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Arab world? South America? Indeed, North America? Polls suggest that more than 40 per cent of the British population are creationists. For the subset who call themselves believers, the figure must be considerably more than 50 per cent. Please don’t say “most people”, when what you really mean is Islington and Hampstead Garden Suburb.