I have just posted a review of Dr L.R. Croft’s book Darwin and Lady Hope: the Untold Story. I was not convinced by his thesis that Charles Darwin did indeed return to Christianity on his deathbed.
This site is, presumably, currently unavailable in Turkey—to children, at least:
Bianet: Darwin Sites Banned – Survival of the Fittest?
Access is being denied to all internet sites related to evolution as the result of the children profile of the internet filtering system implemented by the Council of Information Technology and Communications (BTK). The latest restriction on internet access caused uproar among internet users.
The “Secure Internet” filtering system was applied on 22 November. Its children profile bans the entire number of websites concerned with the theory of evolution and British naturalist Charles Darwin. This comprises all sites that contain the words “evolution” or “Darwin”.
Come on, chaps. If you really want to join the EU, you’re going to have to stop doing stuff like this!
Freedom of thought will best be promoted by that gradual enlightening of the human understanding which follows the progress of science. I have therefore always avoided writing about religion and have confined myself to science.
Charles Darwin, 1880
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (F. Darwin, Ed.)
(…but see comments below!)
Although Darwin undoubtedly did avoid writing about the thorny, old subject of religion, he did occasionally make passing comment on the subject, such as in this passage from The Voyage of the Beagle:
A strong desire is always felt to ascertain whether any human being has previously visited an unfrequented spot. A bit of wood with a nail in it, is picked up and studied as if it were covered with hieroglyphics. Possessed with this feeling, I was much interested by finding, on a wild part of the coast, a bed made of grass beneath a ledge of rock. Close by it there had been a fire, and the man had used an axe. The fire, bed, and situation showed the dexterity of an Indian; but he could scarcely have been an Indian, for the race is in this part extinct, owing to the Catholic desire of making at one blow Christians and Slaves.
In their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Desmond and Moore claim, with more than a little supporting evidence, that Darwin’s abhorrence of slavery heavily influenced his scientific thinking. It was certainly a subject very close to his heart—which perhaps goes some way to explaining his uncharacteristic dig at religion in the above passage.
I don’t intend to make a habit of posting links to my other website here, but yesterday I wrote a post which might be of interest to science/statistics groupies. In it, I have a bit of a rant about a chart presented on the BBC website, which gives a misleadingly high impression of church membership in the UK and Ireland. The post is entitled Thou shalt not bear false witness.
There is none so blind as those who will not see, but those who are absolutely determined to see something will often do so, even when it’s not there. Psychologists call it confirmation bias, and it manifests itself in almost any situation in which one truly wants to believe something: canals on Mars; the blatant off-sidedness of the goal against your team; the utter adorability of your children; the latest ‘evidence’ in support of your favourite conspiracy theory. If you’re after evidence to bolster your existing beliefs, seek and ye shall almost certainly find!
Of course, the classic example of confirmation bias is the countless sightings of the Virgin Mary in pieces of toast, cappuccino foam, wood grain, and just about every other bizarre location you might care to mention. If such manifestations are indeed the Lord’s work, then He really does move in mysterious ways. In reality, these ‘sightings’ are nothing more than vague, coincidental likenesses blown out of all proportion by people who have a very particular way of looking at the world.
In fairness to those who think they see the Virgin Mary in the stains on their bathroom wallpaper, the human mind is very much programmed to recognise facial features, so it’s hardly surprising that we occasionally see faces when they’re not really there. The British comedian Dave Gorman has an excellent set of photographs of ‘faces’ he has spotted in inanimate objects. There is also a Flickr Grilled Cheese Virgin photo pool.
Even us hoary, old sceptics aren’t immune from recognising human faces where they are clearly not. In my own case, I have never spotted the Virgin Mary—well, OK, there was that one time in that pub in Wales—but, last month in Cambridge, I did clearly discern the face of none other than Charles Darwin in a cluster of brachiopods in the Sedgwick Museum:
What do you mean you don’t see it? And you have the cheek to call yourself a Darwin groupie! The brachiopods do not lie!
It’s the dawn of a new era!
It was like something out of The Blues Brothers (my all-time favourite film, incidentally). The London Natural History Museum yesterday afternoon:
If I’m totally wrong, and there really is someone up there, He’s probably trying to tell us something…
Looks as if God endorses Darwin!
I tend to avoid god-botherer baiting on this website. Life’s too short, and all that. But I was just looking through some old photos, and came across this shot which I hope even the most devoutly deluded of religious fundamentalists will find amusing:
Harry was a former Baptist who felt very disillusioned that Jesus had not returned as foretold in January that year. As soon as I saw him, I knew I had to photograph him. So, for the first (and, so far, only) time in my life, I went up to a complete stranger and asked to take their photograph.
As he posed for the shot, Harry explained how the non-second-coming of Jesus at the turn of the millennium had quite destroyed his faith. He was now preaching the word of Newton and Einstein—two blokes who knew what they were talking about.
“What about Darwin?” I asked.
“Him too!” said Harry.
(I didn’t point out that, to be pedantic, the new millennium wasn’t actually due to start until January 2001.)
Postscript: Is it just my imagination, or does Harry bear an uncanny resemblance to PZ Myers, FCD? We have a right to know.
I caught Richard Dawkins ripping the BBC’s toughest and rudest interviewer apart on Radio 4 this morning. It was great radio. He berrated Jon Humphrys for going too easy on religious interviewees. Towards the end of the three-minute interview, Humphrys (himself an atheist, I believe) clearly realised he didn’t have a leg to stand on. You can listen to the interview in horrible RealPlayer format for the next seven days here.
The interview arose as a result of recent comments made by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the UK’s top Roman Catholic.
Curious factoid: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. I wonder if he knows Kevin Bacon.
I’m with the Vatican on this one:
Four hundred years after it put Galileo on trial for heresy the Vatican is to complete its rehabilitation of the great scientist by erecting a statue of him inside the Vatican walls.
The planned statue is to stand in the Vatican gardens near the apartment in which Galileo was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633 for advocating heliocentrism, the Copernican doctrine that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Nicola Cabibbo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and a nuclear physicist, said: “The Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith.”
Pharyngula says it’s too little, too late, too cheesy, and Civil Commotion describes it as chutzpah (whatever that means), but, to me, it sounds like a genuine attempt to draw a line under the whole Galileo business and acknowledge, straight cough, that they were wrong. If that is indeed the case, kudos to them (whatever that means too).
As it’s Sunday, how about a dollop of biblical literalism?
King James Bible: Genesis I (v. 3–4)
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…
In other words, God created light and only realised after the event that it was good.
So much for ‘Intelligent Design’!