Darwin Day

This Darwin Day will be celebrated by the GLOBAL community as a toast to the common good of all humanity. We will all want to develop events to Celebrate Darwin, Science and Humanity and come together as one human family in appreciation of verifiable knowledge that has been acquired solely through human curiosity and ingenuity – The International Darwin Day Foundation

Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin. One writer suggested that it should be a holiday for the reality based community and suggested ways in which it could be celebrated. I can’t imagine heading off to the pub and ordering a Double Darwin. It’s not as if it is Father’s Day or some similar occasion.

While I didn’t attend anything there are universities, colleges, science institutes and other sites of knowledge that hold events in honour of the man who did so much to advance science and dispel myth.

I am not a Darwinist in the sense of having any great insight into his ideas. I have only read him fleetingly. His major work The Origin Of Species is in the house and there is a biography of him somewhere in one of the bookshelves. I just have never made it around to reading them. But I don’t doubt for a minute that we humans are the product of evolution rather than a magical act of special creation.

Richard Dawkins describes Darwin as the originator of the single most important idea in intellectual history: natural selection. I don’t know about that but natural selection seems an eminently plausible way of explaining the evolution of life on earth: slow incremental changes brought about under the pressure to survive. Talking snakes in the Garden of Eden just don’t cut the mustard in terms of posing a plausible alternative. The creationists of the Intelligent Design movement fare no better than the snakes of Eden in their thinly veiled efforts to disguise religion and tart up theology as science. Dawkins many years ago wrote a great introduction to evolutionary thought called The Blind Watchmaker which is still worth a read.

It is not only secularists that celebrate Darwin. Apparently many churches in America also honour his work, knowing that the biblical account of our origins is for the fairies. It is estimated that around 97% of scientists agree that human beings have been the product of evolution over time.  How the other 3% manage to get described as scientists remains a source of puzzlement. I suspect they got their degrees from the same university that Ian Paisley got his doctor of divinity degree.

Science is important. Whatever about its flaws it is evidence based and is by far the most reliable form of human knowledge that we have. I love it when my kids talk about the big bang and how life evolved. The notion that somebody is above the clouds pulling the strings just doesn’t wash with them. They have more interest in the topic than I had when I was their age. I want them to know about the real world, and Darwin has done much to bring understanding of that to the public arena and into schools.

Yet it is clear from a brief glance at the Facebook page of Eugenie Scott that serious efforts are being made to subvert science in the US and have religion taught in the science class as an alternative explanation of human origins. It is on a par with placing astrology and astronomy on the same intellectual plateau. I read on Alternet that in response to the Indiana Senate having passed a creationist bill a local paper warned: ‘Hoosier public school students soon may be taught life was created by God, Allah, Brahma,Vishnu, Shiva, the human mind and/or Xenu, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy.’ Bonkers as it seems there are some parents who want this for their children.

Some people like the Darwinist Michael Ruse oppose a Darwin day, feeling it is more about the politics of the culture wars that plague America rather than the science that Darwin stood for. Yet it is so important that these cultural wars are waged in defence of science against superstition at a time when the forces of superstition want to hobble our most trusted form of knowledge.  If a Darwin day helps keep matters focussed in the public mind then it is no bad thing.


  1. Mackers,
    It always amazes me the lack of respect that scientists have for the creatures they claim we evolved from.
    They argue on the one hand that we are the end result of this evolutionary path.
    Wonder where on the evolutionary path the animals they so needlessly torture actually sit?

  2. Nah Nuala Willie Mc Crea, Beattie, Campbell, morrison!the end result of the evoltionary path!!!! yer havin a giraffe...

  3. Nuala,

    many scientists have put their knowledge to terrible ends. They have produced biological warfare capacity amongst other things. Like most bodies of knowledge it is Janus faced. But for all of that imagine a world without science, where we were guided by myths rather than evidence. As for the subject at hand, the development of life - science is unrivalled in its explanation.

  4. Mackers,
    I would rather be guided by myths than live with the reality of what currently takes place in the name of the survival of the fittest.
    Science has sullied that term and has abused it at every juncture.
    Beginning with unspeakable torture towards animals they then refashioned their quest for knowledge towards negroes, women and whoever and whatever else scientific evidence was asked to find fault with.
    There is a very plausible theory that science will find what it is paid to, whoever pays the piper calls the tune or in many cases the objective myth.

  5. Nuala,

    but why argue for truth if myths are preferable? The notion that science should be abandoned for myths is daunting. Kids could be taught about Adam and Eve about which there is no evidence rather than evolution for which the evidence is overwhelming. Where true that scientists find what they are paid to there are scientific ways of validating or invalidating their conclusions. Myth makers too will find what suits them. How are their findings to be challenged? More myths?

    I want my children taught the best that science has to offer. I don't want them taught myths. I don’t mind them being taught about myths, religious or otherwise as long as no truth status is accorded to them. And I don’t fancy living in an anti-science world where people can refer us to the faith healer and not the hospital.

    Survival of the fittest was used by Social Darwinists to justify terrible inequality and maintain disadvantage. It was an aberration from what Darwin argued. In fact I have even heard Dawkins rubbish it.

  6. The Spanish inquisition didnt do much for religion Nuala, at one time enquiring minds could not look to the skies without the risk of being burnt at the stake, ruling by fear and myth did nothing to eradicate disease and plagues while its beyond question that vile and disgusting things have been carried out in the name of science like Paisley and other despots a lot of those people were elevated to the higher echelons of society,this says more of those in power and those who rule than true seekers of knowledge and fact.science has the power to destroy us all but on the reverse we and that is all the species of life on this planet need science if we are going to survive in the future,

  7. Marty,

    I think that is the thing about science. Human society cannot progress without it whereas it can progress without the myths. If I take my child to the doctor I want a considered medical opinion not somebody saying prayers or shaking sticks. The medical opinion may well be wrong but it has also a good chance of being right. There is no chance of sticks or prayers being right. Nuala is right to flag up the terrors that science has created but without science how limited our understanding would be.

  8. Marty,
    Enquiring minds! Women were much more likely to be trouble from the religious types than enquiring minds.
    In many ways I see science as the flipside of religious you can be treated whatever way the demigods see fit depending on your image and likeness.
    I am not defending religion not by a lot shot. I was just pointing out they are all tarred with the one brush. One dictated perhaps by myth and the other by so called objectivity which does not exist either.
    If my child was sick I would not like to think his getting well was the direct result of needless animal torture.
    Animals are not compatable with us, how they react to tests and medication differs greatly from us.
    Perhaps the greatest proof of this ever was the thaliomide drug, it tested no problem on animals and yet we witnessed the horrific results on humans. This is only one example of the many hundreds of tests that went pear shaped. Yet science begs to differ why? Money and lots of it.
    Prayer and a personal belief in its power harms no-one not even the atheist.

  9. May not harm one Nuala but it doesnt do you any good either hon! I,ll stick with quacks in this one the collars and fairies can remain in the bottom of the garden.

  10. Nuala,

    science is much wider than animal experimentation no matter how distasteful many people find that. If it was a case of choosing my child's health over an animal's I would go for my child. At the same time the notion of torturing animals abhors me. But I eat them.

    Science has found cures for so much whereas myths have found nothing. Science is a much superior field of knowledge than mythology. It can always be tested and challenged. It produces so much of what we know about our world. At the same time we know the disastrous consequences that some science can bring. Nagasaki and Hiroshima for example. But there has been no argument yet that I have seen which shows that humanity would be better off without science.

    Belief in prayer is very harmful if it deludes people into thinking that a medical option should be put aside in favour of it. This is why I feel Jehovah's Witnesses should never be allowed to prevent their children getting blood transfusions. If people want to pray to Zeus or whoever it is a matter for themselves and it should not be prohibited. But it should never interfere with the lives of others. People should be free to believe what they want in every society but they can't be free to impose those beliefs on others. In the US at the minute women are facing a problem of access to birth control facilities because of religious interference. It seems to me that birth control is a woman’s right that no religion can interfere with.
    But in terms of what the Darwin Day article is related to is the power of Darwinism as a science of biology to explain the history of life much better than the bible. And I have yet to see an argument that refutes it. Not that I pretend to be a signed up Darwinist. Far from it.

  11. Marty,

    I think dawkins got it right about prayer. It can be powerful in that it makes people feel better but in terms of what it changes in the external world, it amounts to nothing. Pray all day to win the lotto and it might make you feel better. But it will not increase your chances one iota.

  12. There was once a time when all the people believed in god,and the church ruled this time was called the dark ages.Richard Lederer,,,,give a man a fish and he,ll eat for a day ,teach a man to fish and he,ll eat for a lifetime,give a man religion and he,ll die praying for a fish......

  13. Marty,

    a funny quote but which goes to the heart of prayer. If people derive comfort from it I have no problems with them doing that. It is like somebody drinking whiskey or smoking pot; if it works for them, fine. But they can't make others do it.

  14. Mackers,
    Science has peddled the odd myth, scientific evidence is not always empirical.
    For years science gave credence to myth and conjecture and said precisely what it was paid to say.
    I think Dawkins is wrong in relation to prayer.
    People who have believed they can be cured through another medium prayer perhaps have been cured.
    In reality it probably has more to do with a positive believe that a cure will happen that the intervention of some mystical being but I would never rule it out.
    However, many doctors and scientists have been dumbfounded by the sheer power of this type of belief and it is documented.
    It boils down to false hope versus no hope and I would opt for the former.
    I think in reality almost everyone would choose their child's health over their animals, having said that, in a world where science is supposedly so advanced why do we still have those choices.

  15. Nuala,

    science has done much wrong. That has never been in dispute. But as a general body of knowledge it is unsurpassed in what it has delivered. And its myths can be tested and challenged. A more important concern is the use that science is put to. These are often political decisions in which scientists often acquiesce.

    Nobody in my view can demonstrate that prayer ever cured anything or secured anything that wouldn't have been secured or cured anyway. Positive thinking I can agree with but the notion of divine intervention curing and delivering is just unsustainable and I do rule it out absolutely.

    As I frequently say, the first time someone goes to Lourdes with one leg and comes back with two I will readily reconsider my view on it all.

    For now I am sticking with science despite my limited knowledge of it.