Wednesday, 11 February 2009

faith restored, but i expect normal service to be resumed asap

In a week that has brought us the circus of Jeni Barnett promoting anti-virus quackery on her radio show, shouting down anyone who disagreed with her and then seemingly deleting dissenting comments from her blog (which by the magic of the internet are nevertheless still available if you know where to look) it is nice to have my faith in journalism somewhat restored:

You can tell it's not going to be a run-of-the-mill article from the opening paragraph:

The Daily Telegraph called him "the greatest naturalist of our time, perhaps all time". For the Morning Post he was "the first biologist of his day". The Times saluted the rapid victory of Charles Darwin's great idea and said that "the astonishing revelations of recent research in palaeontology have done still more to turn what 20 years ago was a brilliant speculation into an established and unquestionable truth". The Manchester Guardian said that "few original thinkers have lived to see more completely the triumph of what is essential in their doctrine". The St James's Gazette predicted that England's children would one day be taught to honour Darwin "as the greatest Englishman since Newton".

These responses appeared in print on 21 April 1882, after the news of Darwin's death at his home in Down, Kent.
The author makes the point that the writers of these stories knew the bible and that their readership was mostly devout, many still remembering the original conspiricy on publication of Origin. Neither they nor Darwin knew of the enormous evidence that has amassed since, from the fields of biology, geology and physics, including the understanding of heredity; the discovery and description of DNA; and enormously painstaking work in comparative anatomy.

It is interesting, then, that a similar survey of the media on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, would be unlikely to yeild such praise. It would speak of the 'controversy'. It would make it seem as though the theory was in some doubt.
There can be no such equivocation in the week of a survey which showed that only around half of all Britons accept that Darwin's theory of evolution is either true or probably true. In a democracy, citizens should respect each other's beliefs; and citizens have a right to express their beliefs. But in a democracy, a newspaper has an obligation to what is right. The truth is that Darwin's reasoning has in the last 150 years been supported overwhelmingly by discoveries in biology, geology, medicine and space science. The details will keep scientists arguing for another 200 years, but the big picture has not changed. All life is linked by common ancestry, including human life. The shameful lesson of this 200th anniversary of his birth is that Darwin's contemporaries understood more clearly than many modern Britons.
It is a shameful lesson. We should all be ashamed for the state we've allowed ourselves to get into: creationists for denying what is evidently the truth and the rest of us for letting religion achieve and remain in such a position of power that we admire blind faith, treat delusion with respect and inexorably march away from the truth.

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