The Rise of Creationism

Oddly, until a few years ago I had never even heard of Intelligent Design or Creationism. I put this down to having gone to a good, high quality, school and having as my main circle of friends intelligent and educated people.

I can honestly say that prior to discovering the American madness, I was blissfully unaware that anyone really thought there was any grounds for this to be thought of as sensible, let alone a legitimate scientific topic. I think my first encounters with the madness idea called ID came around the turn of the millennium. How things have changed in the last seven years.

The idea that, in 1999, there was a mainstream awareness of ID / Creationism in the UK is laughable. It was certainly never even alluded to while I was at school – it might have been hinted at in Religious Education classes, but even then it was done with an understanding it wasn’t “real.”I have friends who have gone on to be teachers and university types – who all studied around the end of the 1990s, and they support my recollections that ID/Creationism was virtually unheard of in the UK at that time.

Now, however, things are different.

Reading the BBC Education news draws a frightening picture, with an article titled “Teachers Fear Evolution Lessons.” The BBC piece is well worth reading, and begins:

The teaching of evolution is becoming increasingly difficult in UK schools because of the rise of creationism, a leading scientist is warning.

Head of science at London’s Institute of Education Professor Michael Reiss says some teachers, fearful of entering the debate, avoid the subject totally.

This generates two reactions in me. Sadly for teachers (and my closest friend is a biology teacher), neither cast teachers in a good light.

First off, since when have teachers been “fearful” of entering a debate with their students? What crazy world is this we live in. If a teacher is incapable, or unwilling, to debate with a student who disagrees with what they are saying then they are not teachers. Do teachers want to simply teach robotic children who soak up every single thing they are taught without question or challenge? I honestly hope not.

Secondly, why are teachers allowing these ideas to spread in the first place? It seems teacher-spokespersons (often self appointed I presume) will regularly come up with some news worthy diatribe about how teachers are being prevented from teaching because parents are allowing their kids to be unruly, eat the wrong food, watch too much TV etc. Surely this is really not something the teachers can blame others for. If teachers were doing their job properly, then people would understand how creationism is nonsense and could get on with the task of learning science.

Anyway, going back to my original point, when did creationism become such a big thing in the UK. We were once (as social “scientist” Heather will keep reminding me) a more secular nation than Communist Russia where religion was outlawed. This is now, obviously, consigned to the dust bin of history, but I am curious as to when / why this change took place. Did the internet and Americanisation of our culture cause it? Does the vast amount of Polish immigrants cause it? Does any one know? Read the article and let me know what you think.

[tags]Education, Teachers, Biology, Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, ID, Darwin, Dawkins, Science, Religion, Belief, Madness, Society, Culture, Secular, Christian, UK, Michael Reiss, London’s Institute of Education, Teaching, Educational Standards, Nutcases[/tags]

UK database of all kids

The spread of the database-driven society proceeds apace. Today’s Times reports that

Senior social workers have given warning of the dangers posed by a new government register that will store the details of every child in England from next year.
They fear that the database, containing the address, medical and school details of all under-18s, could be used to harm the children whom it is intended to protect.

Not being a newspaper writer or a member of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, I don’t have an interest in claiming that the danger of child-abusers getting details is the biggest problem here. (After all, children have most to fear from people they know. ) But still, they have a point. Any database that has an estimated 33,000 users is going to be leaky as a broken sieve.

The database, which goes live next year, is to contain details of every one of the 11 million children in the country, listing their name, address and gender, as well as contact details for their GP, school and parents and other carers. The record will also include contacts with hospital consultants and other professionals, and could show whether the child has been the subject of a formal assessment on whether he or she needs extra help.

Every child in the country it says. So you have to love this bit:

….. information about the children of celebrities and politicians is likely to be excluded from the system.

New enemy of reason?

Melanie Phillips discusses Dawkin’s new series in the Daily Mail, today. She starts by agreeing with Dawkins about New Age woo, but, then, oddly argues that this has become popular because reason-based Christian faith (no, really) has declined. The title:

Arrogance, dogma and why science – not faith – is the new enemy of reason

If you’ve ever read the G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown books, this was a constant theme. Ironic, when the voice of reason was a fictional Catholic priest invented by an extreme right-winger. Bizarre when the voice of reason is a Daily Mail columnist.

Echoing my thoughts about where she got the idea from, Mel P refers to Father Brown:

It was GK Chesterton who famously quipped that “when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.” So it has proved. But how did it happen?

So, her argument here is believe in the biggest myth so you don’t believe in the little myths, like aromatherapy? In that case, so far, the little myths have much less blood on their hands. So, in soem ways, New Age nonsense might be a slight improvement – if equally as absurd and even more self-obsessed than traditional religions.

No, as it turns out, for Melanie Phillips, it’s non-believers who are irrational.

The big mistake is to see religion and reason as polar opposites. They are not. In fact, reason is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition

Ranting about Dawkin’s opposition to belief in miracles leads her down some wierd logically inconsistent alleyways.

E.g. The Judeo-Christian churches are based on truth. However, the Biblical miracles are just metaphor or misunderstanding…. Oh, so not actually truth, as such, then?

The culmination seems to be that science can’t tell us anything because it leads to “scientism” a dubious “ism” that may have been invented for the purpses of the column.

The most conspicuous example of this is provided by Dawkins himself, who breaks the rules of scientific evidence by seeking to claim that Darwin’s theory of evolution – which sought to explain how complex organisms evolved through random natural selection – also accounts for the origin of life itself.

OK, my level of science knowledge is rudimentary, at best, but I am pretty certain that the Big Bang doesn’t feature in any consideration of the theory of evolution.

The BBC’s fascinating new Atoms series mentioned last week that Fred Hoyle disliked the Big Bang Theory on the grounds that to him, as an atheist, the idea smacked too much of the Hand of God.

Dare I suggest that Mel P watched the same programme? And understood even less of the physics than I did? So the mention of atheism and Big Bang in the same sentence got them confused in her mind? So she assumed that physicist was approximately equal to biologist? And that Dawkins was somehow involved in promoting the Big Bang theory?

Wait, here’s the punchline. From the flawlessly logical mental processes of Mel P, here comes Intelligent Design, the REAL SCIENCE..

Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, {My intrusive comment= does anyone else get a whiff of CSI dialogue here?} the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research – which have revealed the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life – have thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe.

These findings have given rise to a school of scientists promoting the theory of Intelligent Design, which suggests that some force embodying purpose and foresight lay behind the origin of the universe.

And blimey, those brave truth-seekers are being hounded for their beliefs….

……people such as Prof Dawkins and others have gone to great lengths to stop it being advanced at all, on the grounds that it denies scientific evidence such as the fossil record and is therefore worthless.
Yet distinguished scientists have been hounded and their careers jeopardised for arguing that the fossil record has got a giant hole in it. …

Oh, this magical power of Dawkins to say who gets academic jobs everywhere …. There’s no point in discussing the ins and outs of this stuff in detail. Let me just say “Distinguished scientists stifled for speaking the truth, my arse” and leave it at that.

their scientific argument about the absence of evidence to support the claim that life spontaneously created itself is being stifled – on the totally perverse grounds that this argument does not conform to the rules of science which require evidence{my emphasis} to support a theory.
As a result of such arrogance, the West – the crucible of reason – is turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts.

Irony laid upon irony, to form a pretty solid mattress of irony that even the most sensitive princess could get a good night’s sleep on.

Secular witch-hunts? As opposed to the real witch-hunts that ended up with people dead. And were definitely not secular. Hmm, what’s the opposite of secular?

Dogma? Hmm, if I could be bothered to look in a dictionary, I’m pretty certain it would define dogma as a set of prescribed beliefs that are part of a religion. Religion, please note.

OK, maybe she’s doing the metaphorical thing she talked about. She does say that believers don’t have to actually believe the stuff. They can treat metaphor as truth and it’s still true. But, isn’t that treating a Holy Book as just another work of fiction? Which makes perfect sense to me. Though, I somehow suspect that really isn’t what she wants to say.

All the same, it’s pretty priceless that the metaphors she has to use when she wants to talk about intolerance and blindness and stifling independent thought are all straight from the history of religion?

The War on Science

Over on Random Intelligence there is an excellent video of a Horizon documentary from a while back. For some reason I never found this first time round, so getting to see it here was pretty handy.

Unlike lots of Horizon episodes, this is quite a well put together one which stays true to the science. Well worth watching. Sadly Random Intelligence blocks non-Blogger comments so I was unable to comment there. [tags]Science, Horizon, Evolution, ID, Intelligent Design, Dawkins, Attenborough[/tags]


Media hysteria again, which will inevitably lead to more and more repression, giving Brown a free pass for not undoing any of the civil liberties damage of the past few years.

This country is under more or less blanket surveillance. We are supposed to be a democracy. We are supposed to adhere to values of freedom of expression and movement and so on.

WTF are all these cctv cameras, biometric data collection, interception of comms for if they don’t protect us yet? We all know that any professional criminal or terrorist just regards these things as nuisances that they have to pay to get round.

What about the rest of us? We may have mistakenly thought we could rely on Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and things like that. (If you asking what they were, you probably left school when the History syllabus was made more idiot-friendly. And no, don’t ask me. How much do I know about them.? More or less nothing.)

As the UK abandons centuries of constructing “liberal” political values, as soon as it’s faced with a few determined groups, what will remain that is even worth defending in our way of life?

I’m going through one of those phases where I want to go up to 80 odd year old men and women in the street and apologise.

“I know you were part of the opposition to fascism. I know you helped create the welfare state. I know you went through Blitzes and rationing and so on. But look, sorry, we just can’t be arsed keeping up with that stuff, when we have shopping and reality shows and celebs to worry about.”

The history of all conflict – not just the UK’s history – suggests that, in the end, there is no alternative but to sort out the basic causes. If this doesn’t happen soon, anything recognisably sane about our society will have been put in a straitjacket.

(To borrow Trevor Phillips’ memorable phrase and mess about with it a bit) Why are we sleepwalking into tyranny?

ID proponents are theosophists

In your face, creationists. Here’s some old school stuff about Intelligent Design from Blavatsky net – amazing that Mme Blavatsky can blog from beyond the grave. Pretty well proves the survival of the soul all by itself doesn’t it? 🙂

(It’s also mildly amazing that she somehow managed to get the French form of Mrs into her name. (Like Lord Lucan. Or President Bush. It’s only us lesser folks that have to use our first names.) But I digress.)

Helena Blavatsky, in 1888, was the first person to use the phrase “intelligent design” to convey her understanding of evolution.

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css is the work of the devil

(Not only aiming at two targets with one blog – how economical is that? – but giving it a spurious biblical aura.)

This blog tends to the belief that ID is the personification of evil in (two-alphabetic-character form and in two repellent variants (Intelligent Design and National Identity Card) that we rant about with a pleasingly symmetrical regularity.

But the previous post here mentions, in passing, the differently demonic horrors emanating from its three-alphabetic-character rival for demonic rulership CSS.

We may be forced to form a new anti-css cult, dedicated to blaming all the ills of this world on ranndom initial pairs or triads.

Don’t think its only manifestation on the human plane is just the newly emergent life form CSS, able to resist any human efforts to make it place anything on a blog or webpage where you expect, in a remotely similar way at different resolutions on different browsers.

The cursed initials have meme-wormed their way into the wonderful world of copy protection.The Register said:

Buying a DVD and then copying it for use on your PSP, iPod or laptop could soon become impossible, if the DVD Copy Control Association gets its way…. The association wants to amend the licence underpinning the use of its DVD copy-protection technology, CSS (Content Scrambling System).

(see – the evil letters appear in another context :-))

The amendment would force, say, DVD playback software from displaying ripped content. It would also imply the use of software built into PCs and optical drives to prevent ripping software from saving an unscrambled copy of a disc’s contents for later playback on a device without a DVD drive, such as a PSP or an iPod.

The plan is that the DVD tech will only let you run something while it is physically present in the drive. This is already getting challenged by companies trying to make multiroom home cinemas. However as the Register points out, there is no way that crackers won’t have already got round it. )

Anyone spot in the market for a device manufacturer who takes this stuff into account? From the BBC today, when it refers to a (surprisingly modest) 61% of the population having admitted to crimes from a list of ten:

Presumably, that 61% would be higher still if the list had included a wider range of crimes, such as downloading music and copying software illegally.

Another reason to say NO to ID cards

Now, of late, the Guardian Money’s obsession with demonising “buy to let” landlords has been more than a little annoying. However in Saturday’s paper, the Capital Letters section had a bit which was quite interesting. Capital Letters is a sort of consumer rights thing, where people write in following problems with various companies and Tony Levene sorts things out for them. Very interesting reading most of the time.

Basically, this week, some one wrote in saying that HM Customs and Excise (Now properly known as HM Revenue and Customs) was threatening to take them to court over non-payment of taxes. The person was complaining because they did not owe any tax and they were on the PAYE scheme where tax is deducted from wages at source. The unfortunate correspondent had tried to convince HMRC about this but was unsuccessful. Continue reading

Creationists claim +/or disown Crick

Sparked by a May post and comments on Hells Handmaiden’s always-interesting blog. Hell’s Handmaiden was reasonably challenging the absurdity of Denyse O’Leary’s claim that Francis Crick (one of the people who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, do keep up) would not get tenure today because he propounded the theory that human life was seeded by aliens. This post brought out a pretty incensed series of anti-PC comments from one Wakefield Tolbert. (I admit to being impressed at the Pythonesque surname, fitting so well with my mental picture of the commenter.)

I googled for evidence, with a half-thought out idea that the alien seeding idea was more associated with Fred Hoyle – a former Royal Astromer (thereby giving the lie to the “no honours for eccentric scientists” idea) – and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

Creation Web seems pretty clear that Crick is the enemy:

Long before he ever discovered DNA’s structure, he held strong atheistic views. The news article even reported that Crick’s distaste for ‘religion’ was one of the prime motives that led to his discovery, and also said, ‘The antipathy to religion of the DNA pioneers is long standing. In 1961 Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, when it proposed to build a chapel.’

They then attack him for suggesting at one point that life is seeded through the universe.

Cross-currents go further in that they try to claim Crick for a slightly misguided one of their own:

What he proposed is, of course, Intelligent Design without a Divine designer—essentially putting off the question of Who or what (be that a Designer or spontaneous process) created life structures able to develop the space-travelling aliens….There’s certainly a lot more evidence for the Hand of G-d than there is for visiting space aliens—but none other than Sir Francis Crick was willing to grab for the latter in order to avoid the former.”

Well, no. There isn’t much evidence for either as far as I can see.

Except that Panspermia itself doesn’t exactly require a belief in visiting space ships. It seems a perfectly rational hypothesis as defined by Answers. com

The theory that microorganisms or biochemical compounds from outer space are responsible for originating life on Earth and possibly in other parts of the universe where suitable atmospheric conditions exist.

There are some fundamental issues of logic here.

Firstly, Crick was indulging in scientific speculation, as the discoverers of the double helix did. They had to test that theory and it proved to fit the observations. If they had found out that DNA molecule was connected in the shape of a teapot or a Mobius strip, they’d have changed their views. Crick did in fact come to modify his views on Directed Panspermia.

Secondly, the reliable authority fallacy is rearing its head again. Crick was successful in one area of thought, ergo, everything he says must be equally respected. I bet Francis Crick was probably not a good breakdancer. That is not to say that he couldn’t try a few fancy moves, if he so chose. However, being part of the team that discovered the structure of DNA would not, in itself, reflect on his skill as a break-dancer. He wouldn’t win an MTV B-boy competition just on the basis that he’d published a Nobel-prize-winning paper on molecular structure.

So, why do ID-proponents care about Crick’s speculations on the origins of life? Because they get a bit miffed that any respected scientist (read – an Authority) is an atheist.

Any potential Authority is going to get dragged in to support their arguments – from Einstein (because he spoke using the odd spiritual metaphor) to Chuck Norris (because he was in a film with Bruce Lee once.) So Crick is no exception. Try to get him on-board somehow.

From the Wikipedia entry on Crick and Creationism

It has been suggested by some observers that Crick’s speculation about panspermia, “fits neatly into the intelligent design concept.” Crick’s name was raised in this context in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial over the teaching of intelligent design. However, as a scientist, Crick was concerned with the power of natural processes such as evolution to account for natural phenomena and felt that religiously inspired beliefs are often wrong and cannot be trusted to provide a sound basis for science……In a 1987 case before the Supreme Court, Crick joined a group of other Nobel laureates who advised that, “‘Creation-science’ simply has no place in the public-school science classroom.”

Obviously, if you are trying to claim the advantages from borrowing Authority (e.g. those trying to use Crick to support the Dover School Board) you’re stuck when your Authority opposes you. So you have to deAuthoritise them pretty damn quick.

Evolution Falsified By Genetic Algorithims?

For the interests of people who read this blog sans comments (shame on you), I have “promoted” a short debate taking place in the comments of Heather’s post titled “ID Advocates Never Sleep.” I have done this, largely, because I think it is interesting and one side of the debate shows how a misconception about the applicability of a theory over different domains can lead to all manner of, what I think is, illogical reasoning.

Please feel free to add any comments of your own, either here or on the original post. This is quite long, and it broadly just repeats posts from previously so it is under the fold for those viewing on the blog.

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ID advocates never sleep

According to Matthew Taylor in today’s Guardian:

State schools could teach the theory of intelligent design in science lessons, the Church of England’s new head of education has suggested.

Well, where do you start on this?

In my limited understanding of Intelligent Design, it is not “science”. It cannot be considered a science using any definition that I can recognise. “That’s really complex, so someone must have planned it” doesn’t seem wildly scientific to me.

There was brilliant post on Pharyngula that pointed out that astrology is much more scientific than ID. At least you can falsify astrological predictions. (It always gladdens my heart when “real” scientists show knowledge of epistemology.)

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Pressure point

BBC health pages say that

Ministers have bowed to pressure to allow the creation of human animal hybrid embryos for research

(Phew, that’s a relief, then. For a minute, I was afraid that the UK might fall behind in the global “chimera creation” league.)

Pressure from whom? Some scientists apparently. Even if we add the big pharmaceutical companies to the group “pressuring” the government we are not exactly looking at a huge mass of people.

Genuinely enormous numbers of people have opposed the introduction of ID cards, the Iraq war and other government initiatives. That certainly didn’t count as enough pressure to have any impact on our government’s decisions.

Here’s the plan for any opponents of ID / random wars and so on. Just find out the identity of the half dozen scientists and drug companies that wrought this policy change and get them on your side. Easy

[tags]chimeras, democracy, id, identity-cards, politics, pressure, pressure-groups, society, war, science, BBC, UK, pharmaceutical[/tags]

Too stupid to be real

Well, from the department of the ineducable idiocy, I have found a blog which I don’t for one second think is a legit creationist / theist blog. I refuse to accept that anyone can be as stupid as this person, yet still be able to breathe unaided. Seriously. Still, it has given me a chance to rant about a few topics which have been annoying me lately.

The blog in question is called “Atheist Stooges” and, from that name alone, you just know it is going to be full of juicy idiocy. In this instance, the idiocy is so bizare I can only assume (hope?) that this is a wind up. Can people honestly hold to ideas like this and still function in society?

The blog has an article called “Enter the excavation” which really does hit a new nadir of nonsense. The basic crux of what is a long, wordy and badly written, post is that because you can not pin down a point in time which some human invented Atheism it must be sent by demons. What wonderful logic. There are so many fallacies in the post it would take months to unravel them all. This tends to happen when you take a false premise and try to make conclusions based on it though.

The opening paragraph sets the tone:

Do you know that if you make an endeavor to find out when and by whom atheism was authored you will not be able to find such information from any source? Not even the most “educated” atheists – particularly those associated with the most elite universities throughout the world can truthfully inform you when and by whom atheism originated. They can enlighten you as to who were its main perpetuators in different cultures; but they cannot identify its founder and when it actually originated. Continue reading

ID (the other one) and “Race”

Thanks to Gary McGath for the link to Cato at Liberty on the inclusion of a race question on the proposed US ID card.

Homeland Security has proposed a standard for Real ID barcodes that would include every American’s race or ethnicity in the new “not-a-national-ID” card. ..The article notes that race information on ID cards in the past has been used to facilitate genocide. This is unlikely to happen in the USA….Homeland Security and the Bush administration howl that this tyrannical measure is necessary to keep us from being blown up by terrorists; the use of race registration to “fight terrorism” gives an idea of what they’re really after. (from Mcgath’s blog)

Excellent points.

To reinforce this point, you can’t assume that genocide is unlikely anywhere. Didn’t Rosa Parks’ refusal to abide by the segregation rules on American buses occur less than 50 years ago? So apartheid was normal, in the home of the free, less than 50 years ago. (Good job, there is no racism in the US, today, then….)

So, everyone in the USA is to carry round electronic information about their “race”, blindly trusting that this will never disadvantage them? How about our quaint little old UK electronic ID cards? Don’t tell me we’re going to miss out on this great leap forward in race relations.

How are they going to classify race? As this blog is getting bored with pointing out – there is no such thing.

So are people going to make judgements on their own hair colour/skin tone/eye colour/ body shape? American black and hispanic and asian white and whatever people are black or white according to arcane cultural rules that wouldn’t apply in the same way elsewhere. Who’s going to set these rules for the cards?

Maybe they’ll do it on the religion into which they were born – so it can identify Muslims, as that seems to be the point of the exercise? Can even American governments see Muslims as a race? What about when Seamus O’Sullivan decides to convert and becomes Ali Mohammed? Or Mohammed Baddawi deides to become an atheist?

Taking an invented classification (race) and coding it into an identifying tag, for the benefit of the government, actually goes one step beyond the Third Reich, in terms of accepting pseudo-scientific racism and applying it to human populations.

I’m not saying the consequences will be the same, but the potential is so inherent in the process, it seems about as safe as giving every American the right to bear their own nuke.

Dumbski and Dumberski

Biology was pretty well my worst subject when I was at school. (Well, if you don’t count sewing. Clearly, nobody does.)

We had a double lesson that involved almost 2 hours of slicing up dead things that reeked of formaldehyde. I was a child for whom the word “all-consuming” could have been coined. (At 11, I could eat at a tenth grade level, as they almost say in the Simpsons.)

But on those mornings, I would be gagging on the smell through my lunch break and couldn’t face eating anything. The formaldehyde, the dissection and the general air of a necromancer’s den (with jars of pickled foetuses and entrails) that pervaded the biology lab combined to act as aversion therapy. I certainly paid zero attention to the content of the lessons and my diagram of the circulation of the blood was in no way distinguishable from my cross-section of an earthworm’s diigestive tract.

However, deepest apologies to my biology teachers, because I do seem to have grasped one crucial point about evolution. (Or thanks to an illustrated library book about evolution, read when I was 10, which has strangely stuck in my mind across the decades, largely thanks to the fascinating series of artist’s impressions of cats developing in the womb.)

The point about evolution is the survival of the organisms that are best fitted to their environment. My moral compass is obviously set differently to the creationists’ but I’m buggared if I can see where there is a value judgement or any reference to morality here. We can see this happening all around us. Cities get built and expand into farmland and wild countryide and those creatures that can live alongside humans (rats, pigeons, cat fleas, houseflies) all do really well. Any creatures that live in scrub or farmland or mountains die out.

The moral issue here is trying to minimise the impact we have on the world – in our own self interest (FeaturelessVoid help us, if we find ourselves having to live on a diet of rats and fleas and marestail.)

The moral issue is clearly not that “fitter” means better or even more fecund (as in the masterly levels of logical absurdity assumed by the likes of the much-loved Dumbski, very well discussed by TW in his last post) It means suited to the environment.

(Just like us, really. Our bodies evolved to survive pretty well before the invention of agriculture. They’ve adapted well to a few thousand years of agriculture, although that’s just a blink of the planet’s eye. We are not very well adapted physically to the environments we are creating for oursleves in advanced industrialisation. For instance, we are straining our bones and tendons through actions like sitting at desks and in mrechanical forms of transport for most of our days; our mechanisms for storing food on our bodies to survive shortages are biting a lot of us in the non-metaphysical physical arse as we store more and more fat.

However, our most advanced adaptation tool – our monstrous brain, with its capacities for language and reasoning and creating things – lets us keep adjusting our environment, so we are still well ahead. The luckiest of us have medicine and enough food to live a lot longer than people did a couple of centuries ago.)

It would take just one major environmental change – a nuclear war, a global plague or a drastic change in our climate – and no matter how numerous our species is now, we’d no longer be “fit.” Our species would be extinct.

Dumbski’s potato famine topic is a good example. The Irish were indeed more prolific breeders, partly because it seems to have long been a Catholic imperative and partly because the potato could feed large families without using a lot of land. (They generally had tiny farms, as a result of the policies of Cromwell and his successors, who had set up Irish inheritance laws in such a way as to break the power base of Catholic leaders. See, I was a fair bit better at History than Biology.) A couple of years of failure of the potato crop and the Irish were dying in their millions.

If the theory of evolution can be applied to the Irsish potato famine – and this attempt to make a match is pushing the argument to the kerbside of insanity – it shows that fecundity and adapting to one environment doesn’t ensure “fitness” in the biological sense. One potato blight organism and the environment suddenly isn’t the same. Add in a few cholera epidemics. The survivors then become those with the capacity to resist starvation over years as well as to be resistant to cholera. Plus the financial and physical means and knowledge to be able escape to somewhere without a famine. A pretty tall order, but the genetic line of those without all these attributes has gone.

There was certainly a massive social and political component to how this played out. One part of which was the general demonisation of the Irish – to which Darwin may have subscribed, if Dumski is right on the evidence.

Just like today, when blaming the victim is one response to the guilt felt about not actually doing anything to help them.

(As an aside, poster campaigns telling us not to give to beggars is one of my favourite examples. It is basically saying – We’ll give money to our needy friends in the advertising agency instead of these homeless alcoholics that you feckless people persist in giving the money for a “cup of tea”).

So Darwin was just a typical example of his age and class then? Not a saint. Well, if you think he’s God or even a lesser saint, that must be a bit disturbing. But I’m buggered if I can see why being prejudiced against the starving Irish in anyway invalidates the theory of Evolution. Do satellites not work because the first rocket scientists were escaped Nazis?

He certainly wasn’t in anyway responsible for the potato famine, nor the British responses to it. And, even if he had been, the theory of evolution was completely blameless.

Are there really biology teachers so inept, anywhere in the world, that they can’t explain to these people the differences between discussing fitness to survive in a given environment and making value judgements about what living creatures deserve to survive?

I can only assume that some of these people have no more understanding of the basic points of evolutionary theory than I have of the complex prohibitions in Leviticus.

They don’t even believe in their Gods enough to credit them with giving humans the intelligence to draw conclusions about the natural universe.

Which makes it doubly unfortunate that they think they’re made in God’s image. They are clearly all worshippers of the Evil One, after all.