Did Darwin ever reach the conclusion that selection will remove variation?

According to simple models of selection the genetic variance in a population should be reduced by selection. (Fisher's fundamental theorem states that the rate at which a population can evolve is limited by its variance). If we select the next generation from one population we will only ever capture as much, and probably only a subset of, the variation that exists in a the first generation.

Did Darwin ever discuss this loss of variation? What did he conclude?

(For now lets ignore the potential roles of sexual antagonism, pleiotropy and such)

A little clarification on my question:

Darwin saw variation in phenotypes, and variation in fitness dependent on phenotype - an effect he called selection. He also saw that this variation was heritable (but did not know how). This is the basic concept of evolution, and is mathematically speaking, the breeders equation:

$r = h^2 s$

He also would have realized that life must therefore have started out as a simple unit, and new variance in traits (and whole new traits) must have arisen over time, i.e. that some kind of changes (mutations) were going on in the heritable information (genes). However, what I'm asking is, did he realize that selection would act to reduce the variation in a population? This would reduce the rate at which evolution can occur over time (Fisher's fundamental theorem - assuming no influx of variance or potential for pleiotropy to maintain variation). Or was it Fisher that first formally discussed the concept of lost phenotypic/genetic variance?

After reading your question, I had a vague memory that this subject was indirectly touched upon in "On the Origin of Species", so I did some text searches (in this pdf version I found online). From what I can see, Darwin never used the technical term 'variance' (I don't know how old this use of the word is), but 'variability' is often used, both with regard to accumulated variation but also meaning variation between individuals within a population.

All-in-all, I could not find clear support for the idea that selection will decrease the amount of variation. However, there are number of passages where the subject of variation vs selection comes up (often indirectly), but, to me, these just as often (most often?) indicate that Darwin saw no risk that selection would reduce variation as the opposite. Here are the most interesting passages I could find (searching for combinations of 'variab*', 'selection', 'decrease' etc), with page references referring to the pdf version and a short comment below each quote:

A large number of individuals, by giving a better chance for the appearance within any given period of profitable variations, will compensate for a lesser amount of variability in each individual, and is, I believe, an extremely important element of success. (p. 44)

This is clearly discussing amounts of variation within species, where large numbers can compensate for a smaller amounts of standing variability, by increasing the chance of advantageous mutations.

Nothing can be effected, unless favourable variations occur, and variation itself is apparently always a very slow process. The process will often be greatly retarded by free intercrossing. Many will exclaim that these several causes are amply sufficient wholly to stop the action of natural selection. I do not believe so. On the other hand, I do believe that natural selection will always act very slowly, often only at long intervals of time, and generally on only a very few of the inhabitants of the same region at the same time. (p. 103)

Not directly related to selection vs variation, but deals with the rate of evolution vs amount of variation.

But what here more especially concerns us is, that in our domestic animals those points, which at the present time are undergoing rapid change by continued selection, are also eminently liable to variation. Look at the breeds of the pigeon; see what a prodigious amount of difference there is in the beak of the different tumblers, in the beak and wattle of the different carriers, in the carriage and tail of our fantails, &c., these being the points now mainly attended to by English fanciers. Even in the sub-breeds, as in the short-faced tumbler, it is notoriously difficult to breed them nearly to perfection, and frequently individuals are born which depart widely from the standard. There may be truly said to be a constant struggle going on between, on the one hand, the tendency to reversion to a less modified state, as well as an innate tendency to further variability of all kinds, and, on the other hand, the power of steady selection to keep the breed true. In the long run selection gains the day, and we do not expect to fail so far as to breed a bird as coarse as a common tumbler from a good short-faced strain. But as long as selection is rapidly going on, there may always be expected to be much variability in the structure undergoing modification. (p. 141)

This is maybe the most interesting passage, which to me indicates that he saw little risk that selection could/would limit variability (see especially beginning and end).

For forms existing in larger numbers will always have a better chance, within any given period, of presenting further favourable variations for natural selection to seize on, than will the rarer forms which exist in lesser numbers. Hence, the more common forms, in the race for life, will tend to beat and supplant the less common forms, for these will be more slowly modified and improved. (P. 162)

Also on limitations for variation that selection can act on, and the value of large populations.

… firstly, because new varieties are very slowly formed, for variation is a very slow process, and natural selection can do nothing until favourable variations chance to occur, and until a place in the natural polity of the country can be better filled by some modification of some one or more of its inhabitants. And such new places will depend on slow changes of climate, or on the occasional immigration of new inhabitants, and, probably, in a still more important degree, on some of the old inhabitants becoming slowly modified, with the new forms thus produced and the old ones acting and reacting on each other. (p. 163)

On the limiting nature of variation, but does not connect selection to decreased variation.

It cannot be asserted that organic beings in a state of nature are subject to no variation; it cannot be proved that the amount of variation in the course of long ages is a limited quantity; no clear distinction has been, or can be, drawn between spe- cies and well-marked varieties. (p. 425)

On variation over the long run.

These are the most interesting sections I found on the subject from my (quick and limited) searches. I hope you find them useful. However, this is only based on the first edition of "On the Origin of Species", and it is possible that it is is modified in later editions or that he touches upon this in his other writings. However, when looking at these particular passages in the sixth edition, I cannot see a major change in his thinking.

I think Darwin just stuck to the empirical observation that variation exists. Without knowing about genetics and mutations, he didn't know the mechanism that generates variation, and he knew that he was lacking that, but he knew variation was being generated.

Artificial Selection

Artificial selection is the identification by humans of desirable traits in plants and animals, and the steps taken to enhance and perpetuate those traits in future generations. Artificial selection works the same way as natural selection, except that with natural selection it is nature, not human interference, that makes these decisions.

Biology, Genetics, Conservation


Like many animals kept in human captivity, mating pairs of pigeons are often paired together based on their genetics to achieve the most desirable traits in their offspring.

Photograph by Mark Thiessen

In laying out the evidence for his theory of evolution by natural selection in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, the British naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin highlighted the physical traits and behaviors of several species of bird called finches. During a voyage in the 1830s, Darwin had observed these birds on the Galápagos Islands, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean west of South America.

Sometimes summed up by the phrase &ldquosurvival of the fittest,&rdquo natural selection is based on the following principles: In nature, organisms produce more offspring than are able to survive and reproduce. Offspring with traits that make them more likely to survive, mature, and reproduce in the environment they inhabit pass on their traits to the next generation.

As this happens generation after generation, natural selection acts as a kind of sieve, or a remover of undesirable traits. Organisms therefore gradually become better-suited for their environment. If the environment changes, natural selection will then push organisms to evolve in a different direction to adapt to their new circumstances.

How does this relate to finches? On the Galápagos Islands, some finches appeared so different from others that Darwin did not realize at first that they were all finches. In fact, they were different species of finches with a variety of traits. Some finches, for instance, had long, narrow beaks, while others had short, thick beaks. Darwin concluded that the traits of the different populations of finches had changed over time, and that these variations were related to different environments in the islands. Each type of beak had evolved for a specific task. Where there was a large supply of seeds on the ground, for instance, short-beaked finches became more common, because these beaks were better at cracking open the seeds. Where cactus plants were more common, finches developed long, narrow beaks to extract pollen and nectar from cactus flowers.

Darwin&rsquos finches constituted powerful evidence for natural selection. But Darwin was also inspired greatly by the evolution that he saw in the traits of pigeons, not due to natural selection but rather artificial selection. Breeding pigeons was a popular hobby in England in Darwin&rsquos time. By selecting which pigeons were allowed to mate, people had a profound effect on their appearance, such as the shape and size of their beaks and the color of their feathers.

Dog breeding is another prime example of artificial selection. Although all dogs are descendants of the wolf, the use of artificial selection has allowed humans to drastically alter the appearance of dogs. For centuries, dogs have been bred for various desired characteristics, leading to the creation of a wide range of dogs, from the tiny Chihuahua to the massive Great Dane.

Artificial selection has long been used in agriculture to produce animals and crops with desirable traits. The meats sold today are the result of the selective breeding of chickens, cattle, sheep, and pigs. Many fruits and vegetables have been improved or even created through artificial selection. For example, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage were all derived from the wild mustard plant through selective breeding. Artificial selection appeals to humans since it is faster than natural selection and allows humans to mold organisms to their needs.

Like many animals kept in human captivity, mating pairs of pigeons are often paired together based on their genetics to achieve the most desirable traits in their offspring.

BCB705 Biodiversity: Chapter2 - Evolution of Biodiversity

The world is rich in animals and plants, some of which still remain to be discovered. A small area of the Tropical Forests of South America will still yield insects that have never been described, the difficulty is finding a specialist whose is able to classify them. The understanding of such biodiversity would have been almost impossible, if it had not been for Charles Darwin and his trip around the world. For example Darwin described the adaptations of the Giant Tortoises (Geochelone nigra) that occur on the Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific.

Tortoises occurring on the well-watered islands, with short, cropped vegetation had gently curved front edges to their shell.

An example of dome-shell Galapagos Tortoise that occurs on the well-watered parts of the islands.

Tortoises occurring on more arid islands had to stretch their necks to reach branches of cactus and other vegetation. Consequently, these later individuals had longer necks and a high peak to the front edges of their shells, which enabled them to stretch their heads almost vertically.

A "saddle-back" Galapagos Tortoise that inhabits drier areas of the islands and has a longer neck and a high peak to the front edge of its shell, this enables it to stretch it neck further out and obtain food higher up off the ground.

Observations such as these were the foundations for the theory of evolution, which suggests that species were not fixed for ever but changed with time and thereby contribute to the immense diversity of life.

Darwin's argument for the evolution of different necks in these tortoises was as follows: - all individuals of the same species are not identical. In a single clutch of eggs there will be some hatchlings, which, because of their genetic constitution, will develop longer necks than others. In times of drought such individuals will be able to reach leaves higher off the ground than their siblings and therefore will survive. The brothers and sisters in the clutch who possessed shorter necks would be unable to stretch and reach food and therefore would starve to death. Since this time natural selection has been debated and tested, refined, quantified and elaborated. Later discoveries about genetics, molecular biology, population dynamics and animal behaviour have developed the theory of natural selection still further. It remains the key to our understanding of the natural world and it enables us to recognize that life has a long and continuous history during which organisms, both plants and animals, have changed, generation by generation, as they colonized all parts of the world.

Guide to the classics: Darwin's On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin aged 51. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (originally published in 1859) shares a deplorable fate with many other classics: it is known to everyone, yet rarely read.

This is a shame, not only because there is much more to Darwin's theory than the familiar principles of mutation, variation, natural selection, and evolution that have entered popular knowledge as Darwinian buzzwords. The book also gives unique insight into the intellectual milieu in which he developed his theory and his struggles to convince his peers of its veracity.

Indeed in this age of the counter-factual and pseudo-factual, acquaintance with the foundations of our scientific tradition—and insights into the struggles of their creation—seems a matter of some urgency.

In the introduction alone, we learn that Darwin first conceived of his theory when travelling the world as a naturalist on board HMS Beagle (1831-6), that he had kept collecting data in support of it ever since, that he even wrote a rough draft (he calls it "a sketch of the conclusions") many years earlier, and that he was prompted to publish it (20 years later) only because his contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace had recently sent him a "memoir" reaching a similar conclusion.

The core of the theory, as laid out in the first few chapters of the book, is quickly explained. Plants and animals produce more individuals than nature can sustain in each generation. These individuals vary in looks and in physical and behavioural characteristics, and they are able to pass on this variation to the next generation. Those individuals better suited to their environment have an advantage and are in turn more likely to survive to give their features to future generations.

Yet the bare bones of his theory of evolution are only part of what shapes this book. Darwin also communicates the obstacles he had to overcome to ensure its success and to turn it into what it became: a foundational text of the biological sciences that influenced all sorts of other disciplines, including anthropology, religious studies, and the Classics.

Creationism and evolution

At the time Darwin wrote, the prevailing form of explanation of the origins of life was creationism, which held that a divine Creator had generated life in all its variety. To creationists, the theory of evolution offered a rival way of explaining the origin of species – through descent from common ancestors, not a divine agent.

Darwin was well aware that his theory might prove difficult to accept for those believing in a Creator. His obsession with the factual was one way of addressing this problem, direct rebuttals of creationism were another. Throughout the book, he repeatedly addresses creationist views and shows that they are incompatible with the evidence.

Darwin himself was not against the idea of a divine creator. Rather, he sought to situate the scientific reading of the world within a religious worldview. In the book's conclusion he states: "I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed by the Creator."

This is to say that, while life was first created by a God, it later became subject to the laws of mutation, variation, and natural selection – the evolutionary forces described by Darwin.

This really was a congenial move, offering a compromise between religious and scientific explanations of life. As long as divine creation occurred prior to and outside of nature and its laws of cause and effect, both explanations could, at least in principle, stand side by side. And to some extent it worked. Some of Darwin's contemporaries found that life's subsequent capacity to evolve brought out the real spark of the original act of creation. Others, however, did not buy it. To them, Darwin's theory constituted a frontal attack on religion, the idea of a divine creator, and the tenet that God had created man in his own image.

In this context, it is noticeable that in On the Origin of Species Darwin stays well clear of the problematic issue of human descent. If there is a striking omission in the book, it is man. Darwin originally intended to include a chapter on human evolution but later decided against it. As a result, the descent of Homo sapiens does not really feature in this elaborate discussion of the forces that drive the evolution of species.

Darwin obviously considered the book controversial enough without agitating his readers unnecessarily by touching on human evolution. And his instincts did not betray him: Right from the day of its publication, the book became something of a bestseller. Also right from the start, it elicited mixed responses. Some saw it for the foundational work of the biological sciences it eventually became. Others decried it as a serious threat to the core of humanity.

Darwin eventually came to address human evolution in a separate volume, entitled The Descent of Man. Published in 1871, 12 years after On the Origin of Species, this book offered a detailed discussion of man's descent from ape-like ancestors as well as the link between sexual selection and human race. Invariably, perhaps, its publication caused a fresh wave of outrage, criticism, and debate. By then, however, Darwin's theory had already become accepted in certain parts of academe and beyond.

The power of the factual

Throughout his writing, Darwin sought to counter potential adverse responses to his theory with an onslaught of fact. On the Origin of Species is peppered with examples from the natural world illustrating the principles of evolutionary theory in practice.

Charles Darwin’s 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The struggle for existence, for example, becomes tangible in several seedlings of the mistletoe competing for resources on the same branch of a tree variation and natural selection has resulted in insects with the astonishing ability to mimic features in their natural environment such as leaves or branches. Correlations between physical characteristics of animals emerge in a whole plethora of minute observations such as these:

"Hairless dogs have imperfect teeth long-haired and coarse haired animals are apt to have … long or many horns pigeons with feathered feet have skin between their outer toes pigeons with short beaks have small feet, and those with long beak large feet."

Darwin was well-versed in the zoological and botanical literature of the day. He cites other scholars' works in support of his theory whenever possible (and yet curiously, repeatedly apologises for not citing enough evidence). The result is a rich exposition of life in all its manifestations, which sometimes veers into the finicky – a problem made worse by Darwin's notoriously long sentences – but never loses sight of its central argument.

Darwin's sustained concerns with presenting a convincing case reveal the kind of reception he anticipated his book would have. He was well aware that it had the potential to redefine the foundations of biology. He explicitly says so in the conclusion: "When the views advanced by me in this volume … are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history."

And Darwin's views certainly did revolutionize. Yet before they could do so, they had to be accepted as fact. To ensure this he evoked the power of the factual itself.

Ultimately Darwin was successful. Even though these days creationism is witnessing a revival in some circles, no serious student of biology would doubt that the origin of species (including the human species) is grounded in exactly those evolutionary forces Darwin described.

Evolutionism within and beyond Darwin

As is frequently the case with the most powerful ideas, Darwin's theory of evolution caught on in other areas of thought, too. In particular, during the latter part of the 19th century, all sorts of theories emerged seeking to apply the concept of evolution elsewhere. It became fashionable to speak of the "evolution" of human societies, for example, or of human cultures, religions – even of the cosmos.

A common explanatory pattern used in this context was the idea that phenomena such as culture or religion evolved from simple ("primitive") forms to more complex ones. And, as one might guess, "more complex' often equated simply with the present, Western culture and society, and the religion that shaped it: Christianity. The ideological point of this mode of explanation is easily discerned: Evolutionism here fed into ideas of European superiority, domination, and colonialism.

A particular nasty interpretation of Darwin's theory came to be known as "social Darwinism". It transferred the ideas of a "struggle for existence" and the "survival of the fittest" to human society, where they were used as an argument against social benefits for the poor and disadvantaged. In the most serious consequence, this lead to racism, eugenics, forced sterilisations, and the euthanasia of "unfit" people.

Yet this was a blatant misuse of Darwin's theory, which was never meant as a prescription about how to manage a society. Moreover, ideas about racial superiority lacked any scientific basis and were not shared by Darwin. Quite the contrary: his insights into the common biological foundations of all humanity made Darwin a strong supporter of abolitionism (the doctrine advocating for the abolition of slavery). People simply twisted Darwin's ideas to promote their own notions of superiority and the ideological agendas based on them.

Social Darwinism ultimately came to an end because it was unsupported by science. At the same time, ideas about cultural evolution fell out of fashion, as did ideas about allegedly "primitive" societies. These days, cultures of the past and present are no longer set against each other but appreciated in their own right, without seeking to establish a hierarchy between them.

Yet evolutionary theory is still going strong in disciplines such as computer science, medicine, and agriculture. In computer science, "genetic algorithms" solve optimisation problems by mimicking the process of natural selection. In medicine, the looming catastrophe of widespread antibiotic resistance is fundamentally an evolutionary problem: by overusing antibiotics, we have inadvertently favoured those rare bacteria that can withstand our drugs.

To prevent a decidedly bleak future where antibiotics are useless, researchers are increasingly using evolutionary theory to develop new ways of preventing resistance. Cancer, obesity and autoimmune conditions such as allergies and asthma can be understood (and possibly treated) through the lens of evolutionary science.

About 170 years after its first publication, On the Origin of Species and the theory it has come to represent still define the way in which the biological sciences conceive the dazzling diversity of life. Its continuing legacy consists in laying out a view of life as "one grand system" and in having described the biological mechanisms shaping it.

Yet the book also shows that the ultimate prevalence of the theory of evolution over rival forms of explanation did not come easily. Darwin had to think carefully how to convince his contemporaries of its validity. He had to defend himself against accusations of blasphemy some of the resulting ridicule targeted him personally.

The traces of this struggle are clearly visible in his work. This alone makes it a must-read for all budding scientists, both real and armchair.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Hypothetico–Deductive Method

New ideas in science are advanced in the form of conjectures or hypotheses, which may be more or less precisely formulated and be of lesser or greater generality. However, it is essential to the scientific process that any hypothesis be “tested” by reference to the natural world that we experience with our senses. The tests to which scientific ideas are subjected include contrasting any hypothesis with the world of experience in a manner that must leave open the possibility that one might reject a particular hypothesis if it leads to wrong predictions about the world of experience. The possibility of empirical falsification of a hypothesis is carried out by ascertaining whether or not precise predictions derived as logical consequences from the hypothesis agree with the state of affairs found in the empirical world. A hypothesis that cannot be subject to the possibility of rejection by observation and experiment cannot be regarded as scientific.

There are 2 basic components in the process by which scientific knowledge advances. The first component consists of the formulation of a conjecture or hypothesis about the natural world. The second component consists of testing the hypothesis by ascertaining whether deductions derived from the hypothesis are indeed the case in the real world. This procedural practice has become known as the hypothetico–deductive method, often characterized as “the” scientific method. It is of the essence of the testing process that the predictions derived from the hypothesis to be tested not be already known, if the observations to be made are to serve as a genuine test of the hypothesis. If a hypothesis is formulated to account for some known phenomena, these phenomena may provide credibility to the hypothesis, but by themselves do not amount to a genuine empirical test of it for the purpose of validating it. The value of a test increases to the extent that the predicted consequences appear to be more and more unlikely before the observations are made.

The analysis of the hypothetico–deductive method may be traced to William Whewell (1794–1866) and William Stanley Jevons (1835–1882) in England and Charles S. Peirce (1838–1914) in the United States. In the 20th century, 2 philosophers who greatly contributed to identify the key features of the hypothetico–deductive method, and are broadly credited for this work, are Karl Popper (1902–1994) (13, 14) and C. G. Hempel (1905–1997) (15). But there is no better way of understanding the basic components of the scientific method, and its variations in different disciplines and peculiarities in different practitioners, than examining the work of great scientists, whose enormous accomplishments were made possible by their appropriate methodology. Early eminent practitioners of the hypothetico–deductive methodology include Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) and Isaac Newton (1624–1727). Among biologist contemporaries of Darwin, one might mention Claude Bernard (1813–1878), Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), and Gregor Mendel (1822–1884).


Darwin wrote a short sketch of his theory in 1842 and a longer one in 1844. Instead of publishing the second statement, however, he continued his investigations. He also wrote books on coral reefs, volcanic islands, barnacles, and the geology of South America. Not until 1856 did he begin what would be a multivolume work on evolution.

In 1858 he received a manuscript from a young naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who also had developed a theory of evolution by natural selection. With Wallace’s approval, short statements by both men were published late in 1858. Darwin went on to write his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which appeared in 1859.

The book caused a tremendous stir, and not just in scientific circles. The general public also read, discussed, and vigorously defended or denounced Darwin’s theory, which became a popular topic in society salons. Some religious leaders believed that evolution was incompatible with their teachings and so opposed it. Newspapers publicized with great scorn a conclusion that Darwin had been careful to avoid—that humans are descended from apes. Evolutionary imagery spread through many other fields, including literature, economics, and political and social science. During Darwin’s lifetime, the scientific community largely accepted his theory of descent, though it was slower to adopt his idea of natural selection.

After completing the Origin of Species, Darwin began The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which showed how rapidly some organisms had evolved under artificial selection, the selective breeding of plants and animals by humans. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, discussed human evolution. Later books dealt with earthworms, orchids, climbing plants, and plants that eat insects.

Darwin became very weak in 1881 and could no longer work. He died on April 19, 1882, in Downe, and was buried in Westminster Abbey among England’s greatest citizens.

Darwin himself never claimed to provide proof of evolution or of the origin of species. His claim was that if evolution had occurred, a number of otherwise mysterious facts about plants and animals could be easily explained. After his death, however, direct evidence of evolution was observed, and evolution is now supported by a wealth of evidence from a variety of scientific fields.

Evolution has been rejected by members of some religious groups who prefer their theory of creationism. This attempts to explain some features of plant and animal life through a literal interpretation of the Bible. In the scientific community, however, there is little doubt that the general outline of Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct.

Was Charles Darwin a racist?

It will come as a surprise to historians of science if it's shown that he was, since the great naturalist has recently been lauded as an abolitionist whose detestation of slavery is an under-acknowledged motivation for his scientific work. According to Henry McDonald's piece in yesterday's Guardian, an MLA has suggested that Darwin was a "racist".

Mervyn Storey argues that Darwin's language in The Descent of Man would earn disapproval today. This is undoubtedly the case. Darwin certainly referred to Aboriginal people as "savages". There is also the language of "favoured race" in Origin of Species. But that language would not have raised an eyebrow in the nineteenth century as always with historically placed language, we must be careful about extending our contemporary sensitivites to the past. Some of the language of the Bible would appear deeply objectionable by our contemporary lights.

The more serious question we should ask is whether Darwin, judged by the standards of his day, would have been considered a racist -- or, quite the opposite, as a campaigner, in his own way, for the abolition of slavery based on the conviction that all human beings have a common biological parentage.

That said, even if it were to be demonstrated that Darwin was -- even by the conventions of his day -- a racist, this conclusion may have consequences for our moral evaluation of Darwin as a man it would contibute nothing to our evaluation of his work as science.

Comments Post your comment

Comment number 1.

Well said William but I fear the DUP are more interested in creating a theocracy than listening to reasoned argument.

Comment number 2.

What a piece of pernicious nonsense.The context of the article is Mervyn's demand that the Ulster Museum stage a creationist display or he will take legal action against them on the grounds of equality.Our equality legislation is not even applicable to this type of exhibition.
As for his quoting Darwin. Nearly any nineteenth century figure can be made to look racist in our terms. I have already posted quotes from Abraham Lincoln on this blog where he sets out his stance on black people holding high office or even intermarriage with whites from a debate held in 1858 but he went on to initiate one of the great advances in racial equaity in the United States.
The views of Mervyn Storey are both stupid and ridiculous, and if it was'nt for his threatening tone and high office they would just be ignored.

Comment number 3.

Presumably this post springs from DUP assembly member and evangelical Mervyn Storey threatening legal action against the Ulster Museum in Belfast, unless it holds a creationist exhibition alongside it's Darwin one.
Storey, amongst other things, accused Darwin of being racist, presumably using his description of aboriginal peoples on Tierra del Fuego (as "savages") in 'The Descent of Man' as an example. (As though attempting to discredit Darwin somehow acts to make creationism more credible. As with any claim, the basis and evidence for Biblical creationism can be examined and judged independently of an alternative.)

Darwin's beliefs were of his era he did believe that the white race was superior to others and that men were superior to women. (Ideas about genetic determinism remain controversial today.)
Applying this theory of natural selection to his world Darwin thought "the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world". (Something the Romans probably also thought as well plus ca change.)

However, Darwin also saw first-hand how slaves were treated on South American plantations and thought it an "odious, deadly subject" and declared "I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country."
Darwin held to the conviction he grew up with, that human beings must not be bought, sold or owned fraternity was a principle that he also contributed to with his theory of common descent from a common racial parentage.
Later in his life Darwin would sit and converse with a "full-blooded negro" though some visiting Americans thought such intimacy "revolting".

Darwin saw sexual selection, in which small preferences shaped the appearances of populations over time, as a means by which races with a common origin could have acquired their visible differences. (Genetics was unknown to Darwin at that time, but buttresses his theory of evolution.)
But as to belief that all people, whatever their race, are truly equal and should be treated as equals Darwin's views were shaped by the contemporary Victorian English assumption that some races (white European in particular) were superior to others a view often used to justify imperialism and colonialism.

That Victorian era world view still surfaces occasionally today. Philosophical and political debates about equality - and equality of rights - are still current and relevant as ever.

Comment number 4.

Yet more evidence, if any were needed that NI swims in a sea of prejudice: Robinson, Wilson, Storey. What a collection! Mloreover, not one local newspaper covered the Darwin 200 anniversary, whereas the Irish Times had 2 pages devoted to it.

Since it demonstrates that, far from being separate and different, all human beings belong to one biological race, evolution actually refutes racism. In America in the 19th century it was the biblical creationists who generally supported slavery. Darwin’s whole family were abolitionist and it was his grandfather Josiah Wedgwood who produced the famous cameo depicting a kneeling slave begging: “Am I not a man and a brother”, a motto Darwin himself used in his notes.
In nature, it is not every animal for itself. Co-operation and altruism are as essential as competition. All social animals are dependent for survival on group life. Blackbirds and thrushes give warning calls when hawks fly overhead, even though it puts them in danger. Wolves and wild dogs bring meat back to other members of the pack. In many human societies, free health care and the welfare state have greatly weakened human differences and the process of mechanical natural selection.
In his Descent of Man Darwin argued that we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build co-operation with reciprocal transactions. He argued for a strong continuity between human and animal behaviour and that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.
In fact, far from individualism, nihilism or racism being the ethical implications of Darwinism, the relevant philosophical inference for humanity is existentialism. We have no proven purpose or fixed essence but instead we make up our own meanings and purposes. Evolution implies that we are part of nature and that we change. Like other creatures, we are not essentially good or bad but have the potential to be either. We are not static creatures but have the ability to evolve.

Comment number 5.

If Mervyn Storey reckons only those with politically correct views by today's standards should be on pedestals, he should hire a truck to knock down most of the public statues in this province. and sack many of his party colleagues.

Comment number 6.

The answer could hardly matter less because the question is irrelevant. Darwin's controversy isn't over what he was but what his theories said. Whatever the answer, it does not add or subtract one iota from the validity of his theories.

Was Abraham Lincoln a racist? His plan for the freed slaves after the Civil War was to return them to Africa. Some would call that racist.

Were some aboriginal people savages? Despite the perjorative connotations this term has acquired, the undeniable answer is yes. All of our ancestors were at one point savages. until they had developed to the point of barbarism. But evolution of society to reach a state of civilization has nothing to do with the biological evolution of living organisms even though many sociologists would like to elevate their area of expertise, such as it is, to the point where the majority of us mistake it for a science. They even call it "the social sciences." Marx called Communism "scientific socialism." Attaching the term "science" to many worthless and even dangerous dogmas such as Christian Science and Creation Science is an effort to enoble trash.

Comment number 7.

It's a pity that we haven't yet come to the end of this Storey.

Happily, his efforts will fail - equality legislation is inapplicable in this. Fantasy does not merit equality with science.

As for Darwin, he was not a racist, but in Victorian times it was considered self-evident that other races were inferior to the European White Male. If there were to be a scale of offence, Darwin would actually be one of the *least* offensive.

But evolution is so so so much more than "Darwinism" - he knew nothing of genetics, yet our modern understanding of genetics not only confirms evolution as a fact, but makes it absolutely *inevitable*. It is an unavoidable consequence of how biology works.

Comment number 8.

And indeed our ancestors *were* savages. And you don't have to go back too long to see that. We still *are* savages, only, perhaps, more so.

Comment number 9.

Steady on, Helio. at least, we don't boast of our savagery in the way that those biblical heroes did. If you consider the ancient codes of the Assyrians and the Israelites, you'll find that they made a distinction between their own people and outsiders and openly boasted about their cruelty to the latter. Assyrian kings boasted in stone tablets about how they tortured their non-Assyrian enemies and covered the valleys and mountains with their corpses. The Israelites boasted how they destroyed all the inhabitants of Jericho, Ai, Lachish and Hazor so that 'there was not any left to breathe'.

Perhaps we are more clever at spin and propaganda than they were. After all, they didn't have a largely compliant media. The Israelis can slaughter 400 Gaza children in three weeks and claim with impunity or little challenge that, alas, they 'got in the way'.

Comment number 10.

I had read all the way down to post 8 and was for staying out of it but then post 9.

Tell me please, exactly, what another anti biblical rant has to do with this thread?

And please don't go making assumptions about what I might and might not support.

Comment number 11.

The Prophet Samuel was not only an appalling racist, he was a genocidal maniac. Of course YHWH is a racist too, explicitly so for punishing children for the sins of their fathers, and creating "races" (like in the nonsense of Shem, Ham & Japheth). Indeed, Jesus was a racist too, making a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and even referring to Canaanites as "dogs".

Mervyn is the pot calling the kettle coloured. Last time I checked, that was called "hypocrisy".

Comment number 12.

Ach Helio don't get your knickers in a twist.

We're talking about Darwin here. We all already know what accusations have been aimed at Christianity. (that wouldn't make you (not you personally of course) a racist or anything, would it.?)

Just for the record, I happen to think that trying to discredit Darwin by calling him a racist was dumb, but maybe I should hold fire on the dumb bit til I read his article!

But the point here is that the default mode of some people on this blog appears, whatever the topic, to be anti-Christian, and vociferously so at times.

So whether it was 'of his (Darwin's) time' or not, is it possibly to discuss the racism of the Victorian and British Empire which permeated everything including the hymn writers of the day. Helio, I don't have a problem in facing up to either the misuse of the bible or the violence in it.

You can't object to what are seen as the unsavory aspects of biblical history while at the same time dismissing other historical racism as 'of the time'.

Now, were there aspects of Darwin's views which would have gotten him in trouble today or not. The words, "This is undoubtedly the case." at the top of this thread suggest there were.

So maybe, without reference to the bible, you could give us a view on why he wasn't racist.

Some pots around here seem to think they're 'lily white.'

Comment number 13.

"The answer could hardly matter less."

Exactly. And the answer would be boring whatever it was.

Comment number 14.

Peter, forgive me, but this issue was raised because a certain idiot named Mervyn Storey brought it up. Said idiot is a fundamentalist Christian, so pots and kettles are eminently suitable topics. If you worry about poor wee Christianity being a continual target, perhaps that is because it provides such a good example of the evils that can come from religious belief. A target-rich environment. It's just the case - no point weeping about it.

But was Darwin a racist? He undoubtedly had some prejudices born of the society in which he was raised, but he was a man of great compassion and general goodness - at least that is the opinion of most of his biographers, and is the impression one gets from his writings. We detect Victoriana there, not what we would in these more enlightened times detect as "racism".

But if you *do* want to be fair, then just ask "was the Prophet Samuel an evil genocidal maniac", and we can have a discussion about how killing people under the orders of some imaginary pixie is also "of its time" - that latter would seem the more important issue.

Comment number 15.

Forgiven - how could a Christian not forgive :-)

First up I'm not worried about 'poor wee Christianity' in the slightest.

Second, it's all very well saying Victoriana, but that seems a tad naive in light of what some of what the Victorians were up to. Probably fair to say that there was a culture of imperialism.

Anyhow, I'm wondering which of the premises in your last paragraph should I query first, and then I find myself reading John's comment 13. he has a point.

Here's a controversial comment tho', you think the orders of a sky pixie are the more important issue. Mmmmm, maybe you and I, as citizens of the state are guilty, by association, of some of the excesses of the Empire.

Come to think of it maybe we're not racist, but we all benefit from cheap 3rd world labour, and nobody bats an eyelid. It's called globalisation, but perhaps it's Western Imperialism, maybe it's even Western racism. We could discuss that. You know, contemporary evils we all are happy to live with, contemporary evils we dismiss as 'Victoriana'. This is the point Mervyn seems to miss too. The DUP are forever raising non-issues.

There are good things we could all be doing to make the world a (slightly) better place without always having to score points.

You see, I'm still interested in why attacking Christianity is the default mode when there are plenty of 'everyday and close to home' sins to be concerned with.

What colour is the pot anyway?

Comment number 16.

Bloody hell! tell me the old, old Storey!

Instead of threatening legal action (which seems to be the default postion of fundie nutters) against the Belfast Museum why the hell does he his creationist buddies not go out and actually find the actual evidence that would back up their position! It's so bloody simple! evidently not simple enough for them.

Comment number 17.

"There are good things we could all be doing to make the world a (slightly) better place without always having to score points."

Well he (Mervyn) started it!

Comment number 18.

It's worth noting that Mr Storey has also called for the proposed Giant's Causeway visitors' centre to display not just accepted geological data, but also the creationist argument that the distinctive rock formation is only 6,000 years old: "The problem to date has been that we only have a narrow interpretation from an evolutionary point of view as to how these particular stones were formed." (Blimey! Does he think that rocks reproduce and geologists claim that they've been formed through a process of natural selection, as plants and animals are?)

Storey has also said his 'ideal' would be the removal of evolutionary teaching from the curriculum altogether.

On the racism angle: If Galileo (who probably shared many of the views commonly held by 17th Century Europeans) was found to have views on race at odds with those held today, would that mean that the earth was the fixed, stationary centre of the Universe and that the sun orbited around it?

Of course not the two are separate points and Galileo's opinions would not invalidate the evidence accumulated since that demonstrate that the earth and other planets do indeed orbit the sun. So it is also with Darwin and evolution.

Comment number 19.

I wonder if any such court case will be Norn Iron's very own Dover ?

After Sammy Wilson's nonsense over the last few days we have yet again hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Comment number 20.

Oh for Pete's sake! No-one is saying that Darwin was some sort of saint (although he puts most of the conventional religious "saints" to shame). He got a lot of stuff wrong (again, unsurprising). But he should be admired for his superb insight and scientific brilliance. Levelling an accusation of "racism" at him is simply ridiculous, and the evidence that has been adduced for that is incredibly meagre.

You've got to ask, is this the *best* Mervyn can come up with? It probably is.

All I am saying is that I don't think anyone who has commented thus far is in a position to slag off Charles Darwin, and since the majority of the slagging off is derived from religious fundamentalist fantasies, it is entirely appropriate that some ire is directed at those fantasies.

Comment number 21.

Peter, I don't think we'll be seeing a Dover in this. Mervyn is bluffing, and he knows it.

Comment number 22.

All hot and bothered Helio?

I think I was the one who used 'dumb' in relation to the accusation against Darwin.

My comments aren't about Darwin, they are about the infantile desire on the part of some to go 'a bible bashing' at the drop of a hat.

You know it probably is the best the DUP can do, they probably think they're being clever, but frankly it's no more tiresome than the 'bad bible' brigade.

So get cross at 'fantasies' if you wish, but if people are going to throw out cheap jibes on a continual basis, I'm gonna notice.

Comment number 23.

You compare the Darwin bashing to bible bashing. Would you say that the two make for a fair comparison in terms of how much each of them leaves room for criticism? I would say one is humongously more deserving of criticism than the other (I'll leave it to you to figure out which one). In one case there is plenty of room for real, substantial criticism that even many of the devotees agree with. In the other case it's just the lack of any substantial criticism which makes nutters come up with utterly pathetic stuff. You saying 'both shouldn't bash so much' sounds as if you want to put them on the same level. Which I think would be wrong.

Comment number 24.

Where did I equate Darwin bashing with Bible bashing?

I said bashing Darwin was dumb?

The only aspect of this whole sorry tale where I equated one with the other was when I used the word tiresome.

Yet you, Helio and Brian still have to persist with getting across some kind of anti-bible point.

And then you wonder why people get cheesed off.

Frankly its all as predicable as the DUP.

Comment number 25.

Helio - your post # 7 - you say: "Fantasy does not merit equality with science".

Comment number 26.

Funny, William, how all the nuancing and contextualising of Darwin's "racism" is wheeled out. Perhaps a bit more thought could be put into comments on the Pope.

Comment number 27.

Darwin was far from perfect.
However before Creationists try and tar Darwin with the Racist brush, they should look at others from said time, including Darwin opponent (and Theist), Geologist Louis Agassiz, or the Presbyterian Theologian and philosopher Robert Louis Dabney.

Comment number 28.

In post 10 you said of my post 9:
"Tell me please, exactly, what another anti biblical rant has to do with this thread?".

Helio made the remark, possibly tongue-in-cheek, that we are 'more savage' today than in the past.

The Bible AND cuneifom tablets about Assyrians (you've forgotten about them) are evidence that in one important respect this is not so. The Bible, whether you like it or not, is an insight into the cruel morality of the times, as are other ancient primary sources, such as the tablets.

Many of the writers of the Old Testament told stories in which the heroes (Joshua) or whoever slaughtered their enemies with boastings and the blessings of 'the Lord'. It was the same in Assyrian tablets.

Assurnbanipal boasted: "For a distance of a month of 25 days' journey I devastated the land of Elam. The noise of the people, the tread of cattle and sheep, the glad shouts of rejoicing, I banished them from its fields".

The point was that leaders today do not boast of their battles, wars and conquests in the way that, say, Assurnbanipal and Joshua did. And that is moral evolution of a sort, I dare say. Today, especially in democracies, leaders have to justify their actions to their people.

The point I also raised that was lost in your customary red herring defence of the indefensible (i.e. the Bible), is that all too often their 'justifications' today are not sufficiently challenged in the media. In that respect we have not advanced much since ancient times, though the storytellers then might even have exaggerated the boasts.

Comment number 29.

Thankyou for your reply, I appreciate your reply.

A couple of things, I hadn't forgotten about the Assyrians, but didn't refer to them as they don't usually come in for the kind of criticism the biblical characters do, as I said there appears to be a certain default mode at times on here.

If your post 9 was making the point that todays leaders do not boast as ancient others did, then why not just say that, and why go for the biblical, there are endless examples from history which you could have used to make the same point, but no, it has to be the bible again, that is what I was flagging up.

I was also making the point that Victorian racism and the degree to which it did or didn't influence the people of the day has been rationalized away as being 'of it’s time' - So that makes it OK then? You will note too that I was able to criticize Victorian hymn-writers for their use of Imperialism in what they wrote, I try not (thought I am not always successful) to avoid the unpalatable aspects of my faith.

Let me say again, so everyone here is crystal clear, that I think using racism as a weapon again Darwin was dumb thing to do as Orvillethird points out, others were guilty too, in fact the best part of the culture was probably guilty, and in the same way, while we may not, or at least some of us may not boast about great war victories, we are guilty of other forms of Imperialism and racism, but nobody seems to want to discuss that.

Comment number 30.

Hold on here. Isn't this partly a blog about religion? Why not mention the Bible? It is a perfect example of how cruelty can be condoned by reference to a higher authority's approval of it. Indeed, what has happened with it and other Holy Books is that they have been used over and over to justify war and brutality on a massive scale.

And there are those who try to excuse its approval of these atrocities or turn a blind eye to them. So, yes, there is every reason to criticise it on these grounds.

As I said above, it was used by supporters of slavery to justify their beliefs and behaviour. So it is a bit ironic of Mervyn Storey to refer to Darwin as a racist when Darwin’s notebooks condemn slavery and when the greatest racists in 19th century America were usually fundamentalist Christians.

Comment number 31.

I've said numerous times now that to refer to Darwin as a racist was dumb.

I've acknowledged on numerous occasions, on other threads, and this one, that Christians got it wrong, they have been racist, misogynist, cruel, and Imperialist.

I've also said before that the bible has been used to justify war. (wrongly)

But there are a number of unanswered points on this thread.

Irrespective of Mr. Storey, was the culture of Darwin's day racist, and is it sufficient to pass it off as, 'of it's day'?

There a perception on my part of an automatic anti-bible response, is there any validity in this?

Why is the flagging up of our own Imperialism and racism with regard to how we treat the world, and it has been mentioned 2 or 3 times now, ignored?

Yes, this blog is partly about religion and yes you can pillory it all you want (remember though I'm up for the dual with you) but my question, which comes again is, why has an anti-bible/religion response become the norm?

It's beginning to sound like, "Wolf!, Wolf!"

Comment number 32.

If the topic of Victorian attitudes on race is to be discussed, it may be worth starting with English prejudice towards Irish peoples.

For example, this by Charles Kingsley (The Water Babies etc) - a progressive and social reformer in his time:

"I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw [in Ireland] - I don't believe they are our fault - But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful. . . "

Comment number 33.

Comment number 34.

Poor church. They were just beginning to get over Galileo when Darwin comes along. It's tough having to completely rewrite your dogma to adjust to the latest inconvenient facts and still look like you were right all along. That's why after going from being at the center of the universe and the sole purpose of all creation to being a mere insignificant fleeting speck of dust that appeared for one moment and will disappear in the next in a universe without limit or end, the recent discovery that the Milky Way galaxy is twice as large as had previously been believed and is now thought to be the size of the great Spiral Nebula in Andromeda went almost completely unnoticed. So now our sun is not one of around 400 billion stars in our galaxy but of nearly a trillion. That fact will hardly take any further adjustment by the church at all. Trivial compared to Darwin.

Comment number 35.

Brian McClinton, Heliopolitan, Dylan Dog, Peter Klaver (and any other interested parties)

Just thought that you guys might like to know that The Primordial Soup Company due the economic downturn is giving away quantities of their famous product for any of you with the courage to try and create any thing that might be described as 'Life'.

They are saying that if the giveaway does not go well that they are thinking of adding some DNA to the mix in the form of croutons and bacon bits. They are hoping that this may facilitate the desired outcome of creating 'Life' without biasing the results too much.

They are also thinking of selling a new product line. It is being marketed as Vacuum Packed Nothing and is aimed at those who want to start with hopefully a 'not so big bang'!

Dylan, you could build the tools of the experiment.

Heliopolitan, you could use the Primordial Soup and when it does not produce the aforementioned 'Life' you can explain the results away.

Peter could ask for an advanced order of Vacuum Packed Nothing and at that stage you might wish that you were studying what the 'I' is.

Brian, you could then sum the whole enterprise up and explain why this all goes to show that God is not real and that Christians are the ones to blame for the failure to produce 'Life'!

Post Script. Hot of the press! I hear someone called Campbell wants to offer sponsorship for anyone taking up the offer!

Comment number 36.

"Just thought that you guys might like to know that The Primordial Soup Company due the economic downturn is giving away quantities of their famous product for any of you with the courage to try and create any thing that might be described as 'Life'.

They are saying that if the giveaway does not go well that they are thinking of adding some DNA to the mix in the form of croutons and bacon bits. They are hoping that this may facilitate the desired outcome of creating 'Life' without biasing the results too much."

The company is wasting its soup, bacon and croutons. Extensive high quality research has shown that new life doesn't appear from food stuffs. If you look at the thoroughness of the investigation, there's just no denying it:

Comment number 37.

Smasher you are being defensive again about any negative news story involving the Pope. The BBC covered the story correctly: you can't blame reporters if the Pope made a blunder by reinstating a holocaust denier. At least, the Pope has now seen the error of his ways.

Comment number 38.

Has he? Or surely you mean the plural? In fact, this ultra-reactionary Pope has produced a 'Syllabus of Errors'. He has offended Turks by opposing their country's membership of the EU on the grounds that Europe is a 'Christian continent'. He has offended gays by claiming that they are as great a threat to humankind as global warming. He has offended Muslims by implying that Islam is an inherently violent creed. He has offended Protestants by telling them that they do not belong to ‘proper churches’.

So offending German Jews by planning to reinstate an anti-semitic bishop is just the most recent in a litany of 'errors'.
Turks, Gays, Muslims, Jews, Protestants are apparently all fair game. How do Christians in general feel about church leaders who seem so exclusive and intolerant? Surely, this is not what Christianity is meant to be about?

As for Mervyn Storey, he was partly trying to distract from the significance of the celebration of Darwin's birthday. Even the Pope, with all his deficiencies (or, rather, the last one) has accepted evolution).

Comment number 39.

My essential point remains that rulers no longer boast of their cruelty and I shall reinforce it, whether you like it or not.

The ancient rulers and their people were happy to broadcast their inhumaity or have it reported. This was true whether we are talking about the ancient Israelites or the Assyrians, The Bible is a good source partly because many people here are familiar with it, or think they are. Here are a few examples

1. In Chronicles we are told that King David "brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. " (I Chronicles 20:3) This is about David slaughtering captives after the cessation of hostilties.

2. "And Gideon said, Therefore when the Lord hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers" (Judges 8:7)

3. "Now Zebah and Zalmunna were Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword" (Judges 8:10)

4. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (I Samuel 15:2-3).

5. "And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under the axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem" (II Samuel 12:31).

6. "And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain." (Deuteronomy 2:34)

7. "And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Hesbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city. But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities we took for a prey to ourselves" (Deuteronomy 3:6-7).

8. "And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword" (Joshua 6:21).

Now, of course, the Israelites and the Assyrians were enemies. In Isaiah (ch10) we read: "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger and the staff in whose hand is mine indignation".

Assyrians, like the Israelites, boasted of their cruelty on monuments that exist in museums to this day.

For example:
1. "I cut off their heads and formed them into pillars".
2. "Bubo, son of Buba, I flayed in the city of Arbela and I spread his skin upon the city wall".
3. "I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins".
4. "Many within the border of my own land I flayed, and spread their skins upon the walls".
5. "3,000 captives I burned with fire".
6. "Their corpses I formed into pillars".
7. "From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes".
8. "I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, I bound their heads to posts round about the city".

Sennacherib claimed to have Hezekiah captured in his own royal city (Jerusalem), 'like a caged bird'.

However, we are told "Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned" (Is. 37:33-37).

These conflicts between the Israelites and the Assyrians are recorded in the Bible and on stone tablets and monuments. They are quite open about the pain and sufering they inflicted. Life was nasty, brutish and short. We would like to think we have evolved morally since those cruel times.

Evolution can be applied morally as well as physically'. Remember Lecky's expanding circle in his History of European Morals:

"At one time the benevolent affections embraced merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world".

In rhetoric, at least, we have moved through these stages.

Comment number 40.

Thats abiogenesis you are talking about-bugger all to do with evolution(yawn).

Why no present the positive evidence for your own position-but creationists never do that. Instead they wish to foist onto us an "explanation" that is that stupid and useless that even they do not use-and when you actually think about it. that is quite spectacularly stupid.

I am reminded of this maxim when dealing with creationists.

You should never argue with an idiot: the best possible outcome is that you win an argument with an idiot.

Comment number 41.

I am not suffering from the delusion that my feelings about your comments might cause you to desist from writing them, nor should they, I made that quite clear in my last set of thoughts, as I said, say what you like.

My main point is that there is a tendency, no, it's stronger than a tendency, more of a reflex action, which demonstrates one's antipathy towards Christianity. Now look, I'm not expecting you, or any other atheist on here to go easy, but as I have said it's getting awfully predictable and there seems to be no good reason for it it's almost as if any tenuous link will do.

And, as if to substantiate the impression I have of this along comes post 39 as evidence.

But just before I comment on that, I shall say again that I haven't ever in any way tried to either deny the violence recorded in the bible or those aspects of Christian history which are just plain wrong. We all know that people do bad things.

Having said that I'm wondering why you felt the need to reinforce the point with such vigour, only you of course can answer that.

You say too that we have evolved morally, have we? Personally I wouldn't call the dexterous use of rhetoric progress.

A cursory glance at this weeks papers will demonstrate how far we have to go. Indeed I'm tempted to quote the bible myself, there ain't all that much new under the sun.

And in your predilection for biblical quotes you entirely forgot to comment on the pervasive racism and Imperialism of Victorian times. Funny how I can't escape the thought that if a Victorian Christian, say for example someone like Anthony Ashley-Cooper had hit the headlines being accused of racism, then we'd have heard all about the ills of the Christian faith. Why is that I wonder.

I'm still thinking too of the topic no one wants to touch, modern Western racism, you know the sort which keeps the 3rd world in poverty so we can buy cheap goods. 80 percent of the world lives on 10 dollars a day, that's the price of the coffee and bun I bought yesterday. I'm sure you don't need the rest of the statistics, you'll know them as well as I do, perhaps better, but please Brian don't pretend we're morally superior to the ancient 'savages', we've just taken our sins and tied them up with ribbons and bows.

Comment number 42.

Petermorrow, you keep bashing on about Victorian racism and Darwin but remember, he was technically a Christian for a lot of his life, even destined for the ministry, at one stage, so your arguments are a bit self-defeating don't you think.

Comment number 43.

First of all I'm not trying to promote the idea that Darwin was a racist, that's what Storey was doing and I said I thought it was a dumb thing to do. As Brian said, he (Storey), was probably trying to pull some kind of diversion stunt.

What I have been trying to point out basically amounts to 2 or 3 things.

(1) The default mode which links Christianity and the bible to every ill.

(2) The fact that on this thread some have tried to dismiss Victorian racism as 'of it’s day', although, you never know, now that you have pointed out that Darwin and indeed most of the Victorians were Christians, or at least paid lip service to Christianity, maybe their racism will become unpalatable all of a sudden.

(3) Our racism, in the form of Western financial Imperialism, which everyone is still ignoring, in an attempt to point out that whatever the sins of the past, we have plenty of our own to be going on with.

You will notice too that with almost ever comment I have made, I have been the one to acknowledge and highlight Christian wrongs, past and present, including the Imperialism of the Victorian hymn writers.

Maybe you have a thought on the three basis points above, they have been outlined at various times in posts 12, 15, 22, 24, 29, 31, 41 and here again now.

Comment number 44.

Of course Darwin was a racist, his publications and theories were used by the Nazi regime to influence their race policies.

Comment number 45.

Predictability is a description that can be made of many comments, including your own. you are diverting away from the point, which is that morality has evolved from ancient times.

Note that I referred to the Old Testament only, which you have equated with Christianity.

Indeed, Christianity is a good example of precisely this evolution to which I am referring.
It was an advance on the earlier ethic of an eye for an eye.

So, now, Peter, there I am, praising Christianity!!

Comment number 46.

Augustine - my point it that where people are basically supportive of someone they make the effort to provide context and nuance, rather than going straight for the "Darwin was racist" approach. Your own post #37 uses expression "reinstating a holocaust denier" which is entirely untrue. The Pope has removed excommunication, in the same way it was removed of the Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans in 1960s by Paul VI. Williamson hasn't been "reinstated" as he was never a Catholic bishop to begin with. Williamson is a long way from becoming a Catholic bishop. In fact, as a direct result of the Pope's actions his own people have looked more closely at him and he's been removed from his post as director of seminary in Argentina. The same sort of thing happened after the Regensberg address, with many genuine Islamic scholars addressing issues of violence and Islam.

Pope Benedict is a good man, who towers above those who attack him, revealing their own racism with their attacks on his German roots.

Comment number 47.

"Of course Darwin was a racist, his publications and theories were used by the Nazi regime to influence their race policies." #44

Darwin never wrote about Eugenics and knowledge of how genes passed on inherited traits was unknown at the time he wrote 'Origin of the Species'.
Eugenics emerged from the later realization that traits are inherited, as well as genetic disorders.
Darwin did not advocate eugenic policies, in fact evolution theory helped overturn the widely held belief in the divine superiority of the 'white race'. (Darwin's books and others on Natural Selection were on the Nazi's list of 'banned' books.)
The primary 'scientific racists' were creationists who believed that science supported Biblical scripture, and that scripture supported slavery and the domination of one group over another.

In 1853 the Frenchman Arthur de Gobineau published 'An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races', in which he proposed that humans were composed of three races, the most advanced of which was the "Aryan Race".
Gobineau argued that civilizations collapsed due to race mixing. This work was highly influential in Europe and America and is widely acknowledged today as the foundation of so-called 'scientific racism'.

In 1857, one year before 'The Origin of Species' was published, Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon (creationists who argued that science supported the Biblical account of creation) published 'Indigenous Races of the Earth', based on phrenology (a pseudo-science that claims relationships between a person's character and the shape of the skull).
They stated "Nations and races, like individuals have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. And such has ever been the history of mankind. No two distinctly marked races can dwell together on equal terms." - Josiah Nott, M.D ‘Types of Mankind’. 1854.

Hitler was not a Darwinist and did not accept Darwinian evolution. Hitler was a creationist - or at least used creationist arguments - who believed that races and species were created by God, intended to remain distinct and separate:
"The most marvellous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator." - Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Table-talk (Tischgesprache im Fuhrerhauptquartier).
Hitler explicitly argues that humans could not have evolved from apes:
a) "From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump, as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.
b) "For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hitler's detestation of Jews was rooted in Christian anti-Semitism. The Nazi state incorporated an official Protestant church. Hitler professed himself to be a Christian and often referred to Christianity in support of his persecution of Jews. e.g. "I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work." - Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936.

Those that argue that evolution caused the Holocaust refuse to acknowledge the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe there are many documented persecutions, pogroms and expulsions, over hundreds of years, throughout Europe.
One can trace anti-Jewish belief in Christianity as far back as to the Christian scholar Origen in the early 3rd century, who declared that Jerusalem had been destroyed because the Jews had committed "the most abominable of crimes" in forming a "conspiracy against the Savior of the human race".
Martin Luther, Germany's most influential theologian, wrote an entire document called 'On the Jews and their Lies':
"First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it." . . . "Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues."

400 years after it was written, the Nazi's displayed Luther's 'On the Jews and Their Lies' during Nuremberg rallies, and the city of Nuremberg presented a first edition to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, the newspaper describing it as the most radically anti-Semitic tract ever published.

Eugenicists, Hitler included, often express the idea that Darwinian evolution (the agentless process of Natural Selection) is incapable of producing anything but degeneration and thus an outside agent - an 'Intelligent Designer' if you like - is needed to create, fix, or maintain a level of superiority.
Eugenics is an anti-Darwinian or counter-Darwinian concept.

Comment number 48.

Yes, we are all predictable! And this conversation is certainly evolving!

There is no reason to disassociate the Old Testament from the New, indeed it is the very ethic you refer to, 'an eye for an eye' which demonstrates the continuity.

If only it were an eye for an eye in our dealing with the poor of this world, at least then they might receive some fairness. Justice is the least we might expect to offer them. Why limit 'an eye for an eye' to the concept of violence? Anyway the context in Exodus and later in Matthew where the words are taken up by Jesus is in the context of the law courts, not a vigilante style personal vendetta so reminiscent of our sordid sectarian tit-for-tat killings. An eye for an eye, a burn for a burn clearly refers to the limits placed on any desire for retaliation while at the same time acting as a deterrent towards those who would do violence to other. An eye for an eye ends the cycle of retaliation and says this far and no further. The trouble with 'fair' is that it sounds like a good idea until somebody wants to 'get their own back'. Just imagine if the poor of this world could get their own back on us.

So, I agree, mercy is much preferable to justice, and Jesus takes the ancient words of Israel and says, to those of you who have been offended, do not seek revenge, do not seek compensation, it might be your right under law, it might be what's fair, but instead of taking, give again. "Turn the other cheek" - that is, greet your enemy again, as a friend, as you turned the first cheek to be greeted with a kiss, turn the other. In our terms it means to keep on offering the hand of friendship. Mercy delights to give people what they don't deserve, giving them instead what they need, gladly, no strings attached, no need of having to prove themselves, no need of having to merit what they might receive. Unwarranted, unmerited acceptance. It is what God is like, or so Jesus tells us. But how can we learn of mercy, without first understanding justice? We must know what is fair first, before we can be more than fair.

Unfortunately I agree with Helio, we are still savages, (or at least I am) albeit savages who have evolved silver tongues, and designer suits. However Christianity enables me to look my acts of injustice square in the face and consider mercy. An eye will not be demanded from me, and I need not demand one from others.

The real trouble is in getting beyond the rhetoric!

Comment number 49.

You are deluding yourself. You say:

"An eye for an eye ends the cycle of retaliation and says this far and no further".

That's absolute rubbish. You are trying to justify the unjustifiable. It was more than far enough.
If you slaughter all the enemy before you, including women and children and animals, you can't go any further than that, for heaven's sake! Try reading Joshua, for example. 'Leave no one left to breathe' is not about drawing a line! How can an intelligent person excuse the Old Testament atrocities in such a transparently feeble way!

There is no continuity whatsoever. The Old Testament is a record of brutal slaughter. The Christian message of turning the other cheek and loving one another is a complete reversal of the OT morality.

Well, here I am defending Christian morality as a definite advance on the previous Middle Eastern ethic and arguing that we are better today than two or three thousand years ago, yet curiously it is I who have been accused on this blog of having a low opinion of humanity.

Comment number 50.

Post 47 spot on. At least someone knows a bit of true history, not a distorted version.

Comment number 51.

I think we ought to take this a step at a time.

Where did I say that war was good?

I was commenting on the specific use of a phrase, check out the meaning.

Comment number 52.

I was watching National Geographic's series Universe and they were talking about giant black holes at the center of galaxies, supernovae, pulsars, and quarks. What does the bible have to say about these? Are the evil or not?

Comment number 53.

Funny, Marcus, I was watching TV at the weekend too. It was the UKTV Food channel, they were showing an American programme and the presenter was baking fruit scones. Unfortunately they didn't broadcast the recipe so I went looking for it in the bible. it wasn't there. strange that, but maybe they were evil American scones.

Comment number 54.

Are we all agreed that Darwin's racism or lack thereof has *no* bearing on the truth of his theory? (I really like PJ Wodehouse, but his use of the "n" word makes me very uncomfortable. Should I burn all his books?)

A lot depends on our background theories. Darwin's ideas *seemed* to challenge man's unique status. So a high view of human beings leads to charges of "speciesism" from animal rights activists etc. Hitler applied Darwin's ideas to the "volk" and other races. And of course we've Galton and eugenics, etc.

On the other hand BB Warfield (when he took time off from slaughtering Canaanites because the Bible told him so) felt that Darwinism was compatible with a Biblical view of providence, and that in fact Theism could provide the "teleology" that Darwin's "mechanical" causes lacked. He perceived compatibility - as did Henry Drummond, Asa Gray, James McCosh, George Wright. Explanation by natural law is not incomaptible with Divine Supervision.

Evolution by Natural Selection can be adapted and/or reinterpreted by many worldviews. So it is not intrinsically racist or amoral. It's the overarching worldview, not the specific theory that needs to be evaluated.

Comment number 55.

Hitler's "God" is notoriously vague. And you won't find much coherence on this topic in the Table Talk or "Mein Kampf". I don't think that's controversial.
I'm told you won't find a lot of coherence on any topic in Hitler's thinking. He didn't value intellectual coherence. Nor did he value Science as an effort to find the truth about the physical world (theoretical physics was considered to be too Jewish at one stage.) Darwin was invoked in so far as he could justify Hitler's preconceptions and aid his mythmaking. He was no more a "Darwinist" than he was "Christian".

Comment number 56.

#55. I think we'll agree that Hitler's thinking lacked coherence.

I haven't come across any instances of Hitler invoking Darwin or evolution in support of his "preconceptions and aid his myth-making".
There are examples of Hitler being utterly opposed to the idea that humans had evolved from apes. (See #47 above.)
Hitler seems to have been influenced in his thinking by the various pseudo-sciences that promoted the racial superiority of the 'Aryan race' and favoured 'racial purity' (See #47 above.) together with anti-Semitic writings, Christian included. He read large numbers of such tracts when young.

Hitler and the Nazis certainly persecuted atheists [Freethinkers], so it can't be claimed that he was an atheist:
"We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." - Adolf Hitler, speech in Berlin: 24/10/33

There are some books by historians that look at Nazism and their relationship with the Churches in Germany.
One is 'The Holy Reich, Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945' by Richard Steigmann-Gall. There's an interview here:

Inevitably the Nazis did their best to 'Nazify' religion (There were Christian leaders in Germany that opposed the Nazis, some gave their lives.), and it's possible that the Nazis had ultimate ambitions to re-draw German Christianity by jettisoning the Old Testament and portraying Hitler as a German messiah.

There's a long refutation of the charge that Darwin was racist (and also influenced Hitler) here.

On related topics. Slavery and post civil-war racial segregation and oppression of blacks was strongest in the American south, in States where fundamentalist Christianity and creationist belief was strongest. The Ku Klux Klan was a Protestant organisation and its leaders evangelicals. This article is by a Christian.

In South Africa the introduction of apartheid was strongly supported by the conservative and creationist [Afrikaner] Dutch Reformed Church, which also claimed there was divine support for apartheid.

Comment number 57.

petermorrow, who's got time to eat. Everyone is out hunting for the elusive "God Particle", the Higgs Boson. It looked like Cern with its big new machine was a sure bet just a while back but things changed and now Fermilab in the US has at least a 50-50 chance of winning and being the first to find the god particale. But don't take my word for it, here it is straight from the horse's mouth

Comment number 58.

"I haven't come across any instances of Hitler invoking Darwin or evolution in support of his "preconceptions and aid his myth-making". There are examples of Hitler being utterly opposed to the idea that humans had evolved from apes."

Good point. There are broad similarities between *Ernst Haeckel's* ideas and Hitler's and the Nazi's. Both viewed human societies in terms of anatomy, physiology and metabolic activity. Both wanted to preserve the genetic purity of their race. Racial Hygeine flourished under the Nazis - and Nazism appealed to the Haeckel School, who wanted to intergrate biological and sociological laws.
But of course Haeckel had his own "take" on Darwin, and Haeckel's followers had their own take on Haeckel. And there were pro-Nazi biologists who were anti-Darwinian. So I was quite wrong to use Darwin. Walter Gratzer in "The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty" also warns that "it would be absurd to make Ernst Haeckel the father of National Socialism".
Hitler's "creationism" was not of the Christian Fundamentalist variety. It was based on "Occult" fantasies such as Bulwer-Lytton's "The Coming Race" and Hans Horbiger's "World-Ice" theory. How seriously Hitler took these ideas is open to dispute. Himmler, notoriously, was a whole-hearted proponent.
But sympathy with these pagan ideas, and eugenics, euthanasia etc. placed the Nazi leadership in opposition to Christian doctrine. Hitler believed Christianity would die of natural causes, although there is evidence that the Nazi party intended to eliminate the churches when they won the war.
However, there is abundant evidence that the Nazis were open to reinterpretations of Christianity (Jesus as a proto-Nazi).
My sources here are Martin Kitchen, Richard Evans and Richard Overy. I left Burleigh out, cos he annoys Brian.

Comment number 59.

Peter Morrow - nice moves, beating all comers!

David Agnew - love your soup recipe!

William Crawley - does the caution about extending our contempoary sensititives to the past also extend to the default slamming of the bible here?

Brian - love your quote mining of the bible too!

Comment number 60.

This thread was started because a Protestant fundamentalist (Mervyn Storey) said and is doing something very stupid(which seems to be a default position for fundamentalists). If he hadn't said what he said then we would not have to respond. Pretty simple!

You have done a fair bit of quote-mining yourself OT so please do not get so sanctimonious very others.

Comment number 61.

It's my understanding that the Nazis attempted to justify their acts and ideology with a basically self-contradictory mish-mash of selectively chosen fragments of Christianity, atheism, Nietzscheism, paganism, evolutionary theory, and various other ideologies, philosophies, dogmas, etc.

(And I'd normally heard that the Christian element was primarily Catholic).

I don't think you can really say much about their ideology, other than it was a) utterly evil, and b) utter BS.

Nor can you draw any useful conclusion about idea x from the fact that the Nazis may have used some part of x in their propoganda.

Comment number 62.

"The more serious question we should ask is whether Darwin, judged by the standards of his day, would have been considered a racist -- or, quite the opposite, as a campaigner, in his own way, for the abolition of slavery. "

On reflection I think we have to applaud William for his even handedness here, because he previously invited a guest blogger into his shoes that made the same argument for the Apostle Paul and the bible-

Comment number 63.

"Some of the language of the Bible would appear deeply objectionable by our contemporary lights."

Will is quite right to raise this(though some posters inevitably object). I too must applaud Will on his even-handedness(as always). Indeed Will made a post himself examining the link between the Bible and slavery/racism/segregation-

Will does note that Baptists do tend to be a racist, nasty bunch.

Will also highlights Bob Jones (cough) "university", which banned black students. Interestingly Ian Paisley, former leader of the Free Presbyterian cult, got his honorary (cough) "doctorate" accredited in Bob Jones (cough) "university". Moreover according to 'Paisley' by Maloney and Pollock, Mr Paisley and Mr Jones were bosom buddies, Paisley was forever flying over to preach at Bob's. institution. Bob Jones did not hide his Biblical based racism and segregationist views(the children of Ham and all that)but Mr Paisley was best mates with Bob! Mervyn Storey is a Free P, maybe before he starts throwing the first stone at others he should remove the moat from his own eye. However a fundamentalist Christian behaving in a hypocritical manner. never!-/

Comment number 64.

Bad cough you have there, mind you will all that talk of BJ I'm surprised you didn't choke. Need a slap on the back, honey and lemon? -)

Just on a point of clarity, as I was the one who has objected most to certain comments on this thread. I have no problem in people critiquing or even giving Christianity and the bible a good old hammering, it's the 'knee-jerk' thing that's become a bit noticeable on here in recent months and it's the same old thing all the time.

The point William raises, and the one you refer to, about language and context is actually an important one and begins, whatever historical text we are talking about, with the question, 'what do the words mean', rather than what we think, or want, or simply assume them to mean.

Comment number 65.

The link I quote explicity aimed to correct misconceptions which arose in the link that you quote.

ie "theological misunderstandings" as Will put it, that the bible in its entirety encourages slavery.

Wilberforce made the same point ie that nominal Christianity which justified slavery misuing the bible had nothing to do with genuine faith-

See his "A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted With Real Christianity".

Comment number 66.

I really think the biggest questions here are not about Darwin but about that soup, post 35.

The real question. with eternal consequences for our personalities. is not- did evolution happen?

The real question is - did God create me?

The athiests here, as ever, hide behind evolution as a means of propping of their worldview and beating Christians.

As we well know, Christians can operate with or without evolution but athiests have no choice and that is why their posts so often smack of desperate and personal attacks on others.

(There is an argument in there for the moral superiority of faith. for another time. )

1) How did the entire universe come from nothing and with no first cause?

2) How did life begin from mud puddles with no outside help?

Comment number 67.

Good post as always! I do get a terrible (ahem)"cough" when talking about peeps like BJ.

I get what you mean, read and liked what you had to say about attitudes towards the third world(lots of food for thought)however(and unfortunately there is always is an however)this thread was started with, as you admit, a Christian saying something stupid. Would it not be better to encourage Christians not to say stupid things then peeps would not have to indulge in a bit of Bible-bashing?

Comment number 68.

(talking of Christians saying stupid things. )

Please direct your comments about the link I gave to Dr William Crawley. Dr Crawley simply pointed out the fact that millions of fundamentalist Bible-believers(ones like you) supported slavery and racism and quoted the Bible to do so. Dr Crawley also makes special mention of Baptists.

Ahhh I see that you are into the no true Scotsman fallacy.

Wilberforce was a great chap-it's a great shame that the TRUE Christians of the day did not listen to him.

Comment number 69.

GV #58. I think we'll agree that Nazi ideology took from many strands of thought, often contradictory ones e.g. pagan and Christian. (But then, a case can be made that Hitler was insane he demonstrated extreme megalomania, paranoia etc. A church portraying him as a messiah would probably have appealed to Hitler.)

It can be argued that Nietzsche had much greater influence on the Nazis than Haeckel as did Houston Stewart Chamberlain who promoted in his book 'The Foundations Of The Nineteenth Century' [pub 1899] the idea of an Aryan Jesus (otherwise God was a Jew) and Teutonic supremacy. (The Nazis took the idea of an Aryan Jesus fairly seriously. See: 'The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany' by S. Heschel.) Joseph Arthur comte de Gobineau certainly was a major influence with his 19th century writings concluding that the White Aryan race was superior to all others.

It can't be denied that there have been strands of anti-Semitic thought flowing through Christianity for hundreds of years. e.g. The Crusaders were indiscriminate when it came to massacring both Muslims and Jews (Jews were thought of as 'killers of Christ'). There has also been much anti-Semitic persecution across Europe e.g. in York, 150 Jews were massacred in 1190 for example.)
All this and more influenced the Nazis theirs was a 'grab-bag' ideology. To blame Nazism on Darwin is just a desperate smear.

The accusation by fundamentalist Christians seems to be that Darwin's theory of evolution (or even just scientific thought, however defined) led to Nazi genocide the implication presumably being that literal belief in the Bible leads to peace and co-existence. An argument that can be easily contested how many lives have religious wars and persecutions cost, and what else has Christianity been used to help justify? Slavery, apartheid and so on.

The term "survival of the fittest" was popularised by British economist Herbert Spencer in his 1851 work Social Statics, which promoted free-market economics. From this came the metaphor 'Social Darwinism'.
Darwin himself was opposed to his theory being extended by analogy to sociology etc.
However it’s used, the term has nothing to do with Darwin or his theory of evolution.

Comment number 70.

I would direct you to the maxim I posted in m40 however I will try to deal with you for one more time.

"The real question is - did God create me?"

Well we know that your god didn't, because thanks to you and Mervyn Storey-you have both given us empirical claims that we can examine under the microscope for the existence of your god. Unfortunately your "evidence" is that much twaddle and that stupid that creationists do not use it!which when you actually stop to think about it is spectacularly stupid!

"The athiests here, as ever, hide behind evolution as a means of propping of their worldview and beating Christians."

The usual garbage(yawn). As you well know evolution is not a worldview but science and intelligent Christians get it-so please try and not worry about it. The problem is that that some Christians (from the vocal fundamentalist minority) are making concerted efforts to push the mindless useless drivel that is Biblical creationism onto our kids in the classroom. A lot of us care about this(from whatever creed) at the attempts to get this perversion of science foisted onto our kids, which is an abominable effort by fundamentalists to make our children as stupid. ignorant and dishonest as they are.

"As we well know, Christians can operate with or without evolution but athiests have no choice and that is why their posts so often smack of desperate and personal attacks on others."

I would direct you to my comment above. I would also add that Christians such as yourself and Mervyn use aspects of evolution/science every day however no-one uses Biblical creationism-it is really is that stupid! hence the reason why creationists use such desperate, dishonest and personal attacks.

"(There is an argument in there for the moral superiority of faith. for another time. )"

You are not a good example of the moral superiority of anything.

As for your canards-you have google, I and others have discussed it with you many times before, we have given you links to dedicated science sites so why not fill your boots. but then again you are an absolutist fundamentalist and as such not interested in any view which challenges your narrow world view.

Now. this thread was about a Christian saying something stupid and wanting to do something stupid-do you want to talk about that and not hijack the thread?

Comment number 71.

Well all this talk about Creationism may still play out in Europe or elsewhere but in America, a court in Dover Pennsylvania, having heard the evidence put forth by both sides, decided Creationism is religion, not science and therefore cannot be taught as an alternate theory in science classes in public schools. So in America, it's "case closed." :-)

Comment number 72.

#71 - I take it this is some kind of joke, you're seriously arguing that creationism has less following in the USA than Europe.

While I admire the court in PA for making the distinction between Science and Religion, I don't think the same is true across the rest of your country.

Comment number 73.

I think we're in broad agreement. The Churches in Germany existed in a state of denial.
Richard Evans notes in "The Third Reich in Power" that Pastor Niemoller only realised the plight of the Jews once he was imprisoned alonside them.
More disturbing still are diary entries *of Jews* welcoming Hitler's accession to the Chancellorship. These Jews were believed that they would suffer to a limited extent under Hitler, but it would be to Gemany's greater good. They did not forsee the danger.
Anti-semitism predates Christianity - Antiochus Epiphanies can be seen as starting the trend (perhaps anti-Judaism would be more accurate in his case). The Romans viewed the Jewish people with increasing suspicion (the Jewish Revolts obviously didn't help). Gentile/ Jewish tensions proliferated in cities like Alexandria. The Hasmoneans conquered and forcibly converted many gentile towns and cities, which later looked to Rome for protection. Christians did assimilate to the anti-semitic climate.
Anti-semitic Christians could use texts from the *Jewish* scriptures (including the Torah) to justify this stance. Obviously this is not what the texts originally intended - they were written by Jews, for Jews. So this is a perfect illustration of the principle that texts need to be interpreted carefully in their original context (historical, canonical and literary). It is all to easy to make a text sound as if it endorsing a monstrous principle. That says precisely *nothing* about the original intention and meaning of the text.
On the subject of Darwin and genocides, any causal connection is bizarre. Haeckel was warned that his ideas would have disastrous consequences, but the Holocaust? I can't see that anyone could have predicted that. Could Hitler have predicted it in 1936? Even that seems questionable.
In any case, take Eugenics. The Eugenics movement was dependent on Mendelian genetics. Yet no one peruses Mendel's journals for links between the monk and the Fuhrer. No-one suggests that his ideas were dehumanising. So I think that it is facile to blame Darwin the man with some of the unintended consequences of his ideas.

Comment number 74.

I think we have agreement. On the Darwin / Nazi issue at least.

Before Antiochus Epiphanies was Ptolemy I Soter, before Ptolemy was Alexander and the Persians were before him. The Romans were just another in a long line of occupying forces of Judaea/Palestine/Levant.
I can see why the themes of deliverance, a messiah and a fierce belief in a promised land and of being a chosen people etc were so strong in Jewish belief.
History shows that invasion and occupation is often met with resistance rebellion with suppression. Hundreds of thousands of Jews died in the uprisings and subsequent Roman suppressions. (The many rebellions, suppressions and massacres in other regions occupied by the Romans are much less well-known, if documented at all, for several obvious reasons.)

I see the Bible (OT and NT), Torah etc only as documents of - small - historical and anthropological interest. I genuinely find it difficult to understand why people attach so much significance to them.

Comment number 75.

Dover in Ulster? Heaven forbid.

1) As I'm tired of repeating, Creation Science *even if it was true* would not count as a Scientific theory. How can any scientific theory prove that man was created after animals, the sun after light, and the sun simultaneously with the galaxies? Even strong scientific evidence for a young earth could not establish this. It depends on a presupposed interpretation of one text.
The Royal Society refused to discuss matters of politics, rhetoric, and religion. Boyle and Newton's religious views believed that Science and Theology both told the truth about the world, but they did not reveal how the Bible spoke to them when discussing business at the Royal Society. Hobbes was refused membership, in part because he discussed Biblical Interpretation in Leviathan. Theology may motivate us to pursue science, and it may even ground our faith in our rational faculties. But the interpretation of Religious texts was kept strictly out of the Societies affairs. For good reason - the correct interpretation of Genesis 1 is, primarily, a literary and historical question. It is not, primarily, a Scientific question.

2) Cardinal Bellarmine (who ordered Galileo to stop advancing Heliocentrism) wrote in his letter to Foscarini - "say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated [that is by astronomical observation and mathematics] is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown to me." Bellarmine, a strong biblical literalist, admitted that in principle a rational demonstration would lead him to reconsider his interpretation of Scripture.
In fact, on thos point he agrees with Galileo's letter to Castelli - "it was necessary, however in Holy Scripture, in order to accomodate itself to the understanding of the majority, to say many things which apparently differ from the precise meaning. As therefore the Bible, although dictated by the Holy Spirit, admits, from the reasons given above, in many passages of an interpretation other than the literal one and as, moreover, we cannot maintain with certainty that all interpreters are inspired by God, I think it would be the part of wisdom not to allow any one to apply passages of Scripture in such a way as to force them to support, as true, conclusions concerning nature the contrary of which may afterwards be revealed by the evidence of our senses or by necessary demonstration."
Why did Bellarmine and Galileo diagree? Galileo thought he had a rational demonstration for heliocentrism, Bellarmine thought that he hadn't. (Bellarmine believed (a) mathematics and observation was a less certain path to truth that deduction and (b) even on Galileo's own methodology, key evidence was missing.
The point for Young Earthers that even the opponents of the new "Scientific Method" agreed that a rational demonstration should lead us to reconsider scripture.

3) As proof of Galileo's contention that the interpretation of texts is too flexible to rule on scientific theories, consider that even the early rabbinic sources are not agreed on the correct interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

4) So any court should dismiss "Answers in Genesis" Creationism as Science *before any scientific evidence is produced*. Does "Intelligent Design" help? I can't see how - no clear definition exists for ID. Simon Conway Morris criticises ID in "Life's Solution". Yet Elliott Sober, perhaps ID's leading critic, in his review of "Life's Solution" feels that Morris is rejecting one version of ID simply to advance his own ID theory "Biological Fine Tuning".
Both Sober and the atheistic philospher Bradley Monton would consider "Cosmological Fine-Tuning" arguments to be a species of ID. In fact in much of the philosophical literature this is the case. Denis Alexander is probably the UK's leading Christian critic of ID. Yet he accepts and promotes Conway-Morris's design argument. Alexander says that John Lennox is the UK's leading ID proponent. Yet Lennox does not consider himself to be an ID proponent.
What is clear is that ID is not always indentified with Dembski, Behe and the Discovery Institute. The term no longer seems to have any practical use at all.

All in all I cannot see how Mr Storey has anything approximating a case.

One other reason for not wanting a Dover here - the judge's decision didn't settle the argument. The atheist Bradley Monton wrote an interesting review, which got him into all kinds of controversy. Yet his case seems trivially true.

Comment number 76.

Gveale, I think you gloss over the Dover trial a bit too easily. The proponents of ID were utterly embarrassed. Their intellectual dishonesty was exposed by a careful forensic deconstruction of their ID textbook showing how they had simply inserted the words Intelligent design wherever creationism had appeared before. and then pretended that they had come up with a new "scientific" theory.Two of their key witnesses perjured themselves in court, a bit of a drawback for somebody who claims to be a Christian.
Their examples of irreducible complexity were demolished stone by stone by biologists like Ken Miller and five of the iD expert witnesses, depite being listed beforehand never appeared in court.
To use a military analogy it was their Stalingrad.

Comment number 77.

I very much doubt that any attempt at a court case would even get around to discussing the evolution/creationist issue.

It would be all about the museum's independence, it's curators' right to their own internal decision making processes as laid down in its charter/constitution etc, etc.
There's been similar fusses made over past art exhibitions etc held in Britain.
The most Story could realistically do would be to attempt to stop any funding the museum receives from the assembly and that would have to be done via the assembly.

Storey's a politician, here's he's playing to his constituents.

Comment number 78.

(i)The point is that not *every* type of ID was on trial at Dover - just the Johnson/Dembski/Behe project.

(ii) ID may or may not cover Fine-Tuning arguments, Keith Ward and Simon Conway Morris' design-style arguments etc. It's not clear what the term refers to.

(iii) The Judge's ruling is based on a poor definition of Science - but I think the blame is being placed on the Defence team, who failed to challenge the ACLU's expert witnesses on key points (Pennock especially).

Comment number 79.

On the expert witnesses - it does seem that there was something of a panic at the Discovery Institute when they talked to the Dover School Board and their lawyers.
It is certainly worth reading Bradley Monton's review of the trial.

Comment number 80.

According to the ruling, several of the IDiots:

"Finally, although Buckingham, Bonsell, and other defense witnesses denied
the reports in the news media and contradicted the great weight of the evidence
about what transpired at the June 2004 Board meetings, the record reflects that
these witnesses either testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath on several
occasions, and are accordingly not credible on these points."

I'll try to find some time to catch up more on the Science of God thread too, as I see more ERPing there.

Comment number 81.

Hi Gveale, the two people who lied under oath were Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell, the two prime movers in getting creationism/ID onto the school curriculum.
For a brilliant and rounded account of the trial read Laurie Lebo,the devil in Dover.

Comment number 82.

I didn't ERP here. Just asked a question. I thought Minnich or Behe had been accused of perjury by someone. And for the record, I'm not bowled over by Behe's arguments.

I think Judge Jone's ruling on what does or doesn't count as science is open to question. The rest of the ruling didn't interest me, up until now.

The School Board's behaviour, and the approach of the "Thomas More" lawyers drew criticism from *the Discovery Centre* before the trial, never mind the Judge Jones. Whch makes me ask, what was going on in the background?
So I'll check out Lebo, ND. Thanks for the recommendation.

Comment number 83.

I didn't think you were ERPing, I guess it might be better to restrict the Royal or Pretender titles to the God and science thread.

You mentioned the lawyers bit. The Thomas More ('Moore' if I remember correctly?) people insisted they handle everything. The thing that made Dembski bail out was that he couldn't bring his own layer. So it seems turf bickering and power play may have been an important factor. If you're interested in the details of it, you might want to look at the National Center for Science Education website. Dover was their arguably finest hour and they have extensive online resources about the case.

Comment number 84.

Here is another very interesting survey on how mainstream Darwinism is around the world-

On the Origin of Species: Chapter III, Struggle for Existence

Darwin has already shown his reader the power of artificial selection and the exquisite variation that exists in nature. In Chapter III he asks how varieties can become full species. Crucial to this is what he calls "the struggle for existence". That may be a conflict for food or a battle against the elements. Part of the evidence for this struggle is the immense potential that animal and plant populations have to increase in size. Even the elephant, one of the slowest breeders in the animal kingdom, could take over the planet if it were allowed to reproduce unhindered for long enough. After 500 years, one pair would leave 15 million descendants, Darwin tells us. Populations are kept in check because there are not enough resources to go around, and that leads to intense competition for survival.

Before entering on the subject of this chapter, I must make a few preliminary remarks, to show how the struggle for existence bears on Natural Selection. It has been seen in the last chapter that amongst organic beings in a state of nature there is some individual variability indeed I am not aware that this has ever been disputed. It is immaterial for us whether a multitude of doubtful forms be called species or sub-species or varieties what rank, for instance, the two or three hundred doubtful forms of British plants are entitled to hold, if the existence of any well-marked varieties be admitted. But the mere existence of individual variability and of some few well-marked varieties, though necessary as the foundation for the work, helps us but little in understanding how species arise in nature. How have all those exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one distinct organic being to another being, been perfected? We see these beautiful co-adaptations most plainly in the woodpecker and missletoe and only a little less plainly in the humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped or feathers of a bird in the structure of the beetle which dives through the water in the plumed seed which is wafted by the gentlest breeze in short, we see beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world.

Again, it may be asked, how is it that varieties, which I have called incipient species, become ultimately converted into good and distinct species, which in most cases obviously differ from each other far more than do the varieties of the same species? How do those groups of species, which constitute what are called distinct genera, and which differ from each other more than do the species of the same genus, arise? All these results, as we shall more fully see in the next chapter, follow inevitably from the struggle for life. Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.

We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence. In my future work this subject shall be treated, as it well deserves, at much greater length. The elder De Candolle and Lyell have largely and philosophically shown that all organic beings are exposed to severe competition. In regard to plants, no one has treated this subject with more spirit and ability than W Herbert, Dean of Manchester, evidently the result of his great horticultural knowledge. Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult - at least I have found it so - than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey we do not always bear in mind that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.

I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals in a time of dearth may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture. A plant which annually produces a thousand seeds, of which on an average only one comes to maturity, may be more truly said to struggle with the plants of the same and other kinds which already clothe the ground. The missletoe is dependent on the apple and a few other trees, but can only in a far-fetched sense be said to struggle with these trees, for if too many of these parasites grow on the same tree, it will languish and die. But several seedling missletoes, growing close together on the same branch, may more truly be said to struggle with each other. As the missletoe is disseminated by birds, its existence depends on birds and it may metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants, in order to tempt birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds rather than those of other plants. In these several senses, which pass into each other, I use for convenience sake the general term of struggle for existence.

A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.

There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow-breeding man has doubled in 25 years, and at this rate, in a few thousand years, there would literally not be standing room for his progeny. Linneus has calculated that if an annual plant produced only two seeds - and there is no plant so unproductive as this - and their seedlings next year produced two, and so on, then in twenty years there would be a million plants. The elephant is reckoned to be the slowest breeder of all known animals, and I have taken some pains to estimate its probable minimum rate of natural increase: it will be under the mark to assume that it breeds when thirty years old, and goes on breeding till ninety years old, bringing forth three pair of young in this interval if this be so, at the end of the fifth century there would be alive fifteen million elephants, descended from the first pair.

But we have better evidence on this subject than mere theoretical calculations, namely, the numerous recorded cases of the astonishingly rapid increase of various animals in a state of nature, when circumstances have been favourable to them during two or three following seasons. Still more striking is the evidence from our domestic animals of many kinds which have run wild in several parts of the world: if the statements of the rate of increase of slow-breeding cattle and horses in South America, and latterly in Australia, had not been well authenticated, they would have been quite incredible. So it is with plants: cases could be given of introduced plants which have become common throughout whole islands in a period of less than ten years. Several of the plants now most numerous over the wide plains of La Plata, clothing square leagues of surface almost to the exclusion of all other plants, have been introduced from Europe and there are plants which now range in India, as I hear from Dr Falconer, from Cape Comorin to the Himalaya, which have been imported from America since its discovery. In such cases, and endless instances could be given, no one supposes that the fertility of these animals or plants has been suddenly and temporarily increased in any sensible degree. The obvious explanation is that the conditions of life have been very favourable, and that there has consequently been less destruction of the old and young, and that nearly all the young have been enabled to breed. In such cases the geometrical ratio of increase, the result of which never fails to be surprising, simply explains the extraordinarily rapid increase and wide diffusion of naturalised productions in their new homes.

Look at a plant in the midst of its range, why does it not double or quadruple its numbers? We know that it can perfectly well withstand a little more heat or cold, dampness or dryness, for elsewhere it ranges into slightly hotter or colder, damper or drier districts. In this case we can clearly see that if we wished in imagination to give the plant the power of increasing in number, we should have to give it some advantage over its competitors, or over the animals which preyed on it. On the confines of its geographical range, a change of constitution with respect to climate would clearly be an advantage to our plant but we have reason to believe that only a few plants or animals range so far, that they are destroyed by the rigour of the climate alone. Not until we reach the extreme confines of life, in the arctic regions or on the borders of an utter desert, will competition cease. The land may be extremely cold or dry, yet there will be competition between some few species, or between the individuals of the same species, for the warmest or dampest spots.

Hence, also, we can see that when a plant or animal is placed in a new country amongst new competitors, though the climate may be exactly the same as in its former home, yet the conditions of its life will generally be changed in an essential manner. If we wished to increase its average numbers in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have done in its native country for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies.

It is good thus to try in our imagination to give any form some advantage over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do, so as to succeed. It will convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings a conviction as necessary, as it seems to be difficult to acquire. All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.

Evidence for whale evolution from paleontology

The critical piece of evidence was discovered in 1994, when paleontologists found the fossilized remains of Ambulocetus natans, which means "swimming-walking whale," according to a 2009 review published in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach. Its forelimbs had fingers and small hooves, but its hind feet were enormous relative to its size. The animal was clearly adapted for swimming, but it was also capable of moving clumsily on land, much like a seal.

When it swam, the ancient creature moved like an otter, pushing back with its hind feet and undulating its spine and tail.

Modern whales propel themselves through the water with powerful beats of their horizontal tail flukes, but A. natans still had a whip-like tail and had to use its legs to provide most of the propulsive force needed to move through water.

In recent years, more and more of these transitional species, or "missing links," have been discovered, lending further support to Darwin's theory. For example, in 2007, a geologist discovered the fossil of an extinct aquatic mammal, called Indohyus, that was about the size of a cat and had hooves and a long tail. Scientists think the animal belonged to a group related to cetaceans such as Ambulocetus natans. This creature is considered a "missing link" between artiodactyls &mdash a group of hoofed mammals (even-toed ungulates) that includes hippos, pigs, and cows &mdash and whales, according to the National Science Foundation.

Researchers knew that whales were related to artiodactyls, but until the discovery of this fossil, there were no known artiodactyls that shared physical characteristics with whales. After all, hippos, thought to be cetaceans' closest living relatives, are very different from whales. Indohyus, on the other hand, was an artiodactyl, indicated by the structure of its hooves and ankles, and it also had some similarities to whales, in the structure of its ears, for example.

How is Darwin still relevant today?

24 November 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Darwin&rsquos On the Origin of Species (published first in 1859). After 150 years have passed, it is valid to wonder: Does Darwin still matter? The answer is an emphatic yes! As I contemplated writing an article about today&rsquos relevance of Charles Darwin and his masterpiece, I realized that what I was most interested in was how my former students, who had taken Muhlenberg&rsquos capstone course on Evolution as juniors or seniors, viewed the importance of this book and Darwin&rsquos ideas. As part of our course, each student reads all of On the Origin, and writes a large paper on the book. But if this book is relevant today, it should impact life beyond the classroom. How had the concepts of evolution and natural selection manifested themselves in the students&rsquo lives since graduating? So, I asked. And what you find below are the responses that students (voluntarily, there are no grades given after graduation :->) submitted, in their full, unedited form. I found the diversity of responses and insight very interesting, and I hope you do too. Clearly, Darwin holds major influence in many areas of our lives, both academic and beyond. The comments below are in no particular order the author is indicated above the text s/he wrote, and the year indicates the graduation year of the author.
Erika Iyengar, Biology Department, Muhlenberg College

For further information:
7:30 PM, Nov 12, in the Miller Forum (Moyer Hall), Muhlenberg College will host a public lecture by Dr. Warren Allmon, of Cornell University and Director of the Paleontological Research Institute, entitled "Why Darwin Still Matters."

Anne Kuebler &lsquo07
Up until I was 18, I thought that evolution was &ldquojust a theory&rdquo or &ldquoonly a theory.&rdquo I grew up going to a very fundamental church and while I loved it and still do, I had no idea what else was out there. Nothing else seemed to matter. It wasn&rsquot until college that I started learning about these &ldquotheories&rdquo of evolution this absolutely terrified me. What terrified me more was the fact that I was starting to like it because it made sense and there was too much evidence to dispute. I gradually started accepting it and by the time I read On the Origin of Species, I absolutely loved it. One of the most interesting things I learned from that book didn&rsquot even come from the text. It was the fact that that book was only the abstract! Darwin collected an unbelievable amount of data and it all fits beautifully into his theory of evolution through natural selection. Evolution may be &ldquojust a theory,&rdquo but it is probably the most well-supported and widely accepted theories science has ever seen.

Because of this book I was able to have a very interesting experience the summer after I graduated. I went to Romania with my church and stayed at a Christian orphanage where the children grew up being taught about the Bible and sang Christian songs every night. The people who started the orphanage are from my church so they are also very fundamental, which means the children at the orphanage were only taught about the Bible. There were never any teachings about evolution or science in general. One night, I got into a debate with someone over evolution versus Creation, with the Origin of Species being mentioned no less than twenty times. This debate went on for probably two hours. There was an 18 year old from the orphanage listening to us, and he was completely enthralled by everything we were talking about. He never even knew that evolution existed. After the debate I parted ways with my friend, both of us laughing about how we could not change the other&rsquos mind, at which point the boy from the orphanage came over and sat with me, asking me to basically repeat everything I had said. At first he was apprehensive about the idea of evolution (just like I was) but he said it sounded interesting. I have kept in touch with him the past two years and he now quite possibly knows as much as I do about evolution. He knows all the top scientists and all of their views on evolution and is still asking me tons of questions about it. He, like me, has not lost his faith but evolution just opened up a new way of approaching life and how it works. In my opinion, it makes everything even more beautiful than I already thought it was. I was happy that I could remember specific examples from the Origin of Species to strengthen my arguments and it made me feel good that I could completely understand the debate from both sides. I would never tell someone they are wrong in what they believe, but I like that I am educated enough to defend myself against whoever tries to tell me that I am wrong, or that evolution is &ldquojust a theory.&rdquo

Jessica Nesmith &lsquo09
First, I find that I have to constantly remind myself there is both a scientific definition for evolution but also a conventional connotation. Being in the world of biology I have an undeniable bias. However, societal use of evolved means something similar to improvement or betterment over another choice. This is not a wrong use per se but clearly NOT what Darwin intended in the concept. It is the confusion of the two that I think leads most people to misinterpret or misrepresent the original ideas that Darwin proposed. I compare it to the word abstract. In society it is an amorphous idea or concept but the science world interprets abstract as the abbreviated summary at the start of a paper.

Second, and this is more of a fun conversation that my roommate and I used to have, but her favorite thing I ever told her about biology is "A lot of what I find the most amazing is the fact that everything goes right so often. The wrong may be more obvious, but somehow in the vast majority the path is followed." Personally, I contribute that "going right" to boundless processes which were evolutionarily added in as checkpoints and reassurances of the correct assembly before continuing onto the next step. (Not sure if that totally relates but it's something else to consider.)

Becky Giuditta &rsquo07
Even though On the Origin of Species was written 150 years ago, Charles Darwin&rsquos ideas are still considered to be the foundations for the theory of evolution and natural selection. Darwin&rsquos plethora of examples makes On the Origin of Species a very impressive and convincing work. There were some things that Darwin had not completely or successfully understood, but this in no way takes away from the overall impact of his theory. In the past 150 years we have made many scientific discoveries and have a much better understanding of things, such as genetics and plate tectonics, as well as the discovery of fossil intermediates, such as Archaeopteryx. It is amazing how the majority of this knowledge not only doesn&rsquot contradict Darwin&rsquos ideas, but also actually supports it. With the increased study of the fossil record we have found some of the transitional stages Darwin refers to. Although correct about many points, there were some concepts Darwin was not entirely correct about. He recognized that Lamarkian ideas were not entirely right, yet he did believe in some aspects of use and disuse. Darwin argued that more individuals were born than could survive. There is a reason Malthus&rsquo theory is considered to be dismal, it creates an idea of a ruthless and soulless struggle, and in some sense Darwin&rsquos theory is dismal as well. The theory of evolution and natural selection not only changed the way we look at biology and other organisms, but altered the way we view of ourselves and the place we have in this universe. The struggle for existence paints a dark picture, which unfortunately includes humans. One of the reasons people consider evolution so controversial is that they believe it conflicts with religious ideas and the way we look at ourselves. Genesis claims that humans were made in God&rsquos image. Yet, natural selection does not create a hierarchy of beings, which means that humans are not the end goal, the most advanced or the best. One of the things that I was most impressed about while reading On the Origin of Species was how little I felt that it conflicted with my personal religious beliefs. If anything, it further confirmed in my mind that there is a greater being that is putting things in motion. Darwin explained that natural selection does not have the power to create new variations it can only act on the variations that already exist in nature. In my mind that is where God has a place in evolution. In its introduction Ernst Mayr claims that On the Origin of Species created an intellectual revolution that exceeds those created by Copernicus, Newton and any recent physicist. Charles Darwin wrote the &ldquobook that shook the world&rdquo, and even 150 years later we still can feel the rumble.

Jillian Carnrick &lsquo09
Having taken the Muhlenberg course on Evolution two years ago, I have found that there really is ignorance when it comes to the ideas that Darwin brought up in his book. In my Herbal Medicine graduate studies at Tai Sophia in Laurel, MD discussion on evolution, natural and artificial selection of apples has recently been coming up. The book &lsquoThe Botany of Desire&rsquo by Michael Pollan spends a quarter of the book discussing where the apples we eat today come from. Most forget that all of the red delicious apples you eat all came from the same tree as apples do not grow true to seed, the same as their parent apple tree. It is unfortunate that because of all of this grafting that we are causing a selection to occur. The discussion is then if this is natural selection, artificial selection, or neither. Our class could not decide the answer to this one. This could not be considered natural selection because the trees are not surviving into the next generation but rather being stopped from mating and producing more offspring with the possibility of more successful traits. This is also not artificial selection because even though humans are doing the selecting we are not letting the trees grow to produce any new offspring. What worries me the most about not allowing these trees to freely mate and produce offspring is that there may become a day where the trees have not been allowed to keep up with new diseases or predators through evolving with them and we may just lose all of the trees at once. This would be a substantial loss to both the economy and a food source for many people.

On the other side of things I have had a new personal discovery through studying the relationship of plants and people. As I mentioned above, there is the opportunity with evolution for things to evolve in relationship with each other, either to benefit from each other, for one to live off the other and conversely for one to give nutrients or similar to the other organism. Similarly plants and people can, and have, evolved to mutually help each other. One could say that the apple has evolved so close to humans that it became advantageous for humans to eat apples and distribute the seeds, a benefit to both plant and animal. But why do we eat the apples? They are sweet fruits that we enjoy and give us sustenance. Why then do we eat other plants? Are there plants that we have forgotten that have evolved with us that may also have a sweetness that may be advantageous to us? Could these flavors, chemical compounds, or medicines have evolved to help heal us just as things that infect us have evolved to do so? What evolution has taught me that has had the most effect on my life is knowing how much everything is interconnected and changes proportionately over time and location. It really shows how we are all one system and depend on all those around us for our species, or even our direct family to live into our next generation.

Having read Darwin&rsquos Origin of Species I have found that understanding evolution allows me to see the entire world, specifically our society, in a different light. I think that what I see and how I understand issues that appear in society are methods that would more effectively allow our culture to be more sustainable and live for many more generations. Darwin&rsquos book allows one to see how many different species have lived and died off because another species has outlived them. As many generations of humans pass it will be interesting if we will be a species that kills itself off by destroying all of the resources we need to stay alive. What kind of selection is this? Knowing how so many states are currently in discussion over health care. This system looks all at a disease model similar to how we treat our current environmental system, finding new solutions to our dwindling resources rather than preventing the problems in the first place. This may eventually lead our species to extinction so why are we following this method with our health care. If we worked towards a greater wellness of our community could we not prevent problems before they start creating a more sustainable community? This same discussion is one that is ever turning up at Tai Sophia Institute where our focus is on creating a more sustainable wellness community rather than treating a disease model.

Anonymous &rsquo04
I have been taking a course called Foundations in Wildlife Ecology this semester, and a theme that has come up several times is how progression in recent decades has been slow in this field. A few authors have suggested that lack of education in/appreciation of the importance of evolutionary theory contributes to this, by influencing the types of questions wildlife ecologists ask (or don't ask) and how results of studies are interpreted. Here's a quote from a paper we read recently that applies:

"What is different about questions asked by basic biologists compared to those asked by the typical wildlife biologist? I argue that, in general, (1) wildlife researchers do not ask "why" questions or search for ultimate causes (Mayr 1961, 1982), but tend to limit their investigations to proximate relationships (2) wildlife researchers generally have not had training in evolutionary theory and Darwinian reasoning, or if they have they do not see its value and (3) wildlife researchers avoid asking questions they feel are outside their discipline." (Gavin, T. A. 1989. What&rsquos wrong with the questions we ask in wildlife research? Wildlife Society Bulletin 17:345-350).

I thought that was suprising because I don't really see that biological phenomenon can be properly interpreted if evolution is taken out of the picture. It is also interesting because conservation biologists seem to take evolutionary considerations very seriously at pretty much every level. Two fields closely related but with different approaches.

At any rate, I guess you did your job well. I recently got some results back from my own research that were somewhat surprising and my first thought was how the results could make sense from an evolutionary stand point for the target species.

Marianne Cataldo &lsquo07
Honestly, I was not looking forward to reading On the Origin of Species. It is long, Darwin is long winded and I was very busy, but I am really glad I did. I recognized it as a book that changed the direction of science, the way we look at who we are as a species and how we got there.

My first impression on the book was that Darwin was a pretty poor writer. I guess I thought because he was such a great thinker and scientist that the words would have just flowed naturally, but that was not the case with Darwin (gives me hope for my meager writing abilities). Once I got into the meat of the book however, and began to look as his arguments and evidence for his theory I was blown away. Initially I was surprised at the shear quantity of evidence he presented, how simple and logical his observations and subsequent arguments were and how thorough he was in also presenting the weaknesses. Overall, the books ideas were relatively straightforward and easy to follow, if you can get through Darwin&rsquos lengthy descriptions.

The book and its author have received a lot of media attention recently. I feel because of that the real core of theory seems to have gotten lost. When I read this book it really emphasized to me that Darwin was just a person who noticed a pattern and drew a logical conclusion. He was not highly skilled in anyway nor did he have a lot of fancy equipment. He did not have some agenda to destroy religion (in fact he was a very religious man himself) he was just an observant scientist seeking the truth about the world around him. For me it also emphasized that religion and evolution do not to be at ends with each other. Evolution and natural selection are merely a theory for change and how it might have happened. They are not about why life happened or have anything to do with our purpose here, those questions, at least for me are reserved for religion and spirituality.

Beth Irwin &lsquo07
In thinking about how reading 'Origin' in your evolution class has helped me/shaped my interpretation of Darwin's work, I've leaned that I come across issues/topics involving Darwin and evolution more often than I previously realized.

Academically, Darwin/evolution pops up quite often in my career, as I am a biologist who studies plant chemical ecology, plant pathology, and entomology at a large research institution. I am currently studying plant disease ecology, vector behavior, and mechanisms of parasite host-finding/host-manipulation, all of which have an evolutionary basis and/or implication (or so my academic advisors and I like to think!). We are constantly thinking about how our recent results make sense in light of evolution (whether from the plant, parasite, or pathogen's perspective). Additionally, large universities are great for having diverse seminar presentations by big-name people, and PSU is no exception: over the last few years PSU has hosted seminars on how to design evolution-proof drugs, vaccines, and insecticides (namely, to combat malaria Andrew Read's work), and famous speakers have been invited to discuss their ideas on Darwin/evolution (Daniel Dennett, Michael Behe). I thoroughly enjoy these presentations because I have read 'Origin' -- I feel I have a better understanding of what they are talking about when they portray Darwin's ideas, and the mechanisms behind the principles (especially helpful for me during Read's evolution-proof malaria seminar).

Outside of my professional life, reading 'Origin' has helped inspire me to continue reading other works that touch on evolution and Darwin ('Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, "Finding Darwins' God" by Kenneth Miller, "The Language of God" by Francis Collins, and various recent Scientific American articles dealing with evolution). Reading and discussing 'Origin' firsthand in evolution class enlightened me to the true meaning of Darwin's ideas, rather than his ideas as portrayed by society today. While (sadly) I haven't read 'Origin' since evolution class, I do remember how poetic Darwin's prose was. I remember thinking about how his writing conveyed respect for science and society, despite the seemingly-heretical nature of his work. Hopefully someday (soon) I will get the chance to take 'Origin' off my bookshelf for a refresher.

Matthew Frye &lsquo04
In 1859 evolution was an idea barely in its infancy. Leading 19th Century scientists had only just begun to discuss a change in species over time, when quite abruptly Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. This text and its profound suppositions would forever change our understanding of the diversity of life on Earth. In it, Darwin put forth that evolution proceeds by natural selection a deduction made from his keen sense of observation and use of the scientific method. Since its publication, the Origin has had significant and lasting impacts not only on the scientific community, but society in general. &ldquoSo,&rdquo you might ask, &ldquowhat has this 150 year old text offered a 27 year old graduate student?&rdquo
I was first introduced to the concepts of evolution and natural selection as a 10th grade biology student in high school, and later again in introductory biology courses at Muhlenberg College. At that time evolution was a list of key terms to memorize and a few examples to understand for the pending exam. My appreciation for the dearth of information, experimentation, and the profundity of ideas advanced by Darwin improved tremendously in my fourth and final year at Muhlenberg, while taking a course specifically about evolution. It was here, for the first time, that I actually read Darwin&rsquos words, his observations, cleverly crafted arguments and deductions made from the evidence he collected. I must admit that reading this timeless text first hand did very little for my appreciation of 19th century prose with its use of incredibly long and convoluted sentences. Fortunately, students in Evolution were lucky to have an interpreter and guide Professor Erika Iyengar, who would help decipher and distill the key elements and ideas from On the Origin of Species.
Five years have elapsed since I last turned the pages of my 18th edition, soft-cover 2003 printing of Darwin&rsquos text that &ldquoshook the world&rdquo. Yet nearly every class I have taken in graduate school, and every discussion I&rsquove had about biological systems, has in some way referenced an idea articulated by Darwin. Whether learning about the dispersal of aquatic invasive species by movement of waterfowl, or studying the distribution of woody plants and the observed pattern that species found in northern climates are also located on distant mountain tops, as well as discussions of insect host preferences, I consider myself fortunate to know the true origin of these ideas. Ideas that did not first appear in my new biological control or dendrology textbooks, but were rather presented as evidence for evolution by natural selection in 1859.
But outside the realm of academia, creationism is the number one reason we hear of Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Starting with the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 to the more recent Kitzmiller vs. Dover 80 years later, evolution has been under attack by religious groups for decades. Wikipedia ( makes reference to 18 trials in which creationists, individuals who believe that life (especially humans) and all that is contained within the universe was created by a supernatural being, have attempted to remove evolution from classrooms throughout the US. What has come from this is a most important discussion, not about individual rights or beliefs, but about the nature of science. Were Darwin here today, this pioneering figure in the study of biology would champion the discussion about what is science, and what is not. That is, of course, after he recovered from the appalling results of the Gallup Poll released on the eve of his birthday stating that only 4 in 10 people believe in evolution, and that 55% of the 1,018 individuals surveyed could associate his name with the theory of evolution (
One of the arguments made to justify why so few people &ldquobelieve&rdquo in evolution and question science is a lack of understanding of this discipline. Most non-scientists fail to realize that this field of study is actually a process, which begins with observations of natural or experimental phenomena. Based on observations, a scientist constructs a hypothesis, or a tentative explanation of the phenomena, which asserts new predictions about the world. These predictions are tested in carefully designed, replicated experiments. Conclusions are drawn from the results of these experiments, and the hypothesis is either accepted, or rejected, modified based on the new information obtained, and tested again. For this information to be published in a scientific journal, it must first make its way through the peer review process, where other scientists and experts in the field judge the research based on its methodologies, results and conclusions, and whether it has been demonstrated before. After sufficient evidence has been obtained to support a particular hypothesis, it can become a theory. In this way, science as a process is observable, testable (potentially falsifiable), repeatable, and able to predict new facts or events. It is this rigorous process that makes science a truth seeking discipline, and why challenges by intelligent design proponents are flawed.

During my senior year at Muhlenberg, Philosophy of Religion was another influential course in which I participated. Much like reading Darwin&rsquos words for the first time, this course opened my eyes to an idea that has stuck with me ever since. Taking a broad approach to the study of religion, a common goal observed across centuries and continents is a desire to experience the ineffable to feel a sense of wonder and awe about the world we inhabit. While science may have the tools to explain those feelings as chemical reactions and processes, it is the experience itself, how we interpret it and how it makes us feel that escapes definition. We might conclude from this line of reasoning that science and religion are about two fundamentally different aspects of the human experience, the natural and the supernatural. Yet somehow the importance of Darwin&rsquos contribution to our understanding of the natural world gets lost in the artificial struggle that pits both sides against each other. For me, keeping this in mind is the best way to determine what people believe about religion, what they&rsquove been told to accept, and whether the theory of evolution can fit into their beliefs system.

As for some final thoughts I have this to offer. Over 175 years ago Charles Darwin served a naturalist on board the H.M.S. Beagle. During the five-year journey of this ship, Darwin was able to observe the natural world and elucidate from these observations the best possible explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. This discovery revolutionized the field of biology and has had tremendous impacts worldwide. Yet if Darwin or any other naturalist made this journey today, I question whether he or she would be able to make the same observations and deductions. This has little to do with Darwin&rsquos special talent for observation and more to do with the destruction we have imposed on the natural world. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution we have cleared more land and burned more fossil fuel than ever before in the history of this planet. In the United States alone, it is estimated that only 3-5 % of the available land remains as undisturbed habitat for plants and animals (41.4 % agriculture, 53.6-55.6% cities/suburbia). To make matters worse, one prediction with some empirical evidence suggests a direct 1:1 relationship between the amount of available habitat and species survival. If true, this would mean a major extinction event, perhaps already in motion, is due for all the suitable habitat we have either removed or effectively removed by altering habitat function to suit our own needs. Therefore, in response to my own question about what a 150 year old text can offer, I say an opportunity. Revisiting Darwin&rsquos work presents an opportunity for humans as a species to realize what can and has been lost due to our actions, and an opportunity to make changes that will restore healthy ecosystems to this earth. It presents an opportunity for future scientists to observe, and future generations to enjoy the natural world.

Mayr, E. 2003. Introduction: On the Origin of Species, A Facsimile of the First Edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. pp. vii-xxvii.
Tallamy, D.W. 2007. Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Kelley Bemis &lsquo07
I've tried writing this Darwin piece a couple times using an official format and it keeps coming out sounding insincere and corny. So given the deadline of 5:00 today, I'm giving up on "official" and just figured I'd type you out a long email letting you know what I think about Darwin and OTOS in a very informal format. Hopefully you'll be able to find something useful in my random stream of consciousness!

So when we started the book in Evolution two years ago, I "believed" in evolution and natural selection - but the terms had no significance in my life. The concepts meant nothing more to me than the Krebs Cycle or carrying capacity - just random topics I memorized for some biology test in the past. But when we started reading Darwin, I felt like someone was explaining the theory to me for the very first time. It was the fist time I remember feeling wonder and awe in a science class since elementary school. In part due to your wonderful teaching and in part due to Darwin's wonderful writing, the simple logic of the theory became suddenly beautiful. I felt like Huxley - "How stupid not have thought of that!" - and after finally understanding, wanting to defend Darwin to the death. Reading OTOS was also the first time I remember being exposed to the wealth of evidence in favor of evolution. If you had asked me why I believe in evolution before taking your class, my honest answer would have been "because a good scientist is supposed to". But when we read and discussed Darwin's book, I felt like all the pieces were falling into place - like I finally got it. Now if someone asked me the same question, I think I could talk for hours about transitional forms, vestigial organs, biogeography, etc. Furthermore, I think OTOS is one of the best examples of scientific reasoning a student can be exposed to. The story of how Darwin came up with the theory - collecting evidence, reviewing, and just thinking logically "Ok, so what explains all of this?" - is inspiring in itself. The fact that one of the greatest scientific theories of all time came from one guy, just being curious and using common sense, is amazing to me. As a student, it makes me feel like maybe one day I could come up with something great too.

And in the two years that have passed since I took your class, the passion for evolution OTOS inspired in me hasn't faded one bit. Now I try to read everything I can get my hands on when it comes to the subject - books, blogs, articles, you name it. I cheer a little every time someone uncovers a new fossil that supports the predictions Darwin made way back in 1859. And conversely, when I hear flawed arguments against evolution or natural selection, it gets under my skin in a way it never did before. I have so much respect for Darwin's ideas that when I hear someone twisting them into something else (especially those who equate Darwin to Hitler!), I feel the urge to throw something at them. Furthermore, while it's probably judgmental and unfair, the truth is belief in evolution has become a measure of intelligence and credibility for me. I stopped watching CNN after they did an entire report on the creation museum in Kentucky without once mentioning that creationism is not supported by scientific evidence. How can I trust a media outlet to tell the truth about political issues when they aren't capable of calling creationism what it really is - a theological belief?? (This goes for all the political candidates espousing intelligent design or arguing against evolution too). It's frustrating to know the vast majority of our country has strong doubts about the validity of evolution - and without ever really bothering to learn the evidence for or against it! I wish everyone would read OTOS before making up their minds but, sadly, I think most people just don't really care.
Finally, reading OTOS has affected me in another profound way that I hestitate to even mention, but, I think, in the end, it's important to talk about. OTOS and all the evolution-themed material I have devoured since has caused me to question many of the religious beliefs I was brought up with. I hate that this feeds into anti-evolutionist arguments but I think it does evolution a disservice to pretend that learning about how humans came about wouldn't start us thinking about why we are here and what purpose we serve. For me, learning more about evolution started me on a journey towards atheism but I think it is important to stress two things. 1) This was personal path for me and one that could have gone very differently for someone else. For some people, like Ken Miller, evolution only serves to strengthen their faith and many people find the beliefs compatible. That just wasn't the case for me. 2) This is not a "bad" thing I don't feel like I've lost anything. In fact, I see more beauty, wonder, and inspiration in the world around me because of evolution, than I ever did when I believed in a traditional God.
I know these couple paragraphs probably sound like the ramblings of a crazy person but it's hard for me to articulate the profound impact that reading OTOS and studying evolution has had on my life. Suffice to say, I am so grateful that I signed up for that class senior year and I feel more inspired and amazed by science and the world around us because of the effect that Darwin's masterpiece has had on my life.

Matthew Stensland &lsquo07
I had my last Developmental Anatomy lecture today and the professor ended by saying that the best case for evolution is in the study of human development because one can follow different phylogenies to see how they build on each other. Looking back on the past trimester, I can see what he was talking about. All through human embryological development, structures form and then degenerate. It doesn't make too much sense without an evolutionary perspective: those structures were most likely useful to one of our ancestors but not to us. During urinary system development, the pronephros is transitional and nonfunctional in humans but is active in some marine animals like hagfish. It's kind of funny to think that all of us carry around this genetic history of our past but some of us still insist on debunking evolutionary theory.

Medical school is an obvious place to come across Darwin's theories but what about sitting around and watching a movie? During 300, the movie about 300 Spartans battling massive hordes of Persians in ancient Greece, the opening sequence featured Spartan newborns being inspected for deformities and then being discarded if they were less than perfect. There it was, artificial selection, Darwinism in popular culture.

In my life, Darwinism seems unavoidable and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Medically, it's important for me to be thinking about these things, but it can also be fun to hypothesize about how things came to be and why humans and other organisms act they way they do.

Hope things continue to go well and keep teaching Evolution, it's a great course and biology majors need to be equipped with that information going out into the real world, no matter what field they're in.

Watch the video: Καλεντερίδης στον βουλευτή του ΖΥΡΙΖΑ, Ζαχαριάδη: Αυτά στους ομοίους σας τους πολιτικούς (January 2022).