Yesterday the House of Lords marked the Darwin celebrations with a 'debate' moved by Baroness Hooper, designed to call attention to the great man and his works. The event, which was attended by members of Darwin's family, tempted a gaggle of m'lords to the dispatch box to deliver eulogies to the great scientists and the legacy of his ideas. The tone - as you can read for yourself in Hansard - was fairly convivial, despite the fact that several of the Lords on show, like Lord Birt, are avowed atheists and three (count 'em, three) Bishops were slated to speak. As is to be expected in this day and age each of the Bishes praised Darwin fulsomely, emphasised how rapidly the C of E accepted evolution and claimed that there was no contradiction between Darwinism and religion. Well they would, wouldn't they? The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds even goes so far as claiming that in the New Testament Jesus "celebrates the scientific observations of his own day". Later on The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells helpfully reminds us that the Bible is not composed of "essays in biology or the natural sciences" but rather "stories". The Bible is "a poem not a treatise". The Prelate does a valiant job of making the case for religion as fiction but then appears to falter. Hansard thus records... "I am sorry, I have lost my place. I was on cracking from until then." Bless.
Of course none of the Bishes pass up the opportunity to warn that Darwinism itself is in danger of becoming a ideology, and joining in the currently fashionable game of Dawkins-bashing (now seemingly almost as popular as bashing the bishop). It fell to Lord Birt, cool rationalist that he is, to suggest that the importance of Darwin was that he "thought the unthinkable: that the world was not created in seven days; that species... were not fixed in time. Darwin" he continued, "ushered in the era of rationalism. The challenge for humanists and for other children of Darwin is to create a world based on respect both for nature and for each other, a world where science and evidence displace prejudice and bigotry, a world based on ethical values which aim to maximise the sum total of humans happiness here on earth." Well said, m'lord.
He finished with this thought: "One of the most intellectually thrilling experiences that I have had for many years was an evening last [year] at the University of London where young comedians and scientists offered deadly and arresting critiques of modern events and mores. I felt I had glimpsed a better, more rational future." What could he have been talking about?