Christopher Booker is troubled by the fervour surrounding the 200-year anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.
By Christopher Booker
Published: 5:09PM GMT 07 Feb 2009
As councils ran out of the grit they had failed to stockpile because they fell for the Government line that climate change made it unnecessary, Britain was last week doubly-carpeted, partly by snow, partly by a blizzard of tributes to Charles Darwin. What did these have in common? In contrast to the centenary of Darwin’s death 26 years ago, what has been noticeable about this homage, not least on the BBC, is how relentlessly reverential it has been.
One would never have guessed from the adulation heaped on the great man by the likes of Sir David Attenborough that there is something very odd about Darwin’s theory. He did not, of course, originate the idea that life on earth had evolved. This notion went back to the ancient Greeks, and was accepted by many of Darwin’s predecessors, including his own grandfather Erasmus. The novelty of Darwin’s thesis was his claim that evolution could be explained solely by the process of natural selection, whereby an infinite series of minute variations gradually turned one form of life into another.
One great stumbling block to his argument is that evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested – “the Cambrian explosion” of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds.
Years ago, a good illustration of this was Attenborough himself claiming to ‘prove’ Darwin’s theory by showing us a mouse and a bat, explaining how one evolved into the other. He seemed oblivious to the obvious point that, as the mouse’s forelegs evolved by minute variations to wings, there must have been a long period when the creature, no longer with properly functioning legs but as yet unable to fly, was much less ‘adapted to survive’ than it had been before.
As even Darwin himself acknowledged, these jumps in the story might have seemed to render his thesis â absurd’. He might therefore have recognised that some other critically important but unknown factor seemed to be at work, an â organising power’ which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place. But so possessed was he by the simplicity of his theory that, brushing such difficulties aside, he made a leap of faith that it must be right, regardless of the evidence. In this he has been followed by generations of ‘Darwinians’ who have found his theory so beguiling that, like him, they have refused to recognise how much it cannot explain.
What is fascinating about the Darwinians is their inability to accept just how much they do not know. Armoured in their certainty that they have all the answers when they so obviously don’t, neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rest their beliefs just as much on an unscientific leap of faith as the â Creationists’ they so fanatically affect to despise. It is revealing how they dismissively try to equate all those scientists who argue for ‘intelligent design’ with Biblical fundamentalists, as their only way to cope with questions they cannot answer.
Something strikingly similar has been taking place over the belief that the world is dangerously warming, due to the rise in man-made CO2. For a time the believers in this theory seemed to have the evidence on their side, as CO2 levels and temperatures rose in apparent harmony. But lately all sorts of evidence has been put forward by serious scientists to suggest that this theory is seriously flawed, not least the fact that recently falling temperatures were not predicted by any of those computer models on which the advocates of global warming rest their beliefs.
It becomes increasingly obvious that, like the Darwinians, the warming supporters are so convinced by the simplicity of their theory that they are unable to recognise how much they do not know – and like the Darwinians their response has been to become ever more fanatically intolerant of anyone who dares question their dogma. This might not matter so much if they hadn’t, on the basis of their faith, persuaded so many of the world’s politicians to propose measures which threaten to inflict a real economic disaster on the world.
At the end of David Attenborough’s tribute to Darwin last week, he showed the staff of the Natural History Museum reverentially moving the statue of Darwin into pride of place amid the Gothic columns of the Dinosaur Hall, like the altar of a cathedral. It has replaced the statue of Richard Owen, the great 19th century biologist who not only created the museum and coined the term â dinosaur’, but on purely scientific grounds was one of Darwin’s most trenchant critics. Seeing him replaced by Darwin is a warning of what happens when science ceases to be scientific and becomes a substitute religion. The symbolism of the change is more perfect than its perpetrators know.
Gill and Harry entangled in a southern scandal
There has been a hilarious twist to the bid by the shock troops of the global warming scare to pretend that, contrary to all the evidence, Antarctica has lately been warming up, Behind this claim were scientists belonging to America’s leading pro-warmist blog RealClimate, including Michael Mann, creator of the notorious â hockey stick’ graph, and Dr James Hansen’s colleague Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
When their allies at Nature made a cover story of their claims, this hit headlines across the world, trumpeted by all the usual suspects, from the BBC to the Guardian’s George Monbiot (aka the Great Moonbat). But they hadn’t reckoned with the forensic expertise of the two leading US science blogs, Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, run by Steve McIntyre, the chief demolisher of the â hockey stick’.
Combing through the data they discovered that the chief evidence for a warming Antarctica came from a single weather station, ‘Harry’. But the data for ‘Harry’ was not all it seemed. Secretly spliced in with it were lower temperature readings from a quite different weather station, ‘Gill’, so that the higher and later temperatures from ‘Harry’ (cocooned for several years in snow) made it look as though there had been a warming which didn’t exist.
So embarrassed was Schmidt when this sleight of hand was exposed that he pretended it had come to light through an ‘independent’ observer, who was then revealed to be himself (after reading the blogs run by his more assiduous critics). But perhaps Nature, Moonbat and Co. should apologise to their readers for having been fooled by such chicanery.
A long overdue goodbye to Iraq
Following the election victory of Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose forces last year liberated Basra from the insurgent militias, Major-General Andy Salmon, the British commander in southern Iraq, declared that this met Gordon Brown’s goals for removing Britain’s 4,000 troops from Iraq by the end of July’. The general seems to have forgotten that Maliki was so angry at how the British handed over Basra to the insurgents in 2007 that before Christmas he contemptuously asked us to leave Iraq as soon as possible, Mr Brown and Army commanders may wish to hide from us just how humiliating our failure in Iraq has been. But it has not escaped the notice of our Iraqi and American allies.
As usual there has been a striking contrast in reporting on the â snow event’ between the BBC and the rest of us. BBC employees have religiously stuck to the politically correct script by describing snow-depths only in centimetres. But when members of the public are interviewed they cheerfully measure it in feet and inches. One exception was the BBC girl in Kent on the morning it began who, after describing how snow had ‘fallen heavily’ through the night, was so taken aback by the sight of all that white stuff she blurted out that it was ‘two inches’ deep. We must hope that, unlike Carol Thatcher, she keeps her job.