Friday, 29 December 2006

Ever-looshun on an open top bus tour.

Went on an open top bus tour round London today to see the lights, with mother and family. We had a wonderfully entertaining guide giving the commentary. He said his name was George, but if we didn't like the tour and filled in a feedback form that would be read by the managers in his company, then his name was Shirley (I've changed the names to preserve anonymity). I've decided I liked him and hence he is "George".

Despite having been to London so many times, it was very interesting to get an "overview" and tour round so many sites, embellished by many anecdotes given by George. I now know the origin of phrases such as "laughing your head off", "on the wagon", "one for the road", and the locations in London where they originated. I now know where various famous people live - that Margaret Thatcher has a police guard outside her house to prevent her escaping, how much Madonna paid for the lease on her London house, and a host of other fascinating details.

One incident, however, got me wondering. George gave us a list as long of your arm of people buried in Westminster Abbey. When he got to Charles Darwin, he made the following interesting comment:

I don't know why Charles Darwin is buried in a church, because he discovered the theory of evolution and the the theory of evolution goes right against any idea of religion.

I remember raising my eyebrows and saying "Oh no it doesn't!". Where did he get this idea from? Does he mean ALL religions, or just Christianity?

A clue as to where he might have got this notion from lay in his pronunciation of the word "evolution". Though clearly a Londoner through and through, he pronounced the word in the American style with a short "e" as in "ever - looshun". For the correct pronunciation, we must listen to the beautifully modulated Oxonian tones of the Professor of Public Understanding of Science (Richard Dawkins) who usually pronounces it thus: "ee-vol-you-shn". It's important that this most English of ideas, discovered by an Englishman who is buried in Westminster Abbey, should be pronounced correctly.

I am guessing that the reason a Londoner pronounces evolution as everlooshun as opposed to eevolyoushn is that he has been listening to certain of our American friends who like to preach that chrisitanity will collapse as soon as we accept the idea that the earth might be more than a few thousand years old. Apparently 40% of Americans are of this opinion.

But all this is spectacularly unfair to poor old Charles Darwin; it is clear that he never intended his ideas to be countrary to religion, as is evidenced by the following excerpt from a letter of his to Asa Gray in 1860, the year after publication of "Origin of species":

With respect to the theological view of the question: This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically, but I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.

(Note: the Ichneumondiae are parasitic wasps)

What seems fascinating to me is that Darwin apparently believed in a sort of Intelligent Design - to the extent at least that God designed the laws of the Universe. Another even more telling Darwin quote comes from the London Illustrated News of 21st April 1862:

I feel most deeply that this whole question of Creation is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton! Let each man hope and believe what he can.

It seems to me that Darwin is here not far from the apostle Paul who states "Now we see through a glass darkly" (I Corinthians Ch 13).

Though Darwin's inital faith was gradually replaced by agnosticism, motivated probably more than anything else by the tragic loss of his daughter, I do not feel, given the humility and sense of wonder at the universe and Creation displayed in Darwin's quotes given above, that it's inappropriate that Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey and nor do I feel that his theories are at all counter to religion - certainly he never intended them to be so.

Our friend Richard Dawkins I think would like evolution to be counter to religion, and lead us all to be atheists. I guess he would not appreciate being buried in Westminster Abbey. However, as "George" told us that the Abbey has been declared full and there will be no more people buried in it, I guess that is impossible that Dawkins will find the same resting place as Darwin. Dawkins has said (I recall) that he would consider it an honour to become a fossil, so may the Powers That Be grant him that honour ;-)

There is only one form of evolution that I am definitely opposed to. The mutation of the pronunciation from ee-vol-you-shn to ever-loo-shaan is to be resisted at all costs.

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