Thursday, 3 June 2010

Science, Art and Religion - One

What really annoys me today is the lack of rigour in a recent attack on Darwinism that I have read by Brian Ridley of the Royal Society. This piece isn’t the usual religious nonsense, rather ill argued or misunderstood thoughts. He has decided that natural selection resulting in animals fitting their ecological niche is a tortology. To paraphrase, as they are always found to be there and if they had not adapted they wouldn’t be there. Niche is defined in terms of adaptation and adaptation is defined in terms of niche. This misses the point.

Ridley is using the works of Jerry Foder and goes on to back his train of thought with the proof that, as snowy regions are white and are therefore good for polar bears as they have white fur, therefore the white fur of polar bears is an adaptation to snow. He posits that in order to prove adaptation a counter factual is needed, evidence that “say, that all polar bears with green coats died out as they did not adapt and that we cannot know the fate of polar bears without white coats" and therefore cannot prove adaptation in terms of natural selection and Darwinism. I’m not a Royal Society scientist but, as a polar bear is a bear, surely the brown and black bears of the larger northern hemisphere land masses do exactly the job of a counter factual?

Anyway, have a read in the Salisbury Review this quarter and see for yourself. I understand where he is coming from Darwinism doesn’t necessarily explain everything and as all science needs constant revision and testing but the thrust of his argument in this case is absurd. Yes there is a case for the spark of life coming from elsewhere in the cosmos by asteroid collision, yes, consciousness and life force are important topics for discussion with relation to natural selection and yes I deplore, as he does, any Darwinist who elevates his understanding of the science to an unalterable faith comparable with the “great religions”, or indeed climate change, these ‘scientists’ might as well burkha their wives as or pray for rain if they do not wish to question the scientific prevailing wind.

The point for theatre and art in general is to remember, that within all this, it is as much our job as that of the scientist to question the prevailing opinion of received wisdom, for if the dogma of the day cannot be questioned on the English stage, where can it be questioned? There is a disquietening tendency in our society to take everything at face value. As a member of the first generation to grow up without the fear of God and the solace of an afterlife (although many people find a deep sense of comfort from religion; the numbers have fallen drastically) I feel that it is important that we do not fill the God-shaped hole with unwavering faith in one side of any scientific argument, politics, the media or indeed be strong armed into filling it with Allah.

Be contrary in your art.


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