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Monday, September 19, 2005

What? You don’t believe in Darwin?

Well, if you don't believe in Darwin fandom, don't read this piece, in which Pulitzer Prize journo John Darnton writes,

Some years back, I was given a tour of Down House, Charles Darwin's country estate, and allowed to sit in the special chair in which he wrote "The Origin of Species" and other revolutionary works. The chair was one he had devised himself: High-backed, stuffed with horsehair, it had casters attached so that he could scoot around his study to reach his books, his working table and his microscope. He had fashioned a cloth-covered board to fit over the arms as a writing surface.

Once ensconced there, with the board lowered in place, I felt an indescribable thrill, like a child settling into the swing at a country fair when the bar descends to lock him in place. What a giddy ride Mr. Darwin has given us!

To listen to Darnton, you would think that Darwin was some kind of saint, and all his troubles came from the cruelty of the world around him. Historically, that's all bosh, of course, as such claims always are, when made about major historical figures. (If a child is killed by a drunk driver at five years old, maybe we can make that claim, but not otherwise.)

Interestingly, having treated Darwin as a sort of victim of his times in this article, Darnton is about to publish/has just published a novel, which promises to "reveal the secrets" of Darwin. According to a reviewer at Amazon, "this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud—and a murderer." That's more than a few steps, in my view; it'll be interesting to see the reaction of those, like Dawkins, for whom Darwinism made it intellectually fulfilling to be an atheist.

This stage is not so surprising, really. As Darwinism slowly dies as a theory for understanding life, its founder is gradually being transformed into a folk figure, like Freud or Che Guevara—all the more recognizable — and a suitable subject for pure fiction — as he becomes more irrelevant.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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