Propping up the straw men, exploding Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr, former BBC politics editor, amongst other things, has written a piece for the BBC about "The danger of worshipping Darwin". Now, as if that wasn’t enough to raise red flags in the heads of all those who accept evolution through natural selection as being the current best explanation for how life as it is came about, within the first section of the article Mr Marr refers to – yes, you guessed it – "Darwinism." Then the alarms bells start to ring.

The last three paragraphs of the first bit should give you some idea about why I found the article particularly maddening:

There’s no doubt that Darwinism, and indeed scientific truth generally, can supply people like me with some of the nourishment religion offers.

Richard Dawkins wrote an excellent book, Unweaving the Rainbow, about this.

But aren’t there also dangers in trying to replace religion with a secular equivalent?

The article goes on in the vein of "Darwinism as a (replacement for) religion" for most of its length, with happily foolish phrases like:

There may have been no Darwinist Eden but there is certainly a Hell waiting for a species that makes the worst choices.


To deal with the consequences, we have to turn to scientific evidence, which will be brought to us by – yes – Darwinists.

Let’s make this clear, shall we? Anyone who refers to his or herself as a Darwinist is either ignorant or a fool or both. "Rationalist" might be an acceptable term, "Atheist" is often – though not always – applicable, "Free-thinker" is my preferred word for it but "Darwinist"? Not a chance, and for exactly the reason that Mr Marr states at the end of his piece:

However we celebrate the old man, we mustn’t let his work crust into creed or harden to dogma.

Those of us who accept Darwin’s theory as being the best explanation for evolution will quite happily tell you that this is exactly what we don’t do. It’s not a creed, or a dogma. It’s a scientific theory that explains how life came to be as varied and weird and wonderful as it is over millions of years. It’s a theory that explains how we, along with other species, evolved from common ancestors. It’s not a rule about how to live your life. Nor should it be.

It’s worth pointing out, to be fair, that Marr makes it quite clear that he doesn’t think that "Darwinism" some kind of secular religion (the paragraph mentioned above notwithstanding). But then he says this, which really made me cross:

Darwinism, as I take it, is a creed of observation, fact, a deep modesty about conclusions and lifelong readiness to be proved wrong.

No, Andrew, that’s called Science. Calling it Darwinism suggest that it was Darwin’s idea and every school child who ever learned anything in science classes knows that it wasn’t. The scientific process – observation, hypotheses, experimentation and conclusions – has been around a lot longer (ever heard of – to pick a name at random – Galileo?) than Darwin’s theories and will continue until long after those theories are refined to the point of being unrecognisable to Darwin (though at the moment I suspect that with a little explanation of genetics Darwin would very much recognise the current theory of genetic evolution by natural selection because it’s funamentally unchanged; we’ve just worked out what the mechanism for it is).

The trouble with this kind of article is that it gives the idiots who like to wave the "Atheism is a religion too" and "Atheists worship Darwin" flags even more ammunition for their lunacy. It’s no more valid than any other kind of lunacy, of course, but it’s boring having to listen to the same old straw men being propped up by someone who’s got access to the mass media in the way that Andrew Marr does.