Last week, I was walking down St. George Street on UofT campus, and in front of Sidney Smith Hall, the main Arts & Science building, was a group of people handing out copies of Darwin's "Origin of Species". I was super happy! I didn't have a copy of Darwin's incredible work, and to get one for free from some random people on the street was just awesome. I should have noticed something was up when I mentioned that I was really excited because I'm currently listening to Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", and they didn't really want to talk to me anymore after that. The only information I got was that they were giving out copies because it was the 150th anniversary of the publication of the "Origin of Species", which, incidentally, is today! Happy birthday, Theory of Evolution!
Skipping happily towards the astronomy department (where I spend all my waking hours), I was anxious to show off my new treasure to all my astronomy buddies. The first person I saw was my friend whom I shall call E, and she asked me if I had read the introduction. Huh? No, I hadn't really looked at it closely, I was just all like, "Sweet! Free book!" She informed me that this was in fact a modified version of the book, edited to include a 50-page introduction by a fellow named Ray Comfort, which attempts to completely discredit Darwin and his theory. It's also missing a couple of important chapters (I assume they're important if it wasn't seen fit to include them). The idea, apparently, was to give out this version of the book at several universities so that students would be presented with an "alternative" to evolution so that they could decide for themselves whether or not to believe in the theory. It's a project called "The Origin into Schools" and is headed by a group called Living Waters.
A YouTube video outlining the main goals of the project can be seen here. If you don't want to watch the whole thing (and I don't blame you... it made me slightly nauseous), the main points are that North Americans are being stripped of their religious rights (not praying in public, etc.) and so in order to stop the spread of atheist teachers brainwashing students into believing evolution, the Living Waters people want to present students with an alternative in the form of this new edition of Darwin's work (which is now public domain). Points brought up include the apparent lack of evidence for evolutionary theory (totally untrue) and Darwin's own immoral beliefs (probably also mostly made up, though it's rather irrelevant).
To tell you the truth, this book makes me sick. I feel betrayed by those nice people on the street who I thought were genuinely spreading the joy of learning and science instead of sneakily trying to discredit Darwin's work. I happen to believe in Science, in our ability as logical beings to take evidence from our surroundings and form falsifiable theories about nature which are subject to revision when new evidence presents itself. I think it's a good way to try to explain the wonderful universe we live in. That these creationists will take one of the masterpieces of modern science and befoul it in such a way is simply insulting. In my view, it's equivalent to republishing the Bible with a 50-page introduction explaining how everything in it is totally wrong, and then giving it to devout Christians with the expectation that they'll change their mind about their faith.
Actually, I think it's worse because very little of Ray Comfort's introduction is based on fact (besides the historical stuff at the beginning). A pretty good review of the introduction is given in this YouTube video (and I'm sure you can find lots of rants on the subject), and so I won't argue all the points in great detail. The point is, the "arguments" in favour of creationism are based on a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution and the evidence in favour of it. They're based on rhetoric and word play, and on things that don't have anything to do with the validity of the theory such as Darwin's moral values and that Hitler used social Darwinism to start the holocaust. Even if Darwin was a jerk, what effect would that have on the validity of his work? Newton wasn't always a very nice person either (for example, his dealings with Leibniz), and no one's doubting that the theory of gravity is right.
Finally, I just want to say that although religion has been the cause of many many problems in the world (subjugation of women, mass genocides, racism, etc.), I don't have any problem with people having personal faith in a God. What I do have trouble with are the attempts to force these beliefs on others. I also have a problem with people saying that their religion is the only truth and that other faiths aren't valid. That lack of open-mindedness in today's "enlightened" world really gets my goat. Personally, I'm more or less atheist, or a teacup agnostic at the very least. I don't have a need for religion in my life, and though I wouldn't be able to prove to you one way or another whether or not God exists, I live my life as though He (or She or It) didn't. I can find comfort in my fellow human beings and I base my morals on treating others as I'd like to be treated (I don't have to believe in Jesus to believe in that). For the big questions, "Where did we come from? Why are we here?" I find science can provide pretty good explanations, and for what it can't explain, I'm happy not knowing until we get more data.
Well, that was kind of depressing. I promise my next post will be all light-hearted and fun.