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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Why did they bury Darwin in Westminster Abbey?

I'm gradually starting to work on my book about evolution by accident. The first chapter is "Darwin Died in 1882." The point I'm making is that evolutionary biology is a 21st century discipline not one that's stuck in the nineteenth century.

I was re-reading an old article from the 2006 issue of Skeptical Inquirer with the title1 I picked for this blog post. The author is W.G. Weyant, an historian at the University of Calgary (Calgary, Alberta, Canada). He says,
Why, then, did they bury Darwin in Westminster Abbey? The brief answer is "because he was dead," but that, while true, clearly is not the whole story."
The whole story is interesting because it reflects the attitudes of late Victorian society in England. This was a time when scientists were honored even if, or especially because, their ideas were upsetting. It appears to be an age when smart, rational, people were admired.

I don't know if this is still true in Europe but it's not true in Canada and it's certainly not true in the USA. Actors and singers are admired, but not intellectuals. I wonder what late Victorian society would have thought on seeing the memorial services for Francis Crick and Michael Jackson? I wonder what they would have thought of Ted Cruz?

Weyant also writes,
Approximately a decade after publication of the "Origin of Species" in 1859, most educated Englishmen, including many of the clergy, had accepted the fact of evolution. More that a few of them were uneasy about where the evidence and their reason were taking them, but they went nevertheless.
That's an interesting way of putting it. Today, we see many people who are faced with the same uneasiness but the response is quite different. When the choice is faith or facts, they choose not to follow the path of reason.

I think we're finally beginning to realize that science and religion are not compatible, confirming the worst fears of educated Victorians back in 1882. Jerry Coyne's new book is likely going to start a serious debate, one that has been largely ignored in the interests of accommodationism.

1. I wasn't the first to do this; see Why did they bury Darwin in Westminster Abbey?


  1. I was raised High Episcopalian, which is almost Anglican. I don't recall meeting anyone who actually believed. Not in the creed as written.

    Perhaps everyone hopes their was some kind of nice sky fairy, or perhaps some sort of afterlife. No one looks forward to dying, and no one likes to think that friends and relatives who died young or horribly are simply gone.

    But I was never taught to be suspicious of science or to consider it an enemy of religion.

    Religion was where you went on Sunday morning and where your affirmed your status in the community. Sometimes it was where you achieved your status or where you met an employer of business associate.

  2. Research has been done, and at least one book has been written, tracing the anti-science attitude of recent times to the attempt to put warnings on cigarettes. Many of the same people from the same PR and advertising firms went from convincing the consumer that more doctors smoked Kent to convincing the polis that global warming, various environmental concerns, etc., are shams. I don't know if any of these people have been involved in the battle against evolution or vaccines, but the tactics are well known by now, and a great deal of damage has already been done in the public mind to the credibility of science as an enterprise and scientists as honest practitioners of said enterprise. Along the way there's been collateral damage, such as public distrust of scientific statements that GMO foods are safe.

    1. There's something to be said for that, but you can't forget the anti science feeling that came from the development of nuclear weapons, largely by people like Oppenheimer who considered themselves "basic scientists".

  3. Of course, the most important scientist who ever lived, Isaac Newton, is also buried in Westminster Abbey.

    1. Go to your room and think about what you've done!

    2. And Westminster Abbey is also probably the only major church with the fundamental equation of relativistic quantum mechanics engraved in the floor, on Paul Dirac's tomb.
      Lou Jost

    3. Dirac was buried in Tallahassee. He only has a commemorative plaque at Westminster Abbey.

    4. What is amusing is that if you travel to different universities in Florida, every one of them seems to make a big point of claiming that Dirac was connected to them.

    5. Strangely, the more certain I am about which of these universities he was actually associated with, the less certain I am about how quickly Dirac was able to travel between them....

    6. Re Judmarc

      Dirac had an endowed chair at Florida State University (his daughter was married to one of the young professors there). I was a post doc there and once had lunch with him, where we compared notes on Edward Teller who both of us had a low opinion of.

  4. AHA. Thats right. Why was he buried in the great, non Evangelical, church.
    This because he was instantly accepted by the establishment with a anti Christian agenda. It wasn't from smart people but establishment people who didn't know much about it. Yet liked its anti Genesis points.
    They were alse the same people denying democracy, pro imperialist, and generally against the common man by way of the class system that suited them fine.
    They all thought the same and agreed with each other in typical British submissiveness. Just better then the europeans.
    Evolution acceptance was done by mosr EDUCATED folks there just because of acceptance of authority. NOt that they thought or read it through.

    I didn't know a book was being written by the host here. Do Sandwalk regular posters get a free copy?? Or Canadian ones?

  5. Moran, you should come with pretty good arguments and science facts demonstrating that evolutionism moved beyond selectionism to explain novel geentic information and conserve it. I am pretty sure you will fail, because I have not seen a single novel mechanims here that can potentially do so.

    The folly of mutation and drift...I kindly refer to my reply to Mikel in the previous thread.

    I cannot wait to read your book...maybe I will write a review for the JoC...

    1. The mechanism isn't all that novel. That's like talking about the "novel" method of using computers to do computation; you won't find that either. :)

    2. Predictably no response of Moran himself...what else is new.

      The news is there is nothing new in current molecualr or whatever modern biology that is able to explain what we see on this planet. A big fat crisis in evolutionary biology is all there is left.

      Lets wait for Moran book with all the brilliant novelties, like mutation, drift and selection...


    3. Not to forget the brillian novel mechanism of... accidents

      Proposal for the subtitle of your book> Folly without limits.

      Or> Evolutionism requires no brain to think.

    4. Ah gee, Peer the schmuck might write a review of a book that Prof. Moran is writing. I'm sure that the good professor is shivering in his boots. Not.

  6. This article from the Oxford Words blog discusses "The evolution of the word ‘evolution’":

  7. Terborg care to tell us what's wrong with selection, artificial or natural? Ever tried sorting blueberries? Did it work?

  8. Larry,

    This is great news! Hopefully you are going to "write" something new and extraorinary rather than criticizing people who actually do write and have to face the consequences...

    Larry,,, when I've heard the news your upcoming book, I was so amazed that I had to create an account just to comment on my enthusiasm. Larry... I'm proud of you and I will support your new endeavor all the way if need be....