A choice that we all face these days

Yes, a favourite photo of mine, at the opposite end of the spectrum mentioned in this posting from the photo in that posting, is this one:

I originally posted this photo, photoed in WH Smith Liverpool Street Station, at the old blog in January 2008. For me it remains as delicious and fresh as it was on the day I first photoed it.

I also copied the old posting across to this blog. I think the photo deserves the double immortality that BMNB may yet confer upon it.

National Geographic on the evidence for evolution

Following my recent medical disappointments, I have been pondering, as you do in such circumstances, the big questions. Like: What Do I Really Believe? And it turns out that one of the biggest things I believe in is evolution, as the best explanation for why we humans are the sort of creatures we are, altruistic and selfish, affectionate and murderously aggressive, doomed to die, and so on. I was raised by Church of England atheists, and that is what I still am. The older I get the more this is so.

But what is the evidence for the truth of evolution, as opposed to the rival god-did-it explanations which evolution is slowly but surely replacing?

Was Darwin Wrong? asks a recent National Geographic cover. Inside, in very big capitals, the answer: NO. (Thank you Steve Stewart-Williams.) I opened up the article, to learn what I hoped would be more about all this evidence.

No one observation of the natural world would be enough to convert a convinced god-ist, because after all, god can do anything he pleases. Atheism is hard to prove with one knock-out punch. But evolution wins, for me, overwhelmingly, on points. Point after point after point, each point being made perfect sense of by the idea of natural selection of chance variations, and each point meaning that any god is going to have to have been the kind of god who, for no very obvious reason, wanted all creatures without exception to look exactly as if they had all evolved. Simply, evolution makes sense to me, while god, especially the idea of God that Christians and Muslims proclaim, makes, to me, no sense at all. It’s the range and volume of evidence that is so convincing.

Two of the many points made in the National Geographic article made particular sense to me. It’s not that I’d never thought before about such things, just that this time around, they both hit home with particular force.

Point one:

All vertebrate animals have backbones. Among vertebrates, birds have feathers, whereas reptiles have scales. Mammals have fur and mammary glands, not feathers or scales. Among mammals, some have pouches in which they nurse their tiny young. Among these species, the marsupials, some have huge rear legs and strong tails by which they go hopping across miles of arid outback; we call them kangaroos. Bring in modern microscopic and molecular evidence, and you can trace the similarities still further back. All plants and fungi, as well as animals, have nuclei within their cells. All living organisms contain DNA and RNA (except some viruses with RNA only), two related forms of information-coding molecules.

Such a pattern of tiered resemblances — groups of similar species nested within broader groupings, and all descending from a single source — isn’t naturally present among other collections of items. You won’t find anything equivalent if you try to categorize rocks, or musical instruments, or jewelry. Why not? Because rock types and styles of jewelry don’t reflect unbroken descent from common ancestors. Biological diversity does. …

Point two:

Vestigial characteristics are still another form of morphological evidence, illuminating to contemplate because they show that the living world is full of small, tolerable imperfections. Why do male mammals (including human males) have nipples? Why do some snakes (notably boa constrictors) carry the rudiments of a pelvis and tiny legs buried inside their sleek profiles? Why do certain species of flightless beetle have wings, sealed beneath wing covers that never open? Darwin raised all these questions, and answered them, in The Origin of Species. Vestigial structures stand as remnants of the evolutionary history of a lineage.

As I tried to explain in this conversation with Patrick Crozier, evolution performs, for me, many of the functions of a religion, in that it gives the best answers we humans have to the “big questions”, like: Where did we come from? And: Why does life feel the way it does for us? It even makes sense of things which we personally reproach ourselves for feeling, like an extreme and “irrational” fear of irrationally hostile strangers.

What I do not feel, now or ever, is any need to believe anything to be true that I do not in fact believe to be true. In that sense, evolution is not my “faith”, if that’s what faith is. Doubting Thomas, in the Bible (here comes my Church of England upbringing), says to Jesus: “Lord I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.” I simply believe what I believe, and doubt whatever I doubt. I believe in evolution, not just as true but as very helpfully and very illuminatingly true, and I do not doubt it.

When checking the links in the above, I discovered that National Geographic doesn’t want me to read that article again. It seems I have gone beyond my limit. I hope that if you want to read it, you’ll be luckier.

London Fields creatures

And I don’t mean creatures to be seen in the fields of London. I mean creatures to be seen in a particular place in London called London Fields. Until recently, I knew London Fields only as the title of a Martin Amis book.

But, earlier this month I journeyed out to London Fields, to see it and to meet up with a friend.

And I photoed creatures.

Photo 1:

The creature with the devilish horns being the bit that particularly interested me. The rest is, to me, incomprehensible.

Even more impressive, creature-wise, was this:

In this we observe two creatures combining to mimic a third creature. Rather good, I think. I wouldn’t want to shrink it and have it permanently on a wall in my home. It’s not that good. But I like that I could photo it.

Here is the original photo from which the above square was picked out, which included a human:

London seems to be divided into places where this sort of thing is allowed, and even encouraged, and the far greater number of places where it is very much not allowed. I live in the latter sort of place, which is duller, but maybe also safer.

London Fields, the book (see above), is a tale about a murder.

When taxation is defenestration

Daylight robbery, …

… via Mick Hartley, to whom thanks.

For this guy, only the window tax is “daylight robbery”, because that’s the only tax he can photograph.

Whereas, for this guy

Patrick posted our conversation about Steve Stewart-Williams and evolution ( and I’m glad he did)

I am starting to take exercise by doing exercises, which I have not done since my school days, which put me right off the whole idea. I am being supervised and guided and advised and encouraged by a physiotherapist attached to the Royal Marsden. This morning I attended (virtually) one of his group exercise sessions, and it was a real effort, lasting more than half an hour. Then, after only brief lie-down, I went out on a big shopping expedition, and of course bought too much stuff for me to carry in comfort and am now totally knackered. But, I still owed this blog its daily feed.

Luckily, however, an email from Patrick Crozier has now arrived saying that our latest recorded conversation is now up and listenable to, so here’s my posting here alerting you to that.

Our conversation was based on and revolved around the book by Steve Stewart-Williams entitled The Ape That Understood The Universe, which regular visitors to this blog will know that I like a lot.

Patrick and I have already fixed that the next of our conversations will be about how World War One started, which Patrick knows a lot more about than I do.

Diabolical Davies

I’ve just been catching up with my Facebook lurking, and therefore have only just come across this:

I started listening and didn’t stop until it did. And I learned a lot.

I really like how Davies writes, and am particularly looking forward to reading his book about the history of the horse, which I trust is still happening.

Masked beast outside St Ermin’s Hotel

There must be a million statues with masks on them these days, given what these days are still like, but here’s the first one I have actually encountered on my recent photo-travels:

Yet another photo-souvenir of the times we have all lived through (apart from those of us who didn’t).

That particular beast (what exact sort of beast it is I can only guess – Dragon? Bear?) is the one holding a sign, saying nothing at all, outside St Ermin’s Hotel, which is near to St James’s Park tube, which is one of my local tube stations.

One of the arguments I am looking forward to learning more about, as time goes by and as the Covid books start appearing, concerns just how little good and how much harm these muzzles have done, and, crucially, how soon they knew, or should have known, such stuff.

James Tooley talks about Really Good Schools

I’ve just listened to the whole of this podcast (which I encountered here), in which Paul E. Peterson talks (for a little over forty minutes) with one of my most favourite public intellectuals on the entire planet, Professor James Tooley:

It’s not just what he says; it’s the way he says it.

Here is a link to more information about Tooley’s latest book, Really Good Schools. If you want to buy it on Amazon, here.

When I searched Amazon for “tooley really good schools” I was asked if I meant “toilet really good schools”. But, it did at least show me what was looking for.

What Tooley says, in his ingratiatingly polite and scrupulous manner, is that the best way to sort out education is to have a totally free market. He is the world’s leading spotter of private sector schools for the world’s poorest people, and would like to see this sort of thing spread to richer countries. Although, interestingly, he is skeptical about education vouchers. Politically, they don’t seem to work, because they attract such heavyweight teaching union opposition, and crucially, even if they could be made to stick politically, they might well put off the very people who would be best at owning and running such schools.

Tooley and Peterson also talk about the impact of Covid restrictions, and the consequent rise of home schooling, particularly in the USA. But although Covid has revealed that public schools have been bad compared to private schools during this crisis, when the crisis passes, will very much be revealed as having changed with any permanence? Maybe. We shall see.

Patrick and I talk about Enoch Powell

The latest Patrick Crozier/Brian Micklethwait recorded conversation is now up and listenable-to. We talk about Enoch Powell, of whom Patrick writes:

Enoch Powell was a prominent politician in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for his views on immigration although he was also friendly towards libertarian ideas especially on economics. While a large part of our chat is inevitably taken up with immigration we also discuss Margaret Thatcher, Steve Baker and the end of Empire.

I embarked upon this conversation fearing that I had not done enough homework. But during Powell’s career itself I was paying attention, and, stimulated by Patrick, I found myself remembering a lot more, of the sort that I had not, so to speak, remembered remembering beforehand.

Also, I wasn’t expecting to notice the Powell/Steve Baker parallels. Both took/take ideas more seriously than they took the mere achievement of office, and both consequently had/have a big Parliamentary impact. Baker also resembles Powell in being extremely clever and extremely industrious. (Baker also resembles Powell in not being a racist.)

This is the biography of Powell that Patrick had been reading.

Happy Easter!

I hope you are having one.

I definitely am, and I will tell you (a big part of) why. This, on YouTube, from Steve Baker MP, no less.

Just over two minutes long, so not a big chunk out of your life it you follow the above link and watch it all.

I’ll surely have more to say about this by way of thanks. But, busy day for me today, and I could hardly postpone at least noticing this here.

Ask, and you shall receive. This exploiting my impending death to achieve a dose of upward social mobility thing is really working out well.