The Beagle In Retreat


The Economist has a truly balanced and fascinating feature about evolution's battles outside the United States.

In Kenya, for example, there is a bitter controversy over plans to put on display the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human being ever found, a figure known as Turkana Boy—along with a collection of fossils, some of which may be as much as 200m years old. Bishop Boniface Adoyo, an evangelical leader who claims to speak for 35 denominations and 10m believers, has denounced the proposed exhibit, asserting that: "I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it."

Richard Leakey, the palaeontologist who unearthed both the skeleton and the fossils in northern Kenya, is adamant that the show must go on. "Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Mr Leakey has insisted. Local Catholics have backed him.

Rows over religion and reason are also raging in Russia. In recent weeks the Russian Orthodox Church has backed a family in St Petersburg who (unsuccessfully) sued the education authorities for teaching only about evolution to explain the origins of life. Plunging into deep scientific waters, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, Father Vsevolod Chaplin, said Darwin's theory of evolution was "based on pretty strained argumentation"—and that physical evidence cited in its support "can never prove that one biological species can evolve into another."

The first thing I think of here—maybe this is weird—is Mark Steyn's America Alone. One of the theses of Steyn's book is that a wave of Islamic conversions or Muslims outbreeding secular Westerners will snuff out the spirit of the Enlightenment. Well, here we have the the frontier outposts, the Rorke's Drifts, of Christianity, and there's some of the angry science-bashing that Steyn fears from Islam.