Yesterday afternoon I drove the 90 miles in to Glasgow for a meeting of the Humanist Society Scotland’s Glasgow branch. This was my first visit to this group, although I recognised a number of faces from the Glasgow Skeptics.
The main speaker was Paul S. Braterman, who gave the Darwin Day Lecture on the subject, Darwin, Science and Religion in the 21st Century. Paul is a chemist to trade, but extraordinarily knowledgeable and articulate on Charles Darwin the man and matters evolutionary. His talk was wide-ranging, covering a number of topics.
On the matter of the origin of biological information, something which causes creationists problems but not scientists, he quoted Francis Crick, “chance is the only source of true novelty“. In other words, variation through random mutation is the principle source of genetic novelty, but it takes selection to identify and preserve the biologically useful and therefore meaningful from the purely novel. Neither variation nor selection can, of themselves, generate useful new genetic coding which gets fixed in the genome, but rather both processes require to work together to do this.
Paul also gave an overview of Darwin’s progress through his life from Christianity, through theism (what we’d now call deism) to agnosticism in the terms of Thomas Huxley. Darwin’s autobiographical writings make his position later in life very clear; that’s more for my reading list!
Paul’s lecture concluded with what Darwin wrote to Edgar Aveling:
“freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”