A marvellous thing has happened for scientists and scholars everywhere: Charles Darwin's entire works have been put online here. Searchable, clickable, linkable... wonderful. It's all there, the Origin of Species, the Descent of Man, even sketches and notebooks - the whole shooting match. For me, this is what the internet is actually all about and should always have been all about, though I'm sure there are Web 2.0 disciples out there who are a bit miffed that you're not allowed to write 'what a load of shit' at the bottom and run off giggling.
But have a look at this report on the Darwin website by the BBC and see if you can spot what it is that disturbed me. Just a little phrase in there that should set a couple of alarm bells ringing.
The anonymous BBC drone writes:
The resource is aimed at serious scholars, but can be used by anyone with an interest in Darwin and his theory on the evolution of life.
His theory on evolution has influenced many science disciplines
One word. Theory.
Theory of evolution.
In 2007, we're still talking about a 'theory' of evolution?
Make no mistake: that word is significant. It doesn't just pop into sentences about Darwin and evolution unless it's meant to. It's not an accident. Let me make a comparison. Let's see what the BBC write about Isaac Newton here:
However, in 1687, with the support of his friend the astronomer Edmond Halley, Newton published his single greatest work, the 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica' ('Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'). This showed how a universal force, gravity, applied to all objects in all parts of the universe.
There's no doubt about that, is there? No 'theory' of gravity. It's written as if it's fact - which of course it is to all rational scientists. But so is evolution, to all but the most wilfully ignorant of scientists, all but the extremists, the religious wingnuts who can't swallow the idea of evolution as a fact so try to get it taught as a theory instead.
It's in the classroom that the religio-fascists try to get their way, more specifically in the United States, though my own country isn't immune of course, as this creationist zoo near where I live shows - the website doesn't give much of a clue as to what's inside, and parents could be forgiven for thinking it's a zoo like any other... but when you get inside, the 'educational' side of the visit is taken up with pseudo-scientific explanations for the Bible and attacks on evolution. This is an attraction for children, I remind you.
Heaven forbid (yes, pun intended) you might try and be a politician, particularly on the right in America, unless you're determined to be a completely ignorant bastard about the truth of evolution:
Huckabee later added, "If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it."
This isn't some complete jerk who's entered the presidential race as a bit of a joke. He's a former governor of Arkansas; he's someone who has garnered millions of dollars and thousands of backers in support of his push for the Republican nomination. He's someone who genuinely thinks - maybe thinks is the wrong word; believes - that human beings aren't descended from primates. He clearly has the intelligence of a gnat, created or evolved.
And he's also a baptist, as CNN finds it important to tell us. What? Is religion really that important? How about libertarian, liberal, socialist, Keynesian, monetarian? There isn't room for that on the CNN profiles, apparently. All we know is the religious status of these politicians: you have Hilary Clinton (methodist) against Rudy Giuliani (catholic); Barack Obama ('christian') against Fred Thompson ('protestant'), and so on, and so on. Not an atheist among any of the leading contenders, by the way. Not a single one of them with the cojones to try and be honest about it. Is it just that atheists don't want to be president? Or that a president could never (again) be an atheist? Even an agnostic? No? Are things really worse than I thought?
Here's another worrying sign. I put 'Darwin' into Google News to see how they'd be covering the release of the documents, seeing as I'd only just read about it on the BBC. And the search came up with this piece of excrement. In the news section. The fucking news section! Interestingly enough, I didn't come up with any such article from an opposing political standpoint. Is that because science is too smug about itself? Does it take it for granted that evolution is accepted as fact by all except a minority of stubborn religious limpets, clinging on against the tide? Well, it shouldn't.
There's still a battle to be fought by reason against these idiots. There's still a case to be made against those who pollute the internet with lies, fake science and religious rubbish. There are still those who would insist on calling evolution a 'theory', and some of them will be writing articles about science. Putting Darwin online is the beginning of that battle for reason; it's a wonderful step forward that will hopefully allow children of whatever upbringing to look at the great man's work and decide for themselves whether evolution by natural selection, or a fairy story, is how the world of today came about. As the American presidential race shows us, there is still much to be done.