Charles Darwin — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:37 pm on 19th March 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative 1:37 pm, 19th March 2009

My Lords, that was a helpful interjection, and some of my distinguished colleagues will be able to tackle that question much better than I can.

I was on the point of moving from that aspect of Darwin's life to explore a little the controversy over his theory of evolution and the concept of intelligent design. In other words, the arguments of the Bible literalists and those who say that Darwin's theory reduces humanity to a by-product of blind forces against those who say that God cannot exist because there is no evidence to prove it. I realise that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and doubtless other noble Lords will be exploring this further before there is another helpful interjection.

My view is that between the extremes of the argument lies a middle path. I agree with the view that faith and science are not fundamentally opposed to one another, and I also believe that faith is a gift. I somehow feel that Darwin was not an extremist. He saw what he saw, his observations were scientific and his methodology was rigorous. As he says in his autobiography, at one stage in his life, he was convinced that,

"there is more in man than the mere breath of his body".

I think that is a wonderful way of describing what many of us feel. Yet we are told that he died an agnostic, so not only did he not know, but he did not know whether it was possible to know, which I understand is the definition of an agnostic. The reasons for Darwin's loss of faith are of interest and relevance to believers and non-believers today. Questions about what constitutes legitimate and sufficient evidence for religious beliefs or how we understand or accommodate suffering within a religious context continue, and doubtless will continue, to be asked. However, it is important to remember and be guided by the fact that in spite of everything we are told, Charles Darwin remained as courteous and respectful to those who retained religious beliefs as he was to fellow agnostics. That is an example to be followed.

Finally, in considering the celebrations of this bicentenary year, we should also consider the legacy and look to the future. Much is known about 5 per cent of the universe, which leaves the challenge of the remaining 95 per cent. The Large Hadron Collider project in Geneva may give us some of the information and some of the answers on this. It may even give us more information on the Higgs particle, the so-called God particle. The important thing is that there should be people who question and people who are prepared to do the necessary research. Who will be the next genius to follow in Darwin's footsteps? Are we doing enough to encourage young people to take an interest? I believe that this debate and the many celebrations of the Charles Darwin's great achievements help us to move things forward.

This has been an absorbing subject on which to prepare for a debate. I have learnt a huge amount in doing so, and I look forward to learning more from the many distinguished participants in today's debate.