This is another archival repost, originally written for the old blog in Dec 2007.
Read about member of parliament George Galloway in any British newspaper, no matter what its editorial policy or political situation, and you will read about corrupt, self-serving Stalinist dullard on an ego-trip. But I hardly have any sympathy for British newspapers to begin with, and since the Telegraph was sued for faking the documents linking him to oil-for-food fraud, I can hardly trust them to behave themselves and paint a true picture of the man. Just look at the faces of the assembled US Senate as Galloway puts on the full war-crimes indictment, and tell me you didn’t grin a little? Similarly, he’s not afraid to savage the likes of Sky News. He asks difficult questions and makes a scene, which is a good thing, especially in the current political climate. And he has a record of liberalism on most social issues.
And yet, I can’t help thinking that participating in a reality television show is deserving of a good solid punch in the face alone. Engaging young people in politics? What a wanker. And Galloway does seem to have associated with a variety of unsavoury characters over the years, with some rather illiberal ideas — from Stalinists to Islamic fundamentalists via the anti-abortion movement — which perhaps qualify him for extremist crank status, verging on the religious fundamentalist himself. (Though other fundamentalists have denounced him as a “false prophet”, apparently.) The perception of Galloway as an ego-maniac with no real interest in doing the job that voters have given him is difficult to deny when you see the man’s record of attendance in parliament (11% of votes) and his constituency, even when you take into account reporting bias. And yet, through all of this, I have never been quite willing to dismiss the man entirely when it’s so difficult to get a clear picture of his opinions and activities.
But while I was away, Galloway broke the camel’s back with this little parcel of wisdom, broadcast on national talk radio:†
“I was looking at my little six month old baby today beginning to take his first steps crawling across the hall of the Methodist Central Hall today, and it doesn’t look like an accident to me. He doesn’t look like an accident of evolutionary chance to me. I’m not really prepared to believe that from the bottom-dwelling slugs of the pond came the voice of Pavarotti. I’m not really prepared to believe that Albert Einstein and a spider are really the same thing, that they just took a different evolutionary path.”
Oh yes. Well done, George. That would be a scientific literacy age of.. what? Eleven? I’ll give you a clue: Darwin did not write a famous book titled On The Origin Of Species By Means Of Chance. Seriously, even the famously bat-shit insane and reality-hostile organisation Answers in Genesis know that natural selection is not “chance”. Everything in this quote betrays the fact that Galloway knows less about science and natural history than the average six year old. Such ignorance of science is itself sufficient reason to question a member’s ability to make decisions in parliament, considering the sort of issues that parliament is asked to consider. But coupled with the other assembled charges against him, it’s pretty good evidence that Galloway is simply not qualified for any career beyond sitting around in leotard pretending to be a cat. Preferably with no television cameras present. There are long arguments under way regarding whether Galloway is actually a Creationist, and if that is how he would describe himself. It’s irrelevant. Either way, he has displayed ignorance of a magnitude that is worrying in a member of parliament.
† I have been unable to find a full transcript, so I can not be sure that this quote is not being taken out of context. However, nobody has indicated that the quote is being dishonestly used. About the only context which could redeem Galloway here would be if the next sentence acknowledged that everything in the quote is a straw man.
- ^ The Guardian, 2006. Telegraph loses Galloway libel appeal
- ^ http://www.boreme.com/boreme/funny-2006/galloway-on-sky-p1.php
- a,b They Work For You: Galloway.
- ^ Andrew Anthony, George Galloway has the most amazing ability to see the best in everyone – even homicidal dictators like Saddam The Guardian, Friday October 28, 2005.
- ^ Cristina Odone, Things get bitter for the real Eastenders. The Observer, Sunday April 17, 2005. (paragraph 20)
- ^ BBC News: Galloway told to avoid his home.
- ^ Galloway comes out as a creationist
- ^ For those fortunate enough not to be aware of it, this is a reference to Galloway’s appearance on Big Brother.
Comments on the original
|Really? Is a knowledge of cricket essential for making informed decisions making on everything from health through education to climate change? Why do you think that demanding basic educational standards from our politicians is intollerant?
I think a far better analogy for my decision is the biologist John Maynard Smith’s decision that the Soviet Union were up to no good in the 1950s. For a long time JMS couldn’t quite believe it — after all, the Western media would say that the Soviet Union were up to no good, wouldn’t they? He was only convinced of the fact that they were up to no good when they imposed censorship of genetics in favour of a pseudoscience backed by a Soviet politician called Lysenko (and a huge crop failure and famine followed). On this matter JMS knew that it was not a Western media fabrication, and he knew it was a very bad thing and would lead to disaster.
|Posted at 2008-01-02 06:18:21
Well, if it’s elitist to expect the people who make decisions on my behalf to know the things that they themselves are saying twelve-year-olds should know, then count me in. I’m not expecting politicians to know everything, and I don’t care whether they did well at school (I happen to believe that adults, regardless of class, are not incapable of picking up knowledge). At the very least, it would be nice if they were able to admit when they were incapable of making an informed decision and read up on the issue, rather than making a fool of themselves on the radio.
Oh, and by the way: “disbarred”? I hope we’re not misunderstanding each other. To clarify, I’m not talking about banning anybody from standing, merely stating the terms under which I’d be prepared to give somebody my vote. You may be incompetent, you may argue that the holocaust is a fiction, you may campaign for sharia law, you may be convinced that the world is run by a secret reptilian conspiracy, you may stand as a candidate for the legalise rape party or drown kittens in your party political broadcast. Go ahead and ask for my vote. Just don’t accuse me of intolerance when you don’t get it.
So what? We vote for the people whose ideas we decide most resemble reality on the issues that we personally consider important. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have. Because none of us are capable of being experts in everything we occasionally have to judge candidates on the stupid things that they say on those topics that we are knowledgeable on. That, apparently, makes democracy intolerant?
Who mentioned religious belief? If you’re referring to Galloway’s willful ignorance of science (and now you mention it, I am sure that you are right in concluding that religious belief is the cause), then that sort of religious belief is very relevant when there are negative consequences of its conflict with reality. Religion does not have a monopoly on this, of course: other reality-conflicting beliefs of consequence, from homeopathy to racial supremacy, would also worry me. Religious beliefs of the Tony Benn or Lord Winston variety, meanwhile, are of minimal consequence, and do not especially worry me.
Oh? And what do Spiked have to say on the connection between atheistic humanism and climate change? I searched, but couldn’t find any relevant articles.
I can see you’re dying to give it a go.
|Posted at 2008-01-03 21:26:32
I was going on the basis of:
Describing someone as incapable of doing something is not, I accept, saying that they should be barred from doing it, but it’s only a couple of steps away, which, whilst I agree with your description of democracy seems to me to be the start of a slippery slope.
I think you refer to debates about whether Galloway is a ‘creationist’ and/or ‘verging on the religious fundamentalist’
I’m not sure that ‘wilful ignorance’ is accurate, actually; in either philosophical or ‘commonsense’ terms evolution can reasonably be said to involve an element of ‘chance’. To take a current example, if the Red Squirrel becomes extinct in this country, it will be because the introduction of the Grey Squirrel; the fact that there is a clear causal chain of events, doesn’t mean that something that looks very much like ‘luck’ is not involved.
Moreover, most people who agree with Galloway (and I’m one) regardless of their religious affiliation, would accept that evolution explains ‘how’ but not ‘why’. Most modern Christians would accept that the ‘Creationist’ stuff about the Earth being 6000 years old is nonsense and read Genesis metaphorically rather than literally. This is why the cosmologists’ metaphor of the ‘Mind of God’ is so significant.
Have a look at this
I disagree entirely with the ‘Spiked’ view on environmentalism (and I’d imagine, from things you’ve said previously that you would too); my point is that neither atheistic humanism or christianity preclude or dictate any particular position on this question.
|Posted at 2008-01-04 17:22:45
Is it? Really? In that case there an awful lot of people in this country who are a couple of steps away from thinking that half of parliament should be barred. Perhaps that’s why democracy is the worst possible system of government (apart from all the others): the tyranny of the majority is only a couple of steps away from intolerance.
Yes, evolution has an element of chance. Actually, it has several: the neutral genetic mechanisms, plus the contingency in historic events. I know that shit. But having an element of chance is not the same thing as being random. Galloway did not say “evolution has an element of chance,” and I am not convinced that your interpretation is what Galloway intended. If you’re right though, then what Galloway is saying is that we have survived lots of chance events to be in the incredibly improbable position that we are now in. But improbable events like that aren’t very interesting: any other combination of chance events would be equally improbable, but one of them had to happen. It’s hugely improbable that right now I am sitting in Dorset having done all the things that I’ve done, rather than in one of the many other locations this world has to offer, and having done one of the vast number of other potential combinations of things that I could have done. Had somebody predicted my biography several decades ago, ending with me sitting here in Dorset at 6pm on the 4th of January 2007, that would be interesting. Had they predicted that at 6pm on the 4th of January 2008 I would be somewhere doing something, having done some other things, that would not be interesting. To get here, we have won a lottery in which there were lots of players, many of which would have speculated on the improbability of their existence, had their existed.
Why? Why what? I guess that’s the problem: I’m not convinced that’s even a question, let alone one that has been answered.
|Posted at 2008-01-04 18:27:34
The anthropic principle? Yes, I am somewhat interested in this, but:
1. I’m not convinced it is a why question, rather than just another how question. Several answers have been proposed to answer it as a how question, involving multiverses, singularities, and other such things that are way beyond my field. I expect you would only see such a how answer as pushing the why-question back another stage. But I can’t help thinking of the god-of-the-gaps: for a long time, a why-question filled the gap in our knowledge regarding where complex life came from, but when that was answered with a how-question, a new gap in our knowledge was jumped on. At the moment, the big gaps in our knowledge cited as evidence for a creator are in cosmogony and consciousness, and those gaps are steadily being filled in. Meanwhile, the “Intelligent Design” movement is desperately trying to find gaps which aren’t there, in which to place their interventionist god.
2. Even if there is a why-question that needs answering, I am not satisfied with the answer offered by religion. God did it? What is god, why does god exist, why did god do it, and what evidence supports this hypothesis above others? The god “answer” claims to be solving a gap in our knowledge, but is actually asking us to be satisfied with an even greater one. It’s an especially great leap from a gap in our understanding of the universe to a specific religion.
|Posted at 2008-01-05 00:24:01
|I wouldn’t disagree with you on any of that, really. There comes a point where ‘faith’ takes a leap in a direction that takes it away from ‘science’ completely (you may remember the ‘Babel Fish’ in the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’… though it seemed to get diluted in the film version). However, I don’t think that science and religion need inevitably be in conflict.
|Posted at 2008-01-08 22:15:00