Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1976

Evolution and religion

Viren Swami (There’s no ‘intelligent design’ for life, 29 October) is wrong to criticise Stephen Jay Gould for his tactical argument that religion and science are separate spheres that need not compete.

Swami appeals to Richard Dawkins who, as the author of the reductionist tract, The Selfish Gene, is the inspiration for the ideological pseudo-science of “evolutionary psychology” which seeks to prove patriarchal and capitalist values as biologically necessary.

For an atheist, religion is indeed disproved by evolutionary theory, but socialists must recognise that religion is complex and can cut both ways. Religion can be a well-spring of conformity or a source of resistance to the ruling class. Remember liberation theology in Latin America.

Socialists must not shoot themselves in the foot by adopting a doctrinaire approach to religion.

Dominic Alexander, Enfield, London

Viren Swami’s article on evolution leaves totally unanswered the more fundamental questions.

Evolution makes sense, but what caused the world to be created?

Tom Baxter, Stratford-on-Avon

I was very glad to read Viren Swami’s article on evolution and religion, but I thought the arguments lacked maturity and consideration.

There is a false line being drawn between evolutionary thinking and religious thinking at the end of the article by claiming that religiously minded people are right to be fearful of the acceptance of evolution.

Socialists should know their enemies and not attack religiously minded people unnecessarily.

Sophie Jongman, Kent

Intelligent design and prediction

Viren Swami’s series is a timely reminder that we need to sustain the socialist tradition, and to defend science against mysticism and distortion.

In addressing the question of intelligent design he correctly identifies the work of William Paley who argued that many aspects of human and animal physiology can only have been created by a designer.

However, species are not constant as was believed in Paley’s day. Extinction occurs, new species develop, and so on. More recent attempts to defend intelligent design are more sophisticated and to some extent take account of evolution.

Some see god’s hand in setting up the systems and natural laws which then unfold producing evolutionary change.

It is therefore important that we remember that Darwin developed a “theory of evolution by means of natural selection”. He distinguished this process from selective breeding, which is purposive.

But the natural process is accidental in two senses. Firstly genetic mutation itself is random, producing a large number of physical variations, most of which are not retained in a species.

Secondly, the factors that favour one mutation over another are not predetermined or interconnected. The fitness of a particular mutation to a particular set of circumstances is accidental.

In other words, even if the scientific laws had been created by intelligent design, the result of these laws would not be predictable and thus the species created by them could not have been intended.

Pete Wearden, by e-mail

Attacking our rights

Home secretary Charles Clarke admitted last week that prisons are nearing “breaking point” but New Labour is pressing ahead with penal “reform” that contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998.

Magistrates courts have now been granted new sentencing powers of up to 12 months imprisonment — up from a previous six months.

New Labour’s 2005 manifesto promised to increase the use of Young Offender Institutions (YOI). These are breeding grounds for violence, racism and suicide. In 2003 a 17 year old Asian man was murdered by his racist cellmate at a YOI.

As a law student I can see criticism of Clarke and Blair permeating into the universities. The question is clear — how much further will you go Mr Clarke?

The terrorism bill will increase arrest powers, allowing three months detention without charge, and making the Human Rights Act ineffective.

With a government that deports, imprisons, and discriminates against the poor (black and white), a line must be drawn by the left in Britain as to how far New Labour can go. A mass movement defeated Thatcher’s poll tax, so why not Clarke’s legislation?

Dean Scurlock, South Wales

Stop the terror laws

I cannot believe that the government that I support is trying to implement its current anti-terrorism measures, which originally included detention without trial for 90 days.

I am a former special branch officer and gained the first order to detain someone for seven days without charge from former home secretary Leon Brittan.

I can tell you that if you cannot obtain all the information you want within this period you will not in 90 days, unless you resort to torture.

Bob Miller, Essex

Botswanans protest over Bushmen too

Socialist Worker readers may be interested to hear that Botswana’s International Socialists have started a major campaign to defend the rights of the Basarwa (known as the Bushmen).

The issue has been extensively covered in the British Socialist Worker (see Kalahari Bushmen driven off their land, 1 October, for the most recent report).

But our campaign gives the lie to the Botswanan government’s claim that only “foreign” organisations are concerned over this issue.

Our petition calls on the government to unconditionally grant the Basarwa the right to live in their communities inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to immediately stop the harassment and criminalisation of the Basarwa, to allow an independent inquiry into torture of Basarwa and to fully respect the Basarwa’s constitutional rights.

We cannot be silent. It is the right of the Basarwa to live on their land and to determine their way and pace of development on their own.

Our support for the Basarwa is part of our general battle for democracy and workers’ right in Botswana.

It opposes the profit driven connection between our government and the giant diamond firm De Beers, which is so damaging to Botswana’s people.

ISO Botswana, PO Box 601519, Gaborone

Joyful premiere in memory of Rachel

Last week I enjoyed the world premiere of the cantata Skies are Weeping by Philip Munger. It was written in memory of Rachel Corrie, who died after being run over by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent Israeli soldiers demolishing Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza, in 2003.

The cantata was to have had its premiere in Alaska, but had to be pulled when threats were made against the performers.

The organisers of Skies are Weeping were determined that bigots were not going to stop it in Britain.

The event was designed to bring people together to remember all — Palestinians, Israelis and internationals — who have lost their lives to the Israeli occupation.

The evening was joyous, with wonderful performances by the al-Hurriyya Palestinian Dabka dance group and Israeli-born Tsivi Sharrett and her Ensemble, who played Near Eastern music fused with jazz.

The concert opened with a moving poem by Greg Youtz.

We were told that Zionists were going to be demonstrating, but I couldn’t really detect much going on. To find out more, go to

Diane Wilson, London

Shooting Adobe’s fox

You provide links to the Adobe Acrobat reader for getting PDFs of your paper from your website. Might I advise you to remove these links in favour of the truly free Foxit PDF Reader?

You must register personal information with the Adobe corporation to download their “free” reader and, as such, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s free in only a monetary sense.

Also the Adobe reader fills 45 megabytes on your hard drive, compared to the two megabytes needed for Foxit.

Ross Stewart, by e-mail

Nelson — not a nice guy

I think that Jonathan Neale (Trafalgar: battle for control, 22 October) was quite right to call Admiral Nelson “a truly horrible right wing man”.

Keith Flett (Nelson’s defence of Colonel Despard, 29 October) disagrees because Nelson spoke in defence of Colonel Despard at his trial for treason in 1803, and because he spoke up for democratic rights.

But his support for people’s rights vanished when they took action to defend or extend these.

When sailors mutinied in 1797 their leaders were hanged — Nelson approved.

He also hated the French revolution and its sympathisers.

Colin Gill, South London

Scottishness and radicalism

Iain Ferguson’s response (Scottish myths, 5 November) to my article on Scottish national identity is unfortunately indicative of a section of the left in Scotland that is incapable of recognising developments for what they are as well as being able to relate to them.

To label my argument “nationalist” is preposterous. Just because radicalism has often manifested itself as “Scottishness” does not reduce its significance. Reading my book would enlighten him.

The radicalised notion of Scottish identity that has developed and which does widely exist is very much in tune with some of the campaigns he cites as important.

Would we ridicule such a national identity if it emerged somewhere else in the world?

Gregor Gall, Edinburgh

Realistic deal over pensions?

Regarding your article Angry Mood Over Public Sector Pensions Deal (5 November).

Actually the vast majority of PCS civil service workers’ union members are quite happy with the deal.

It is a realistic compromise. The only people who are whinging are you and your “co-religionists” of the far left.

Howard Fuller, by e-mail

More health cuts coming

I have been informed that cutbacks are threatened in family planning clinics, that the service in central Southampton is closing and in Hythe the Saturday service has been lost.

Given issues such as underage sex, unwanted pregnancies, terminations and sexual transmitted diseases are important, shouldn’t the matter be discussed?

Management bonuses, consultant merit awards and a range of other initiatives might be less of a priority.

Patrick Cooper-Duffy, Southampton

Behind Blair’s arrogance

Your report in the online edition of Socialist Worker on the arrogance of the Blair set was timely.

But it is more than just arrogance — it is a total disregard of public opinion that now marks every area of government.

As Blair becomes more determined to privatise all public services there is both an abdication of responsibility and a serious undermining of democracy.

What’s the use of electing any government — local or national — if all you are doing is electing a management team?

L J Atterbury, Poland

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Article information

Sat 12 Nov 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1976
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