is Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, now a museum in honour
of the great man's name. In an age when it is fashionable in some quarters
to ridicule the objective approach to solving many of the problems
of life, I made a sort of pilgrimage to this spot, tramping over
the snow-covered fields of north-west Kent to the village of Downe. The
house was of course closed at the time of year, but fortunately the English
villages boast many country pubs and I was able to quench a good thirst
with first class pint of real ale in the Red Lion.
It was an opportunity to
reflect on irrationality and its extreme realisation in fanaticism and
many people's apparent need to embrace this. Those people take for granted
that their existence and comforts in life, particularly in the West, depends
totally on the application of modern science. Medicine and health care
starts well before day one. Transport, communications, food production
and distribution, buildings to live and work in, education, entertainment...
every aspect of modern living has been possible because of scientific advance;
and, scientific advance has been possible only by the embrace of objectivity
and that means scrupulously rejecting irrationality. To a scientist that
is common-sense, since non-reason does not work. It does not mean rejecting
imagination, which is creative and essential to scientific advance.
False and dishonest science
is commonly seen in today's world, promulgated with all the application
of high-tech communications. This in many ways is worse than simple irrationality.
It is usually linked to blatant commercialism. A lying advert is its least
offensive form. A most obnoxious form is a series of arguments presented
in the media, in books, pamphlets, on the internet, videos etc., that assume
the required conclusion and then find every example under the sun as evidence
of proof of that conclusion. Thousands, even millions, believe and sign-up.
Powerful bodies are often behind such unscrupulousness. The phenomenon
is commonly seen in wonder-cure and self-help books of all types, and used
by apparently intelligent people but quite often with some inner 'axe to
grind'. Proponents becoming totally convinced as examples multiply and
mutual support grows - x million cannot be wrong! Where have we heard
Down House, I followed well-signed footpaths through farming country (this
was the Winter before Foot-and-mouth struck a dreadful epidemic,
closing all the English countryside to walkers), up a short hill to visit
the stone seat dedicated to William Wilberforce, and then downwards again
to the village of Keston, famous for its ponds (right).This journey was
as it sounds; one footpath had been so badly maintained that it disappeared
completely and wandering through a wood I altogether lost sense of direction.
Buzzing and droning above were becoming louder with each passing step.
It was obvious that I was close to Biggin Hill, now a commercial airport,
but once famous for its key role in the Battle of Britain. I chanced on
another walker who had a well-stocked back-pack with rain-gear, provisions,
coffee, and importantly, a map. The two of us pored and squinted at it
for some time until a path was found to return me to my home for the night
in Farnborough, Kent, with an opportunity to sample further specimens of
Kentish ale and reflect on some other of today's social phenomena.