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THE BURDENS OF BELIEF By ALEX CHRISTOFI


The Burdens of Belief The Evolution Project – Individual Piece by Alex Christofi 1 and 2 are (male) postgraduate lecturers / supervisors. It is 2's first day. 3, 4 and 5 are (female) undergraduate biologists. 2: Good morning class. My name is James. I'm a postgraduate here, and I'm going to be supervising you on the topic of evolution for our first seminar. I have to admit, I've been having some trouble figuring out where to start with topic as grand as evolution. But as someone probably once said, we must begin at the beginning. And so, in the beginning, God created the sun, the heavens and the earth. The class titter. 1 clears his throat loudly. He is looking in on the class, and looks at 2 sternly. 2 looks back at him, challenging him to say something. 2: So we're going to take that as our starting point in today's session. 1: No, we're not. 2: Let me just check my lecture notes. (he checks them theatrically) Yes, that's definitely what it says. 1: Sorry guys, James isn't actually teaching this topic any more, so we're going to have to postpone the seminar. You've all got your essay titles? 3, 4 and 5 murmur yes. 2 follows 1 out of the room furiously. 2: I can't believe you just did that. My first teaching seminar, I'm trying to introduce myself, set the scene, and you cancel it before I even start. 1: Thank me later. 2: You humiliated me in front of my class. 1: They're undergrads, half of them probably weren't paying attention. But even so, you can't go teaching Genesis to impressionable young scientists. 2: Why not? It's a nice way to ease into the seminar. 1: 'In the beginning, God created the sun, the heavens and the earth.' For a start, this is supposed to be the Godless institution on Gower St. 2: So? How does it clash with evolution? 1: It's nothing to do with Darwin. 2: Yes it is. 1: No it isn't. 2: Well, if we'd got further than the first five minutes, we would have got to Erasmus Darwin's long poem, The Temple of Nature.


1: What? 2: Erasmus Darwin, father of Robert, grandfather of our dear Charlie Darwin. His way of seeing things was something like evolution, or a gradual creation, as I prefer to think of it. (reading from lecture notes) 'First, forms minute (unseen by spheric glass) Move on the mud or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.' In the seminar room, 3,4 and 5 are hanging out. 3 is eating a banana. 5: What essay you gonna do? 3: Dunno. I figure I'll just pick whichever one is easiest. Looks like there's one on barnacles. They'll probably give me a good mark just 'cause I'll be the only one bothered to do it. 4: Don't know if I'll manage that. It sounds a bit involved. 3: No, trust. I had a look in the library, Darwin was really into his worms and barnacles. Wrote more about that than anything else. 4: Can I copy you? 5: To be honest, I think someone might catch on if you copy her barnacle essay. 1: I just don't understand why you would use that as your starting point. The principle of natural selection is so simple, and you're swamping it in theology. You're making it unnecessarily complicated. 2: I think I'm making it less complicated. Genesis is a nice easy way of looking at it. 1: Exactly. Myths are about nice ways of looking at things. Science is about what actually happens in the actual world. 2: I know. 1: But Genesis is not what happened! 2: I don't know. It's pretty accurate, considering how long ago it was written. 3: You coming to dance class later? 4: I dunno... 3: I thought you were really keen. 4: Yeah, it's just I'm not that good.


3: You always say that. I can't do it, I'm not very good. So get better. Learn. How are you gonna learn if you don't do the classes? 4: I'm an embarrassment. 5: She's right you know. Have you actually seen her move? She looks like a clockwork turkey. 3: But that's why you've gotta go. There'd be no point in going if you were perfect. The whole point of having classes is that you're not perfect, so you keep getting better each time you try. It's common sense. Think about it this way – if you keep getting better from now on, this is the worst you'll ever be. 4: What if I don't keep getting better? At the moment I'm just bad in an obvious, straightforward way, but what if I learn all these new moves and routines and just end up bad in hundreds of different ways? 1: Why would you think that Genesis is accurate? Where's Eden? 2: I don't know, but if you go to more isolated islands like Madagascar, they have jungles full of plants and none of the animals have natural predators, so they aren't scared of humans. All the animals just rub along nicely together. So I don't see any reason why Eden couldn't have happened. 1: Okay, what about the seven days? 2: Well, I don't know how long God's days are, but if he lives forever... 1: Now you're being wilfully ignorant. 2: Look, I'm just saying, what probably came first? Water. Then, we believe, land mass. We have to expect that life started in the oceans, because it would have been most likely to provide the first conditions for life. It would have begun branching out after that. You'd have got animals and birds. And I know I don't need to tell you, if you squashed all of evolution into a week, human beings would have had to happen at the end of the last day. We're one of the last additions to life's menagerie. Like in Eden. 3 takes out another banana and eats it. 4: So you're still seeing Ludovic? 5: Yep. 4: But you've started sleeping with Charlie? 5: Yep. 4: Why? 5: Charlie's really cool, you know. Great taste in music. But Ludo's just really... fit. 4: Okay, so positives and negatives?


5: Charlie sometimes comes out with these amazing ways of looking at the world, you know? He sort of makes me realise that I spend my whole time not questioning things. It's not even about accepting them but just never really thinking about them properly. The way he sees the world, it's like everything's connected, all the time, like it all fits together like one big puzzle. 3: Negatives? 5: Well, he's got pretty bushy eyebrows. And he's ill a lot, he gets this recurring thing where he's really phlegmy, he does these big hacking coughs, it's pretty gross. 4: So what about the other one? 5: Ludo doesn't really make me think about the world at all. He's quite quiet, but not in a dangerous, brooding way. More just blank. And when he talks, I'd go as far as to say that he's actively boring. Like, if he starts talking about something, it's not just that I'm not interested. His conversation actually sucks out any enthusiasm I already had. 4: And on the plus side? 5: He's really hot. 4: Sounds like an open and shut case to me. 5: Sue, you don't understand, really really fit. Like, he-could-model-for-D-and-G fit. 4: Well you've gotta decide, one or the other. 5: But I like them both for different reasons. Why do I have to choose? 3: If you really don't like either of them more than the other one, do something random. Pick one out of a hat. Spin a bottle. 5: Maybe I just won't tell them. 4: That's the worst idea you've ever had. 5: Why is it? I mean, what's the point in the truth? Just for the sake of it? I mean, it's gonna hurt them more if they find out. At the moment I'm the perfect girlfriend. For both of them. And between them, they make one really hot, intellectually-stimulating, barely adequate man. 4: I promise you, one of them will find out. It's a small world. You might get away with it for a while, but the truth will come out. And then you're in it deep. 1: We should be allowed to think anything we like, but to say what we like is another matter. Sometimes airing your personal views as if it's science is not appropriate. People look to us for answers. That's a huge responsibility. Take Dr James Watson, Nobel-prize winning scientist, discoverer of DNA. 2: I know who James Watson is. 1: My point exactly. We know who he is, and when he writes, or speaks in public, people listen to what he says, and believe it. What are you going to do if a man like Watson is about to embark on a


lecture tour in which he tells thousands of people that, say, Africans aren't as clever as us Europeans? Eh? You're going to cancel his lectures, that's what you're going to do. 4: A guy had been lying to me once. Playing away. He'd been doing it for a while, I think, but he must have had an attack of conscience 'cause he came clean... He told me everything. Didn't rub my nose in it, just told it straight. And you know what? I respected him more. Even though he'd cheated on me, I respected him because he had the guts to tell me the truth, even though it was ugly. 2: It took Darwin decades to face up to the truth of his own theory. 1: There isn't any truth in what Watson said. He's just a racist. 2: But what if he thought he was right? What if he really thought he'd discovered something that he thought might be useful – if he'd discovered that people with dark skin weren't as clever as people with lighter skin. It would be a horrible discovery, but you could use it as a starting point, investigate, develop, help matters. He also claimed that black people have higher libidos, but noone bothered complaining about that one. (changing tack) Of course the man's inflammatory. We both know he's out of his depth, he doesn't have a shred of evidence. But it's not just a right; as a scientist, he has a duty to say what he believes. And they cancelled his lecture tour before anyone even had a chance to question him about it. 'I may not believe what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it.' 1: I do wish you'd stop quoting things at me. If you keep it up much longer I'll have you extradited to the English faculty. In any case, in your haste to defend his rights, you've completely omitted that Watson was violating people's human right to racial equality. 2: You just bumbled into my lecture and violated my right to religion! 1: Don't change the subject. Watson is a chauvinist. He is homophobic, and he is racist. 2: So lend him the rope to hang himself! The last thing we want is some idiotic Nazi conspiracy theorists harping on about a media cover-up. Anyway, Watson's argument rested on the notion of human beings being geographically split, and evolving differently. It ignored our common ancestry. I mean, if I were to teach a class on evolution 1: I'm not sure that it's going to be happening again soon. 2: Well, that's as may be, but if I were to teach another class on evolution, I would want to start with the paradigm of a united humanity, and a unique, shared heritage. 1: Well now that would be a start. 2: If you let me teach my class, I'll start with a beautiful vision of the first pioneering humans. 1: Good. That sounds more like it. 2: And in that first family of humans, I would want to begin with the first human mother. 1: Ah yes, Lucy. What a find. A key link in human evolution. Or even better, that new discovery – what was her name? - Ardi, was it? 2: Yes. Although I sort of thought that we could start things off at the point where the genus homo


became sapiens, when primates gained that last crucial ingredient of knowledge and intelligence, and modern humans came into the world. For me, it's at that point that human history comes alive. 1: Okay, fair enough. You can rearrange a seminar on the first homo sapiens. 2: Excellent. So I'll start off with Adam and Eve, and we'll take it from there.

The_Burdens_of_Belief by Alex Christofi  

THE BURDENS OF BELIEF By ALEX CHRISTOFI