15 June 2008

The weekend FT

There's an intriguing story in the weekend Financial Times about Darwin and the Sistine chapel.

Well, okay. That isn't exactly what it's about. Religion and science, origin and destiny, polarities and reconciliation. That's what it's about.

The Natural History Museum in London wants to create a new ceiling for one of its galleries, and it has commissioned proposals for several prominent artists.

The NHM has told the artists that it wants the new ceiling to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin, for 2009 will mark both the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of its author's birth.

Comparisons to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are surely inevitable under those circumstances. "Hmmmm. There's that iconic image of God conveying life to Adam. But where's the analogous image for Darwinism? It oughta be on a ceiling!" Neville Hawcock's story in FT tells us there's "a whiff of the divine" in many of the proposals the artists have submitted. A whiff, at least, of an effort to turn natural selection itself into the sort of soaring Faith that might inspire a Michelangelo.

Here's the money quote: "Dorothy Cross suggests ... installing a floor-to-ceiling column of glass; within this would be engraved a skull, and engraved within that a skeletal foetus. This, she says in her accompanying statement [would represent] 'a collusion between birth and death, inheritance and thought, and particularly nature and art.'" My understanding is that the skeletal-foetus/skull would be inside a ball at the top of the column, and thus pressing against the ceiling. The ceiling itself would be gilt, and would simply serve as background for this icon.

At any rate, she's going for the sort of all-embracing reconciliation of polarities that religions have always offered.

So what? Well ... it gives one pause. As a philosophical pluralist,I don't want all the polarities to be reconciled, I don't want a block universe. I want the alpha to be the alpha and the omega to be the omega.

Still, good luck to Ms Cross. It sounds like this skeletal fetus on the top of a column would be a heck of a sight.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.