Well, it's a start. By admitting that Darwin may have been on to something after all, the Vatican has dragged the Catholic Church slap bang into the middle of the 19th century. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, declared this week that not only is the theory of evolution compatible with Christian faith, but has impeccable antecedents in the theology of Saints Aquinas and Augustine. "In fact," said Ravasi, "what we mean by 'evolution' is the world as created by God."
It's not clear who the Archbishop means by "we" in this context but it's safe to assume Richard Dawkins is not cheering along. Still, let's not quibble. Coming hard on the heels of the Vatican's rehabilitation of Galileo, who was re-cast as "a man of faith" a mere four centuries after being tried by the Inquisition for suggesting the Earth moved round the Sun, this is progress indeed. And at a time when hardcore Creationism is gaining hold in the science curriculum of dozens of British schools, any move towards open-minded debate is welcome.
Poor old Darwin has, for too long, played the bone in intellectual dog-fights; his Theory of Natural Selection has copped the blame for everything from eugenics to Wayne Rooney's profile. Most ludicrously, it has been cited as "proof" of the non-existence of God, an intellectual arrogance which seems to me to be at least on a par with Descartes' "God exists because I believe in him".
Personally I have little difficulty in reconciling science with religious faith. Mainly because I don't understand enough about the former, while the whole point of the latter is that it passeth all understanding. It doesn't seem at all marvellous to me that, in a world full of things I don't understand – tax returns, the offside rule, the DVD remote – I lack certainty on the precise origin of human life. I enjoy the mystery of faith, which isn't quite the same thing as Tertullian's (misquoted) paradox, "credo quia impossibile est" (I believe because it is impossible), and I enjoy, with quite another faculty, the elegant proofs of science. To bundle Darwin's discoveries in with the ontological theories of Augustine and Aquinas is surely to miss the point.
You can see why Pope Benedict is keen to bring troublemakers back into the fold – it's his job, after all – and certainly the rehabilitation of dead scientists is a deal less worrying than the rehabilitation of living bigots. It was harder to decipher the message sent out to the faithful last month when the Vatican lifted the excommunication on Richard Williamson, the ultra-right wing British bishop and Holocaust denier.
Two months before returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church, Williamson insisted on Swedish television that, while up to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, none were killed in gas chambers.
The decision of the Pope, delivered with spectacularly bad timing in the same week as Holocaust Memorial Day, drew widespread censure from public figures, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who demanded that the German-born Pope "clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial of the Nazi Holocaust and that there must be positive relations with the Jewish community overall". Clarification duly arrived, with the Pope expressing "full and indisputable solidarity with Jews" while Vatican officials admitted there had been "insufficient internal discussion" of Williamson's case. The reinstatement stands, however, and the Pope's solidarity with Jews will surely continue to be disputed.
It is impossible – for bishops as much as for scientists – to serve the truth while denying the evidence in front of your eyes. This, if no other, is a lesson the Vatican can usefully learn from Darwin.
Salma does what comes naturally
So what if the cameras were rolling when Hollywood A-lister Salma Hayek breast-fed another woman's hungry baby in Sierra Leone? So what if, at this very moment, Angelina is racing to the airport in her nursing bra? A baby was crying with hunger, its mother had no milk to give it and Hayek, who is weaning her own daughter, did the most natural thing in the world. In doing so, the Unicef figurehead has become the very emblem of charity.
A century ago, half the aristocracy was put out to wet-nurses, yet to judge by public reaction to Hayek's instinctive gesture, you'd think nursing another's baby was the most transgressive thing a woman could do. It only needed the news that Russian scientists have genetically modified goats to produce "human" milk to whip "milk madness" into a perfect froth. Indeed it's a close call which inspires most outrage – human milk from a goat or human milk from a movie star.
Our cultural confusion about breast feeding is helped neither by the "put it away" brigade nor mums with a madonna fixation who turn a natural function into a sacred cult. You can't move for full colour stories of celebrities' breast enlargement operations, yet the minute a celebrity whips them out for a legitimate, humanitarian reason, we come over all faint and wobbly. Other mothers' expressed milk is used routinely on paediatric wards to save the lives of babies. All Salma was doing was cutting out the middleman.
There's no twit like an upper-class twit
Looks like we're all just riled about Harry. Again. Apparently the doltish prince, who not so long ago provoked a race row with 'jokey' references to his "little Paki friend", put his well polished brogue in it at the Prince of Wales' 60 th birthday celebrations when, by way of banter in the traditional artistes' line-up, told the black comedian Stephen K Amos, "you don't sound like a black chap."
Let's not even bother with the fact that Amos uses his own speech patterns as part of his comedy act – the distinction between a joke made to highlight the stereotyping of racial minorities and that same stereotyping casually applied to an individual is clearly lost on Harry, as it was on his father and grandfather before him.
I'm willing to believe that Harry is more ignorant than malicious. God knows he has the form. The ignorance may be inbred, but it is surely not untreatable. Is it really so difficult for someone at the Palace to take this young man aside and explain that until he gets his head around the volatile subject of race , he'd be better off talking about horses. Or discos. Or something he knows a damn thing about.
You just wish that Amos had snapped back, "And you, Sir, don't sound like an upper-class twit."
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