Darwin's Laws of Evolution are no mere 'theory'
The different interpretations of the word "theory" (to a scientist, the fundamental principles behind phenomena, and to a non-scientist, one hunch out of possibly many) shows that we scientists made a mistake in continuing to refer to Darwinism as a theory. May I suggest that we should refer in future to Darwin's Laws of Evolution?
There is no real conflict between science and the major religions over creation as such. Genesis starts with "In the beginning . . . the earth was without form and void". In Haydn's oratorio The Creation, the first movement is entitled "Introduction: Representation of Chaos" – does not that evoke "The Big Bang"? There is of course an error in the order of events, in that plant life is created in Genesis before the sun. After that, though, the waters correctly bring forth every living creature, followed by animals and man. God then saw that all was very good – a moral imperative that we have a duty of care for the planet and all our fellow beings.
As for "intelligent design", we can but marvel at the efficiency and complexity of living systems, but we need to be aware of many aspects that are undoubtedly unintelligent. No structural engineer worth his salt would think that a skeleton designed for quadrupedal motion, with internal organs hanging down from a horizontal spine, would serve properly for an upright posture, with the widely-suffered consequences of back pain and joint problems. Nor would any competent technical designer construct an eye with the blood vessels in front of the retina and a hole in the middle, where the nerve connections are made. (Interestingly, the independently evolved eyes in a number of families of "lower" organisms have much more logical designs.) There must be countless other examples.
Science teachers clearly need to be equipped to put forward the clear evidence against "creationism" (including strict adherence to the idea that all was created about 6,000 years ago in seven present-length days) and "intelligent design". How wise was the Royal Society in appointing Professor Michael Reiss, with his wide perspective, and how stupid the Society to dispense with his services in a panic reaction to the misrepresentation of his speech.
Professor Anthony C T North
Give small-scale lending a chance
It is time to rethink our financial services industry. Letting vast banks merge is not the answer if we want choice.
We need to create a market where small institutions such as credit unions, small building societies and friendly societies have the chance to apply their local, fair, ethical and personal service. These organisations could once again be a valuable part of the economy if they are properly regulated in a transparent and efficient way. Speculators cannot hedge their share price, and if their assets are clearly valued the members will remain loyal. The global banks have massive power which must be counter-balanced.
The suggestion that it is our schools and universities who are somehow to blame for the current banking crisis is truly breathtaking (Margareta Pagano, 19 September).
It is hardly our educational institutions, no matter what their other faults might be, who determine the insanity of our country's economic structure – that is decided by (misguided) government policy and the type of employer thereby engendered. Rather, educators have a duty to point their students in the direction where their best career and/or financial prospects lie, and the City of London has in these recent years of irresponsible deregulation and casino economics been a haven of easy money for the aspiring (or greedy) school-leaver and university graduate.
Obviously, we all sympathise with those junior workers who are now likely to lose their jobs as a result of this outrageous situation and who never participated in the absurd bonus structures designed for the supposed high-flyers, but a touch of schadenfreude towards the latter, I would have thought, was more than merited. Indeed, if that is all they have to endure, they will have got away lightly, as society picks up the tab (yet again) for their, some would say, criminal behaviour.
Wetherby, west Yorkshire
Letters published in Thursday's Independent give the impression that the current crisis is down to bankers' reckless actions, taken, it seems, to pull huge bonuses. Most people seem to think bankers are all like this.
I worked for a clearing bank for 30 years. I had to study and obtain professional qualifications, and had to move around the country, with a family of three children, at the drop of a hat, all for a very mediocre salary, far less than those of my contemporaries.
Yes, for a while we had favourable mortgage rates, but we were only allowed to buy in the area the bank decided you should live. Irrespective of the amount you needed, they only lent what they considered to be relative to your "rank".
All this ends with "voluntary early retirement" and a much smaller pension than expected.
I still feel proud to have been a bank manager and know that I gave an excellent service to my customers, without the bonuses.
As I passed Highgate cemetery last night I heard a low subterranean rumble. It sounded rather like laughter and seemed to come from the direction of Karl Marx's grave.
Agonising dilemmas faced by the dying
Dr Regnard raises questions about assisted dying (letters,15 September) and the way it is portrayed by organisations such as Dignity in Dying. But the data he cites regarding practice in the Netherlands was compiled in 1995.
It is far more relevant to look at the data from the state of Oregon in the USA. Assisted dying legislation there (on which the most recent attempt to change the law in England and Wales was based) has been in place for 10 years, with 341 people choosing to have an assisted death between 1998 and 2007. Of these, 93.5 per cent were able to die at home, and, in 10 years, only one person has not died immediately after taking the medication.
What anti-choice campaigners such as Dr Regnard should remember is that the "reality that exists today" is one in which nearly 100 British people have travelled to a foreign country to have an assisted death, and in which others are helped to die in secret, without safeguards.
Without the reassurance of an assisted-dying law, people such as Debbie Purdy are left seriously considering ending their lives before they are ready, to ensure they do not end up in a situation where they are suffering unbearably but physically unable to end their life without help from others, who would be criminalised if they provided such help.
It is unacceptable that dying British people should be forced to face these agonising dilemmas, especially as research looking at practice in the Netherlands and Oregon and published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2007 found no evidence of risk to vulnerable groups when assisted-dying legislation is in place.
Chief Executive Dignity in Dying, London W1
Airline passengers left stranded
The sorry spectacle of stranded British holidaymakers was preventable. Only two years ago, the Government failed to provide protection for all UK holidaymakers by allowing airlines to continue to operate outside the ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licence) scheme, operated by the Civil Aviation Authority. The entire travel industry (bar the airlines, of course) and Parliament's own Select Committee on Transport lobbied as one voice for airlines to be required to protect their customers financially should something go wrong.
Consumers are rarely aware of their protection levels when booking a holiday; most merely assume they have some sort of financial protection, and the prospect of anything going wrong is, of course, the last thing on their minds.
It would be far more straightforward to protect everyone. The present two-tier system (with ATOL operators offering full protection, and airlines, despite selling holidays in the same way, providing no protection) means that many tens of thousands of holidaymakers, as in the XL and Zoom scenarios, can get a nasty surprise.
We urge the Government to take immediate action to bring the airlines within the remit of the ATOL regulations.
Chairman, Association of Independent Tour Operators, Twickenham, Middlesex
Too much gloom about cancer drugs
Your editorial statement that costly cancer drugs "extend lives by up to six months" (10 September) gives the impression that, even with the drugs, these patients will probably be dead with in six months. But the measure used is the median life expectancy and not the arithmetic mean.
To a cancer patient such as me, who has been refused treatment by his PCT, this is a vital difference. The median is a halfway point. It indicates that half of the patients are still alive after six months. Some patients will survive for many years. After receiving the drug it is generally soon obvious whether it is effective and should be continued.
Of course, it is much cheaper for the Government to refuse all treatment rather than taking a compassionate attitude and investigating how to make these drugs more available, as they are in the rest of Europe.
Shifting hills and mountains
It was quite an achievement to show that Mynydd Graig Goch is in fact a mountain ("The Welshmen who went up a hill and came down a mountain", 20 September). However there is a sad future coming. With rising sea levels it will quite soon revert to being a hill – perhaps even before the Ordnance Survey has managed to get its new status printed.
Worse than that, there may be other mountains which are close enough to 2,000ft for them to become only hills. Only a rapid attack on global warming would help, and there is little sign of that.
David M Bishop
Last summer in the Karakorams I asked our guide for the name of the snow-covered monster in front of us. He replied with a smile that nothing below 6,000 metres justified a name.
Israel's neighbours are under threat too
I can perfectly understand Alan Halibard's concern about the threat to Israel (letter, 19 September). If only he could in turn understand that some of Israel's neighbours may feel their survival to be in even greater danger. Remember the devastation unleashed in Lebanon in 2006, and for a lot longer in Gaza?
In justifying Israel's security wall, Mr Halibard omits to mention that the wall cuts off huge chunks of Palestinian land. If Israel really does want peace, surely she must, at the very least, first move out of her neighbour's territory, and then rebuild the wall on her own side of the border.
On Sunday I heard the Prime Minister tell Andrew Marr that he was "just an ordinary guy". I seem to remember that Mr Blair said that he was very much the same thing himself. Perhaps it's time we had a "toff" in No 10?
RIPON, North Yorkshire
Across the divide
Bob Miller (letter, 18 September) says that although Sadiq Khan's proposed move to give the Muslim faith equality is right, Iran must do the same for Christian converts first. Isn't this the sort of childish attitude that has helped to make our world such a troubled place? Surely the adult way would be to do it first and show the rest the world how we can solve our problems. Someone has to go first; let it be us.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex.
Harry Potter politics
I am afraid that, in her financial affection for New Labour, J K Rowling is living in one of her fantasy worlds. When the party first came to power, Harriet Harman's first act was to cut lone-parent benefit. What with the relentless pressure of back-to-work interviews, today's J K Rowling would scarcely have time to nurture her children or even keep a diary, much less write children's novels.
High on rhetoric
"Can we calm down about Ecstasy?" (Sophie Morris, 18 October.) It depends who the "we" is. We, the reader, might, but the Government certainly will not. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs looked at all the facts and saw no need to upgrade cannabis back to Class B, but the Government ignored their advice. Now they are going to look at downgrading ecstasy from Class A to Class B. That will be ignored too. The Government is not interested in scientific facts, or the truth. They send out the wrong message.
David Jones lists a number of highly unusual occurrences in the past week or so and wonders whether we have jumped into a parallel universe following the firing-up of the hadron collider (Letter, 19 September). Well, following Shrewsbury Town's 7-0 win last Saturday and, now, two consecutive days of sunshine, I reckon its case proven, for Shropshire at least.