Sunday, 11 July 2010
Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me)
Way back many years ago, I was arguing with a Christian about evolution, to pass the time on a bus journey, and he repeated the argument which I shall summarize thus: ‘Ah, but even Charles Darwin converted to Christianity on his death bed!’
Of course he didn’t. This is one of those Received Wisdoms that gets repeated in pamphlets, like the nonsense that evolution can’t explain things like the eye and the appearance of the golden ratio in nature. The story of Darwin’s death-bed recantation – which is all it was, a story – was repudiated by those who knew Darwin best, and seems to have been wishful thinking by someone who had never even met Darwin.
But let’s just suppose the story was true, that Darwin did say ‘Evolution is a lie, I believe in Jesus’ before he finally pegged it. So what? Why should what somebody says on their death-bed trump a lifetime of writing, of thought and discussion? Because it’s his ‘final word on the matter’? Because up until that point he hadn’t quite decided where stood on the issue, but he arrived at a conclusion in the nick of time? Because he knew his time was limited and wanted to use his last words to finally reveal the truth, that his life’s work had been a fabrication?
Clearly this is nonsense. What somebody says on their death bed is unlikely to be their considered view on a matter. When you’re on your death bed you’re quite likely to be extremely ill – I have noted that extreme illness frequently precedes death – possibly feverish, possibly tanked up with painkilling drugs, and quite possibly not of sound mind. Almost certainly not firing on all cylinders mentally. Maybe Darwin did say he believed in Jesus on his death bed. But maybe he also said that he thought that there were worms crawling over the ceiling and that spoons were trying to kill him.
It’s this same nonsense, this idea that ‘ah, we’re finally getting the truth’, which means people place far too much credence in what people say when they’re drunk, or talking in their sleep, when really that’s the one time they shouldn’t take the slightest bit of notice. When I get drunk I’ll say the most offensive things in an attempt to be amusing. That doesn’t mean that’s what I secretly really think, quite the opposite.
I haven’t decided what I’ll say on my death bed yet. To be honest, I’m hoping to go out with a really big sneeze.