Editorial: Simply Human
It may have come as something to a shock to Darwin's contemporaries to be told that we're really just animals.
But even though we've now grown accustomed to the idea, we still struggle to define what kind of creatures we are, and our relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. And that's something of a recurring theme in this issue. Brian Morris explores the legacy of the 'social ecologists,' who pioneered a way to think about nature and human development as complimentary rather than antagonistic. They offer a way to love the great architecture of the city along with the grandeur of wilderness. The novelist and playwright Michael Frayn tells Laurie Taylor why human consciousness is for him the mainspring of the universe, since it comes into being through the stories we tell about it. In his diary from the Galapagos, AC Grayling finds both a confirmation of natural selection, and a pure joy in cavorting with the iguanas, turtles and sea lions he encounters on his travels in Darwin's footsteps. Meanwhile, for our cover story, Sally Feldman explores why fur, after a period of being shunned by the fashion world, is making a disturbing catwalk comeback.
We are also delighted to announce that our publisher, the Rationalist Association, has a new president. No one could better symbolise our commitment to wide-ranging rational enquiry and freedom of thought than the author, director and broadcaster Jonathan Miller. He is a scientist dedicated to the power of art, an intellectual who scorns obfuscation and trendy nonsense, and someone with a restless, almost forensic, curiosity about humanity. This is a man, after all, who when he appeared on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, chose as his luxury a dissection kit. He told me why he felt he could publicly support us:
"I am flattered and honoured to accept the role of President of the Rationalist Association. I think there is a large, unrepresented constituency of people for whom religion doesn't enter their heads, or at least they do not employ religious ways of thinking. Not believing in religion is very widespread and very longstanding and I think this community is often overlooked. With the rise of aggressive militant forms of belief, whether it's a crazy form of self-martyring Islam, American evangelicalism or Israelis who believe their land claims are underwritten by God, it seems to me one of the primary functions of this community is to explore religious beliefs and to analyse them with an objective curiosity and a kind of anthropological, not a moralistic, attitude to what people do.
"Personally I don't describe myself as a rationalist or humanist, or indeed an atheist. I don't define myself by my non-belief in a supernatural deity any more than I would by my non-belief in ghosts or witches. I have always disliked the hardline born-again atheist position. I am often embarrassed by people who are so virulent against religion and who use science in the service of their case. I don't think you need Darwin for the argument against God. I see no necessary contradiction between Darwin and belief in a creator. Long before I knew anything about science I could see that the idea of a supernatural creator didn't work because it was illogical nonsense.
"I am motivated by the belief that you can unravel concepts, that there is a rational way of looking at propositions and that some things don't make sense and some things do. This is especially true when the issues at stake are untestable by science; you can't take a sentence into a laboratory, but you can subject it to logical scrutiny.
"The point is all about making sense. I have a kind of analytical curiosity, a desire to make sense, to interrogate presuppositions and the infinitely complex way in which we as human beings make sense and communicate or fail to communicate.
"I want to ask 'what is it to be a person?'. You could call this humanist, I suppose, but I prefer to call it simply human."