Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The spread of the Annie myth: it's worse than I thought

My posting on the spread of the Annie hypothesis has elicited this interesting posting on "the Angry Bitter Atheist myth"--the idea that a dismissal of religion purely on intellectual grounds isn't enough; instead atheists must also be angry at God for some tragedy or other. In fact, I have tried to avoid calling the "Annie hypothesis" (the claim that Annie's death triggered Darwin's final loss of faith in Christianity), the "Annie myth", for fear of drawing legal action (c.f. the bogus legal action against Simon Singh's use of the term "bogus"). 

But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this story has been propagated so widely because it appeals to some human need for an emotional narrative, and so in that sense the term "myth" is appropriate. Plus, those who want to persuade Christians and other religious believers that Darwin was a thoroughly good chap for his work on evolution will wish to avoid the idea that his ideas on evolution had anything to do with his own loss of faith (even though they didn't have much to do with it)--far safer to blame it on a personal tragedy! 

Anyhow, on further investigation, I have found a few more examples of the uncritical acceptance of the Annie myth:
It seems I really do need to get this paper finished and published to prevent this nonsense spreading further!


Carl said...

Mark--I've never claimed to be infallible, so I don't know why you use that word in association with me. When I've written about Darwin and religion, I have not relied on some sort of divine inspiration. Instead, I've relied on the best historical scholarship I can find. James Moore, for example, made the argument that Darwin gradually fell away from religion over many years, and that the death of his daughter played a part in that decline. You can read his argument here. Moore offered detailed evidence to make his case. He was not simply peddling a "myth." And it doesn't seem sporting of you to accuse him and other historians of promoting myths, when you aren't willing yet to offer up evidence of your own to the contrary.

I am always willing to revise my own understanding as new evidence comes in. And that's not a myth: here's some evidence. I look forward to reading your own paper and hope to get hold of Wyhe's. But until then, I have a hard time seeing why I should be one of your examples of someone who doesn't appreciate your hidden revelations.

Mark Pallen said...

Hi Carl
I use the term "infallible" because that is how I view your work--I am jealous that you can write so much so quickly and so expertly on so many subjects without ever slipping up. The fact that someone as careful and authoritative as you can accept the "Annie hypothesis" uncritically is evidence of how far this problem has gone.

I am afraid that I disagree with your assessment of what you call "best historical scholarship". I wonder how many people who continue to cite the Annie myth have read the whole of Moore's piece of "scholarship" and evaluated the evidence presented therein? Have you? I think you will be surprised at how thin that evidence actually is!

I will be happy in the very near future to present a detailed point-by-point analysis of the piece by Moore that set in motion this whole sorry mythology. I agree it is not sporting not to tell all at the outset, but I am concerned that if I reveal all on the blog before the paper has been published, then it may lessen its chances of being published. As it is the journal that commissioned the piece is not being very sporting, in that they seem to be back-pedaling on whether they wish to accept it.

But the truth will out one way or another!

And I look forward to convincing you and the rest of the world that the emperor really does have no clothes on!

PS. van Wyhe is a collaborator on my paper--we are just working out whether his contribution is enough to merit co-authorship.