Friday, April 21, 2006

Turtle Legends and Lecture-Room Fables

In an otherwise unremarkable Daily Telegraph article against Intelligent Design an urban legend, or rather, science lecture fable, makes its appearance:

That, of course, means nothing to Intelligent Designers. Stephen Hawking tells the tale of an elderly lady who came to a talk on the origin of the Universe. Quivering with indignation, she insisted that it rested on the back of a giant turtle. What, the speaker asked, does that stand on? "Young man," she said, "you think you're very smart, but it's turtles all the way down!"

This is the first time I've seen the story attributed to Stephen Hawking. I first heard it attributed to Bertrand Russell, myself. The story of the Atlantean turtles and the old woman who loves them has a decades-long history of uncertain provenance. Such stories are unseemly in a scientist's opinion piece, especially when he's attempting to trash rubbish.

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