Sir David Attenborough, last Sunday on BBC1, shared his personal view on Darwin’s theory of evolution. It was a superbly produced and well presented programme. And clearly Sir David is quite convinced about evolution (a gradual change in the characteristics of a population of animals or plants over successive generations) – convinced that evolution occurs.
And he is also convinced about natural selection (a process resulting in the survival of those individuals from a population of animals or plants that are best adapted to the prevailing environmental conditions) – convinced that natural selection occurs.
Given the above dictionary definitions (between the brackets), then, yes, evolution occurs – even in Jersey. The Jersey Royal potato didn’t exist until Hugh de la Haye (1835-1906 and, incidentally, a follower of Jesus Christ) took a large 16-eyed potato, planted the 16 parts separately in a cotil above Belozanne Valley and found that the new potato crop was small, kidney-shaped, and early. The Jersey Royal evolved from another potato and many folk say that it has “devolved” since then through non-use of vraic as a fertiliser.
And natural selection (as defined) occurs in Jersey also. Glow-worms no longer populate our summer hedges – because of environmental changes.
But Sir David needed to address key issues with regard to a much more “macro” view of evolution than that indicated by the dictionary definitions. The macro view is that all life on earth (bacteria, plants, animals, humans, every living thing) evolved from nothing. And that this was achieved by accident by macro natural selection under which complex life and fantastic physical attributes (like eyes and blood-clotting) arise from simpler forms.
Sir David needed to deal with several tricky matters so as to present his convictions with conviction. One was the matter of “missing links”. If a cat has gradually become a dog, it seems likely that there will be many transitional creatures like catcatdog, catdog and catdogdog – many more than three actually. Apply this to the whole “Tree of Life” and the need for such intermediaries across macro evolution is fantastically huge.
So Sir David pointed to two existing creatures with special attributes that defied unequivocal entry into accepted classifications of “bird” or “reptile”.
And Sir David pointed to one fossil that seemed to be a cross between reptile and bird and admitted that it was a “poor flyer”.
Those three were enough for him – but they weren’t enough for Charles Darwin. In his On The Origin of Species he wrote – “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.” (London, Penguin Classic, 1985 - page 292)
Why then was Sir David so convinced? What do you think led to his strong conviction?
One of human nature’s most prevalent behavioural traits is our ability to make up our minds that what is beneficial to us is “right” and is “the truth” and that this beneficial-to-us-truth must be obeyed and followed by others. And the most beneficial thing for me, let alone David Attenborough, is to have no boss over me.
I need to affirm and re-affirm the “truths” that are beneficial to me – and get others to believe them. Have you forgotten Tony Blair’s decision about war in Iraq – supported by selected incontrovertible facts?
And have you forgotten (see bold above) that the Jerusalem Sanhedrin decided to sentence Jesus of Nazareth to death before receiving and considering the evidence against him?