Saturday, March 19, 2005


A concurrence. Serendipity. Call it what you will. Nevertheless, two events occurred recently which, had they happened in isolation, would probably not have resulted in such a seismic shift in my world view as they did in combination. A forehead slapping moment indeed. An internal dialogue along the lines of, “You pretzel. You think you’re so fucking smart, don’t you?” As a matter of fact, I did, but it came as quite a shock to discover that I was just as guilty of accepting received wisdom as fact as the next man.

One. I was over at The Liberal Elite the other day, having been pointed in their direction by the esteemed Ms Jones when I came across the opinion expressed that, and I quote, “There are no such things as faeries, pixies, elves and monsters, rather everything around us can be explained rationally and clearly by scientific, reasoned thought. For things which cannot (yet) be comprehensively explained by science, there is usually a religious theory and a scientific theory (big bang is a case in point). Take a step back and see which is the most likely theory that applies. It's never the religious one. But (and this is the important part, kids) the world around us is no less beautiful for that.”

Two. I have a friend. A good friend. An ex-partner in the horizontal dance. Her religious convictions cause me no end of grief but nevertheless, we fell to arguing about the origins of life the other day. Now, as our relationship is such that we take opposing sides in any argument as a matter of course, she took the side of the creationists and I, that of the evolutionists.

About 20 minutes in, it became all too clear to both of us that our positions shared one blatantly obvious common factor. They were both based on faith. Neither of us had any evidence whatsoever upon which to base our arguments. And an argument without evidence is a sorry one indeed, more akin to a creed or dogma than scientific reasoning. And yet, I was so sure that I was right. I mean, evolution, yeah? S’obvious, innit?

I remembered the passage from the Elite and went back and re-read it. Two words stuck in my mind. “Scientific theory”. And I had my first revelation. Theory. I said it again. Theory, not fact. The theory of evolution. Ping! Hot on the heels of this one came the second. Scientific. I said it again. Scientific. Based on experimentation and/or observable facts. I subjected these to, whilst not exactly deep, at least sub-surface thought and realised that, as I had none of the science at my disposal, it was obvious that I should have to delete ‘barely legal’ from the Google search box and do some serious investigation.

Now, as far as I can understand it, and do correct me if I’m wrong, the evolutionists’ theory has life beginning in some kind of primordial soup, then being subject to a process of evolution driven by natural selection. A survival of the fittest. With me so far?

Although I could refer you to whatever it was I used to be served in the old Béke Étterem on Fő utca, I could find no actual evidence for the existence of any soup, consommé, bisque or potage whatsoever. Its existence, in a nice reversal of scientific method, was inferred from the theory. Those accepting evolution must believe in life developing increasing complexity and therefore, that the further back one goes, the simpler it must become until we reach the soup. Now, I will accept that theory sometimes precedes fact. If it didn’t, then why do we even have the word? But to accept theory as fact, until proven, is to build your castle on dodgy ground.
To stay with the soup. What did it consist of? Evidence again, please. And just how did whatever it consisted of transmute itself into a living organism? Was it solar radiation? A bolt of lightning hit and suddenly No. 5 amino is alive? And, seeing as we are talking science here, can it be reproduced in a laboratory? And before you start quoting Eckhard Wimmer at me, all he did was produce a functioning polio virus in a lab from nucleotides which he purchased and then assembled according to an already known sequence. I say all he did. Actually it was a pretty astounding accomplishment but a biological jigsaw puzzle nevertheless. And is a virus actually alive? Definitions, please. And even if you accept this experiment as proof of the possibility, and I don’t, you still have to account for the chance element.
Okay, so now you’ve got your actual single cell organism floating around in a chemical soup. Here is where evolution and natural selection is supposed to kick in. Hmmm. These cells replicate by division, do they not? Producing clones of themselves? Okay, I have more research to do at this cellular level, I admit. All I will say at this point is that it requires a quite spectacular leap of faith to get from a single cell to an organism that replaces every single one of its billions over a seven year cycle, wouldn’t you say?

So, we’ll leave the amoebas to slowly gravitate towards what will eventually become Hillsborough and take a look at evolution itself. Again, as I understand it, there are two not necessarily mutually exclusive processes theoretically at work here. One is that the offspring of animals carrying those genetic traits advantageous to survival have a better chance of actually surviving and passing on these traits to their own progeny. Those not carrying these survival markers will die off and the survival traits will eventually become general in the population. The survival of the fittest.

The other is the so called spot mutation, a genetic great leap forward if you like, leapfrogging the countless generations (theoretically) necessary for natural selection to take place. That there is again no actual evidence for this does not seem to have reached either David Attenborough or The Discovery Channel as yet, but I digress.

Let’s look at the survival of the fittest then. One of the preconditions of this theory is time. Lots of time. Aeons of it to be (not so very) precise. A gradual adaptation for survival in the prevailing circumstances. A tweak here, an adjustment there. Now for any theory to be generally acceptable, it must surely be universally applicable. Then please could somebody explain to me just how any creature that undergoes metamorphosis can have developed this as a survival strategy through natural selection over a huge period of time? Did some caterpillar wake up one morning and decide it would a good idea to teach his kids how to secrete a silk like substance, make themselves a chrysallis out of it and, while ensconced therein, change their entire physical appearance and also learn how to fly? Well I guess it must have happened that way for if not, how could you explain the fact that, at each stage of this evolutionary process, the animal had to actually survive in order to pass on this spiffy new strategy to its sprogs?

There are just so many contradictions. Some animals are dun and drab. This is to afford them camouflage and to avoid being some bugger else’s lunch. Some animals are as gaudily decorated as a tart’s boudoir. This is to attract a mate. Come again? Evolution is supposedly driven by environmental factors and to avoid predation. If you look at the large predators today, they mostly weed out the sick, lame and infant. As for the others, it is difficult to imagine just how a fly could evolve to avoid being froggy din dins or did its evolution stop after developing an insatiable appetite for rumpy pumpy and an ability to lay inordinate quantities of eggs? It would seem to be a process with no logical conclusion. As prey evolves, then (according to the theory) predators have to evolve at the same pace or starve. Or at least change their diet. So why? Why go to all that trouble if the end result is going to be pretty much the same?

And take us poor homo almost sapiens. The fittest, eh? Drop me naked into any jungle or even savannah without gun and ammunition and let’s see just how geared up I am for survival. I am not particularly strong, I lack speed, my senses are dull in comparison, my eyesight sucks, my sense of smell and that of hearing are almost negligible. Anything four legged and equipped with tooth and claw could do for me in a matter of minutes. Ah! But I have my intelligence, I hear you cry. Okay then, let’s try and lever this into the theory then, shall we? Right, are you on terms of reasonably intimate acquaintance with any man, perchance? Given the choice of strength and intelligence or physical beauty as main characteristics of a partner in a carnal encounter, which one do you think he’d go for as first preference? Madaleine Albright or Angelina Jolie? (Apologies to both but I was after a type) Given most men’s preference for a good rut over intellectual coffee table discussions when the urge strikes and given that intelligence is indeed valuable as a survival factor, then answers on a postcard please to the usual address.

And if intelligence is in reality a survival trait, then it should, according to the theory, surely have become a general characteristic of the population as a whole. I rest my case.

I look again at that quote from the Elite and at that part of it which advises me to step back and see which is the most likely theory that applies. Well, I just don’t know. I look at my hands, for example, and think, “By Christ, that’s good design. Brilliant engineering.” Then I take a look at my cock and it’s, “Well, if he really wanted to put my brains in that, he could at least have made it a bit bigger.”
I guess the whole epiphany bit of all this was the realisation that I did not, in fact, know and that I have some way to go in learning to think for myself. I am not as smart as I thought I was and that’s always a good lesson to remember.
Goodnight, fellow mutations.

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