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Why don’t animals have wheels.rtf

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Darwinian selection will favour road building only if the builder benefits from the road more than his rivals.

Selfish parasites, who use your road and don’t bother to build their own, will be free to concentrate their

energy on outbreeding you, while you slave away on the road. Unless special measures are taken, genetic

tendencies towards lazy, selfish exploitation will thrive at the expense of industrious roadbuilding. The upshot

will be that no roads get built. With the benefit of foresight, we can see that everybody will be worse off. But

natural selection, unlike we humans with our big, recently evolved brains, has no foresight.

What is so special about humans that we have managed to overcome our antisocial instincts and build roads

that we all share. We have governments, policed taxation, public works to which we all subscribe whether we

like it or not. The man who wrote, “Sir, You are very kind, but I think I’d prefer not to join your Income Tax

Scheme”, heard again, we may be sure, from the Inland Revenue. Unfortunately, no other species has

invented the tax. They have, however, invented the (virtual) fence. An individual can secure his exclusive

benefit from a resource if he actively defends it against rivals.

Many species of animals are territorial, not just birds and mammals, but fish and insects too. They defend an

area against rivals of the same species, often so as to sequester a private feeding ground, or a private

courtship bower or nesting area. An animal with a large territory might benefit by building a network of good,

flat roads across the territory from which rivals were excluded. This is not impossible, but such animal roads

would be too local for long distance, high speed travelling. Roads of any quality would be limited to the small

area that an individual can defend against genetic rivals. Not an auspicious beginning for the evolution of

wheel.

Now I must mention that there is one revealing exception to my premiss. Some very small creatures have

evolved the wheel in the fullest sense of the word. One of the first locomotor devices ever evolved may have

been the wheel, given that for most of its first two billion years, life consisted of nothing but bacteria (and, to

this day, not only are most individual organisms bacteria, even in our own bodies bacterial cells greatly

outnumber our ‘own’ cells).

Many bacteria swim using threadlike spiral propellors, each driven by its own continuously rotating propellor

shaft. It used to be thought that these ‘flagella’ were wagged like tails, the appearance of spiral rotation

resulting from a wave of motion passing along the length of the flagellum, as in a wriggling snake. The truth

is much more remarkable. The bacterial flagellum is attached to a shaft which, driven by a tiny molecular

engine, rotates freely and indefinitely in a hole that runs through the cell wall.

Picture (see suggestions faxed separately to Jeremy Bayston)

The fact that only very small creatures have evolved the wheel suggests what may be the most plausible

reason why larger creatures have not. It’s a rather mundane, practical reason, but it is nonetheless

important. A large creature would need large wheels which, unlike manmade wheels, would have to grow in

situ rather than being separately fashioned out of dead materials and then mounted. For a large, living

organ, growth in situ demands blood or something equivalent. The problem of supplying a freely rotating

organ with blood vessels (not to mention nerves) that don’t tie themselves in knots is too vivid to need

spelling out!

Human engineers might suggest running concentric ducts to carry blood through the middle of the axle into

the middle of the wheel. But what would the evolutionary intermediates have looked like? Evolutionary

improvement is like climbing a mountain (“Mount Improbable”). You can’t jump from the bottom of a cliff to

the top in a single leap. Sudden, precipitous change is an option for engineers, but in wild nature the summit

of Mount Improbable can be reached only if a gradual ramp upwards from a given starting point can be found.

The wheel may be one of those cases where the engineering solution can be seen in plain view, yet be

unattainable in evolution because its lies the other side of a deep valley, cutting unbridgeably across the

massif of Mount Improbable.



Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford

University (see http://www.spacelab.net/~catalj/home.html). His books include The Selfish Gene, The Blind

Watchmaker, River Out of Eden and, most recently, Climbing Mount Improbable (Viking, 1996).



Free Inquiry, Wntr 1997 v18 n1 p18(5)

Why I am a secular humanist. (views of members of the International Academy of Humanism)(includes

related article on secular humanist Sir Isaiah Berlin) Yelena Bonner; Hermann Bondi; Taslima Nasrin;

Richard Dawkins; Richard Taylor; John Passmorre; Arthur C. Clarke; Anthony Flew; J.J.C. Smart; Inumati

Parikh.

Abstract: Several members of the International Academy of Humanism presented their views on being

secular humanists. Some of them believed that their professions, family backgrounds and ideals positively

contribute to the values embodied by humanism. They felt that their views correlate well with issues of faith,

double standards, and religion. Other members of the academy associated their commitments, ethical

conduct and philosophy with various human life issues and concerns.



The members of the International Academy of Humanism reflect on the guiding principles of their lives

The International Academy of Humanism was established in 1985 to recognize distinguished humanists and

to disseminate humanistic ideals and beliefs.



YELENA BONNER

A distinguished defender of human rights. Because of her human rights advocacy in the former USSR, she

was persecuted by the state, as was her late husband, Andrei Sahkarov, the famous Soviet dissident and

Nobel Peace Laureate.

I was born in 1923 and grew up in a time when the word humanism and all concepts that accompanied it

were scorned and rejected as bourgeois vocabulary. A common phrase stated that "a communist cannot be a

humanist." Many years later, in a Soviet encyclopedic dictionary, I read: ". . . Karl Marx called communism

'real humanism.' Humanism received practical realization in the achievements of socialism, that pronounced

as its principle "All for the sake of man, for the good of man."

It was both ridiculous and sad to read this in Gorky, where my husband, Andrei Sakharov, was kept in

isolation from the entire world by the whim and arbitrariness of the authorities, and where I was sentenced to

exile four years later.

My perception of good and evil were shaped and nurtured by my family, friends, and colleagues. I was 14

years old when my parents were arrested. My father was shot, and my mother was taken away from me and

my younger brother for eight years of labor camps and another nine years of internal exile, until the time

when the so-called violations of socialist legality were condemned in my country and my parents were

exonerated, my father posthumously. Such was communist "humanism."

My family's tragedy did not make me bitter, and I have never held it against my country, never felt my country

was culpable. Rather, it was perceived as an act of god, especially since the case of my family was not

unique. The same fate had befallen many of my peers - friends and schoolmates. All of us were "strange

orphans of 1937," to use the expression coined by the writer Ilya Ehrenburg. In reality "strange orphans" in

our society existed since 1917, as well as much later than 1937.

There is no doubt that my family's misfortune left a mark on my psyche, but to all that was evil there was a

counterweight in the great Russian literature, and particularly, in poetry, which was fortunately close to my

heart from early childhood. Then came World War II with its blood and suffering, with terrible injustice of

young lives cruelly cut short - lives of strangers and the most dear ones alike. There was fear. Survival

seemed a miracle. A poet's line fully applies to me: "I put the war past me, but it passed through me."



After the war I betrayed my first choice of vocation (I had volunteered to the front after my freshman year of

study in Russian language and literature) and entered medical school. I wanted to do good not by word but

deed, by everyday work. I have never regretted having become a physician. Even today I relive the sensation

of happiness that accompanies the first cry of a newborn in the delivery room; or when entering the ward I

would hear two or three dozen babies crying in unison, for feeding time was near. I often found myself smiling

as I walked toward their cries. A crying baby is an alive baby.

It was in the family with its misfortunes and joys, in friends and books, in professional life, in the concerns of a

woman and a mother that I developed my own perception of the world and of my place in it, my ideals. In

essence, they are probably close to the values of humanism.

Translated by Taliana Yakelerich

EDWARD O. WILSON

Emeritus Professor of Entomology at Harvard University and author of numerous widely acclaimed books

including Sociobiology.

I was raised a Southern Baptist in a religious environment that favored a literal interpretation of the Bible. But

it happened that I also became fascinated by natural history at an early age, and, as a biology concentrator at

the University of Alabama, discovered evolution. All that I had learned of the living world to that point fell into

place in a wholly new and intellectually compelling way. It was apparent to me that life is connected not by

supernatural design but by kinship, with species having multiplied out of other species to create, over

hundreds of millions of years, the great panoply of biodiversity around us today. If a Divine Creator put it all

here several thousand years ago, he also salted Earth from pole to pole with falsified massive, interlocking

evidence to make scientists believe life evolved autonomously. I realized that something was terribly wrong in

this dissonance. The God depicted in Holy Scripture is variously benevolent, didactic, loving, angry, and

vengeful, but never tricky.

As time passed, I learned that scientific materialism explains vastly more of the tangible world, physical and

biological, in precise and useful detail, than the Iron-Age theology and mysticism bequeathed us by the

modern great religions ever dreamed. It offers an epic view of the origin and meaning of humanity far greater,

and I believe more noble, than conceived by all the prophets of old combined. Its discoveries suggest that,

like it or not, we are alone. We must measure and judge ourselves, and we will decide our own destiny.

Why then, am I a humanist? Let me give the answer in terms of Blaise Pascal's Wager. The seventeenthcentury French philosopher said, in effect, live well but accept religious faith. "If I lost," he wrote. "I would

have lost little: If I won I would have gained eternal life." Given what we now know of the real world, I would

turn the Wager around as follows: if fear and hope and reason dictate that you must accept the faith, do so,

but treat this world as if there is none other.

SIR HERMANN BONDI

Fellow of the Royal Society and past Master of Churchill College, Cambridge University.

I grew up in Vienna in a nonbelieving Jewish family. But whereas my father liked the forms of the Jewish

religion as a social cement (and indeed we kept the household such that we could entertain our numerous

Orthodox relatives), I acquired from my mother an intense dislike of the narrowness and exclusivity of the

religion. Ethical principles were very strong at home. I soon became clear to me that a moral outlook was at

least as strong among nonbelievers. I similarly acquired a strong dislike of the alternative religion, the

Catholic Church (in Austria dominant and very reactionary). So I was set early on the path of nonbelief, with

strong ethical principles, and soon was ready to declare my attitude. But it was only later that I joined others

with a similar outlook in humanist organizations.

My opinion now is that arguments about the existence or nonexistence of an undefined "God" are quite

pointless. What divides us from those who believe in one of the faiths claiming universal validity (such as

Christianity or Islam) is their firm trust in an alleged revelation. It is this absolute reliance on a sacred text that

is the basis of the terrible crimes committed in the name of religion (and of other absolutist faiths such as



Nazism or doctrinaire communism). It is also worth pointing out the appalling arrogance of viewing one's own

religion as "right" and all others as "wrong." The multiplicity of mutually contradictory faiths needs pointing out

again and again.

Thus I regard humanism not as yet another exclusive faith, but as a determination to stress those issues on

which we are all more or less agreed and to relegate to the backburner faiths that divide us. Thus I am a firm

secularist, favoring a society and educational system in which those of any religion and of none can feel

comfortable as long as they are not aggressive or separatist.

TASLIMA NASRIN

A physician-turned-human-rights-activist and author of the dissident novel Shame. She is exiled from her

native Bangladesh.

I was born in a Muslim family. I was forced by mother to read the Koran every morning, to pray namaz, and to

fast during Ramadan.

While I was growing up, I was taken by my mother to a pit, a religious cult leader respected by Muslims. He

had his own group, who believed in a genie and superstitions. The pit declared that women who laughed in

front of men and went out of the house had been taken over by the genie and they were brutally beaten by

the pit so that the genie would leave. He gave a scary description of hell. Whoever visited him gave money.

The pir was surrounded by young women who massaged his body and served him whatever he needed. One

day, in my presence, he declared that keyamout, the destruction day of the Earth, was coming soon, and that

there was no need for women to marry. They should sacrifice their lives for Allah.

I was' horrified to see all the torture he did to get rid of the genie and to listen to the description of hell and

waiting for keyamout. But it did not come.

The pir used to treat sick people by uttering sura and beating them. Water was declared holy and said to cure

sick people. The sick became sicker after drinking the water. I was also treated by a pit, but I was not cured

until my physician father treated me with scientific medicine.

I was encouraged by my father to get a secular education. I learned about the big bang, evolution, and the

solar system and became suspicious about Allah's six-day adventure to make the whole universe, the Adam

and Eve story, and stories of suns moving around the Earth and mountains like nails to balance the Earth so

that the Earth would not fall down. My mother asked me not to ask any questions about Allah and to have

blind faith in Allah. I could not be blind.

Then I studied the Koran instead of reading it without knowing the meaning. I found it total bull-shit. The

Koran, believed by millions, supported slavery and inequalities among people - in other countries the equality

of women had been established as a human right and the moon had already been won by men. Men had the

right to marry four times, divorce, have sex with female slaves, and beat their wives. Women were to hide

their bodies because the female body is simply a sexual object. Women were not allowed to divorce their

husbands, enjoy inheritance, or have their testimony in court considered as seriously as men's. I found that

Allah prescribed Muslims to hate non-Muslims and kill apostates.

With my own conscience I found religion ridiculous because it stops freethought, reason, and rationality. My

father told me to believe nothing without reason. I did that. I could not believe religion and I became an

atheist. I started writing against religion and all the religious superstitions. I was attacked, verbally, physically.

The outrage of the religious people was so big that I had to leave my country.

I lived in one of the poorest countries in the world. I saw how poverty was glorified by religion and how the

poor are exploited. It is said the poor are sent to the Earth to prove their strong faith for Allah in their

miserable life. I have not seen any religious teaching that calls for a cure for poverty. Instead the rich are

supposed to make Allah happy by giving some help (Mother Teresa's type of help). The poor should remain

poor in society, and opportunists can use them to buy a ticket for heaven.

So I don't accept Allah, His cruel unholiness. I have my own conscience, which inspired me to support a



society based on equality and rationality. Religion is the cause of fanaticism, bloodshed, hatred, racism,

conflict. Humanism can only make people humane and make the world livable.

RICHARD DAWKINS

Charles Simionyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University, and author of The Blind

Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, and Climbing Mount Improbable.

It is said that, while science can answer many of our questions, it cannot answer all of them. True. But false is

the hidden implication that if science can't answer a question it follows that some other discipline can.

Certainly science cannot prove what is right or wrong, but nor can theology. Secular, rationalistic, moral

philosophy comes closest by exposing our inconsistencies and double standards.

But science can answer deep questions popularly regarded as outside its remit, as well as those that are

universally ceded to it. "Why is there anything rather than nothing?" is often cited as beyond the reach of

science, but physics may one day answer it and if physics doesn't, nothing will.

"What is the purpose of life?" already has a straightforward Darwinian answer and is quite different from

"What would be a worthwhile purpose for me to adopt in my own life?" Indeed, my own philosophy of life

begins with an explicit rejection of Darwinism as a normative principle for living, even while I extol it as the

explanatory principle for life.

This brings me to the aspect of humanism that resonates most harmoniously for me. We are on our own in

the universe. Humanity can expect no help from outside, so our help, such as it is, must come from our own

resources. As individuals we should make the most of the short time we have, for it is a privilege to be here.

We should seize the opportunity presented by our good fortune and fill our brief minds, before we die, with

understanding of why, and where, we exist.

I'd worry about the humanist label if it implied something uniquely special about being human. Evolution is a

gradual process. Humanness is not an all-or-none quality that you either have or don't have. It is a

complicated mixture of qualities that evolved gradually, which means that some people have higher doses

than others, and some nonhumans have non-negligible doses as well. Absolutist moral judgments founded

on the "rights" of all humans, as opposed to nonhumans, therefore seem to me less justifiable than more

pragmatic judgments based, for example, on quantitative assessment of the ability to suffer.

The atheist label also worries me because it shouldn't be necessary. Those who don't believe in fairies have

no need of a label: the onus of proof is on those who do. I would with positive conviction call myself a

scientific rationalist, with a humane concern that is directed toward a target that is both wider and narrower

than humanity. Wider because it includes other species and potentially other planets. Narrower because it

admits that not all humans are equal.

RICHARD TAYLOR

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Rochester, and author of Metaphysics.

I am interested in humanism, not as a creed or set of beliefs, but simply as social policy and a way of treating

people. Essentially, it is a way of making the conditions of life less burdensome, the relationships between

people more fulfilling, and promoting harmony rather than friction. People fare best when they look not to

moral rules and principles, not to priests and churches, and not to creeds, but to the actual results of what

they do.

Three things have guided me to this approach to life. The first is the wisdom of Socrates, especially as it was

developed by the Stoic philosophers of Antiquity and then by such modern Stoics as Henry David Thoreau.

They all taught us that we should look first to our own nobility as rational human beings and pay little attention

to such things as wealth or power. The second was the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, who located all

ethical conduct in our capacity for compassion, not only for other human beings, but for all things that feel

pain. And the third was the extraordinary achievements of Joseph Fletcher, whom it was one of my great

blessings to know as a friend.



JOHN PASSMORE

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University and President of the Australian Academy

of Science. His book Memoirs of a Semidetached Australian details his evolution from Roman Catholicism.

I rebelled as a young boy against the view that the whole of humanity suffers because a single person was

disobedient. This I saw as tyranny of the first order. If there was no salvation outside the Roman Catholic

Church, I also argued, how could an omnipotent God allow our aborigines to remain unsaved for thousands

of years, when they knew nothing of the Church? Later, under the influence of my university philosophy

teacher I developed metaphysical arguments against religion.

Critics of humanism sometimes suggest that we make a god of man. But I am willing to admit that there is no

deed so dreadful that we can safely say "no human being could do that" and no belief so absurd that we can

safely say "no human being could believe that." But on the other side I point to the marvelous achievements

of human beings in science and art and acts of courage, love, and self-sacrifice.

I call myself a pessimistic humanist because I do not regard human beings or their societies as being

perfectible but a humanist I nonetheless am. And I reflect on the fact that the worst terrorists of the dreadful

century I have lived through have felt justified by their belief that they are acting in the interests of some

superhuman entity, whether it be God, or History, or the State.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE

Well-known science-fiction writer, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and respected futurist.

The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion. However

valuable - even necessary - that may have been in enforcing good behavior on primitive peoples, their

association is now counterproductive. Yet at the very moment when they should be decoupled,

sanctimonious nitwits are calling for a return to morals based on superstition. Virtually all civilized societies

would give a passing grade of at least 60% to the Ten Commandments (modern translation: "suggested

guidelines"). They have nothing to do with any specific faith.

ANTONY FLEW

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Reading University in the United Kingdom. His books include The Logic

of Mortality and Atheistic Humanism.

My father, like his father before him, was a Methodist minister. At the age of 13, I was sent to the excellent

boarding school founded by John Wesley for the education of the sons of his itinerant preachers. I originally

rejected the Christian faith - a rejection that occasioned distress to all concerned-during my middle teens. I

rejected it then simply and solely because I had come to believe that it could not be true: the belief that the

universe is created and sustained by a being both omnipotent and benevolent seemed to me, as it still

seems, manifestly incompatible with innumerable, all-too familiar facts. Now - 60 years on - I am more

inclined to argue on Humean lines that there is no good evidencing reason for making positive assertions

about the putative Cause of the Universe.

J. J. C. SMART

Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University. He recently defended atheism in a debate with J. J.

Haldane in the book Atheism and Theism.

My parents were Scots, but I was born and grew up in Cambridge. We were Presbyterians, and I went to a

Methodist school. However, on moving to Glasgow, where my father became Regius Professor of Astronomy,

my mother, who in Cambridge had some hankering for the Anglican church, became a Scottish Episcopalian

and in this was followed by my brothers and then by my father. Last of all I became an Anglican at Oxford.

Nevertheless, I felt uneasy in my churchgoing because I increasingly found it hard to reconcile it with my

scientific and philosophical beliefs. I comforted myself with Wittgensteinian double-talk, of which I now feel



thoroughly ashamed. For emotional reasons, connected with my affection for my parents, I was a reluctant

atheist, but giving up religion brought peace of mind because intellectual conflict was resolved.

INDUMATI PARIKH

Physician and President of the Indian Radical Humanist Association.

In our society woman is on the lowest rung of the social ladder. She does not have freedom to assert herself

in fact, she hardly knows what freedom is. So it is the case with most of our poor ignorant men. I thought

helping women to be free was more important and would have a lasting effect on the community. In a society

fragmented by religion and castes, I thought humanism was the only ideology that would cut across

boundaries and help men and women to understand their basic humanness. Being more of an activist than a

philosopher, I put my energy to helping women, children, and men at the lowest end of society. I might be

one of the few who have worked at developing humanism through work at grassroots level.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, Secular Humanist

When Isaiah Berlin died at 88 on November 5, 1997, the International Academy of Humanism lost one of its

most distinguished members - and the world was deprived of a great mind both humane and fecund. The

least of his achievements was that he had received 23 honorary doctorates, numerous academic awards, the

Order of Merit, and knighthood. The greatest was that he was a philosopher and historian of ideas who spent

his life promoting and refining humanist ideals: liberty, social pluralism, critical thought, and the dignity of

human beings. Along the way, he attained a passionate life filled with the delights of the intellect, of music, of

good conversation, and of friends.



Wonderful Life by Stephen J. Gould. Reviewed by Richard Dawkins in Sunday Telegraph, 25th Feb 1990

If only Stephen Gould could think as clearly as he writes! This is a beautifully written and deeply muddled

book. To make unputdownable an intricate, technical account of the anatomies of worms, and other

inconspicuous denizens of a half-billion-year-old sea, is a literary tour-de-force. But the theory that Gould

wrings out of his fossils is a sorry mess.

The Burgess Shale, a Canadian rock formation dating from the Cambrian, the earliest of the great fossil eras,

is a zoological treasury. Freak conditions preserved whole animals, soft parts and all, in full 3-D. You can

literally dissect your way through a 530-million-year-old animal. C D Walcott, the eminent palæontologist who

discovered the Burgess fossils in 1909, classified them according to the fashion of his time: he ‘shoehorned’

them all into modern groups. ‘Shoehorn’ is Gould’s own excellent coining. It recalls to me my undergraduate

impatience with a tutor who asked whether the vertebrates were descended from this invertebrate group or

that. "Can’t you see", I almost shouted, "that our categories are all modern? Back in the Precambrian, we

wouldn’t have recognized those invertebrate groups anyway. You are asking a non-question." My tutor

agreed, and then went right on tracing modern animals back to other modern groups!

That was shoehorning, and that is what Walcott did to the Burgess animals. In the 1970s and 80s, a group of

Cambridge palæontologists returned to Walcott’s museum specimens (with some newer collections from the

Burgess site), dissected their 3-dimensional structure, and overturned his classifications. These revisionists,

principally Harry Whittington, Derek Briggs and Simon Conway Morris, are the heroes of Gould’s tale. He

milks every ounce of drama from their rebellion against the shoehorn, and at times he goes right over the top:

"I believe that Whittington’s reconstruction of Opabinia in 1975 will stand as one of the great documents in the

history of human knowledge."

Whittington and his colleagues realised that most of their specimens were far less like modern animals than

Walcott had alleged. By the end of their epic series of monographs they thought nothing of coining a new

phylum for a single specimen (‘phylum’ is the highest unit of zoological classification; even the vertebrates

constitute only a sub-category of the Phylum Chordata). These brilliant revisions are almost certainly broadly

correct, and they delight me beyond my undergraduate dreams. What is irritating is Gould’s grandiloquent

and near-disingenuous usage of them. He concludes that the Burgess fauna was demonstrably more diverse

than that of the entire planet today, he alleges that his conclusion is deeply shocking to other evolutionists,

and he thinks that he has upset our established view of history. He is unconvincing on the first count, clearly

wrong on the second two.

In 1958 the palæontologist James Brough published the following remarkable argument: evolution must have

been qualitatively different in the earliest geological eras, because then new phyla were coming into

existence; today only new species arise! The fallacy is glaring: every new phylum has to start as a new

species. Brough was wielding the other end of Walcott’s shoehorn, viewing ancient animals with the

misplaced hindsight of a modern zoologist: animals that in truth were probably close cousins were dragooned

into separate phyla because they shared key diagnostic features with their more divergent modern

descendants. Gould too, even if he is not exactly reviving Brough’s claim, is hoist with his own shoehorn.

How should Gould properly back up his claim that the Burgess fauna is super-diverse? He should - it would

be the work of many years and might never be made convincing - take his ruler to the animals themselves,

unprejudiced by modern preconceptions about ‘fundamental body plans’ and classification. The true index of

how unalike two animals are is how unalike they actually are! Gould prefers to ask whether they are members

of known phyla. But known phyla are modern constructions. Relative resemblance to modern animals is not a

sensible way of judging how far Cambrian animals resemble one another.

The five-eyed, nozzle-toting Opabinia cannot be assimilated to any textbook phylum. But, since textbooks are

written with modern animals in mind, this does not mean that Opabinia was, in fact, as different from its

contemporaries as the status ‘phylum’ would suggest. Gould makes a token attempt to counter this criticism,

but he is hamstrung by dyed-in-the-wool essentialism and Platonic ideal forms. He really seems unable to

comprehend that animals are continuously variable functional machines. It is as though he sees the great

phyla not diverging from early blood brothers but springing into existence fully differentiated.

Gould, then, singularly fails to establish his super-diversity thesis. Even if he were right, what would this tell

us about ‘the nature of history’? Since, for Gould, the Cambrian was peopled with a greater cast of phyla than



now exist, we must be wonderfully lucky survivors. It could have been our ancestors who went extinct;

instead it was Conway Morris’s ‘weird wonders’, Hallucigenia, Wiwaxia and their friends. We came ‘that close’

to not being here.

Gould expects us to be surprised. Why? The view that he is attacking - that evolution marches inexorably

towards a pinnacle such as man - has not been believed for 50 years. But his quixotic strawmandering, his

shameless windmill-tilting, seem almost designed to encourage misunderstanding (not for the first time: on a

previous occasion he went so far as to write that the neo-Darwinian synthesis was ‘effectively dead’!). The

following is typical of the publicity surrounding Wonderful Life (incidentally, I suspect that the lead sentence

was added without the knowledge of the credited journalist): "The human race did not result from the ‘survival

of the fittest’, according to the eminent American professor, Stephen Jay Gould. It was a happy accident that

created Mankind" (Daily Telegraph, 22nd January 1990). Such twaddle, of course, is nowhere to be found in

Gould, but whether or not he seeks that kind of publicity he all too frequently attracts it. Readers regularly

gain the impression that he is saying something far more radical and surprising than he actually is.

‘Survival of the fittest’ means individual survival, not survival of major lineages. Any orthodox Darwinian would

be entirely happy with major extinctions being largely a matter of luck. Admittedly there is a minority of

evolutionists who think that Darwinian selection chooses between higher-level groupings. They are the only

Darwinians likely to be disconcerted by Gould’s ‘contingent extinction’. And who is the most prominent

advocate of higher-level selection today? You’ve guessed it. Hoist again!

Richard Dawkins



A scientist's view

by Richard Dawkins

Article in The Guardian, Saturday March 9, 2002

The Rome-deniers, let's imagine, are a well-organised group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman

empire never existed. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its romance language grandchildren, is

a Victorian fabrication.

The Rome-deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust-deniers whom they

resemble. Smile and be tolerant. But your tolerance might wear thin if you are a scholar and teacher of

Roman history or literature.

And what if Rome-deniers manage to infiltrate the teaching staff of an otherwise reputable school, and

energetically promote their inanities to a susceptible new generation? A normally tolerant person could be

forgiven for wanting to see those teachers fired.

Well, that's approximately where I stand with respect to the clique of Genesis creationists who have moved in

on Emmanuel College, Gateshead. What they deny is the unassailable evidence for biological evolution. The

present head of the school, Nigel McQuoid, with his predecessor John Burn, wrote the following: "We agree

that [schools] should teach evolution as a theory and faith position... Clearly also schools should teach the

creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis. Both creation and evolution provide ways of explaining the

past that are beyond direct scientific examination and verification. Ultimately, both creation and evolution are

faith positions."

The vice-principal, head of science, senior assessment coordinator and maths teacher, have all said

something similar.

Creation as literally depicted in Genesis is indeed supported by faith (and needs to be, since it is not

supported by anything else, certainly not the Pope, nor the Roman or Anglican hierarchies). Evolution, on the

other hand, is supported by evidence.

Any science teacher who denies that the world is billions (or even millions!) of years old is teaching children a

preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood. These men disgrace the honourable profession of teacher. By

comparison, real teachers, teachers who respect truth and evidence whether in science or history, have so

much more to offer. Today's children are blessed with the opportunity to open their minds to the shattering

wonder of their own existence, the nature of life and its remarkable provenance in a yet more remarkable

universe. Teachers who help to open young minds perform a duty which is as near sacred as I will admit.

Ignorant, closed-minded, false teachers who stand in their way come as close as I can reckon to committing

true sacrilege.



Home Christine DeBlase-Ballstadt



All Our Yesterdays

by Richard Dawkins

12/31/1995, The Times of London (Travel)

Evolutionist Richard Dawkins found heroes and inspiration for the future, too, when he returned to Kenya to

search for his roots, our species' ancestors, and a well-loved childhood garden.

EARLIEST memories can build a private Eden, a lost garden to which there is no return. The name Mbagathi

conjured up myths in my mind. Early in the war my father was called from the colonial service in Nyasaland

(now Malawi) to join the army in Kenya. My mother disobeyed instructions to stay behind in Nyasaland and

drove with him, along rutted dust roads and over unmarked and fortunately unpoliced borders, to Kenya,

where I was later born and lived until I was two. My earliest memory is of the two whitewashed thatched huts

that my parents built for us in a garden, near the small Mbagathi River with its footbridge where I once fell into

the water. I have always dreamt of returning to the site of this unwitting baptism, not because there was

anything remarkable about the place, but because my memory is void before it.

That garden with the two whitewashed huts was my infant Eden and the Mbagathi my personal river. But, on

a larger timescale, Africa is Eden to us all, the ancestral garden whose Darwinian memories have been

carved into our DNA over some 15m years until our recent worldwide Out of Africa diaspora. It was at least

partly the search for roots, our species' ancestors and my own childhood garden, that took me back to Kenya

last December.

My wife, Lalla, happened to sit next to Richard Leakey at a lunch to launch his The Origin of Humankind and

by the end of the meal he had invited her (and me) to spend Christmas with his family in Kenya. Could there

be a better beginning to a search for humanity's roots than a visit to the Leakey family on their home ground?

We accepted gratefully. On the way, we spent a few days with an old colleague, the economic ecologist Dr

Michael Norton-Griffiths and his wife, Annie, in their house at Langata, near Nairobi, which proved to be a

paradise of bougainvillea and lush green gardens, marred only by the evident necessity for the Kenyan

equivalent of the burglar alarm the armed askari, hired to patrol the garden at night by every householder

who can afford the luxury.

I didn't know where to start in quest of my lost Mbagathi. I knew only that it was somewhere near greater

Nairobi. That the city had expanded since 1943 was only too obvious. For all I could tell, my childhood garden

might languish under a car park or an international hotel. At a neighbour's carol-singing party I cultivated the

greyest and most wrinkled guests, seeking an old brain in which the name of Mrs Walter, the philanthropic

owner of our garden, or that of Grazebrooks, her house, might have lodged. Though intrigued at my quest,

none could help. Then I discovered that the stream below the Norton-Griffiths' garden was named the

Mbagathi River. There was a steep red-soil track down the hill and I made a ritual pilgrimage. At the foot of

the hill, not 200yd from where we were living, was a small footbridge and I stood and sentimentally watched

the villagers returning home from work over the Mbagathi River.

I don't, and probably never shall know, if this was "my" bridge, but it probably was my river, for rivers outlive

human works. I never discovered my garden and I doubt if it survives. Human memory is frail, our traditions

as erratic as Chinese whispers and largely false; written records crumble and, in any case, writing is only

millenniums old. If we want to follow our roots back through the millions of years, we need more persistent

race memories. Two exist, fossils and DNA hardware and software. The fact that our species now has a hard

history is largely to the credit of one family, the Leakeys: the late Louis Leakey, his wife Mary, their son

Richard and his wife Maeve. It was to Richard and Maeve's holiday house at Lamu that we were going for

Christmas.

The engagingly filthy town of Lamu, one of the strongholds of Islam bordering the Indian ocean, lies on a

sandy island close to the mangrove fringes of the coast. The imposing waterfront recalls Evelyn Waugh's

Matodi in the first chapter of Black Mischief. Open stone drains, grey with suds, line streets too narrow for

wheeled traffic, and heavily laden donkeys purposefully trot their unsupervised errands across the town.

Skeletal cats sleep in patches of sun, black-veiled women, like crows, walk obsequiously past gentlemen

lording it on their front doorsteps, talking the heat and the flies away. Every four hours the muezzins

(nowadays they are recorded on cassette tapes concealed in the minarets) caterwaul for custom. Nothing



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