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Why don’t animals have wheels.rtf
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
A physician-turned-human-rights-activist and author of the dissident novel Shame. She is exiled from her
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
The vice-principal, head of science, senior assessment coordinator and maths teacher, have all said
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
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
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
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