Evolution by David Macfie

“Today, class, we will have a discussion session,” said the science teacher, Mr. Darwin.

Would any of you like to begin by telling me what you think it means?” Several hands shot up.

“Yes, Charles.

“Sir, it’s a theory that says that man was descended from the apes.

“Not quite, Charles. You, Siyabonga.”

“I think, sir, it’s a theory that says that natural pressures shaped the way species changed through time.”

“Well done, Siyabonga. That’s much closer to the essence of the theory. Can you tell us why what Charles said is not quite right?”

“I don’t think so, sir. I thought that too.”

“Anyone else? Yes, Rachel.”

“I don’t think it says we are descended from apes, but that both apes and ourselves, are descended from a common ancestor.”

“That’s correct, Rachel, Well done.”

“Who came up with this theory, class? Yes, Sipho.”

”Charles Darwin, sir. Was he a long lost relative of yours, sir?”

“Your answer is correct, Sipho. And he was not a relative of mine so you can all settle, class. I will wait for your hilarity to die down. Good. Now, what was the name of Charles’ Darwin’s publication? Yes, Mpho.”

“”On the Origin of Species’, sir.”

“Good, Mpho, that was the title. But there was rather a long subtitle – ‘By means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.’ This subtitle comes back to Siyabonga’s answer. Now do any of you know the first controversy that attended the publication of this theory? Yes, Susie.”

“I seem to remember that someone else had exactly the same theory at exactly the same time, sir, but Darwin beat him to publication.”

“Excellent, Susie, that’s absolutely right. Another scientist, a naturalist called Alfred Russel Wallace, was working on a very similar theory. Both summary papers were read at the same meeting of the Linnean Society, in 1858. Darwin was then pressurized by his friends to publish an abstract of his book. So Darwin beat Wallace in the race for publication. Now, what about the second controversy? ………… Anybody?”

“Nobody? All right, the second controversy persists. Right from the beginning, the theory of evolution created two camps. These two camps vehemently defended their own viewpoint and still do, to this day. The first camp understood immediately that the theory explained all known facts about how species became modified over time. It also explained why some species became extinct and others flourished. The second camp denied, absolutely, the whole premise. This second camp was spearheaded by the church, which supported the idea that all life was suddenly and independently created at a single point in time. They even had a time for this instantaneous creation – an Archbishop named James Ussher had calculated that it had taken place in 4004 B.C. People, who believed the church view, considered Darwin to be a heretic. So let’s take a vote. Hands up those of you who agree with the church. Susie, will you please count.”

“Fifteen, sir.’

“And now hands up those who agree with Charles Darwin.”

“Eighteen, sir.”

“So you see, class. The second controversy persists, right up to this second in time. In this class, only a small majority accept the theory and the rest believe the church view.”

“But, sir. Isn’t the earth much older than four thousand years?”

“Yes, Charles, it is, and the first evidence of life on earth is also much older than 4000 years. These days the timing of 4004 B.C. is largely accepted as not correct but the instantaneous creation, by an act of God, is still accepted by many.”

“But, sir. What are we to believe?”

“That, Siyabonga, will be up to you. You have to form your own beliefs, based on the knowledge and experience you gain.”

“Do you believe in evolution, sir?”

“Yes, Mpho, I do.”

“But what about the church, sir?”

“Mpho, I don’t believe that evolution is inconsistent with the idea of God. In fact, I think if God created the world then he would have made it a dynamic place that could change over time. In that case he would, very probably, have created natural selection as the mechanism for that to happen. In my mind, instantaneous creation detracts from any idea, I might have, that God created the world and everything in it. I find the idea too simplistic for such a power.”

“So, what are you teaching us today sir?”

“Sipho, my lesson is this. With all things in life, find out as much as you can about them, before you make your mind up about them. Knowledge is power. Gain it, then use it. Don’t decide on something before you know what you are talking about. That, above all, is the point of today’s lesson. Thank you all.”