Arguing With Apes

It was all the way back in 1860, when Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, participated in an open debate with T.H. Huxley, Darwin's leading supporter, that at least for England the evolutionary debate was effectively decided once and for all. The bishop was judged to have lost the argument by virtue of his memorably snide query as to whether it was on the mother's or the father's side that his opponent was descended from an ape. With hindsight it would seem that the bishop could have amply justified his position if only he had claimed that Church doctrine relies not on the strength of argument but rather on faith.

According to a book recently published in England, The Facts of Life: Shattering the Myth of Darwinism by Richard Milton, scientists have not been playing it straight with us laymen. Our schoolchildren arc taught about Mendel's experiments with garden peas and about industrial melanism in moths, and they perform genetic experiments on unsuspecting fruit flies in class. Yet even here, at the secondary-school level of biology, it seems there are still some serious unanswered questions that perplex even those who do not believe in the biblical Creation. Can acquired characteristics be inherited? Do better-adapted species arise spontaneously when the environment changes, or do existing variants merely take over? Is the scope for mutation unlimited? Is it governed solely by chance?

The natural...

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