Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. - Theodosius Dobzhansky
One disconcerting feature of studying in IIMA was that (apart from being occasionally sucked into a vicious cycle), everybody seemed to know everything better than me. I then worked in the financial sector which again is full of super brains (at least I thought so till a couple of years ago). So I was always under pressure to keep up with various alphabet soup products so that I don't feel left out of a conversation. This pressure was no longer there after my stroke. My eyes used to glaze over when I used to read some article on finance and I switched to reading something else.
At this time I came across an article on Evolution vs Creationism. I had never heard of creationism and wondered what it was. I found that all it seemed to be saying was 'evolution can't do this or that, hence creationism' which did not make sense. Evidence against one theory is not the same as evidence for another theory. But I couldn't follow their arguments because I didn't know much about evolution so I started reading about it. I soon realised that whatever little I thought I knew about evolution was wrong. As Jacques Monod said, " [A] curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it."
When the penny finally dropped, I could see why T.H.Huxley exclaimed on reading the Origin of Species: "How stupid of me not to have thought of that." After I managed to overcome the semantic gap, I could understand better the various strands of evidence for evolution. Reading about Deep Time, when different creatures were abundant and when they became extinct was cool. Richard Dawkins writes in The Ancestor's Tale:
The human imagination is cowed by antiquity, and the magnitude of geological time is so far beyond the ken of poets and archaeologists it can be frightening. But geological time is large not only in comparison to the to the familiar timescales of human life and human history. It is large on the timescale of evolution itself.
The nature programs on T.V., which were becoming boring, took on a new meaning, When I saw some program about predators and prey, I thought about evolutionary arms races. When I saw a program about bats, I thought about reciprocal altruism. I had not heard of these terms before. Reading about evolution of complex parts or communication in slime moulds was far more interesting than reading about naked shorts or covered puts. As Keats said, "in spite of all,/Some shape of beauty moves away the pall/From our dark spirits" and I looked forward to reading something new about evolution everyday. And I was glad to know that I am not another data point for the Salem Hypothesis.
The Theory of Evolution is beautifully complicated - it is complicated enough to keep me interested but not so complicated that I will give up in a daze. On the other hand if I had started reading about string theory, I wouldn't know what hit me. I remember reading that it dealt with 11 dimensions. I can barely handle three.
I soon stopped reading about creationism because it was so boring. They keep making silly statements like 'nobody saw it' or using weasel tactics. Perhaps they should be answered like this. I loved this email exchange between an evolutionary biologist, Richard Lenski and a creationist. Lenski's second letter was brilliant. Like the author Terry Pratchett, I concluded that 'I would rather be a rising ape than a fallen angel'. There is a (probably apocryphal) exchange between T.H.Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce that took place in 1860. The incident is described in Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea:
When Wilberforece ended his speech, he looked to Huxley. He asked him, half-jokingly, whether it was on his grandfather's or grandmother's side that he descended from an ape.Later Huxley would tell Darwin and others that at that moment he turned to a friend seated next to him, struck his hand to his knee, and said, "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands." He stood and lashed back at Wilberforce. He declared that nothing that the bishop had said was at all new, except his question about Huxley's ancestry. "If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape."
Apocryphal or not, it is a good story.