Guest post by Jim Deed
I like a good nature documentary – especially those that delve more deeply into biology and ecology than merely saying “Cor blimey, ain’t nature amazing?” TV ratings show I’m not alone.
But, more and more, I’ve noticed a worrying thing about these shows when they start talking about evolution. It’s at about this point on a Sunday eve when I begin foaming at the mouth and raving at the tube such that my kids run and hide and my wife suggests I might like a cup of tea and a good lie down. Please don’t take this to mean that I’m some “Intelligent Design” fanatic: it is just that, more often than not, otherwise well-credentialed presenters start talking about organisms evolving as if they intended to do so.
A case in point: a doyen of evolutionary biology suggested on a very recent doco that horses evolved to run fast so that they could get away from predators. Another recent high-production-values show indicated a very similar rationale for plants evolving thorns. To me, this is putting the cart before the appositely proverbial. Granted, faster horses or thornier plants were probably more likely to survive and reproduce, but to suggest that they chose to do so runs counter to evolutionary theory as I understand it.
It’s possible that I’m crying wolf, but this type of goal-oriented, purpose-driven slant on evolution seems to be becoming the norm. I fear the elegance and utility of evolutionary theory is being undermined by such unpolished public interpretations; the journey from Lamarckian “purposeful evolution” to the outer shores of Intelligent Design unreason is not a long one for the viewing public to take.
There’s an old saying, “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’penny worth of tar”. Like a ship, the theory of evolution has taken many years and many hands to build. And if we can’t take that little extra time to explain evolution properly, make it “seaworthy”, then we share some of the blame for people getting on the wrong boat.