Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

The mystery of the missing links

It is becoming fashionable to question Darwinism, but few people understand either the arguments for evolution or the arguments against it. Mary Wakefield explains the thinking on both sides

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend, a man who has more postgraduate degrees than I have GCSEs. The subject of Darwinism came up. ‘Actually,’ he said, raising his eyebrows, ‘I don’t believe in evolution.’

I reacted with incredulity: ‘Don’t be so bloody daft.’

‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘Many scientists admit that the theory of evolution is in trouble these days. There are too many things it can’t explain.’

‘Like what?’

‘The gap in the fossil record.’

‘Oh, that old chestnut!’ My desire to scorn was impeded only by a gap in my knowledge more glaring than that in the fossil record itself.

Last Saturday at breakfast with my flatmates, there was a pause in conversation. ‘Hands up anyone who has doubts about Darwinism,’ I said. To my surprise all three — a teacher, a music agent and a playwright — slowly raised their arms. One had read a book about the inadequacies of Darwin — Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; another, a Christian, thought that Genesis was still the best explanation for the universe. The playwright blamed the doctrine of survival of the fittest for ‘capitalist misery and the oppression of the people’. Nearly 150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a taboo seems to be lifting.

Until recently, to question Darwinism was to admit to being either a religious nut or just plain thick. ‘Darwin’s theory is no longer a theory but a fact,’ said Julian Huxley in 1959. For most of the late 20th century Darwinism has seemed indubitable, even to those who have as little real understanding of the theory as they do of setting the video-timer. I remember a recent conversation with my mother: ‘Do you believe in evolution, Mum?’ ‘Of course I do, darling.

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