Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johansen

Solving the Mystery of Evolution

Oxford, 1990.

The history of the idea of evolution is presented here in a very informative but quite garrulous way. The authors go back to Linnaeus, who developed the system of scientific names for organisms, and then give a detailed account of Darwin's tribulations, going on to Mendel and the discovery of DNA.

Out of nearly 400 pages, I will pick out a couple of passages of interest. The first concerns the significance of how different methods of investigating evolutionary relationships between species can point to the same Darwinian story. Studies of antibody reactions to blood proteins among different species yeilds a measurable set of relationships. A rabbit antibody which reacts 100% to human serum will react to chimp serum at a 96% rate, showing a degree of difference in the blood proteins concerned. Measuring and comparing differences between un-named samples from a hundred different species can lead to a specific web of relationships.

"If those relationships... are marked down on a large sheet of paper, they will fall together into what emerges as a family tree...[which] is a virtually exact match with one that would have been made by examining the bones, skin, size, shape, and behaviour of living animals. (p.358)

Also of interest is a mention of death:

"...once life is seen as an artificial holding together of matter that otherwise would not be so held, then the nature of death becomes easier to comprehend. It is broken bonds. An organism is reduced again to its inert chemical parts when those bonds slacken and snap. In that sense an amoeba is a clenched thing, a rock a relaxed thing." (p.257)



Paul Taylor 2001