Where to begin? The errors within John Young's ballad The Darwinian Theory are both manifold and, I suspect, entirely intentional:
- Oh! have you heard the news of late / About our great original state?
Darwin's theory explains how we (and every other life-form) evolved from simple beginnings - our original state was not, therefore, great (in the sense of being highly complex) - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- For each atom may hold a germ complete
At the time that Young wrote his ballad, the atom was seen as the smallest form of anything. It could not, therefore, hold anything - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- Which, by some mystical process slow, / And selective power, to a monkey may grow, / And from that to a man
Evolutionary descent is highly dependent on never-to-be-repeated chance historical events. Even though mankind did, indeed, evolve from a germ complete, the chances of retreading that pathway are vanishingly small. It is not, therefore, possible for mankind to evolve a second time - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- From nothing to something, from monkey to man
Darwin never claimed to understand how anything came from nothing. Only certain theologians are that arrogant - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- With a power to select what it wished to be - / A fungus or flower, a bush or a tree
Undoubtedly Mr Young's greatest howler: under Darwinian evolution, organisms have no choice over how they evolve - it just happens. Young is confusing Lamarkian evolution (which incorporates an element of volition) with Darwinian evolution (which doesn't) - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- A cow or a sheep, a bug or a flea, / Or, if tired of these, it may change its plan: / Be a cat or a dog
More of the same. I repeat: organisms have no choice over how they evolve - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- But culminating at last in a man
This phrase implies that man is somehow the pick of the bunch, the top of the heap. Under Darwinian evolution, man is no better than any other animal - although, to be fair, I suspect Mr Young was being ironic.
- Choose yourself your particular section. / A peasant, or Lord with a great connection
Oh dear! Compare: The rich man in his castle, / The poor man at his gate, / He made them high and lowly, / He ordered their estate (the censored verse from All Things Bright and Beautiful). I suspect Mr Young was being deadly serious.
I begin to tire You get the gist.
Mr John Young, C.E., was clearly a man with a mission. Unfortunately, it was not a mission to educate the schoolboys of Scotland about their origins. It saddens me to think that the grandfather I never met may once have had to sing this rubbish in morning assembly.
This article was published in 2000.