The Darwinian Theory: the errors

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.
  • etc.
    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.

2 comments

  1. John Young's ballad, 'The Darwinian Theory'
    A critique of a critique
    May I suggest that before critiquing some long dead cleric for having poetic fun with a hot new and fun topic, one might consider, 'There, but for the grace of God…'? Where to begin? The errors in our critic's criticism are both obvious and, I'm confident, entirely unintentional. I'll address only the first three 'errors.
    Mr. Young: Oh! have you heard the news of late / About our great original state.
    The Critic: 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.
    The critic's critic: My search of dictionaries produced 89 synonyms or terms of similar meaning, conspicuously absent from all of them was the critic's 'highly complex'—although, to be fair, he seems not to care Mr Young was being poetic.
    Mr. Young: For each atom may hold a germ complete /
    The Critic: 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.
    The critic's critic: Quite apart from the English chemist Prout's proposal of 1815 that all atoms were composed of what he called prolytes (hydrogen had 1 prolyte and the other atoms 2, 3 ,4 and more), is the Mr. Young's critic really going to fault him for being right about the complexity of atoms?—although, to be fair, he seems not to care Mr Young was being poetic.
    Mr. Young: Which, by some mystical process slow, / And selective power, to a monkey may grow, / And from that to a man.
    The Critic: 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.
    The critic's critic: Let me help. Here is the basic sentence: "Each atom may hold a germ…which…to a monkey may grow and from that to a man." Poets (and evolutionists) often use the word 'may' when discussing possibilities or when they mean 'might' or 'can'. Let me explain: He's a poet. He's addressing a great event—the commencement of life, no less. What are its possibilities? There are many. And among them, the fact that a germ in an atom may grow to a monkey and on to a man! How poetic. Get it? It's not a treatise on evolution, as his critic apparently thinks—although, to be fair, he seems not to care Mr Young was being poetic.

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