My hairdresser Nancy doesn’t believe in evolution. I found that out the first time she cut my hair. I was getting ready to go to a scientific meeting and got to thinking that my talk would be a lot better if my hair was shorter. Her salon window had a sign up that said “Walk-ins welcome” so I walked in. She asked me if I was getting my hair done for anything special and after I told her she said, “You believe in evolution?” seeming rather shocked. Is it possible that in America, even in a college town, people like Nancy seldom talk to anyone who will admit to being an evolution believer?

Nancy has sorted out my hair several times since. As she did, we talked about our families, their problems and how wonderful grandchildren are. Nancy’s large family has seen a fair bit of ill-health and trouble over the years. She prays for them. We never talk about evolution.

I sometimes wonder about how I might go about explaining to Nancy why I’m an evolution believer. At first glance it does seem improbable that the wonderful diverse complexity of life on Earth could have come into being by a process that involved nothing more than inheritance, random change and selection. The evidence is overwhelming, of course, but how can you motivate non-believers to consider that evidence?

Then the other day I saw this link on Facebook. Here is evidence which is not only convincing. It’s also fun to look at.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 1.32.00 AM

It’s not direct evidence that life was shaped by natural selection. But it is evidence of a fact that underpins Darwin’s theory, a fact that some people find hard to believe. The fact is that sometimes things that look as though they took ages to design and create just happen. This series of pictures shows that. If these photos had been someone’s creation, they would have looked a lot tidier, less silly and not nearly so funny. And they would have taken ages to set up.

The more you learn about biology, the more you see that life isn’t organized and tidy. It doesn’t look like the work of a magnificent engineer or wonderful artist. It’s wacky and wild. Lots of the time offspring are pretty much like their parents. But stuff happens. Cosmic rays damage DNA and so on. Mostly it results in disaster but sometimes a combination of characteristics comes together to produce an organism that is better at surviving. Its success means that it produces many descendants. Just like these accidental photographs have been reproduced on millions of screens all over the world.

But it doesn’t follow from this that life can be written off as a big accident. These photos are accidents but an awful lot of engineering and artistry was necessary to make them appear on our screens. It took not only digital cameras, computers and the internet; it took millions of people having fun, and wanting to share their fun. A lot of bad photos got ditched but these few were selected by people who saw the funny side of these accidents and wanted to share that too.

Life on Earth and the humans that appreciate it may be here because of a process that involved a lot of accidents. But it’s all made possible by the existence of a universe of time, space, energy and matter. Nancy believes that God is somehow responsible and she feels very grateful. Charles Darwin would not have argued with her.

Published On: February 14, 2013

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