All good things have to come to an end. And so it is with Wonders of Life. This evening will see the broadcast of the fifth and final episode of the series. It has been hugely enjoyable and uplifting watching this programme. Last week I ordered the book that accompanies the series and I want to quote from Professor Cox’s preface. Brian Cox – usually seen with a winning smile – does not mince his words about those who remain in denial about the truth of evolution:
“I write this in full appreciation of the so-called controversy surrounding Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. My original aim was to avoid the matter entirely, because I think there are no intellectually interesting issues raised in such a ‘debate’. But during the filming of this series I developed a deep irritation with the intellectual vacuity of those who actively seek to deny the reality of evolution and the science of biology in general. So empty is such a position, in the face of evidence collected over centuries, that it can only be politically motivated; there is not a hint of reason in it. And more than that, taking such a position closes the mind to the most wonderful story, and this is a tragedy for those who choose it, or worse, are forced into it through deficient teaching.
“As someone who thinks about religion very little – I reject the label atheist because defining me in terms of the things I don’t believe would require an infinite list of nouns – I see no necessary contradiction between religion and science. By which I mean that if I were a deist, I would claim no better example of the skill and ingenuity of The Creator than in the laws of nature that allowed for the magnificent story of the origin and evolution of life on Earth, and their overwhelmingly beautiful expression in our tree of life. I am not a deist, philosopher or theologian, so I will make no further comment on the origin of the laws of nature that permitted life to evolve. I simply don’t know; perhaps someday we will find out. But be in no doubt that laws they are, and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is as precise and well-tested as Einstein’s theories of relativity.
“If this sounds a little strong, then perhaps it reveals my genuine excitement in learning about the sheer explanatory power of Darwin’s theory when coupled with recent advances in biochemistry and genetics. Modern biology is close, in my opinion, to answering Schrodinger’s ‘How’ question. There are unknowns to be sure, which is what make the subject of these films doubly exciting. Some parts are speculative, but that is nothing to be ashamed of in science. Indeed, all science is provisional. When observations of nature contradict a theory, no matter how revered, ancient or popular, the theory will be unceremoniously and joyously ditched, and the search for a more accurate theory will be redoubled. The magnificent thing about Darwin’s explanation of the origin of species is that it has survived over a hundred and fifty years of precision observations, and in that it has outlasted Newton’s law of universal gravitation.”