When I met Harry in the Penticton library 3 years ago, I couldn’t avoid noticing that he possessed some of the physical attributes of a Sumo wrestler. In time I would conclude he didn’t have the aggressive thinking required for that sport. He was actually a wonderfully gentle soul. At one time a science lecturer in a small Saskatchewan college, when his third wife walked out for the final time, he had needed a diversion. After migrating to Penticton and settling into a cheap one bedroom apartment, he took up the study of evolution, something he had long wanted to do.
When Harry realized I lacked enthusiasm for his new pursuit, he quickly deemed it his responsibility to enlighten me. In spite of his zeal for the subject, he was patient. I liked Harry and decided to let him teach me, and also do my own research. On my infrequent trips to Penticton, we met for coffee at the Shades On Main restaurant. He was always waiting for me at the most remote table. This allowed us to eat the 4 Tim Hortons donuts he invariably brought in a brown paper bag.
Harry began without the usual pleasantries the first time we met. I could tell he had been totally immersed in the subject, probably rarely straying from his tiny apartment except for trips to the library. Eager to share his new found knowledge, he said, “Evolution happened over many millions of years. Natural selection is a key aspect of Darwin’s concept. It takes place slowly, by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations. Darwin said no sudden modifications are possible.” I sensed he had memorized this for my benefit. Pausing to add more sugar and milk to his already enriched coffee, he continued, “In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says natural selection is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested.”
That week I checked into this and learned about the “Cambrian Explosion” which scientists believe happened approximately 600 million years ago. During this event major groups of animals, called phyla, appeared suddenly in the fossil record. Darwin knew the fossil record failed to support his Tree of Life concept which predicts a long history of gradual divergences from a common ancestor, with the differences slowly increasing.
I felt considerable puzzlement at this. When Harry came to Hedley a few weeks later, over lunch in the sun room of our home, I asked him if evolutionary scientists have a credible response. Waving a hand as though it wasn’t a reason for concern, he said, “Darwin hoped that future fossil discoveries would explain this. To this time that hasn’t happened but the research is continuing. If I learn anything more I’ll let you know.”
At our next meeting Harry showed up with his brown bag as usual. I sensed his excitement immediately. He had come across the 2001 U.S. Public Broadcasting System’s 7 part series, Evolution. “At the end of the program,” he announced with evangelistic conviction, “they said all known scientific evidence supports evolution. They also said virtually every reputable scientist in the world believes this is true.” He leaned toward me, smiling with anticipation and waiting for my response, certain I couldn’t disagree with so many scientific heavy weights on his side. I felt the heat of his massive body.
I knew he was trying to be helpful and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. “That’s pretty impressive Harry,” I said. “I’ll definitely continue with my research.”
That week I unearthed a 2 page advertisement in the The Weekly Standard, published on October 1, 2001. One hundred scientists, many of them highly regarded professors with doctorates from prestigious universities like Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and Rutgers, had issued a response to the PBS program. Entitled A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, it said in part, “We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
Over the next year, Harry several times countered my reservations about evolution by asking, “If there is a Designer, what is his or her origin?” Certainly both Evolution and Intelligent Design pose significant questions for which neither science or religion have satisfactory answers. Several months ago Harry fell in love again and returned to Saskatchewan. In spite of his sincere efforts, concerning evolution, I remain a skeptic.