Sunday, November 18, 2007

Life on Earth

The BBC have been looking for a successor to the legendary Sir David Attenborough as he gradually slides towards retirement, while one of the cable documentary channels has been playing his classic series back to back all weekend.

Now it would be sacrilege to criticise him, many feel that he is a national treasure and candidate for greatest living Englishman. And for once I agree with the many. But I never write here to echo them. For I have a criticism. Not of the man himself, of course.

However, I was struck by the tone of some of those early programmes. It was all done with courage, enthusiasm and knowledge. But they had little sense of history or of future - they seemed struck by the wonder of now. The tone often seemed to be to describe how "ideally" adapted all these amazing organisms seemed to be. The wing on a sycamore seed was "perfect" to carry it far from the tree. The teeth of carnivores were "perfect" for tearing flesh and bone.

But that is not quite true. All the evidence around us is of organisms that are barely better than competitors. There are some genetic patterns that are replicating well and others that are not. Within us, within nature, there are countless examples of things that do not work very well, that could work better. Some "species" are always doing a good job of dying out regardless of human intervention.

I still think diversity is good. But remember there is no "ideal" in nature.

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