It is true that the first chapter of Genesis reports God making creatures from inanimate raw materials. The notion that you may not contemplate changes because it is against the will of God is, however, unsustainable if you read as far as the last chapters of the same Old Testament book. Jacob, whose twelve sons became the progenitors of the tribes of Israel, defrauded his uncle by controlling the breeding of sheep and goats to his own advantage.
More than three thousand years before Darwin, herdsmen were proficient in modifying God’s creation by selective breeding. If God had taken a short break of a millennium or two after the creation he would hardly have recognised the animals he put into the Garden of Eden when he came back.
While Darwin was taking twenty years or so to write On the Origin of Species, two groups were developing a white variant of the Scotch terrier by inter-breeding the lightest coloured terriers they could find. I have a wee Westie but he could, for all I know, be descended from a Rosneath Terrier.
In any event, it is very unfair to castigate Darwin for observing in nature the same thing that was recorded approvingly in the Old Testament. If there is anyone who deserves a bad press from the religious thought-police it must surely be Jacob. Not only did he cheat his brother and uncle, he married his first cousin and her sister then fathered sons on both women and their maids!
Most of us breathe a sigh of relief when science finally catches up with the real world. Darwin’s observations and the later work by Crick mean that we feel more comfortable about, for example, the aristocracy restricting breeding to their own small circle. Of course, there was the occasional problem like haemophilia raging through the Royal palaces of Europe and Tutankhamen dying at nineteen from generations of brothers marrying sisters, but everything has a price.
The human race simply does not have the time to wait for science. We need to rush ahead and find solutions long before we really understand the problem. As soon as we spot a possible anomaly, folk come forward with answers ranging from alternative medicine to witchcraft and dodgy religious sects. In fact we will go some way out of our direct route to find a problem that fits a solution. In ‘1984’ George Orwell pictured a society where our every move would be monitored; it took nearly thirty years longer to develop the technology but the US and UK governments found a way to implement Orwell’s nightmare. They even have an enemy in Islamic jihad to justify prying into the private communications of their citizens.
We are fairly relaxed nowadays about the natural selection of physical characteristics. When the wife of the black herdsman gave birth to a light skinned baby he put his white master to the question. The owner pointed out that some lambs were black even although both ewes and rams are white. “You stop messing with my wife, boss, and I’ll stop messing with your sheep!”
The age-old argument about nature or nurture is no longer relevant: everything from eye colour to mood swings originates in our unique genetic code. We are slaves to our DNA, proving that John Calvin knew a thing or two. Even our location on the planet can be traced back to our genes. In pre-historic times anyone surviving in Scotland would have had to spend summer storing supplies to last through the winter. Only people with the provident gene could hope to breed successfully. The canny Scot is as much a creature of his environment as the duck-billed platypus.
Of course, you would have needed a well-developed nosy gene to make you want to explore Scotland in the first place. It is no coincidence that you are likely to meet a fellow Scot wherever you travel about the world. We are still both adventurous and provident after fifty thousand years of evolution.
On the shores of the Mediterranean Sea it was not so important to be provident since the winters were mild enough to allow the profligate to survive. No wonder it was mainly the southern nations that almost destroyed the Euro! Even in this age the provident gene is more strongly represented in Scandinavia and Germany than in Greece or Italy.
There had been some discussion after the monasteries were dissolved about how to deal with the poor and needy but it was not until the Act of 1911 that we decided in the United Kingdom that the lack of the provident gene should be treated as a disease. We were less blunt at the time using euphemisms like ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘unlucky’ to excuse the folk who look bewildered when, after a weekend on the bevvy, they find there is no money left to buy school shoes for the weans.
Like malaria, the symptoms of improvidence can be treated but the disease itself was thought to be incurable. Quinine was found to be effective both in preventing and controlling malarial attacks; money plays the same role in dealing with profligacy.
This was first noted in aristocratic families where in-breeding had encouraged the regressive profligacy gene to flourish. The result has been amusingly portrayed in literature by Wodehouse and others but the endemic spendthrift nature of their children brought many a proud family to the verge of poverty. Improvident sons were sent to the colonies with an allowance that could readily be converted into booze and loose living. At least that way their offspring, fathered on native girls, could be excluded from the succession.
Where the scions of nobility bothered to look for work it was often at the stage door in the entertainment industry and the same lack of the provident gene in this profession is clearly seen today in the ability of pop stars to squander the huge fortunes paid for their talent.
In the wider community, the effects of treating profligacy as a disease are now very apparent. The sufferers, having much less to do than the provident, usually start breeding sooner and continue longer than the more careful people. If you work hard at school and get a good degree you will, with reasonable luck, be able to afford a house of your own in your early thirties; at that point and after careful consideration you may decide to start a family. The improvident become pregnant at sixteen and are housed at public expense. Thus the ne’er-do-well gene flourishes because of our policy of unnatural selection. The process has recently been politicised by UKIP.
I have no doubt that science will catch up in the next fifty years or so when we will be able to deal with improvidence at source as we now can cope with malaria. In the meantime we should accept the profligate as sick people who deserve the money that is our only means of controlling the progress of their illness, poor souls. We should certainly stop using abusive names like ‘scrounger’ or ‘work shy’ when we refer to them. Shame on us!