My favourite teacher at Ackworth was the Chemistry master, who was also the leading light in the school dramatic society, in which I held a keen and active interest. My choice of Chemistry as a prospective career was undoubtedly partly due to my liking and regard for him, since I was much better at Physics. Though I had little trouble understanding Physics, it was never very inspiring and it became increasingly mathematical as I was finding Maths increasingly abstract and unrelated to any real understanding of the world. Though I didn’t know it, even then I had a much more philosophical interest in science. Chemistry fitted that bill much better. It is, after all, about what everything is made of at a level which still allows easy conceptualisation. I used to love wallowing in all the information about what things were and how they could be changed. The lesson when I really became inspired by chemistry was when we first touched upon the subject of enzymes, in connection with fermentation. Since I had another interest in alcohol at the time, I thought then that I wanted to pursue a career in brewing.
My decision to apply for university was based more on expectations than on any actual determination on my part. There was no real pressure on me to go to university but it had become obvious that I was going to be sufficiently qualified and it was assumed, both at home and school, that I would. So, during my final year at school, I applied to six universities and got interviews at most of them. I applied to do Biochemistry since I was becoming increasingly fascinated by the larger molecules, such as proteins, which are manufactured and used by all living organisms. We never touched upon DNA at school, but I must have been aware of the presumptuous claims of science that life was becoming understood on a molecular level. I wanted to understand what life was on a scientific basis and I figured that studying Biochemistry was the best way to find out.
As it happened, my Chemistry ‘A’ level grade was not sufficiently good for me to major in Biochemistry so I had to settle for doing Chemistry with Biochemistry ancillary. I went to Leeds University to do a three-year Honours degree and my schoolfriend, Pete, who had less good ‘A’ levels, also came to Leeds to do a four-year general degree. He flunked after the first year and subsequently left Leeds to fulfil a wanderlust which eventually settled him in Australia. (The last I heard from him was a wedding invitation. Since, by then, I had an infant daughter and little money, it didn’t seem practicable to go to Australia for a wedding).
My choice of Leeds was unadventurous but well thought-out. My parents had retired and were ostensibly living in Wensleydale. However, they had kept their terrace house in Leeds since they wanted to keep in touch with cultural activities and because Arthur had become involved in many voluntary activities, including being a lay member of the Leeds University Council and the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Leeds Playhouse. The house had been divided into two flats, so Pete and I were able to use one of them, and it had the added advantage of a good workshop in the cellar; since woodwork was one of my chief hobbies, this was an important criterion. Also, I didn’t get any more than the minimum grant so it was to my parents’ advantage to have me ‘living at home’ rather than pay for me to live elsewhere.
My attendance record at university was very good since I hardly ever missed a lecture, tutorial or practical session. Generally speaking, I didn’t like Physical Chemistry lectures or practicals or Biochemistry practicals, which tend to use physical chemistry techniques. I much preferred the syntheses involved in Inorganic and Organic Chemistry practicals. However, though I was reasonably competent at all practicals, I didn’t like any of them very much and came to regard them as just the necessary means by which scientists acquired the information that constituted the substance of the lectures. I was fascinated by Organic and Biochemistry lectures, particularly when they dealt with the results, rather than the techniques, of all the painstaking practical work done by scientists over the centuries.
Tutorials were another cup of tea. One of the things that surprised, and annoyed, me was that most of the other students at tutorials were incredibly timid and respectful, only speaking when spoken to. I regarded tutorials as the natural place to get in some arguing, and was forever questioning things and asking, “Why?”. I was regularly told that it wasn’t my place to ask why things happen; one just had to accept that they did; science only answered “How?” questions. “If you want to study why things happen, perhaps you had better consider transferring to Philosophy.” The obvious response is that, although scientists do not need to know about philosophy in order to practice their trade, contemporary philosophers do need to know about modern science if they are to be relevant. I was also told by one tutor that I had far too much imagination to ever become a good scientist. I gradually learned that tutors don’t like being asked questions that they don’t know the answers to, and I became less belligerent. I didn’t doubt that the science I was being taught was the truth; I was just being thwarted in my desire to find out why it was the truth.
It was under such a cloud that I learned about DNA replication and mutations, and about the processes of translation and transcription, whereby the coded instructions in DNA become manifested in proteins. My understanding of Chemistry was such that I could accept that all these processes could happen but not that they had to happen. Right from the word “Go”, I was sceptical about mutations during DNA replication being the root cause of evolution. I was also sceptical about the processes of DNA replication, translation and transcription, not on the grounds that I doubted their occurrence but because they just didn’t fit in with the random, spontaneous collisions that characterised non-living Chemistry. However, by then I realised that there was no-one I could take my scepticism to, and I just had to accept that far wiser people than me had ascertained that all these processes were perfectly understandable. I had to do two written projects at Leeds, both of which had biological connections. They were “The function of metal ions in biological systems” and “The Biosynthesis of Diterpenoids”.
Apart from attending organised sessions, I did not work very hard, particularly during the first year. Hence I only managed to scrape through my first year Chemistry exams and even failed my Biochemistry at the first attempt. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the things I was supposed to understand; I was just lazy about learning things. As at school, I spent almost all the time that I wasn’t otherwise occupied playing bridge, since I had discovered that a fair number of the students in my year also played. During the second year, I did do a little more work and achieved better results in the exams, which counted towards the final assessment. In the third year, I was able to eliminate Physical Chemistry, which had become more and more abstract and like Physics, and concentrate on the ‘genuine’ Chemistry that I liked so much. Towards the end of the third year, when all lectures and practicals had ceased, so there was no need for me to go near the Chemistry department (and be tempted to play bridge), I did do a fair amount of revision work and, despite a calamity in one of the final exams when I discovered I had mis-read a question, I achieved an Upper Second Class Honours degree.
When the results came out, my grandmother congratulated me on doing so well ‘against all the odds’. It sounded as though she thought the odds stacked against me were that I was thick, so I wasn’t too complimented, but she was probably referring to the repercussions of a major event during my university life. During the second year, Jean became seriously ill with osteomyelitis and had to spend a significant period of time in St.James’ Hospital in Leeds. Arthur chose to remain in Leeds and only made fleeting visits to Wensleydale. It has to be said that he was not the most domesticated of men. He was very good at washing up, since he had been doing it all his married life. He could make porridge, which was what he always had for breakfast, and he could boil an egg. That was about the limit. It fell upon me to cater, cook and do most of the washing. I balked at anything more than cursory cleaning so we had to get a cleaner to come in once a week (actually, we didn’t have to, but we did).
I had to develop my cooking skills fairly fast but the whole process never struck me as being much of an imposition. As a child, I had greatly enjoyed making cakes and biscuits but I had never before gone in for cooking meals, and my previous student eating habits had been typically student. But I discovered that cooking is a lot like Organic Chemistry; in fact it is a form of Organic Chemistry. On one occasion, I came across a recipe which called for a clove of garlic (chopped up). Jean had never used garlic in her life so I was totally unfamiliar with it. I went out and bought some and used the whole bulb, thinking it was a clove. That evening, Arthur went to visit Jean in hospital reeking of it. When Jean came out of hospital, she was fairly incapacitated for quite a long time so I still did a fair amount of housework. All in all, it was probably a fairly significant episode in my life, if only because it made me prematurely responsible and domesticated.
Throughout my time at Leeds University, I had always envisaged that, at the end of it, I would do the conventional thing and get a job in Chemistry, though I did intend to take a year off before doing so. I had never really considered the possibility of going back to University to do a further degree. When, in March 1973, the Chemistry department organised a tour of the Organic Chemistry research laboratories for the benefit of third year undergraduates, I didn’t even intend to go. When the day came, I was feeling rather bored and lonely at home, so I decided on the spur of the moment to go on the tour. I found myself becoming fascinated and inspired by what was being done. Over the course of the next year, much of which I spent in Austria, I became more and more attracted to the idea of going back to the cosy security and freedom of University. In addition, I rather fancied the idea of beating Nigel in becoming Dr.Dower. (As it happened, Arthur won the race by getting an Honorary Doctorate from Leeds). So, when I returned from Europe, I applied to several Universities to do a Ph.D. by research. Leeds turned me down because they didn’t like my attitude. The intriguing subject of research that I was offered at Aberdeen was an investigation into a red pigment in animal hair, but the supervisor and other personal factors put me off.
In the end, I chose Lancaster because it was the nearest University to Wensleydale, because I knew and liked the student counsellor there and because the University is in very pleasant surroundings and location, but not because of the subject for research. That was probably a big mistake. The subject was “The Kinetics of Heterocyclic Ring Closure”. I had to spend ages explaining to my family and other lay people what even the title meant. It means the rate at which certain chains containing more than one kind of atom link up to form rings. You see, you’re none the wiser. The plusses were that it was concerned with natural products and that the earlier stages would involve lots of organic syntheses. The minusses were that it was a dead-end subject in which nobody had any reason to take an interest and that it would increasingly rely on Physical Chemistry techniques. The German I had been practising during the previous year would come into its own when I had to translate some Third Reich patents.
I started in September 1974 and for the first few months I loved it, not only because I liked the laboratory work but also because my social life was more active than it had ever been at Leeds. Then I got appendicitis and, after a lengthy recovery from appendectomy and peritonitis, I never really got back into the work and gradually became more and more disillusioned with it. This became especially acute during the summer when the weather was fine, since I hated being stuck in a laboratory when it was hot and sunny outside. That factor was to have a considerable influence upon my future non-career. Another factor that I didn’t like was the amount of library work involved. I found the sheer quantity of books that needed to be referred to quite daunting, and sifting through them to find the necessary information was always one of my most arduous, and depressing, tasks. The analysis of results also required computer work, and computers in those days were not user-friendly; I hated them. I spoke to my supervisor about my growing disenchantment and he took the view that it was probably a temporary phase and that I was making good progress.
Sure enough, it did get better during the second winter but never as good as the previous winter. My disenchantment became less and less about what I personally was doing but with what science in general was doing. Having been thoroughly sold on the idealistic ‘back to nature’ hippy philosophy that was prevalent amongst many young people at the time, I became interested in alternative technology and the concept of sustainable lifestyles. Conventional science seemed to be ruining our planet, and the lives of many of its inhabitants, not only through the destructive effects of pollution etc. but also by fuelling consumerism and greed. Although pure science undoubtedly was advancing the frontiers of knowledge, I had doubts about whether that knowledge was really of any benefit and I had even more doubts about the application of that knowledge and its effects on the planet. Admittedly, the research I was doing was particularly insignificant, making it difficult to sustain any real lasting enthusiasm for it; if I had been researching into a subject which had consequences for ecology or the sustainable improvement of life, I might have felt very different.
I had become aware in the latter part of the first year that people who had got their postgraduate degrees were leaving the department to take up positions with paint manufacturers, improving the quality of paint. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to devote my life to improving the quality of paint. You may say, “Why couldn’t I have made paint greener?”, but the austere ethos of my environmentalism was such that I wanted society to use less paint whereas paint manufacturers wanted to persuade people to use more. I was also discovering that scientists (even the ones of my own age) were much more conservative, conventional and materialistic than the sort of people I identified with. This was exemplified when one of my lab colleagues read from his Daily Telegraph (Yes, that had come as a shock too) about a professor who, in the interests of developing a sustainable foodstuff for a starving planet, had been detoxifying, deodorising and eating his own faeces for several months. The united opinion of my lab colleagues was that he should be locked up whereas I thought he should be given a medal.
So, my disenchantment with what science was doing to the world became combined with a personal disillusionment and I resolved to give up my research in favour of doing something more palpably useful. By that time, I was spending less and less time at the lab, avoiding my supervisor like the plague and feeling guilty about it to boot. I spoke to my supervisor in late May 1976 and he agreed that I should no longer try for a Ph.D. but he did persuade me to finish the immediate work I was doing and write up a thesis for an M.Sc. So it wasn’t until August that I finished the work and left Lancaster and it wasn’t until the following year that I finished writing my M.Sc. thesis. Though I got my M.Sc., it has never been any use to me, even though I have intermittently applied for jobs for which it might have been some use. For many years, even my scientific training was not of any direct use, except as an approach to problem solving and as a means of disproving the erroneous beliefs of laypeople. It wasn’t until I became interested in nutrition, a few years later, that my chemistry started to come into its own and thereafter it continued to be useful to my philosophical thinking about evolution.
It is probably worth mentioning that it was while I was at Lancaster that I first read Elaine Morgan’s “The Descent of Woman”. Having previously been entertained, and probably beguiled, by Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape”, I immediately became sold on her ideas, mainly because of the persuasiveness of her arguments which contrasted with the speculative flights of fancy (or fantasy) that characterised Desmond Morris’ book. However, I was not especially interested in the details of human evolution at the time so it did not rate as any kind of ‘road to Damascus conversion’. I was just rather saddened to realise that scientists in general did not take Elaine Morgan’s book seriously on its own merits, which probably instigated my doubts about scientific open-mindedness. More significant for my thinking were the early books of Lyall Watson, which I was really hooked on at Lancaster. They really did challenge my scientific training by providing mountains of evidence of phenomena for which science could not even begin to find an explanation. Though conventional scientists may have dismissed his books as unprovable rubbish, I was unable to do so, and that fuelled my doubts about science’s ability to explain the universe in general and life in particular.
However, my faith in scientific method and in the integrity and objectivity of most scientists was unimpaired. It was perfectly reasonable for scientists to believe that they would eventually understand all the outstanding mysteries of the universe and not unreasonable for them to believe that all the advances in technology that were being made were beneficial to human society. I would have put my trust in science rather than mysticism every time. If I had read Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” when it first came out in 1976, I would probably have gone along with it wholeheartedly. My only reservation, which is not particularly significant to that book, was over the issue of mutations in DNA being the source of evolutionary change. That nagging doubt was to lurk away in the back of my mind for many years before it became reawakened and amplified.
This chapter is concerned with a time when I was not only interested in family genealogy, as a result of which I wrote the first chapter of this book, but also in the genealogy of the human race and the whole issue of genes. While we were living in Ledbury and Pembrokeshire, my parents were living in York, and we would go and visit them every few months. Libby always loved York as a shopping centre and, though I did not accompany her due to my general detestation of shopping, there was one shop in York that I often spent hours browsing in. That was the York University bookshop. Since leaving Lancaster, I had never lived anywhere where there was a decent bookshop and, though York University’s was not brilliant, it inevitably stocked a lot of readable academic texts and popular intelligent publications. Though my main interest had been in books on nutrition, I was a general browser and it was there that I found, and bought, “The Monkey Puzzle” by John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas.
Reading that book had the effect of reawakening my interest in human evolution and, though it was not the book’s intention, it also reaffirmed my belief in Elaine Morgan’s aquatic ape theory. The subtitle of “The Monkey Puzzle” was “Are apes descended from man?”, which was probably only incorporated in order to arouse controversy, since that question only constituted a minor aspect of the book and the answer wasn’t even really affirmative; it merely postulated that the common ancestor of man, chimps and gorillas may have been more humanoid than chimps and gorillas, and that gorillas and chimps had become more ape-like since that common ancestor. The reason why it was necessary to postulate such a radical departure from the accepted evolutionary pathway was over the issue of dating. The main purpose of the book was to highlight the work of molecular anthropologists, whose findings were in direct conflict with palaeontologists over the timing of the man-chimp-gorilla split. Palaeontologists were still maintaining that man had split off from the other apes about 18 million years ago, whereas the molecular anthropologists were maintaining that the split had occurred less than 5 million years ago.
I was impressed by the molecular evidence, which made use of the fact that neutral (or non-detrimental) point mutations in genes are different in different species evolving from a common ancestor. Mistakes undoubtedly do get made during replications of DNA, like one-letter typing mistakes whilst copying, and those mistakes often have no effect upon the function of the protein produced by the affected gene. Thus, genes change parts of their coding sequence over the course of time. By observing the accumulation of differences within the same gene in different species, molecular anthropologists could not only determine the orders of separation of different species but also the timings of those separations. That required making several assumptions about consistency and the validity of conventional dating techniques but, at the time, I didn’t seriously question them. I liked the idea of a more recent split between the great apes and I was not especially challenged by the concept; I was more challenged, and interested, by the implication that evolution is capable of reversions as well as progression. Though the authors did not deviate from a neo-Darwinist perspective, complete with genes dictating characteristics and being created by mutations, the focus of their attention was on neutral mutations rather than the concept of beneficial mutations leading to novel genes. Nonetheless, their book gave me cause to doubt my faith in neo-Darwinism and also made me more sceptical about the issue of scientific infallibility.
There were also several inconsistencies and unexplored assumptions contained in the book which caused me to decide to write to one of the authors. I selected Jeremy Cherfas, as the biologist, and wrote him the following letter, to which I never got any reply:-
Dear Jeremy Cherfas,
I have just finished reading your fascinating, though somewhat repetitive, book, “The Monkey Puzzle”. Although I have no wish to cast any doubt on the main findings of the book, there is one point in particular on which I would like to question you, especially in the light of your repeated criticism of some scientists for only finding/reporting what suits their cause.
I enclose a transcript of several extracts from the book which are all concerned with the timing of the monkey-ape split. Page numbers refer to the Paladin edition.
p.66. Forty million years ago the now arid basin of the Fayum was covered by thick tropical forest…(which)…..supported, among many other animals, monkeys and early apes……One key fossil from the region marks the earliest known specimen of our own ape line. It is an almost complete skull….with an age of 28 million years. Clearly not a monkey, this skull is the first ape….Aegyptopithecus. There is no doubt that the modern apes and modern man share Aegyptopithecus as a common ancestor…….Nor is there any real doubt about the age of these fossils….’about 28 million years’.
p.72. Aegyptopithecus…..sits in splendid isolation, a marker of the fact that, by 28 million years ago, the line that was to lead to man and the apes had already become distinct from the monkeys.
p.104. All the primates are descended from a single common ancestor, and looking at the data he (Sarich) could see that each primate lineage had accumulated the same amount of change since they (New World and Old World monkeys) split – a date reliably set by the fossil record as 35 million years ago. p.105. Sarich and Wilson decided that one palaeontological fact of which they could be reasonably sure was that the Old World monkeys split from the apes 30 million years ago. (Sarich says now that this was a conservative estimate and feels that the true date was closer to 20 million years ago..)
p.125. Fossils of apes mean that this group had split from the Old World monkeys by 30 million years ago.
p.126…..based on a well-documented split between man and the New World monkeys some 35 million years ago…
p.137……but about 20 million years ago there was another major split, between the Old World monkeys and the hominoids – apes and man.
Clearly, by page 137 (and thereafter), you have decided to adopt Sarich’s belief that the split occurred about 20 million years ago, but you give no reasons or explanations other than in the rather inadequate graph/table on page 127. You can hardly claim that this change of belief lies outside the scope of the book since it must represent one of the following stances:-
Either you reject the dating of Aegyptopithecus, which means that you are in disagreement with the palaeontologists – something you have gone to great pains not to do for most of the book.
Or it means that you now regard Aegyptopithecus as being an evolutionary dead-end, an unsuccessful evolutionary experiment to be repeated more successfully eight million years later. This may well be the case but, if it is, it is certainly most remarkable.
It is also fairly clear that the two so-called reliable dates of 35 million years ago and 30 million years ago for the O.W.monkey-N.W.monkey split and the O.W.monkey-ape split do not concur with each other, from molecular evidence.
It is fairly obvious that you regard the main observation of the book (indeed, its very raison d’etre) to be the fact that the man-chimp-gorilla split occurred 4 1/2 million years ago. To me that is neither here nor there, since I had no preconceived notions about it, but there is one observation that I find much more startling.
Although you admit that no-one knows how or why mutations occur, it is not too hard to accept that they occur at an averagely constant rate. You have also observed that molecular evidence shows that they accumulate at an averagely constant rate, but molecules can only provide evidence of successful mutations (i.e. those that are neutral) and not of unsuccessful ones (which result in immediate or eventual extinction). Therefore, it must be true to say that the ratio of successful to unsuccessful mutations is a constant, and that doesn’t strike me as being random but rather systematic. It is somewhat perplexing to me that a supposedly doubly-random process (i.e. random occurrence and random successfulness) should apparently be so regular.
I would be grateful if you could explain your reasons for changing your mind about the monkey-ape split and give me your thoughts on my second point.
It seems a bit like nit-picking now, and I would be much more inclined to question the assumption that the mutation rate had always been the same as it is now if I were to write that letter today. If “The Monkey Puzzle” had caused some thorny scratches on my belief system, that was nothing compared to the problem that was soon to arrive on my doorstep.
For some reason, probably connected with the fact that there is a temple in Milford Haven, Jehovah’s Witnesses were very active in Pembrokeshire. I used to get regular visits from pairs of them, usually with an opening gambit along the lines of, “Don’t you think that the world has become a terrible place to live?” (It has always puzzled me that, given that they think the world is horrendously overcrowded, they go round trying to save people, which would mean that their much-vaunted afterlife would be horrendously overcrowded too, if they were successful.) Unlike many members of the general public, I was never abusive towards them and was even prepared to engage in discussion. After all, it was an ideal opportunity to have a good argument. Some would come along with a well-prepared spiel, quoting chapter and verse along the way, but I never had any time for them. But others were quite prepared to have open discussions about issues and I used to enjoy having rational arguments with them.
On one particular occasion, our discussion fairly quickly got onto the subject of evolution, for reasons which later became obvious. I came out with all my arguments in favour of evolution and they came out with all their arguments against it. At the end of the discussion they said they could see I was very interested in the subject, so would I like to buy their book, “Life – How did it get here? By evolution or by creation?” It only cost one pound, so I thought, “Why not?”, and bought it. I also read it, but not until 1989. It had a very profound effect upon me.
Lest you think I became an overnight convert, let me assure you that my belief in evolution as a process was undiminished. I was also able to dismiss, without any doubts, their views on how life and all the species came into existence. There were two aspects which troubled me. Firstly, their exposition of science’s inability to explain what life is, or how it is able to do what it does, rang very true with the doubts I had had as an undergraduate. However, that is no argument against evolution; it is merely an admission, which many scientists are not prepared to make, that we do not understand everything yet. Far more troublesome for me was the well-reasoned argument against neo-Darwinian mutation theory. This was really rubbing salt into a very long-standing wound. I was particularly impressed by their statistical evidence that random mutations could never result in something new and beneficial. Admittedly, it didn’t take much to convince me of that, since I was halfway there already. But acknowledging to myself that I was at serious odds with one of science’s most cherished doctrines was a very significant step in my life.
Realising that one can often be convinced by one side of an argument until one hears the other side, I decided not long after that to fulfil a previous intention and get Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker” out of the library. This was the book in which Richard Dawkins explained, in layperson’s terms, the genetic basis of evolution. I read it in the hope that his persuasive style might convince me that science was right. It didn’t. If anything, it just increased my doubts. Sure, it was very readable and thought-provoking, but it totally failed to convince me of the validity of mutation theory. It also raised a serious question in my mind over the issue of one-off changes becoming widespread throughout a species. In particular, his chosen example of long-tailed male birds being selected by female birds caused me much time-consuming pontification. Assuming, as he does, that both the characteristic and the criterion for selection are determined by genes, and that there was originally only one of each of those genes, and that those genes could only have been inherited by direct descent from the originals, I could not see how the combination of characteristic and preference could have ever taken off and become widespread.
At the time, I didn’t doubt that morphological characteristics were determined by genes. I was sold on the notion that, since genes are the only tangible things that get together as a consequence of sexual reproduction, they must be responsible for characteristics. I was doubtful about the issue of instincts and behaviour patterns being determined by genes, simply because the idea seemed so completely implausible. But there was plenty of evidence to suggest that instincts and behaviour patterns are inheritable, so there seemed to be no other solution. Strangely, it was Richard Dawkins himself who unwittingly solved the problem of one-off changes for me by raising the question of the role of viruses in evolution. It didn’t take any major leap for me to realise that viruses could have been spreading new genes around amongst communities of species throughout evolutionary history, circumnavigating the theoretical problem of one-offs by creating many-offs, all at the same time. The prospective scenario was a bit like the one in John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos”.
The big problem for me was still the origin of genes. I describe it as a problem but I didn’t really agonize over it. It was just an obstacle in my quest to feel that I understood, in a generalised way, how evolution had occurred. After 1989, I could no longer think of myself as a neo-Darwinist but the only respectable alternative that was on offer was evolutionary creationism, by which I mean belief that evolution had been engineered by a purposeful God, which was very proficient at Organic Chemistry. I certainly wasn’t buying that, so I had to seriously consider the unrespectable alternative, which is some form of Lamarckism. In terms of the empirical evidence, Lamarckism was much more plausible, much more sensible and much more satisfying than the blind chance which characterises neo-Darwinism. There was just one major problem with Lamarckism – explaining how it occurred. For the benefit of those of you who are not entirely clear about the differences between Lamarckism and neo-Darwinism, I will try, as best I can, to elucidate.
Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck had a long name. He also had (or should I say, developed) a theory about the origin of species which he published in 1809, the year Charles Darwin was born. His basic idea was that all organisms, throughout time, had acquired characteristics during their own lifetimes, in response to environmental circumstances, and passed those acquired characteristics on to their subsequent offspring, in some degree. In other words, acquired characteristics are inheritable, or offspring ride on the shoulders of their parents. Thus, over many generations, different environmental circumstances had moulded all the species into the diverse collection that they are today (by which I also mean 1809). He also believed that it was acts of will, on the part of many animal species, which caused them to acquire some new characteristics.
Though neo-Darwinists choose to ignore this fact, Charles Darwin never doubted the inheritance of acquired characteristics. What he did dispute was the idea of acts of will being responsible for those characteristics. Darwin merely postulated that some other factor, besides acquired characteristics, had been introducing variations into all species, and that natural selection had operated on those variations to produce the diversity of species that we see today. So far, so good; I have never had any quarrel with Darwin’s basic views. Neither Lamarck nor Darwin knew anything about cell chemistry, for the simple reason that nobody did at the time, so they were both fumbling in the dark when it came to the issue of how characteristics were acquired or inherited. Until the early part of this century, there were always two distinct evolutionary camps in Britain – Lamarckism and Darwinism. The differences were more a matter of emphasis than of substance, though both emphases had their attractions and vehement supporters. They co-existed, much like Judaism and Christianity.
Then Darwinism got married to the new science of genetics to form the evolutionary theory known as neo-Darwinism. Like many marriages, it has had its strong patches and its times on the rocks, but it has endured without separation or divorce yet. As the marriage developed, with the discovery of DNA and its ability to self-replicate, it settled down into the following position:- DNA, and the genes which it forms, is the only tangible thing which is inheritable. Therefore, DNA is responsible for all characteristics. DNA can only be modified by random mutations, or copying errors during replication, and not by any deliberate process as a consequence of the acquisition of characteristics. Therefore, acquired characteristics cannot be inherited and Lamarckism is discredited. The logic is impeccable; it is only the starting premises that are not exhaustive enough.
Unfortunately, I was sold on that argument and never questioned the underlying assumptions within it. I didn’t realise that discredited means just that; it does not mean disproven, though many neo-Darwinists like to think it does. So, the chief problem with Lamarckism has always been that no-one could explain in any conceptualisable, material way how acquired characteristics could become inheritable. Neither could I, so I put the problem on back-burner while I dealt with more pressing problems in my life, like the break-up of my marriage. My pontifications did not resume until 1993 and I take up the story again in the next Chapter.
In March 1993, a book club of which I was a member advertised a book called “The Facts of Life”, by Richard Milton, which purported to shatter the myth of Darwinism. I had no hesitation whatsoever in ordering it. The first part of the book documented several pieces of evidence, all ignored by the scientific establishment, which suggested that the planet earth may be as little as 10,000 years old, which is not far off the strict Biblical interpretation of 6000 years old. The second part questioned the uniformitarian geology upon which Darwin had relied for his theory, ridiculed the accepted causes of plate tectonics and introduced the reader to the catastrophist ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky. The third part took up the biological arguments against Darwinism but, in my opinion, weakened his case by disputing natural selection and, by implication, evolution itself. Though he constantly denied being a creationist, there was seemingly no other way of accounting for the consequences of his arguments. This book provided an awful lot to think about. By virtue of the order in which I read it – from beginning to end – I put the issues of dating and geology into mental abeyance, and concentrated my mind on the biological issue.
There was very little information in the biological section that was new to me but the overall effect of the book was to make me realise that some fast mechanism for evolution needed to be found. Clearly, with a short timespan, mutation theory was no longer even theoretically possible, though I had dismissed its practicability long before. I still believed that genes were responsible for characteristics, so the focus of my attention was turned to the possibility of instantaneous production of genes. In other words, one minute there is nothing and the next minute there is a spanking new gene. The only way that could happen was if it was formed from a new enzyme. So, how did enzymes form? In the middle of the day on April 24th, I had a “Eureka” moment – Enzymes originally form from their component amino acids in situ around their substrates. It is impossible to describe just how mind-blowing a Eureka moment is; I can only describe the effect it had upon my subsequent life.
For the next few days I hardly slept, ate only cold snacks and was effectively out of this world, as my mind worked overtime in a frenzy. A multitude of accumulated nagging problems about genetics and evolution that had been lurking in my mind all came tumbling out. Almost miraculously, though it seemed to me ‘obviously’, they all fitted into place within my new scheme. The most conclusive corroborative evidence, as far as I was concerned, was over the issue of the unprecedented one-way coding system that DNA had been alleged to use. The most contentious aspect of my theory was the issue of reverse translation – the process by which the amino acid sequence in enzymes becomes coded into an RNA strand. It had never been observed, and was hence refuted, but I realised that the reason it had never been observed is because we are talking about single molecules within a single cell; science is not able to observe single molecules or even the chemistry in a single cell. I never had the slightest doubt that I was right – I had cracked the problem. I also knew that this was not just some private revelation, that I could muse upon for the rest of my life, but something that I had to act upon. Much of those first few days was spent writing, amplifying, rewriting, typing, augmenting, retyping, improving and finally retyping an article for New Scientist.
I got it photocopied, lodged one copy at my bank and posted another by Recorded Delivery to New Scientist. I really believed I was onto something big and no precautions were too great. Once that was done, I began to think of the possible repercussions. I had already been having fantasies, or delusions, of fame and fortune, but they started to develop a darker edge. Surely I was not the only person in the world who had thought of this theory. I didn’t regard myself as particularly clever, nor particularly steeped in the subject. I may have seen too many political thrillers on T.V. but I began to suspect a cover-up. The way I saw it, scientists were generally happy with neo-Darwinism and creationists were happy in the certainty that neo-Darwinism was impossible. A truce was being maintained, and it was not in the interests of the establishment to disturb that fragile truce. I almost certainly did get paranoid because, even before I heard from New Scientist, I had drawn up a Will in my words and taken it to my solicitor to transcribe into legal terminology.
I called the article “A MECHANISM FOR LAMARCKISM, with proteins, not DNA, as the instigators of evolution”. In the accompanying letter, I was even arrogant enough to suggest it could be titled “Neo-Darwinism is dead. Long live neo-Lamarckism – The rival theory and the viral theory”. I called it Lamarckism because it was a theory of evolution which was responsive to the environment, even though I knew it would be very unlikely that it could be used to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics. I was advised afterwards that I might have done better if I had not referred to the heresy of Lamarckism. As it was, New Scientist rejected my article on the grounds that it was too speculative. It was subsequently similarly rejected by Nature and several national newspapers.
I managed to get in touch with Richard Milton, whose only real advice was that I was going to have a tough job to get anyone to take any notice. My family, and such other few laypeople as I told that I had developed a new theory of evolution, were equally pessimistic as well as unimpressed. I might just as well have told them that I had developed a new recipe using chick peas and sesame seeds which tasted better than humous. I was most indignant that the public had a right to know that the scientific establishment was feeding them a load of nihilistic nonsense. Consequently, I wrote the following “Letter to the Editor” and sent it to various newspapers and magazines:-
I recently devised and wrote a scientifically-based theory of evolution which is more logical, plausible and consistent with observed phenomena than neo-Darwinism. However, my attempts to get this theory published in British newspapers and magazines have been unsuccessful on the grounds, where stated, that it is too speculative.
Science has always progressed through speculation, which may become accepted theory when it cannot be disproved by practical testing. In the past, theorists may have been able to test out theories for themselves. In these hi-tech days, only a small number of people have access to the sort of equipment needed to carry out intricate scientific procedures. Therefore, if sensible theories are to become disproved or accepted, there needs to be an avenue for theorists to publish their ideas, however speculative. Since the discovery of DNA, the neo-Darwinist mutation theory has become more and more riddled with holes and it is high time the scientific establishment became more open-minded to serious alternatives.
To the best of my knowledge, the letter was not published anywhere. From what I had read of Stephen Jay Gould, I knew that he was sufficiently influential and dissident that he might feel able to advise or assist me. So I sent my article, and the following letter, to him in the States:-
Dear Stephen Jay Gould,
From what I have read of your books, I get the impression that you are an open-minded person who would not dismiss any viewpoint which was logical, plausible and consistent with observed phenomena.
Therefore, since you are also my favourite writer on evolutionary matters, I am sending you the enclosed mechanistic theory of neo-Lamarckism for your comment and, hopefully, promotion.
My attempts to have this theory published in the British press have been unsuccessful and I am at a loss to know, as an unknown theorist, how I can gain any public recognition or debate of my ideas.
You guessed it:- I never got a reply. The euphoria and delusions of future fame of less than a month earlier had all turned to despondency. There seemed to be no way that the world was ever going to hear about my ideas. Having satisfied myself over the biological issue of evolution, for the time being at least, I turned my mental attention to the question of dating techniques and, in particular, the Uranium-Lead method. I had done some nuclear physics in my student days but I was by no means expert in it. Every time I had heard about the Uranium-Lead method, I had always wondered why there was supposedly no lead in the rock when it was expelled from the mantle as magma; Uranium-238 would be decaying to Lead-206 whether it was inside or outside the earth’s mantle. Therefore, magma should contain exactly the same ratio of Lead-206 to Uranium as rocks of all ages. But I always assumed that scientists had a smart answer to that problem.
As a consequence of reading “The Facts of Life”, I assumed that the answer was that neutron captures within the mantle had converted all Lead-206 to Lead-208, which I knew to be the most abundant isotope of lead. The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous that idea was; if Lead-206 had reliably undergone neutron captures in the mantle, then every possible isotope of every element would also have existed in the mantle. I got a textbook of nuclear physics out of the library. A combination of reading it, doing numerous calculations and drawing loads of schematic diagrams such as those found in Chapter Eight of “The Alternative Life” confirmed for me that, if neutron captures had ever transmuted Lead-206 within the mantle, then the Uranium-Lead method had to be unreliable by many orders of magnitude.
I later discovered that the scientific explanation for the supposed non-existence of lead in magma at the time it was expelled from the mantle is that lead and uranium become separated in the mantle due to the differing densities of their chemical forms; the uranium compounds remain within the mantle whereas the lead sinks to the core. That may be true within a calm or systematic fluid mantle but it is not verifiable for a turbulent or semi-solid mantle. Nobody knows much about what the mantle is like today, let alone what it has been like in the past. By then, I had come to realise that scientific assumptions about the constancy of processes in the past are as naive as they are frequent. It was yet another example of the scientific establishment not being thorough enough in their search for explanations before plumping for the one which gave the answers they wanted. Hence, I had no hesitation in dismissing all long-range dating techniques as hopelessly unreliable, though to what degree I couldn’t be sure.
Meanwhile, convinced that the Uranium-Lead method over-estimated long-range dates by orders of magnitude, I thought about the consequences. I had known about, and accepted, plate tectonics for over two decades, without having thought much about it. Richard Milton had got me thinking about the driving force, which has to be extremely powerful since the process requires a very large amount of energy. The accepted picture is that plate tectonics, or continental drift, has been going on throughout the history of the planet and that it has always been very slow, with only minor variations in rate as both increases and decreases. The reason they know this is by dating rock samples from the sea floors and measuring their distances apart perpendicular to an expulsion point. Thus, if two rock samples are taken 100 kilometres apart and the difference in ages is 2 million years, the floor had been moving at 5 cms per year. However, if long-range dating is inaccurate by orders of magnitude such that the difference in ages is really 20,000 years, those same two samples would give an expansion rate of 5 metres per year.
At last, the process of plate tectonics was starting to make some sense. If it had always been slowing down, which is the natural thing for anything to do, then the original driving force could be some extremely violent event in the past. Furthermore, the faster rates in the past made much more sense of the consequences of plate tectonics in the formation of mountain ranges and major upheavals. It all fitted in with the catastrophist views of many 19th Century geologists, which were beginning to gain greater acceptance amongst some 20th Century geologists, as well as the evidence for many major extinctions in the evolutionary past. The fact that I was also reading Velikovsky at the time only added to my increasing conviction that the earth has been calming down for a long time from a very violent history. The icing on the cake, as far as I was concerned, came when I realised that the previously-inexplicable phenomenon of polar reversals could be accounted for by rotations of the earth’s crust around the core. Even the existence of the earth’s diminishing magnetic field became explicable by rotation of the crust around the core. Thus began my speculation that the process of plate tectonics had been started by an extremely violent impact to our planet and that subsequent impacts and near misses had only added to the turbulent consequences.
I wrote another article for New Scientist, explaining my doubts, based on nuclear physics, about conventional dating techniques, and the consequences in terms of our interpretation of plate tectonics and the speed of evolution. They returned it, saying that nuclear physics was far too complicated for their readership to understand. I realised that I was taking the wrong tack by trying to impress the scientific establishment, and also that nuclear physics and geology were neither my specialist fields nor the things over which I had a bee in my bonnet. So I returned to evolution theory, and started reading furiously any books on the subject I could get out of the library.
Of the many books I read that summer, by far and away the most impressive, influential and life-changing was Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Presence of the Past”. It’s not so much that the book was a revelation to me in terms of content as that it was so gratifying to have a biological scientist setting out the radical, and heretical, views that I had secretly harboured but never dared to espouse. I did find I had minor differences of opinion with him, most notably in respect of explanations of memory and the space-time range of his hypothesised morphic fields, but basically I became an instant exponent of the thrust of his argument. Since he was not so much concerned with the origin of genes as with the utilisation of genes by habitual influences from the past, in a manner which is consistent with Lamarckism, I became a total convert to Lamarckism, and the issue of the origin of genes became less of a priority for me. My priority became that the world should be made aware of Lamarckism.
One of the issues that concerned Sheldrake was the shape of proteins. Since it is the shapes of proteins, and especially enzymes, which determines their functions, then whatever determines the shapes of proteins must be very important to evolution. The neo-Darwinist argument is that all proteins naturally form the most thermodynamically stable shape possible. Sheldrake disputed this with a very convincing argument, and claimed that the shape of any protein was determined by a template effect conveyed by morphic fields from proteins of very similar composition, going way back in time to the very first protein of that approximate composition. That is certainly a Lamarckian effect.
Unknown to Sheldrake then, and still unappreciated by most people now, the issue of the shapes of proteins was about to become central to a major crisis in British farming caused by a reprehensible policy of forcing vegetarians to eat offal; lurking in the brains of many British cows and sheep, as well as a few British people, were some mis-shapen proteins called prions. In terms of their linear amino acid sequences, as determined by genes, prions are no different to essential proteins that normally operate in the brains of cows, sheep and humans; prions just happen to adopt a different shape which makes them functionally useless. Their fatal spread in the brains of cows with BSE, sheep with scrapie, and humans with CJD, is not due to any ability of ingested prions to self-reproduce, but due to their ability to affect the shapes that those essential proteins adopt when they are produced. When called upon to produce the essential proteins, the protein-making apparatus of the brain cells of the animals themselves produces prions instead. Deprived of the properly-shaped, essential proteins, the brains deteriorate and the organisms die. I can only conclude that the shapes of proteins are not determined by their linear sequences, or by long-range morphic fields, but by a short-range template effect. My only quibble with Sheldrake is not over the issue of like-influencing-like, which I take to be a fundamental law of nature, but over the distance of that influence. It may be the case that morphic fields can increase their range of influence as they become stronger, but the evidence from the BSE crisis is that they start locally.
Another piece of impressive evidence for Lamarckism has recently come to light, unfortunately, from the offspring of the ‘victims’ of a past pharmaceutical mistake. In the 1950’s, many pregnant women had been given a drug called Thalidomide, which caused many of their children to be born with abnormalities, the most notable of which was very short arms. From an evolutionary point of view, all that did at the time was to confirm the importance of nutrition in determining characteristics, causing gynaecologists to get rightly concerned about the dietary intake of pregnant women. However, it is now apparent that some of the following generation of Thalidomide victims have developed their parents’ symptoms, without their own embryonic development having been influenced by Thalidomide. It would be exceedingly ludicrous for neo-Darwinists to claim the Thalidomide had affected their parents’ chromosomes, and it would be even more ludicrous to claim, as I have heard one neo-Darwinist do, that the parents would have had short arms even if their mothers hadn’t taken Thalidomide. There had never been a single recorded case of babies born with short arms in Britain before Thalidomide. The only rational conclusion is that the children have inherited the acquired characteristics of their parents.
The reason for the choice of Chapter title, apart from the need to find a word beginning with I, is not only because this chapter is concerned with publication but also because it is concerned with a phase in my life when it was imprinted on my mind that I had to imprint some information on the world’s consciousness. Having realised that the scientific Establishment wasn’t interested in dissidents; having read, researched and thought for many months, discovering in the process just how important my scientific training and my interest in nutrition had been, I decided the only thing for it was to write a book for the layperson, explaining as simply as possible my interpretation of life in scientific terms. The result was the first draft of “The Alternative Life”, which I completed in early 1994. In the process of writing it, I also found it necessary to borrow, and come to terms with using, a computer, which I am still using to this day despite it being described by computer buffs as a stone age job. Though rather temperamental, it did, and still does, what I require of it, which is to be a typewriter that allows me to make corrections and alterations, long after the first hammering of the keyboard. As I came to a gradual understanding of how computers work, using stored data, I realised the parallels with living organisms and genes. The most salient issue is that computers have been purposefully created by intelligent beings; no computer has ever been accidentally produced.
I wrote to most of the United Kingdom publishers which, on the basis of the books I knew they had published, and their stated interests in the “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook”, were the most likely bets, using minor variations on the following letter:-
I have recently completed writing the first draft of a book, provisionally titled “The Alternative Life”, of which I enclose the Preface. The main purpose of the book is to explain a scientific theory of evolution which is, in my opinion at least, far more logical, plausible and consistent with the known facts than neo-Darwinism. Since many science books tend to be rather dry and unintelligible for the lay reader, I have also tried to make this book as entertaining and accessible as possible.
I firmly believe that this book has the potential to open up a major debate amongst scientists, theologians, philosophers and the thinking public. The new evolution theory, which is essentially Lamarckist, also has potential consequences for environmental issues, cultural conditioning and psychology. Though there have been several recent books which refute or amend neo-Darwinism, I am not aware of any which present positive, plausible alternatives in an understandable way.
If you think you may be interested in publishing this book and would like to see the full manuscript, I will gladly send it to you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Only two publishers requested to see the full manuscript. The first returned it to me immediately saying they had glanced through it and decided it was too technical for them. The other was Penguin. I was on Cloud Nine when I had a positive response from Penguin, since I couldn’t have asked for a publisher to be more likely to give maximum exposure to my book than Penguin. I sent them the full manuscript and then began the long wait, and it turned out to be a very long wait indeed. When they eventually did reply, it was to say that they found the book challenging and interesting but rather too technical for their readership, and they would also be reluctant to publish it on account of the offence it might cause to their more conventional scientific authors.
In the meantime, I had been making changes to the first draft, as well as writing to more publishers with no success, and it didn’t take me long to drastically reduce the technical aspects of the book and produce something which, on a glance through basis at least, was a lot less intimidating. I wrote to Penguin again to tell them that I had made major changes to the book, and they agreed to see it again. The wait was even longer this time, despite my sending chivvying letters, and it wasn’t until March 1996, over two years after my first letter, that I finally got their rejection. By then, the book was already scheduled to be published that May.
In the meantime I had been exhausting all other possibilities including, on advice, trying to get an agent, but no agents were prepared to take me on until I had had a book successfully published. It was still the case that only one publisher had read the book when, in March 1995, Jean gave me an advert from “The Dalesman” saying, “DO YOU HAVE A BOOK TO PUBLISH?” I wrote to The Pentland Press, and they replied quickly, saying that they were a very special publisher insofar as they didn’t operate in the same way as most publishers. If they agreed to publish my book, which they requested to see, the cost of publication would be borne by me and all the sale proceeds would be received by me. I duly sent them my manuscript and they replied to say that they would be happy to publish it. Subject to my acceptance, they would do a first run of 800 hardback copies, costing £14.50 each, for the publication of which I would need to pay £9000, which meant that I could make a small profit.
I had been really desperate to get this book published, because I really believed it would make an impact if people had the chance to read it, and consequently would become a good seller. However, even at the time, I took the attitude that, if it was only going to sell 800 copies, it wasn’t worth the bother. Besides, I didn’t have £9000, though Jean was quick to offer to pay for it, since she knew how desperate I was to get it published. I wrote to Pentland, expressing my dismay at the 800 copies, and they replied to say that that was only the first run, and that, if it did take off, as they were sure it would, then there would obviously be the opportunity for further runs. After a few more letters and a visit to The Pentland Press in Durham, I finally agreed to publication in June.
Throughout the next 11 months, I got progressively more pissed off with The Pentland Press as they continuously ignored my opinions, whilst pretending they didn’t but sending placatory letters saying that they knew best. There were, however, only two major disputes. The first was over the issue of hyphenation, in respect of which sneaky changes had been made to the Page Proofs which had not be made to the earlier Galley Proofs, prompting me to include the following extract in one of my letters:-
It has become clear to me on this reading that we have a clash of policies on hyphenation and most of the corrections are in respect of that. Though I know it is not grammatically essential, I maintain that where an adverb and an adjective are being used together as an adjective, they should be hyphenated (and the original text was written accordingly). The only exceptions I make are with regard to inessential adverbs of degree such as fairly, very, extremely and entirely. I realise that raises questions about the two uses of completely-filled on page 15 but I would say the adverb is qualitative and qualificative rather than quantitative. My main criterion is over whether the adverb qualifies the meaning of the adjective. Since it is I who would stand to be criticised or praised for the use of English, I am inclined to think it is my decision. Besides, if you wish to follow your policy consistently, there are a lot more that you have not yet altered. (There may also be some that you have altered that I have not uncovered).
Since they were running behind schedule, it was obviously easier for them to re-insert the hyphens I had indicated than comb through the book finding the ones they had overlooked, so I won that dispute. One thing I had discovered about The Pentland Press was that they didn’t create any more work for themselves than they needed to. A far more serious, and depressing, dispute arose over the cover. I had always had a very clear idea of what, in symbolic terms, the cover should be like, though I knew that it would require a competent artist to convert my symbolic vision into pictorial form. The most important aspect of it, which had been agreed by Pentland, was that there should be two pictures, on the front and back of the cover, representing Before and After scenarios, which I had explained in some detail in letters.
When I received the two alternatives done by Pentland’s hired artist, I was horrified. One was his conception, which was a totally innocuous, conventional science book cover which had no symbolic meaning in relation to the particular book, and the other was his representation of my conception, which also had no symbolic relation to the book, since he had just pasted a picture of a row of dilapidated terrace houses and a picture of a windmill side by side in one picture. I wrote back to Pentland demanding that the artist do a proper job of interpreting my instructions, and I even included my own coloured drawings, which were symbolically accurate but artistically poor, to show what I meant. What I eventually got back was my own drawings, done with slightly more artistic skill and coloured in almost as badly, with no indication of any input from the artist. The accompanying letter made it clear that there was no artist-time left, so I would have to choose between this or the original artist’s conception. I chose my own idea, though I was never happy with it, and I was later to discover that other people didn’t like it much either.
The book was finally published at the beginning of May, and free copies were sent to most serious book-reviewing newspapers and periodicals in the U.K., in addition to flyers being sent to all major booksellers and most University biology and philosophy departments. Not a single review appeared in any publication, and not a single bookshop or chain put in any bulk orders. I subsequently learned that the book trade discriminates against vanity publishers by ignoring their output. Miraculously, when one considers that no-one in the country had any reason to know the book exists, approximately 40 copies were sold through bookshops, in addition to the copies sold (or given away) to friends and relatives by Jean and myself.
In a fit of pique, resulting from my annoyance at all the placatory bullshit I had been fed by The Pentland Press, I wrote the following letter with no intention of sending it to anyone:-
The Exploitative Press Ltd
Dear desperate rich author,
We are so pleased to hear that you have failed to find a publisher for your obsessive scribblings and that you have had to come to us as a last resort. We are a group of canny incompetents who have failed to make any headway in the mainstream publishing business and have hit upon an ingenious way of filling a niche which guarantees that we can’t make a loss. In return for a large consideration, payable in advance, we will publish your scribblings and produce a book which you will feel proud to have on your bookshelf and give to your long-suffering friends and relatives, simply because it will have your name on the cover. We will publish the minimum number of copies necessary to guarantee that you could theoretically break even but could not possibly make any profit.
Once you have signed the contract and payed us, we will start the publication process by altering your text, often without your permission. Wherever there are two permissible spellings of a word, we will choose the one that you haven’t chosen, and we will alter the punctuation on an inconsistent, arbitrary basis. We will photo-reduce your original diagrams and arrange for them to be placed at inappropriate positions within the text. We will then employ a firm of illiterate, partially-sighted, dyslexic typesetters to set the pages. Your only involvement will be as an unpaid proof-reader but we cannot guarantee that your corrections will be carried out. We will also employ a firm of artists, who tell us they are brilliant, to do the cover illustration. We will instruct them to spend the majority of what little time we pay them for on our idea and a minimal amount of time loosely on your idea. You will then get to choose between them, but we are confident that you will prefer the finished product based on our idea.
There will then be a very long delay period during which the printers will print one page per day during their normal coffee break. When the book is completed, we will be delighted to send complimentary copies (for which you receive no reimbursement) to you and your designated friends and relatives. The remaining copies will be dumped in a warehouse somewhere in case someone else gets to hear about the book and requests a copy. In the unlikely event that all the first edition copies sell out and there is a demand for a second edition, we will take so long to produce a second edition that the demand will undoubtedly have disappeared since everyone will have forgotten about it.
Throughout the whole process, we will always be very polite and will send placatory letters to you whenever you complain. We look forward to receiving your acceptance.
I.M.Rich – Editor-in-chief
Shortly before the book’s publication, Jean told me that there had been a request in The Friend (Quaker weekly) for anyone with a different perspective on evolution to write to the Editor. Thinking this could lead to some good publicity for the book, I wrote to The Friend, enclosing the Preface. I received a very enthusiastic letter back from the Editor, Deborah Padfield, saying she would be pleased to publish a pruned version of the Preface in The Friend if I could do a follow up article which contained, in words of one syllable, what my alternative evolution theory was. I attempted to do a simplified abstract from the book, and sent it to her with an accompanying letter in which I expressed my slight concern at the prospect of having my scientific credibility diminished by being published in a religious journal. Her reply indicated concern that my abstract was far too scientific to be understandable, and understanding at my reluctance to be associated with a religious publication, but she said they would be happy to do a review. They never did.
Prior to publication, I had sent the relevant Chapter to Elaine Morgan, whom I had contacted via her publisher, for her approval, which she had given, but I had failed to make contact with Rupert Sheldrake via his publishers. Eventually, I did get hold of his home address, and subsequently sent him the relevant Chapter, but, far from entering into fruitful correspondence as I had hoped, he didn’t like what I had said about his views, his two letters were rather unfriendly, and he couldn’t understand why I was bothering since the scientific Establishment were never going to take any notice and the general public couldn’t give a toss (or words to that effect) about the finer points of evolution theory.
Throughout the process leading to publication, I had lived with the fantasy that I would become famous, at least in academic circles, that I would get interviewed on Radio 4 chatshows, and that my life as a writer would take off. Even when I acknowledged to myself that those things might not happen, the very minimum I expected was that I would find myself in correspondence with numerous readers. The only comeback I have had in the 3 years since the book was published has been one letter from a friend of Jean’s. Though I don’t regret having written it, I have bitterly regretted having had it published, since its publication proved the one thing I really didn’t want to have proved – that no-one was going to take a blind bit of notice of my views.
In the meantime, as a consequence of doing a lot of research into the history of the development of evolution theory, especially during the 19th century, I had not only written my second book about that subject, provisionally titled “An Englishman’s Evolutionary History”, but I had also discovered my real evolutionary hero. He was Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, who was a contemporary of Darwin’s and became known as the German Darwin. Unlike most British evolutionists, he had no problem marrying Lamarckism and Darwinism together, in harmony with his anti-religious monistic philosophy, and he wrote very readable books which expounded not only his views about evolution but also his radical, philosophical stance on a wide range of subjects. Like Darwin, he was of course wrong about some aspects of heredity, and history has unfairly saddled him with some of the blame for the rise of National Socialism long after his death, but that doesn’t stop him from having made a tremendous contribution to the evolution debate and from being an admirable unconventional thinker.
I included copious extracts from Haeckel in my second book, which was much more historical and philosophical, and much less scientific and technical, than “The Alternative Life”. In many respects, I was following in the footsteps of another famous Lamarckist, Samuel Butler, whose second evolution book, “Evolution, old and new” (1879) had been a summary of evolutionary thinking before Darwin and a refutation of the validity and importance of Darwin’s contribution. Butler had also become something of an evolutionary hero to me, along with George Bernard Shaw and C.E.M.Joad. The last two had not only been a hero and a friend respectively to Arthur, they were also adamant Lamarckists, causing me to doubt my earlier belief that Arthur had been a Darwinist.
As for my own second book, it fared even less well than the first. I wrote to every mainstream UK publisher that was at all likely to be interested, and not one of them requested to see the manuscript. I could have been sitting on a masterpiece for all that any of them could have known. In fact, at the time of writing, over 18 months after I finished the first draft, only two people have read the book, and one of those is Nigel. In sharp contrast to what I had imagined before I became a writer, telling people that you write does not cause them to want to read any of your work. Since I have no intention of resorting to vanity publishing again, I have been forced to shelve the book and contemplate ceasing to consider myself to be an evolutionary writer. If I wasn’t currently engaged in writing this book, I wouldn’t even consider myself to be a writer. Throughout the rest of this book, which is concerned with other issues in my life, evolutionary matters are only of incidental importance.
For my experiences of academia after 1998, see Me and Patrick Matthew.