Friday, April 22, 2005

Large Families and Natural Selection

My wife and I have seven children. Some years ago, when we lived in Canada on a small island off the West Coast, we hosted numerous musical evenings in our home. After one of these, a person we did not know, approached me and said: “I hear you have seven children, how can you possibly justify that in this day and age?”

Those standing around went silent as much at the person’s brashness as at what was said. As the host I wondered what sort of response would be appropriate. The response came to me in a flash -- - two words.

“Natural Selection” I replied.

The questioner was silenced. Some guests smiled and returned to their conversation - - controversy avoided because the questioner was a firm believer in natural selection but had never applied it to him or to those, like us, who are propagating.

The questioner, it turned out, has no children. His genes, great though they may be, will not be passed on. He is the last of a line, the end of the road, and the conclusion to a minor symphony of being.

Our genes? Well, according to the theory our guest (but not we) endorse, we appear to have been chosen by the blind forces of natural selection and favoured to continue as humble victors in the lottery of genetic chance. This is simply a fact, just as our sterile guest’s non-production was a fact.

We incline to the more poetic viewpoint touching upon such non-empirical concepts as “love” and “trust” but, again, these are subjects for another day.

Iain T. Benson ©