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By Pervez Hoodboy
CHARLES Darwin is a name Pakistanis are taught to hate. School teachers and university professors tasked with teaching his evolutionary theory usually skip the subject or, if they go ahead, first soften it with a ton of scorn. A commonly used biology school textbook rubbishes the theory, claiming that evolution of species is tantamount to assuming that “a motor car is evolved” when two rickshaws collide. Imran Khan, in his 2002 article, blamed the West’s follies upon, “Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered”.
With the corona apocalypse looming ahead, it doesn’t matter that Darwin was a naturalist, biologist and geologist rather than philosopher. It also doesn’t matter that Darwin gets lashed regularly by Christian, Jewish and Hindu fundamentalists as well. Yet every hope for dealing with today’s rogue virus rests squarely upon Darwin’s 200-year-old discovery of the principle of natural selection.
In a nutshell: natural selection says that life on Earth didn’t come pre-purposed and pre-formed, as tradition insists. Instead, it holds that, whether for man or microbe, only those forms of life best adapted to a specific environment survive while all others die away. Most crucially, evolution maintains that new kinds of life and new molecules randomly appear. A few — like coronavirus — will chance upon some suitable animal or human cell and thrive.