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July 7, 2009

Once in Galapagos a Lady ...

This happened in the late 1970s. I was returning from a European business trip on a wide-body jet. As was my habit, I had a book with me and once we were airborne, started to read it. Its title was Evolution, its author, John Maynard Smith. A Penguin trade paperback.

In due course a meal was served and I placed the book in the pocket in front of me.

“I see you’re reading that book on evolution.”

It was the woman to my left. A fellow American, a dignified lady of a certain age who had the appearance and manner of someone who had the time (widow?) and money (life insurance proceeds?) to travel the world at her leisure and who spent her time and money doing just that.

I glanced at her and saw from the unsmiling tightness of her mouth that this was not a pleasant query. Oh oh, I thought. Here it comes.

“So, do you believe in it? In evolution?”

To have given a complete – and completely honest – answer I would have replied that yes, I’m absolutely convinced that evolution did happen but the accepted theory fails to explain the existence of complex animals. It has a fatal flaw, but – not to worry – I’ve figured out how to fix it. But I took the easy way out and, nodding my head and mumbling, let her know that I found it quite convincing but (the primary function of mumbling?) didn’t care to talk about it.

My fellow passenger then delivered what I am sure she considered the final word on the matter, a triumphant conclusion to our extremely brief conversation.