There is a strange object sitting on my desk as I write. It is a shiny sphere of fossilised, primeval slime. Known technically as stromatolites, this blue-green slime was the original ooze from which all life on this planet evolved.
This painfully slow process began about 3,000 million years ago and has led, ultimately, to us, the extraordinary human species.
Whenever my gaze happens to fall upon my lump of fossilised slime I experience a strange sensation, a deep respect, for I am looking at my most ancient ancestor.
Yours, too, unless you still believe in the tale of Adam and Eve and a talking serpent in the Garden of Eden.
In a few weeks, on February 12 to be exact, the scientific world will be celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the man whose theory of the gradual evolution of living things has changed the way in which most of us see the world in which we live.
Thanks to him, we see ourselves as part of nature, instead of separate from it and superior to it. If it weren’t for him, we would not be concerned about the way we have, in our arrogant past, ravaged the small planet on which we live.
What kind of a man was Charles Darwin? To the naive mind he is sometimes pictured as a giant intellect of Victorian England, with his long, flowing white beard and his solemn expression, the product of a brilliantly studious education and intense academic application.
Well, no. In reality he was a mess, both physically and mentally, which makes his gigantic contribution to human understanding even more extraordinary.
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