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Chapter 11
Besides Eamonn Hughes, Rosie knew of only two other ‘familyfriends’
from her mother’s medical graduation class. It struck me asunlikely that someone who had illicit sex with her motherwould remain in contact, given the presence of Phil. But therewas an evolutionary argument that he would wish to ensurethat the carrier of his genes was receiving proper care.
Essentially this was Rosie’s argument also.
The first candidate was Dr Peter Enticott, who lived locally. Theother, Alan McPhee, had died from prostate cancer, which wasgood news for Rosie, as, lacking a prostate gland, she couldnot inherit it. Apparently he had been an oncologist, but hadnot detected the cancer in himself, a not-uncommon scenario.
Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious toothers.
Fortunately, he had a daughter, with whom Rosie had socialisedwhen she was younger. Rosie arranged a meeting with Nataliein three days’ time, ostensibly to view Natalie’s newborn baby.
I reverted to the normal schedule, but the Father Project keptintruding into my thoughts. I prepared for the DNA collection– I did88/290not want a repeat of the broken cup problem. I also hadanother alter-cation with the Dean, as a result of the FlounderIncident.
One of my tasks is to teach genetics to medical students. Inthe first class of the previous semester, a student, who did notidentify himself, had raised his hand shortly after I showed myfirst slide. The slide is a brilliant and beautiful diagrammaticsummary of evolution from single-cell organisms to today’sincredible variety of life. Only my colleagues in the PhysicsDepartment can match the extraordinary story that it tells. Icannot comprehend why some people are more interested inthe outcome of a football match or the weight of an actress.
This student belonged to another category.
‘Professor Tillman, you used the word “evolved”.’
‘I think you should point out that evolution is just a theory.’
This was not the first time I had received a question – orstatement– of this kind. I knew from experience that I would not swaythe student’s views, which would inevitably be based onreligious dogma. I could only ensure that the student was nottaken seriously by other trainee doctors.
‘Correct,’ I replied, ‘but your use of the word “just” ismisleading.
Evolution is a theory supported by overwhelming evidence. Likethe germ theory of disease, for example. As a doctor, you willbe expected to rely on science. Unless you want to be a faithhealer. In which case you are in the wrong course.’
There was some laughter. Faith Healer objected.
‘I’m not talking about faith. I’m talking about creation science.’
There were only a few moans from the class. No doubt manyof the students were from cultures where criticism of religion isnot well tolerated. Such as ours. I had been forbidden tocomment on religion after an earlier incident. But we werediscussing science. I could have89/290continued the argument, but I knew better than to besidetracked by a student. My lectures are precisely timed to fitwithin fifty minutes.
‘Evolution is a theory,’ I said. ‘There is no other theory of theorigins of life with wide acceptance by scientists, or of anyutility to medicine.
Hence we will assume it in this class.’ I believed I had handledthe situation well, but I was annoyed that time had beeninsufficient to argue the case against the pseudo-science ofcreationism.
Some weeks later, eating in the University Club, I found ameans of making the point succinctly. As I walked to the bar, Inoticed one of the members eating a flounder, with its headstill in place. After a slightly awkward conversation, I obtainedthe head and skeleton, which I wrapped and stored in mybackpack.
Four days later, I had the class. I located Faith Healer, andasked him a preliminary question. ‘Do you believe that fishwere created in their current forms by an intelligent designer?’
He seemed surprised at the question, perhaps because it hadbeen seven weeks since we had suspended the discussion. Buthe nodded in agreement.
I unwrapped the flounder. It had acquired a strong smell, butmedical students should be prepared to deal with unpleasantorganic objects in the interests of learning. I indicated the head:
‘Observe that the eyes are not symmetrical.’ In fact the eyeshad decomposed, but the location of the eye sockets was quiteclear. ‘This is because the flounder evolved from a conventionalfish with eyes on opposite sides of the head. One eye slowlymigrated around, but just far enough to function effectively.
Evolution did not bother to tidy up. But surely an intelligentdesigner would not have created a fish with this imperfec-tion.’
I gave Faith Healer the fish to enable him to examine it andcontinued the lecture.
He waited until the beginning of the new teaching year tolodge his complaint.
90/290In my discussion with the Dean, she implied that I had tried tohu-miliate Faith Healer, whereas my intent had been toadvance an argument. Since he had used the term ‘creationscience’, with no mention of religion, I made the case that Iwas not guilty of denigrating religion. I was merely contrastingone theory with another. He was welcome to bringcounter-examples to class.
‘Don,’ she said, ‘as usual you haven’t technically broken anyrules.
But – how can I put it? – if someone told me that a lecturerhad brought a dead fish to class and given it to a studentwho had made a statement of religious faith, I would guessthat the lecturer was you.
Do you understand where I’m coming from?’
‘You’re saying that I am the person in the faculty most likelyto act unconventionally. And you want me to act moreconventionally. That seems an unreasonable request to make ofa scientist.’
‘I just don’t want you to upset people.’
‘Being upset and complaining because your theory is disprovenis unscientific.’
The argument ended, once again, with the Dean being unhappywith me, though I had not broken any rules, and me beingreminded that I needed to try harder to ‘fit in’. As I left heroffice, her personal assistant, Regina, stopped me.
‘I don’t think I have you down for the faculty ball yet,Professor Tillman. I think you’re the only professor who hasn’tbought tickets.’
Riding home, I was aware of a tightness in my chest andrealised it was a physical response to the Dean’s advice. Iknew that, if I could not‘fit in’ in a science department of a university, I could not fit inanywhere.
Natalie McPhee, daughter of the late Dr Alan McPhee, potentialbiological father of Rosie, lived eighteen kilometres from the city,within91/290riding distance, but Rosie decided we should travel by car. Iwas amazed to find that she drove a red Porsche convertible.
‘It’s Phil’s.’
‘Your “father’s”?’ I did the air quotes.
‘Yeah, he’s in Thailand.’
‘I thought he didn’t like you. But he lent you his car?’
‘That’s the sort of thing he does. No love, just stuff.’
The Porsche would be the perfect vehicle to lend to someoneyou did not like. It was seventeen years old (thus using oldemissions technology), had appalling fuel economy, little legroom, high wind noise and a non-functioning air-conditioningsystem. Rosie confirmed my guess that it was unreliable andexpensive to maintain.
As we arrived at Natalie’s, I realised I had spent the entirejourney listing and elaborating on the deficiencies of the vehicle.
I had avoided small talk, but had not briefed Rosie on theDNA collection method.
‘Your task is to occupy her in conversation while I collectDNA.’ This would make best use of ............
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