UCL News


Evolution trounces creationism at the Hay Festival

30 May 2006

Steve Jones, UCL Professor of Genetics, enthralled a packed audience at The Guardian Hay Festival 2006 yesterday with his compelling and entertaining explanation of 'Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right'.

Having likened the muddy conditions at the festival to the primeval soup, Professor Jones suggested that the rise of creationism in the UK is due in part to the advent of faith-based schools, where religious beliefs conflict with long-established Darwinian theory.

The recent debates over extending human rights to chimpanzees and reclassifying them under the genus "homo" served as a springboard for an introduction to the history of the concepts of evolution and common descent - the latter, Professor Jones noted, pioneered in the eighteenth century by fellow Welshman William Jones in the field of linguistics.

Professor Jones drew on diverse fuel to illustrate his argument, from the painful but sufficiently effective feeding behaviour of the tree kangaroo - which continuously falls out of trees while reaching for leaves - to the development of increasingly efficient nozzles at a Merseyside soap factory where Professor Jones once worked as an engineer.

However, it was the case study of HIV and the rampant genetic variants at work in the spread of the virus that drove home the importance of acknowledging the existence of evolution. Studying genetic variants that provide some people with natural protection enables scientists to develop treatments, and, just as primates overcame SIV, humans will eventually evolve to the point that we all have immunity from the virus.

Without natural selection, he concluded, we have no history nor understanding of the way we are likely to develop, both of which science draws on every day to tackle debilitating diseases.