Feature Article - April 2006
by Do-While Jones

Alice in Evolutionland

This is our annual special issue celebrating National Theory of Evolution Day (April 1), in which we give the theory of evolution all the respect that it deserves.

Some tales make you smarter,
And some tales are just tall.
But the tales of evolution
Don’t make any sense at all.
Go ask Alice.
She has heard them all.

Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister and having nothing to do; once or twice she peeped into the book her sister was reading, Origin of Species, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” Suddenly, a White Rabbit ran by, stopped, took a watch out of its waistcoat pocket, and said, “Oh dear! I shall be too late!”, and hurried on.

This immediately aroused Alice’s curiosity, for if the White Rabbit had a watch, did the watch have a maker? Or was the watch merely the result of random changes and natural selection? Surely the White Rabbit must know! Alice resolved to catch the Rabbit, take it to court, and settle the matter of Intelligent Design once and for all. She ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she would get out again. The rabbit hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped so suddenly down that Alice found herself falling down what seemed like a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time to wonder about the mysteries of life. She began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, “Did cats evolve into bats? Did cats evolve into bats?” and sometimes “Did bats evolve into cats?” for, you see, it was such a stupid question, it didn’t matter much which way she put it.

Suddenly, thump! thump! Down she came on a heap of sticks and leaves, and the fall was over. Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped quickly onto her feet in a moment. Before her was another long passage, and the White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it. She was close behind it when she turned a corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen. She found herself in a dark hall. There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked.

She found a golden key on a glass table, but it would only open a door that was about fifteen inches high. She peeked through the door, and there was the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway. Oh, if only she could evolve into a smaller creature!

Then she saw a little bottle on the glass table, and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words DRINK ME beautifully printed on it in large letters. Alice knew that Darwin said that diet, exercise, and climate caused inheritable changes in creatures. Perhaps drinking from the bottle would make her smaller! So she took a drink.

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope!” And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high. Happily she ran to the garden door; but, alas for poor Alice! When she got to the door, she found she had forgotten the little golden key, and when she went back to the table for it, she found she could not possibly reach it.

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words EAT ME were beautifully marked in currants. Since science is all about repeatable experiments, she decided to eat it and see if she evolved again. When she ate some of it, she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had been so thoroughly brainwashed about the theory of evolution, she expected a (purely natural) miracle. Having nothing better to do, she finished eating all the cake.

Chapter 2: The Pool of Tears

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice. “Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! What will I tell Jenny Craig?” Just at this moment her head struck against the roof of the hall: in fact she was now rather more than nine feet high. There was no way she could get into the garden now. She began shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all around her, about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall.

But now with her much bigger head, Alice wondered if she had become much smarter. “How will I know if I am smart or not?” Alice wondered. “I know, I’ll say my lesson.”

How doth the little crocodile
Evolve his scaly tail,
And provide the boutiques of the Nile
With purses now on sale?

“I’m sure those are not the right words,” said poor Alice, and her eyes filled with tears again as she went on, “I must not be that smart after all.” As she continued to cry, she became soaked to the skin. As we all know, things shrink when they get wet, and Alice was no exception. Soon she had shrunk to just three inches high, and found herself over her head in salt water. “I wish I hadn’t cried so much!” said Alice as she swam about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears!”

Just then she heard something splashing about in the pool a little way off. At first she thought it must be a walrus or hippopotamus, but then she remembered how small she was, and soon made out that it was a mouse that was drowning like herself. Since the hippopotamus and the mouse evolved from the same common ancestor, it was an easy mistake to make, and of no particular importance.

It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.

Chapter 3: The Caucasian Race

The first question, of course, was how to get dry again. “The best thing,” said the Dodo solemnly, rising to its feet, “that would get us dry would be a Caucasian Race.”

“What is a Caucasian Race?” asked Alice.

“Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” First it marked out a racecourse, in a sort of circle (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said), and then the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three, and away!” but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so it was not easy to know when the race was over.

After a while, Alice asked, “Why are we doing this?”

“To get smarter, of course, so we can figure out how to get dry,” said the Dodo. “When Australopithecus afarensis started walking upright, it left his hands free to use tools and make weapons for hunting meat. This increased mental activity and carnivorous diet made his brain bigger, and he evolved, through various stages, into the highest form of life—the white European male! If we just keep running, in a few million years we will become bipedal and evolve enough intelligence to figure out how to dry ourselves off.”

By this time, the sun and the wind had dried them all off, but they were too busy running to notice it. Alice fell down, too exhausted to thank the Dodo.

Chapter 5: Advice from a Caterpillar

Alice stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar that was sitting on top, with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or anything else. At last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I have evolved several times since then. It is a very queer feeling to evolve so much, you see.”

“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.

“Well, perhaps you don’t yet,” said Alice; “but when you turn into a chrysalis—you will someday, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”

“That isn’t evolution—it’s maturity” said the Caterpillar. “Granted, it is a strange way to mature, but I find it very satisfying.”

“You find it satisfying, but I find it confusing,” said Alice. “I’ve always been told that ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,’ 1 but your way of maturing doesn’t seem to make any sense from an evolutionary standpoint. What’s the advantage of turning into a helpless chrysalis for days or weeks? Why not just be born a butterfly to begin with, or stay a caterpillar all your life and have baby caterpillars? There’s no good natural explanation for it!”

“Perhaps you should try to find a supernatural explanation for why we caterpillars are born again,” said the Caterpillar.

“I am a scientist,” Alice said proudly, “so I categorically reject all supernatural explanations. I’d rather have no natural explanation than accept a supernatural one.”

“So you think you’ve evolved, do you?” said the Caterpillar.

“I am afraid I have, Sir,” I can’t remember things the way they used to be.”

“Can’t remember what things?” said the Caterpillar.

“Well, I’ve tried to recite ‘How doth the little busy bee,’ but it came out all different!” Alice replied in a very melancholy voice.

“Repeat ‘You are Old, Father Darwin,’ said the Caterpillar.

Alice folded her hands and began:

“You are old, Father Darwin,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father Darwin replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and considered a sage,
But your theory is falling apart;
Yet you defend it with violent ranting and rage—
Do you think, at your age, that is smart?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he reflected in thought,
“I was told that God was all good.
But the death of my child, and the pain that it brought,
Was something I never understood.”

“It is clear,” said the youth, “that you’re just an old fool
And your theory has nothing true to it;
But you made the court rule we must teach it in school—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“Now we know,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
The fossil record could contain such big gaps.
Yet you claim that it shows how each species arose—
Have you suffered a memory lapse?

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father, “Don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”

“That’s not quite right, I’m afraid,” said Alice, timidly; “some of the words have got altered.”

“It was right from beginning to end,” said the Caterpillar, decidedly.

Alice said nothing: she had never been so contradicted in all her life before, and she felt she was losing her temper.

In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of his mouth, yawned once or twice, and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking, as it went, “One side will make you grow taller, and the other will make you grow shorter.”

“One side of what? The other side of what?” thought Alice to herself.

“Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and it ambled out of sight.

Knowing that Darwin had been proved right—that eating different food will make one evolve—Alice did not hesitate to take a piece from each side of the mushroom. As soon as she nibbled a little bit from the right side, she began shrinking rapidly. So she quickly shoved as much of the left piece as would fit in her tiny mouth, and swallowed all of it.

“My head is moving up now!” said Alice in a tone of delight, which changed into alarm in another moment, when she found that her shoulders were nowhere to be found: all she could see, when she looked down, was an immense long neck, which seemed to rise like a stalk out of a sea of green leaves that lay far below her. As there seemed to be no chance of getting her hands up to her head, she tried to get her head down to them, and was delighted to find that her neck would bend about easily in any direction. She had just succeeded in curving it down into a graceful zigzag, and was going to dive in among the leaves, which she found to be nothing but the tops of trees under which she had been wandering, when a large pigeon flew in her face, and started beating her violently with its wings.

“Serpent!” screamed the Pigeon.

“I’m not a serpent!” said Alice indignantly, “Let me alone!”

“Serpent, I say again!” repeated the Pigeon.

“But I’m not a serpent, I tell you!” said Alice. “I’m a—I’m a—”

“Well! What are you?” said the Pigeon. “I can see you’re trying to invent something!”

“I—I’m a little girl,” said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered how much she had evolved today.

“I’ve seen a good many little girls in my time,” said the Pigeon, “but never one with a neck like that! No, no! You’re a serpent, and there’s no use denying it. I suppose you’ll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!”

“I have tasted eggs, certainly,” said Alice, who was a very truthful child; “but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.”

“I don’t believe it,” said the Pigeon; “but if they do, why, then they’re a kind of serpent. Biological classification is based on the length of the neck, and the diet. Any creature that has a long neck and eats eggs must be some kind of serpent. Your ancestors must have been snakes.”

“No, no,” cried Alice. “My ancestors were apes; and their ancestors were little furry mammals; and their ancestors were reptiles whose scales turned into hair; and they evolved from reptiles whose scales were just scales.”

“Serpents are reptiles,” said the Pigeon, telling Alice something she already knew, “so that makes you a serpent just as sure as I am a dinosaur. We birds are the last living dinosaurs, you know!”

“Just because a scientist decides to classify a bird as a dinosaur doesn’t make it one,” countered Alice, “and I shan’t become a serpent just because you say I am. I am an ape, not a serpent!”

“Well, be off, then!” said the Pigeon in a sulky tone, as it settled down again into its nest. Alice crouched down among the trees as well as she could, found her hands, and set to work nibbling the pieces of mushroom she held in each hand, first one hand, then the other, until she had succeeded in bringing herself down to her usual height.

Chapter 6: Nebraska Pig

“Here! You may nurse the baby a bit, if you like!” the Duchess said to Alice, flinging the baby at her as she spoke. “I must go and get ready to play croquet with the Queen,” and she hurried out of the room.

Alice caught the baby with some difficulty, as it was a queer-shaped little creature, and held out its arms and legs in all directions, “just like a starfish,” thought Alice. As soon as she made out the proper way of nursing it (which was to twist it up into sort of a knot), she carried it out into the open air.

The baby grunted, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were extremely small for a baby, and it had teeth like an ape.

“If you’re going to turn into a pig, my dear,” said Alice, seriously, “I’ll have nothing more to do with you. Mind now!” It grunted again, so violently that she looked into its face in some alarm. This time there could be no mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt it would be quite absurd for her to carry it any further.

So she set the little creature down, and it trotted straight towards Nebraska.

Chapter 11: Who Stole the Smarts?

Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books. The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on their slates. “What are they doing?” Alice whispered to the Gryphon. “They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.”

“They are writing down the verdict,” the Gryphon whispered in reply, “for fear they should forget it before the end of the trial.”

“Herald, read the accusation!” said the King.

On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:

“The Queen of Hearts, she lost her smarts,
All on a summer day;
The Knave of Hearts, he stole her smarts;
And took them quite away!”

“Consider your verdict,” the King said to the jury.

“Not yet, not yet!” the Rabbit hastily interrupted. “There’s a great deal to come before that!”

“Call the first witness,” said the King; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and called out, “First witness!”

The first witness was the Mad Hatter.

“Do you know what happened to the Queen of Hearts’ smarts?” asked the King.

“Yes I do,” said the Hatter, “but don’t you want me to swear to tell the truth on a Bible first?”

“Are you a Christian?” asked the King.

“Yes, I am,” said the Hatter.

“Never mind!” said the King. “Call the next witness.”

Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list, feeling very curious what the next witness would be like—“For they haven’t got much evidence yet,” she said to herself. Imagine her surprise, when the White Rabbit read out, at the top of his shrill little voice, the name “Alice!”

Chapter 12: Alice’s Evidence

Alice approached the bench.

“What do you know about this business?” the King said to Alice.

“Nothing,” said Alice.

“That’s very important,” the King said, turning to the jury.

“I just came here to ask the White Rabbit if his watch was designed, or assembled itself by accident,” said Alice.

“I don’t know,” said the White Rabbit, “because the Knave of Hearts has confused me, the Queen, and everyone else, by suggesting that there might be an Intelligent Designer. By calling into question the theory of evolution, our entire science program has been destroyed, and now we no longer can compete with the rest of the world. Since you are asking about my watch, you must be the Knave of Hearts accomplice, trying to bring God into the courtroom, and overturn our legal system, too!”

“I am not!” cried Alice.

“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.

“I won’t!” said Alice.

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice. “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

At this the whole pack of cards rose up into the air, and came down upon her; she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

“Wake up, Alice dear!” said her sister. “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about.

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Footnotes:

1 Theodosius Dobzhanski http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution (Ev)