We … naturally select one or the other. But the possibility of choice did not exist just a century and a half ago. The year we call 1859 could be designated 1 A.D. (Anno Darwini). Before “The Origin of Species”, it was self-evident to the vast majority of humankind that God had conceived and created each species separately. In spite of the Darwinian thesis (today no longer a theory), the vast majority still considers creation the work of an intelligent divine Designer.
The current end-products of three billion years of evolution, including you and me (although, as a famous American baseball coach said, “It ain’t over till it’s finished”) are, however, the result not of any design, but of multiple hits and misses. François Jacob (op.cit. p. 58) describes Natural Selection as “a mixture of chance and competition in reproduction”. He uses a French word, difficult to translate but easy to understand, in speaking of evolution as a “bricolage”. A “bricoleur” is not an engineer but a handyman, a do-it-yourselfer, given to fixing and making things by patching disparate elements together. He is the sort of person who finds it difficult to throw anything away. “You never know, it may come in handy some day”. His garage is a bric-a-brac (even we use the French word). It may look like junk, but, sure enough, one day he finds a use for some of it, in ways he could never have foreseen. Jacob borrows an example from Ernst Mayr to compare Natural Selection’s fashioning of the lung of terrestrial vertebrates from a piece of a fish’s oesophagus, with making a skirt out of Grandma’s curtains !
“If first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. This maxim was inculcated into us as children, but Natural Selection is its perfect embodiment. Darwin insisted constantly on the imperfections in both structure and function in the world of the living. As Jacob says, “he never ceased underlining the bizarre, strange solutions that a reasonable God would never have used” (op.cit. p. 64). He went on to point out, as evidence of the hits and misses of Natural Selection, that if there are several million animal species alive today, at least five hundred million have become extinct. “Bricolage” indeed. Intelligent Design ? Hardly.