Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

In Search of Truth 3

This is the third instalment of Dr. Sutherland’s religious journey as told in A Time To Keep (1934).

In my case, with the University came emancipation from the religion of my childhood. The Professor of Zoology was the appropriate instrument. After hearing his lecture on Evolution and Natural Selection, I walked to the rostrum and asked: “Sir, if evolution be true, I suppose the book of Genesis must be false?”

The answer surpassed my wildest desire. “Of course it’s false — only a fable.”

From that moment I became for many years in theory an agnostic and in practice an atheist. It was my own fault because if, in place of this foolishness, the professor had told me the Eternal Truth, I would have probably have then rejected it. I now know that, while the evidence suggesting bodily evolution is fairly strong, no particular mode can be held as proven.

We have not found the “missing link,” the ancestor of common to man and the anthropoid apes. The last time a prehistoric skull was found two professors of equal distinction set about to reconstruct the appearance of its owner. One produced a drawing that resembled the face and head of a Greek god, the other drew an ape-like man having the expression of a Houndsditch murderer. There was great controversy at the time, and some years after I dined with one of the professors at my club. I had forgotten which side he had taken in the controversy, and most unfortunately mentioned the theory of his opponent. At this he flew into a great rage, and the dinner was spoilt.

The story told by fossils in the oldest rocks is fixity of type. True, the horse has been traced back to the time when he was a little animal a foot in height, but he was a horse all the time. The horse has grown, but other things have diminished. The weed called Horse’s Mane was in the carboniferous period a tree eighty feet in height.

Once during the war I entered a dense African forest of palms, counter wood, and African oaks strangled by creepers and orchids. Pineapples and rubber vines were growing wild. Large toadstools with vivid colours rose two feet from the ground, and overhead in the foliage were chattering monkeys, screaming parrots, and birds, red, blue, and green. As I rested on the stump of a tree there came over me a sense of evil, and I became afraid. In the depths of mind primordial thoughts were struggling to move, and in a moment I knew the Thing I feared. There was too much growth, too many trees, and too many fungi. All around me in this hot, moist forest I could almost hear the life force pouring out of the earth. I was too civilised, and for once had come too close to nature. Was Africa the cradle of the race, and if so did the first of mankind know this fear? The giant lizards were long gone before he came, but all the wild mammals were there. Was the cave man afraid when he and a dog lay down to sleep lightly in the entrance of their cavern? In that cave was a human family, guarded by a man and a dog — the wolf that left the pack, the only animal that puts in the forefront of its life the friendship of man. By day they hunted for food, and often on the walls of his cave the man sketched the animals he had seen. These drawings have been endured. At night he sought to read his destiny in the stars, until one star at long last foretold to the kings of the East the birth of Christ.

These are the ancestors we should honour. Without fire or iron they led the vanguard of our race in a march that perchance has lasted now for many thousands of years. The most primitive of them all was homo sapiens. Whatever his physical origin may or may not have been, he was no ape — this Man.

From A Time to Keep (1934).

Photo by Elwira Glowacz from Pexels

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This entry was posted on 1 June 2021 by in A Time to Keep, World War 1.

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