Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XI
FISHER NATURAL SELECTION AND CHANCE

A SINGLE visible bubble of gas may contain several billion molecules, all in constant tumult and flux. And yet that bubble, that uneasy assemblage of turbulent particles, will obey the laws of gases. Its behavior can be predicted with great certainty.

Charles Darwin was the first to see clearly that another assemblage of billions of shifting, moving, unruly individuals, human, animal, and plant, also might obey certain laws. The laws were those of natural selection. Darwin set them forth with great clarity and backed them with an amazing collection of proof from nature. It remained, however, for three mathematical biologists of the twentieth century to demonstrate that the laws of natural selection and of evolution function with all the precision and certainty of physical laws. Not all of the limitless movement of life could be encompassed within their formulas. What could be, proved predictable and orderly.

One of the three who subjected evolution to this test was Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, professor of genetics at Cambridge University.

Fisher was another natural mathematician. That was apparent early in his school days at Harrow, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Immediately after his graduation he became a statistician for an investment company. He later spent four years in teaching and fourteen years in scientific research before he went to University College, London, as Galton professor of eugenics. He remained there for

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