George Walford: The Wets Have It

Elaine Morgan’s The Descent of Woman sets out with persuasive verve the theory originated by Alister Hardy, that human anatomy and physiology, and the gap in the fossil record, are best explained by assuming that the race passed through an aquatic period. In his Foreword to her later and less popular book on the same theme, The Aquatic Ape; a theory of human evolution, [1] Hardy remarks that her views are not to be dismissed because of her amateur status, for some highly respected evolutionists were not professionally qualified. Alfred Russell Wallace never attended a university, Mendel became a monk at an early age, and Darwin himself had no academic training in biology; he began the study of medicine but abandoned it, taking a pass degree in theology.

Hardy is supporting a supporter of his views; whether he would extend the same approval to a non-academic who criticised them may be a question, but more than his opinion is involved. Progress in thinking entails not only accretion but also reversal, rejection and repudiation of the established; with universities acting as bastions of conventional knowledge it is hardly surprising that some of the big advances should take place outside them. Indeed, the structure of scientific research almost seems designed to discourage the big leaps forward. Dependent upon funding agencies, researchers are under heavy pressure to concentrate upon what seems reasonable now, while substantial novelty regularly appears wildly unreasonable until it becomes familiar.

[1] Morgan E. 1982, The Aquatic Ape; a theory of human evolution. London: Souvenir Press.

from Ideological Commentary 42, November 1989.