Beneath the crest on the front of my sweatshirt, the motto read, “rerum cognoscere causas.”
“What does that mean asked someone in the Glastonbury pub?”
“To know the causes of things,” I said.
“What does that mean?” they replied.
There didn’t seem much point in continuing the conversation. Feeling an outsider at the London School of Economics, I now found I felt myself an outsider in my own community.
Knowing the causes of things had been a theme throughout my childhood.
My father worked as a radio and radar technician on naval jets and seemed regularly to have to attend training courses. It didn’t occur to me that the constant change in technology that required my father’s attention was something that should have been reassuring, it meant the military were constantly making progress.
Being inquiring meant being discontent with those who unquestioningly accepted dogma of any sort. A confrontation of a spirit of inquiry and dogmatic assumptions would come when a man from a nearby village came to see my hairdresser mother for a haircut. The man belonged to an evangelical chapel that sat below the hill on which our village was situated. He was a fundamentalist Christian who rejected science and espoused creationism. Worst of all, he would insist upon challenging my father with his views.
Neither side ever made any ground, but I came to understand that science was something that progressed, that it developed by constant testing and questioning of theories and a preparedness to set aside arguments that were no longer tenable.
In the decades that followed those conversations, my father continued to adapt. We bought him an iPad for his eightieth birthday. Waking at 6.30 each morning, the first thing he did was to open the BBC app to read the day’s news. After lunch, he would sit at his computer desk, open YouTube on the browser, and watch black and white war films and Westerns.
Science, technology, a search for the causes of all things were assumptions. He could not understand those who believed things that were not proven.
Watching the news this evening, he would have been unsurprised by the stories of the virus having mutated. Natural selection would dictate such a process. The strain of virus that will emerge at each stage is the strain that has survived, it is the strain that has been able to continue despite government efforts to prevent the process of transmission. Of course, each strain that emerges will be stronger than its predecessors, had it not been so, it would not have emerged.
Were there a possibility of recreating those conversations between my father and the creationist having his haircut, the adaptation of the virus would have been a good illustration of natural selection, a process without consciousness or design.