Having finished The Rainbow and the Worm, I am now reading the fascinating Combes book about Parasites [The Art of Being a Parasite]. I sent the following email message to my sister, who agreed with me:
"I am reading the Combes book slowly and enjoying it a great deal. The following thought struck me about it:
There has of course been an enormous and rather acrimonious debate about "neo-Darwinism" and all, in the course of which the critics of neo-Darwinism make it sound as though there is nothing at all to the theory of natural selection. It is nice to read a book that is replete with remarkable examples of the most elaborate adaptations, in critters one had never before heard of, just to remind oneself of what a powerful explanatory tool the theory of natural selection is in the right hands. I don't mean to suggest that those wonderful examples settle the debate, which has been fruitful and valuable, especially in digging beneath the surface of species to get at what happens at the molecular level, but it really is true that the sheer fecundity of variation in the natural world is astonishing, and surely natural selection explains a great deal of it."
Once again, I will say, what I have said several times before on this blog: One really ought not to write about the philosophy of science without immersing oneself in a variety of the many books setting forth the remarkable work now being done in a number of branches of Biology. Almost sixty years ago, when I was having tea with Bertrand Russell at his home outside London, he said that if he had it to do over again, he would have become a physicist rather than a philosopher. ["And," I thought, when he said it, "you would probably have won the Nobel Prize for Physics rather than for Literature, which was all that the Nobel Committee had available for you."] If Russell were alive today, I think he would become a biologist, for that is where the most exciting intellectual is now being done.
Reading the Combes book is slow going, even though it is engagingly and clearly written with first-rate diagrams. I mean, unless you are up on all the species of metacircariae, it is a trifle hard tom keep track of the infinitely various ways in which they have adapted to their hosts. But I think you can recapture some of the wonder that Darwin must have felt as he discovered, over and over again, the astonishing adaptations throughout the world of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.