Horse running through field

Pedigree According to Darwin

by Roger Lyons

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species succeeded in convincing most of the naturalists of his time that species difference is generational in nature, but he offended the faith of the clergy, who thought he went too far. Darwin thought the faith of the clergy didn’t go far enough.

You see, Darwin embraced the idea of a primordial Eve who was the Mother of us all, and he found inspiration in the thought of it. Darwin’s admiration for the natural world was magnified by his discovery that it had evolved in the well-ordered form of God’s “great Tree of Life.” And, since then, science has confirmed what hitherto could only be taken on faith. In that respect, science has done religion a great, unrequited favor.

Suppose your pedigree could be traced back to its origin and your entire human ancestry could be shown extending itself on a huge video display. It would look like the familiar binary tree that is used for thoroughbred pedigrees, the distinctive dynamic of which is that the number of nodes, for male and female, doubles with each generational remove. But have you ever thought about what happens at the end of it all?

For an undetermined number of generations backward, the number of individual ancestors would increase with each generational remove, but at a certain point, while the number of nodes in the tree would continue to double as your ancestry traces backward from one generation to the next, the number of individual ancestors occupying those nodes would begin to decrease, some fewer and fewer names distributed in increasing concentrations among the multiplying nodes.

Eventually, different parts of the tree would terminate at different generational removes as the entire structure approaches the common origin; and you would know your pedigree to be complete when all of the female nodes are occupied by a single name–that of Eve. Thus, all our pedigrees arrive at the same beginning.

Darwin’s only offense against the clergy was to render as fact the most primordial–and deeply repressed–spiritual longing: for all life to be one body.

3 comments to “Pedigree According to Darwin”

  • John writes:

    Thanks Roger,

    An insightful post and quite different from what I read on Raceday 360 most days!

  • Roger Lyons writes:

    Thanks, John. I owe this to a friend who called with a question about binary trees. It just got me thinking.


  • frank mitchell writes:


    This is fascinating, as usual. Pedigrees, both human and equine, tend to encourage us in the perception of ancestry as increasing, whereas in reality, ’tis the other way round.

    Really most insightful.


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