The Oxford Evolution Debate
The door of the modest chamber on the upper floor admits a steady file of undergraduates, clerics, women, and scientists. Soon there are more than a hundred people present, perhaps two: no one has counted, and estimates of crowds are notoriously inaccurate.
As news of the event spreads through the Saturday morning, academics stream north to the museum: geologists, astronomers, natural historians, chemists, physicians — a crowd more usually found swallowing one of the Bishop’s sermons in the University Church. Shuffling, they take their seats. The room fills. Some estimate 700 people are present. Others over a thousand. The room itself is too small to hold such a number.
A queue forms outside the door of those who had forgotten or were simply unaware of the debate. As they enter, they are replaced in the queue by those eager to attend who have yet to be born. The room grows tight as a corset, the air exhausted. Reality surrenders: the chamber’s walls and ceiling recede until it is as high and wide as St Paul’s Cathedral. Uncounted thousands spill through the door like water.
It is not enough. Unable to accommodate what has to happen, space uncurls its tight dimensions and accepts the ranks of Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones and Dominions who hang like lit sconces along the walls; accepts, without demur, those who climb the stairs from the servants quarters, the elephant whose neck contains the same number of bones as the giraffe that swayingly follows on stilt-like legs built on the same plan as those of the mouse who shares the hand a monkey uses to swing into the room, which echoes the spidery wing bones of the bat that flits ahead of an air-swimming dolphin with its spade-like fins. They sit together, ominous and unwelcome like long lost relatives come for the reading of the will.
Though the room grows impossibly large, many are turned away before proceedings begin.
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