"SO YOU REALLY BELIEVE," the stranger said, "that there have always been cows like yours—as far back as the beginning of time?"
The farmer paused.
"Well, now, that's one possibility, and I hadn't really thought this through before, but it occurs to me that there's another."
"Yes! It is that Thor..."
"I'm not talking about your 'Thor', lad. I'm talkin' about my dogs. See the two of them, lying over there in front of the barn?"
"I see them."
"Did ye ever see two such unlike creatures? The tiny one has a head almost twice the size of his body, and the skinny one is half the size of a horse."
"And yet, they're both dogs. Though they could na'more breed than a cat and chicken, somewhere back in time they have a common ancestor."
"Well, I don't want to get technical, but they are still the same species."
"Ye mean they're both dogs, and that's true enough, but my horse and my donkey are more alike than they are, and they can breed. What you call 'species' isn't as clearcut a matter as ye might think. You city folks wouldn't know about such things. I produced a melon last year you wouldn't believe, especially if you had seen its ancestors."
"So you think that somehow your cow came from a dog, or a horse?"
"You city folks are thickheaded. Of course not. My wee dog didn't descend from the skinny one. They both descended from a wolf—a creature as different from each of them as they are from each other. That's just the way nature works."
"So your cow was descended from something else?"
"Seems likely, if ye follow the natural course of things. If ye think on it, a cow and a dog have a lot more family resemblance to each other than they do to a watch."
"And people, too? You think you and I descended from some animal?"
"Well, we are animals, ain't we? Skin and fat and bones and hair? We certainly get made the same way."
"But your dogs, and your melons were bred. There was human intelligence involved. It didn't just happen by chance."
"Oh. So that's what concerns ye. It's not so much of a problem. Think on it. Just because human intelligence can be involved doesn't mean it has to be."
"Of course it does. Your melons wouldn't have changed without an intelligent mind, intervening."
"But what did I do, lad? I didn't mess around inside them, like I would if I were tinkerin' with my watch. I just picked the largest and sweetest each season, and used only their seeds the next. I selected the ones I wanted, that's all."
"Yes, but it was an intelligent selection."
"I'll take the compliment, again. But I don't see why it had to be intelligent. Look, suppose we began to get hotter weather for a few years, and certain melons grew and produced seeds better in the heat. Why, most of the melons that sprouted the next year would be of that kind, wouldn't they? Ye call it intelligent selection when a man like myself does it, and I thank ye. But if nature just does it by accident you could still get a sort of natural selection. It might take longer to get a striking difference, but it could still happen. And ye don't need to go inventin' any newfangled city ideas—like your friend 'Thor'—to account for it."
The stranger stared at the cow, and then at the dogs, for a very long time. Finally, he spoke.
"I think I'll be going now."
"Don't ye be despondent, lad. It's not your fault. It comes of living in the city, all cut off from nature. You tend to forget you're an amimal yourself, and part of the natural order. You don't know about things like breeding. You tend to lose sight of the difference between a cow and a watch."
But the stranger didn't answer. He just walked silently away.