Q: Duckbilled platypus – result of divine distraction, or alternate universe crossover?
A: I’m going to have to go with neither on this one. I’m uncertain about the whole divinity thing, but my thinking is: if there were a creature resulting from divine distraction it wouldn’t be the platypus. I’d put my money on one of the nudibranchs or maybe one of the stranger weirdies of the Galapagos. If anything, the platypus is the result of divine inspiration; it has a bill that can detect electric fields, and the fine-detail work on its cuteness is just superb.
As to its near-interdimensional oddness, I will admit that an egg-laying mammal is more than a bit unusual. But I also think that the whole platypus controversy says a lot about social impressions, and how resistant we can be when a belief that we’ve inherited from science turns out to be wrong. In fact, while most people will tell you that the platypus is weird, I think many of them would be hard-pressed to tell you why the platypus is stranger than any other animal. The idea of a warm-blooded creature that hatches its young doesn’t really shock us anymore. Which means that the very foundation of its strangeness, its failure to fit into the then-dominant taxonomy of Biology, has in effect passed away; and yet we continue to remember that this animal probably won’t find a date to the prom.
In an ideal world, science would be able to graciously (and swiftly) change its core principles when faced with evidence that refutes a dominant theory. But then, I’m pretty attached to my beliefs too.