The Darwinian Thesis
In 1859 Charles
Darwin published his pivotal work On the Origin of the Species. Humanism
had finally found an axis for a world wide revolution. The search for a
naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe was one of
the great quests of humanism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
and the Age of Reason promised that science would deliver such a new
world view. Charles Darwin was the supremely adapted instrument for
such a task; exacting scientist, theologically restrained, and
personally reserved. The concepts he articulated were likewise modest
and when T.H. Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, first read the Origin he
is reported to have said, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of
that" (Origin, p. xv). The simplest form of the central claims
of Darwin's theory may be arranged as a syllogistic argument which he
himself provided. The argument was as follows: (1) since there have
been long ages, (2) since organic beings vary, (3) since organic beings
increase by geometrical powers, then: " I think it
would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred
useful to each being's own welfare, in the same way as so many
variations have occurred useful to man" (Origin, p. 126). These
premises and the conclusion have been summarized in the naturalistic
theory of origins called "descent with modification through natural
selection" (Origin, p. 343). We will now consider the basic
premises and the conclusion in order.
One of the crucial
foundations for the Darwinian revolution was the principle of
uniformitarianism. This principle was first advanced by James Hutton
who argued that the geological structures of the earth could be
explained by the work of long ages of time. Charles Lyell later became
the most effective advocate for abandonment of the Biblical view of
earth's origin, which he called the "Mosaic system" of geology, in
favor of the view that all the features of the Earth's surface were
produced by natural forces operating for long ages. His arguments that
the Earth's crust was the product of thousands of millions of years of
activity convinced many that there was no need for explanations
motivated by the Biblical record of the Genesis Flood or subsequent
natural catastrophes. His principle of uniformitarianism can be stated
as follows: The causes which shape the Earth's surface in the present
are the only ones that have operated in the past and they have always
acted at the same rate, or "the present is the key to the past."
Lyell's influence in geology later brought about a nearly complete
abandonment of what was then called "catastrophism" and also laid the
foundations for evolutionary biology.
Darwin assumed this view of earth history and considered it beyond
dispute. He spent very little time in the Origin on the defense
of uniformatariansim and assumed that all those who were geologically
literate had been "inculcated" in Lyell's views (Origin, p.
292). The theory of descent with modification was dependant on the
existence of long ages of time in order for the minute variations he
observed in the present to be accumulated in innumerable generations in
the past. There was no room for catastrophes in earth history because,
as both Darwin and Lyell understood, this admission would allow for the
possibility that the Genesis Flood was an adequate explanation for the
appearance of the Earth's surface. It is important to note that Darwin
took Lyell's books Principles of Geology and Elements of
Geology on the Beagle where he was supposed to have
formulated his theory. Further, it was Lyell who encouraged his young
friend Charles Darwin to publish his theory before Alfred Russell
Wallace published a similar view.
The backdrop for
Darwin's principle of biological variation was the common notion of the
"immutability of the species." The crucial philosophical components of
this idea had originated with Plato and Aristotle. According to Plato
there were a "limited number of fixed, unchangeable 'ideas' underlying
the observed variability, with the eidos (ideas) being the
only thing that is fixed and real" (Origin, p. xix). According
to Aristotle all of nature could be arranged in a "continuous series in
which each link would be almost indistinguishable ... from the lowest
organisms to the highest" (Durant, pp. 65-66). This scale of nature, or
Scala Naturae, was the precursor of what would later be
know as the "Great Chain of Being." This quasi-theological theory was
based on Aristotle's Scala Naturae with the addition of angels
and God attached at the top, owing to the influence of deism and
Christianity in the west during this period. This construct should be
understood as a syncretic amalgam of Greek philosophy and Christian
doctrine possessing profound internal inconsistencies, since the
Biblical conception of God is one of transcendence; and therefore, he
is completely distinct from his creation. One of the logical deductions
of this view was the "immutability of the species." We must, however,
distinguish between the Biblical idea of "created kinds," or categories
in which each original creation could reproduce "according to its kind"
(Genesis 1:12), and the theory of immutable species.
The first evidence Darwin called upon for biological variation was
familiar to most people of that day, since variation due to artificial
selection, or domestication, had yeilded so many important results. It
was straight forward to make reference to such cases as the breeding of
horses, cattle, and pigeons. Many details are given for the variation
of pigeons, since Darwin was a member of the London Pigeon Clubs and
personally conducted experiments in artificial selection (Origin, pp.
20-21). An important case was made for the power of this kind of
selection, even though intelligently made, since it showed that
variations within species were easily achieved. The key was man's power
of accumulative selection (Origin, p. 30), or as Darwin said,
"I am convinced that the accumulative action of Selection ... is the
predominant Power" (Origin, p. 43).
The next category of evidence of biological variation was taken from
the natural world without the influence of intelligent selection.
Darwin spent a great deal of time arguing that the differences between
what were known to be variations within species through breeding, and
those classified as distinct species in nature were comparatively
small. When considering what might constitute a definition of species
Darwin concluded that, "the opinion of naturalists having sound
judgment and wide experience seems the only guide to follow" (Origin,
p. 47). In nature, just as in domestication, what were
selected as "advantages" were inherited by their offspring, but now
these would allow them to become dominant over their compatriots. On
this view Darwin concluded that the distinction between species and
variations within species was arbitrary and; therefore, species were not
The next major
concept described by Darwin was referred to as the "struggle for
existence." This idea was important since Darwin believed that it
allowed Nature to replace intelligence in the selection process so that
speciation would continue without guidance. Herein, lies the central
theme of Darwin's thesis:
All these results,
... follow inevitably from the struggle for life. Owing to this
struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever
cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of
any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic
beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that
individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The
offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of
the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a
small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each
slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural
Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection.
We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results,
and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation
of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature.
But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power
incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's
feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art. (Origin,
argued that if the intelligent selection of man in producing variations
in species can be replaced by the a process of natural selection, then
why not replace the "apparent design" of life itself with that same
process in Nature. It is important to observe how Darwin has
metaphorically personified Nature as the predominant "Power" and source
of nature itself.
The principles of Thomas Malthus and the idea of a "struggle for
existence" were the seedbed for Darwin's proposal of Natural Selection
as the efficient power for the progress of evolution. The principle
that Malthus laid down was stated as follows: "Population when
unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only
in an arithmetic ratio" (Taylor, p. 61). With this principle and a
great deal of pessimism Malthus envisioned man as a brute-beast and;
therefore, argued that disease, famine, infanticide, and warfare were
legitimate checks on human population and should not be discouraged.
This idea was also popularly applied to nature as illustrated by the
famous quote from Alfred Tennyson, "Nature red in tooth and claw." For
many, the harsh realities of the rise of the Industrial Revolution
seemed to vindicate a Malthusian outlook of human affairs. Whatever
Darwin may have thought of the application of these ideas to human
populations he certainly felt obliged to credit Malthus for his own use
of this principle in natural selection (Origin, p. 63). In this
context he concluded that the struggle for existence was most severe
between species of the same genus (Origin, p. 76).
With this background the evidence for the power of natural selection
was seen as compelling. Everywhere one could expect to see natural
selection at work in "the preservation of favorable variations and the
rejection of injurious variations" (Origin, p. 81). Since in
the long run only the strong would survive, Darwin concluded that
modifications among the favored races, due to natural selection, "shall
not be in the least degree injurious" (Origin, p. 86). Darwin's
illustrations of the action of natural selection include several
"imaginary cases" such as: increased nectar excretion in flowers
resulting in increased distribution of pollen by bees, a more complete
separation of sexes in plants allowing increased efficiency by division
of labor, and an increased length proboscis in hive-bees permitting
greater productivity in the acquisition of nectar (Origin, pp.
93-95). A crucial aspect of the action of natural selection was the
domination of favored raves in the competition for mastery of a common
niche. This was inferentially illustrated by observations Darwin
actually made for a turf of grass. In this case, a plot of natural
grasses were observed to contain twenty species, eighteen genera, and
eight orders (Origin, p. 114). From these observations Darwin
concluded that only those species which were sufficiently different
from each other could co-inhabit a certain environment, since they were
not in direct competition for the same niche. In the end, this view of
competition within natural selection requires that the "improved"
species dominate the environment to the extent of extermination of all
local and closely related rivals. Thus, Darwin described what has been
popularly referred to as as the principle of "survival of the fittest."
With the assumption
of an enormous lapse of time, the evidence for limited biological
variation, and the acceptance of the struggle for existence, Darwin
concluded that variation could continue on indefinitely and ultimately
account for the origin all life on earth--including man.
The common view of
the history of Christian motivation of the sciences is clearly
checkered. Though no one should doubt the importance of the motivating
force of the Biblical idea of a Creator/Lawgiver God who created man in
his own image so that "man can think the thoughts of God after him," it
is also clear that the conflict between the church and humanism has
never ceased. The struggle between the Catholic church and Galileo
largely intensified the antagonism between Christianity and
naturalistic humanism. Then, with the triumph of the Darwinian
revolution in the sciences, humanism was seen as ultimately vindicated.
Since man was not qualitatively distinct from God on the Great Chain of
Being, God could be replaced by man on the pinnacle of progress. Thus,
did the Age of Reason bring in a new era.
But what about the
scientific claims of evolution as an explanation for the origin of
life? Were they truly based on a solid empirical foundation? In what
follows I will attempt to show that humanistic theories of origins are
based upon the concept of naturalism and that as Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions, "a decision of that kind can only be made on
faith" (Kuhn, p. 158). The first important principle that must be
established is a definition of what constitutes true science. Although
Kuhn had no concern for precise definitions (Kuhn, p. 160), there is
reason for concern about defining science merely by symptoms rather
than by an objective standard for demarcation. The method used by all
successful scientists throughout history is now called the "Baconian
scientific method." That method is given as follows:
Scientific Method: (Applies to naturally recurring processes in the
Direct or indirect in the present.
2. Problem: Question posed about natural process that is relevant and
testable in the present.
3. Hypothesis: An educated proposal for an explanation of naturally
recurring processes in the present and for the future.
4. Experiment: Direct test of hypothesis in the present which is
possible to repeat in the future.
5. Theory: Scientific theories are hypotheses about the present and
future confirmed by experiments in the present. They will be
judged by their predictive value in the future.
The first thing to observe is
that, while Darwin did use this method "whenever possible" (Origin, p.
x), by definition he could not observe events or process in the past
and therefore he chose to rely upon an "alternative" inference by
analogy in the present. In point of fact, Darwin relied heavily
on analogies between processes in the present for extrapolation into
the past. Darwin was aware that this was a doubtful practice and
admitted that "analogy may be a deceitful guide", but pushing ahead he
wrote, "Nevertheless, ... I should infer from analogy that probably all
the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended
from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed" (Origin,
p. 484). The important distinction to be made between the
Baconian scientific method of inquiry and this "alternative" is that in
confirmation we are able to observe the actual processes themselves;
however, when we take observations in the present to infer that
processes or events may have occurred in the past we must recognize
that this is mere speculation and not logically guaranteed or
No one can fault Darwin for his ignorance of the limits of biological
variation. He accurately stated for the science of his day that, "The
laws governing inheritance are quite unknown" (Origin, p. 13).
It was not until 1865 that Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk,
established the laws of biological inheritance. And it was not for
another thirty years that these laws were rediscovered and used to
replace Darwin's mechanisms which relied upon Lamarkian "acquired
characters" and "blending inheritance" (Origin, p. 15, 37). He
certainly could not have known that he had confounded microevolution,
the conservative process that allows the expression of latent
information pre-encoded for the survival of organisms within a
category, with macroevolution the supposedly "creative" process
by which mutations appear with new information providing variations
sufficient for unique organic categories. Further, Darwin could not
have know about the astronomical information content of the genetic
code which Watson and Crick discovered in 1953, with its precise
processes of self replication, error checking, and self repair. Thus,
Darwin stated, "I can see no limit to this power, in slowly and
beautifully adapting each form to the most complex relations of life.
The theory of natural selection, even if we looked no further than
this, seems to me to be in itself probable" (Origin, p. 467).
Now we can see that Darwin had observed one process, microevolution,
and assumed that it was the same process as macroevolution and
therefore, he made an incorrect inference. Largely because of a lacking
knowledge of genetic inheritance Darwin was not able to analyze certain
important facts about variation and; therefore he was not able to "see"
the flaw in his use of inferential analogies. Today, we must recognize
that the study of "origins" is intrinsically outside of the domain of
Darwin and the
are judged by their predictive power. One of the central predictions of
evolution is that descent with modification in organisms occurs in the
finely graded variations. This should have been observed at some point
in the contemporary world, but for obvious reasons Darwin spent a great
deal of time explaining why he believed that intermediates became
extinct through competition for domination of a biological niche.
Whether it is valid to argue that no family line could simultaneously
survive at any place in the entire natural world is questionable;
however, Darwin felt compelled to argue most strenuously in explanation
of the lack of fossil evidence for intermediates. As he stated in his
The geological record [is] extremely imperfect,
and [this] will to a large extent explain why we do not find
interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and
existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. He who rejects
these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject
my whole theory. (Origin, p. 342)
Though it was
clearly the intent of Darwin to explain away the lack of evidence for
his theory we should not feel obliged to accept a "scientific" theory
which lacks empirical evidence. First it must be observed that the
number of transitional forms at some time in evolutionary history would
have to be, in practical terms, infinite. Darwins's hypothetical
"finely graded variations" must have lived at some point in Earth
history and no matter how unfavorably he envisioned the probability of
fossilization it is inconceivable that no intermediate fossils could be
found. Yet, once again in Darwin's day the knowledge of the fossil
record was comparatively small. Today that claim can no longer be
maintained. In Luther Sunderland's important book, Darwin's Enigma,
he explains the present state of knowledge of the fossil
Now, after over
120 years of the most extensive and painstaking geological exploration
of every continent and ocean bottom, the picture is infinitely more
vivid and complete than it was in 1859. Formations have been discovered
containing hundreds of billions of fossils and our museums now are
filled with over 100 million fossils of 250, 000 different species. The
availability of this profusion of hard scientific data should permit
objective investigators to determine if Darwin was on the right track.
(Sunderland, p. 9)
On behalf of the New
York State Board of Regents, Luther Sunderland interviewed the top
paleontology experts at five of the world's greatest fossil museums.
The results are as follows:
No museum official
offered any real fossil evidence that any one of the various
invertebrate evolved into vertebrate fish (Sunderland, p. 63).
None of the museum
officials could produce any fossil evidence of an intermediate ancestor
connecting the amphibians with fishes (Sunderland, p. 64).
None of the five
museum officials could offer a single example of a transitional series
of fossilized organisms that would document the transformation of one
basically different type to another (Sunderland, p. 88)
In the words of Dr.
Collin Patterson, Senior Principle Scientific Officer of the
Paleontology Department of the British Museum of Natural History,
I fully agree with
your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary
transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would
certainly have included them ... Yet Gould and the American Museum
people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional
forms ... I will lay it on the line -- there is not one such fossil for
which one could make a watertight argument (Sunderland, p. 89).
It appears that we
should take at least some of Darwin's words to heart: "He who rejects
these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject
my whole theory."
According to Kuhn the rejection of one world view, or paradigm, for
another is not done strictly on the basis of evidence, but by a leap of
"faith." Now, if we define "faith" as making a decision based on
limited evidence, then all people make decisions based on such faith
since no one has completely exhaustive knowledge, but if on the other
hand, we define "faith" as making a decision in spite of the evidence,
then it appears that we have the kind of faith required to make a
modern scientific paradigm shift. Once again, according to Kuhn, " In
the sciences might makes right" (Kuhn, p. 167), therefore it appears
that the present domination of the of sciences, by the evolutionary
species of scientist, is sufficient evidence for the "fact" of
Prophetic Vision for the Future
In Darwin's summary
chapter he makes a number of what he might have considered to be
scientific predictions, but which he finally called "a prophetic glance
into the futurity" (Origin, p. 489). Some of those
failed prophecies are as follows:
There will be an
end of the disputes concerning the definition of species (Origin, p.
484). In this case we need only consider the current debate between
Cladists who favor the principle of typology, as opposed to
Neo-Darwinists who favor the principle of phylogeny.
There will be
an open discussion of "rudimentary", or vestigial organs and
embryological phylogenies (Origin, p. 485-486). In this
case the work of Ernst Haekel in making a long list of supposedly
useless, or vestigial organs and in the development of the "Biogenic
Law" were predicted by the theory of evolution. Today, virtually every
vestigial organ has been removed from Haekel's list since we have
discovered the functional necessity for them all. Further, the
"Biogenic Law" that in the development of the embryo an organism
portrays its evolutionary past, has now been rejected by virtually all
There will be a
better understanding of the effects in variation from the environment,
and of use and disuse of characters in relation to biological
inheritance (Origin, p. 486). In this case no evolutionist,
or creationist, today believes that the Lamarkian view of inheritance
The use of
fossils to date rocks, and the use of rocks to date fossils as a "fair
measure of the lapse of actual time" (Origin, p. 487-488).
In this case we are still using this form of circular reasoning.
There will be a
new foundation on which to build psychology (Origin, p. 488).
Unfortunately this has been fulfilled in the form of Social Darwinism.
It is hard to estimate the full effect of this terrible prophecy, but
one need only consider Nazism, Communism, exploitive capitalism,
Freudian psychology, and the racism of "evolved superiority," to get a
sense of the scope of its effects in society.
Finally, in a very
uncharacteristic fashion, Darwin removed his theological restraint and
made one last bold assertion and prophecy which reveals how potent
ideas on origins may be. Compare and contrast the following:
We may feel certain
that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken,
and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look
with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable
length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of
each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress
towards perfection (Origin, p. 489).
First of all, you must
understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and
following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this
`coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on
as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately
forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth
was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of
that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present
heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of
judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:3-7).
With uniformitarianism and evolutionism as the
poles, the Darwinian revolution has set the world into a motion which
will ultimately be perfected in the fire.
1. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, reprint of 1st. ed.
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964).
2. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, (New York: Washington
Square Press, 1961).
3. Ian T. Taylor, In the Minds of Men, 3rd. ed. (Toronto: TFE
4. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd
ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
5. Luther D. Sunderland, Darwin's Enigma, 4th ed. (Santee,
California: Master Books, 1988).