The Origin of Species

By Means of Natural Selection,
Or The
Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle
For Life

Charles Darwin

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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.


Biological Variation

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 immutable.


Malthusian Population Dynamics

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, p. 61)


Ultimately, Darwin 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."


Summary Conclusion

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:


The Baconian Scientific Method: (Applies to naturally recurring processes in the present.)

1. Observation: 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 necessarily reasonable.

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 scientific inquiry.


Darwin and the Fossil Record

Scientific theories 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 summary chapter:

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 record:

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, London:

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 evolution.


Darwin's 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 evolutionists.

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 is valid.

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 Publishing, 1991).
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).


Tim Nordgren, 8-2-96