|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003|
|In fact, even the scientific community of his own day did not accept Darwin’s theory as either valid or possible.|
Many people assume that, upon publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, its weight of argument was so convincing, belief in his theory was compelled from all quarters.
Not so. In fact most scientists initially rejected it.
It is true that within 20 years his theory had received general acceptance; but this was not so much due to the weight of argument as the prevailing climate of the times. For example, Cynthia Eagle Russett, a lecturer in American history at Yale University and specialist in American intellectual history, observes that Darwin’s theory was not so much a revolution as a catalyst for a much broader emerging change that had been waiting in the wings:
But the implications of Darwin’s theory were so vast that the Pelican Classics edition of the Origin of Species observes it “was greeted with violent and malicious criticism.”
Not only did his Origin (1859) receive constant critical review, but
The reason for such criticisms is well expressed by Michael Denton, M.D., a researcher in molecular biology and author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis:
This was true from the start. Below we present a sampling of illustrations of the critical response.
That the acceptance of Darwinism was by no means universal can be seen from the review of Henry Fawcett (professor of political philosophy at Cambridge) writing in Macmillan’s magazine for December, 1860, Vol. 3, p. 81:
As remains true today, many of the severest criticisms of Darwin’s theory were from scientists. Philosophy professor David L. Hull observes that Darwin had not “anticipated the vehemence with which even the most respected scientists and philosophers in his day would denounce his efforts as not being properly ‘scientific.’” And, “With the publication of the Origin of Species, large segments of the scientific and intellectual community, turned on him.”
As Hull demonstrates, it was not only the scientists who objected, it was also the leading philosophers of the day:
Further, the scientific reviewers were not pre-disposed against the idea: “Many of the reviewers were competent scientists honestly trying to evaluate a novel theory against the commonly accepted standards of scientific excellence, and evolutionary theory consistently came up wanting.”
Adam Sedgwick, one of the founders of the science of geology in England, a colleague of Darwin and Woodwardian professor of geology at Trinity College, Cambridge, stated in a letter to Darwin (December 1859; in Life and Letters (1877), pp. 42-45):
Sedgwick summarized his view of Darwin’s thesis as follows:
Richard Owen (M.D.), was Superintendent of the Natural History Department of the BritishMuseum and the leading comparative anatomist of his time. In the Edinburgh Review, April1860, he said “But do the facts of actual organic nature square with the Darwinian hypothesis?...Unquestionably not.” Later he refers to the “defective information which contribute, almostat each chapter” which prevent him from believing in Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection.
William Hopkins was an important mathematician who took his degree from Cambridge and was influenced in his geological studies by Adam Sedgwick. His analysis is described as “a detailed criticism of evolutionary theory on the basis of the best views then current on the nature of science.”
Hopkins’ approach was to demand of Darwin’s theory
Hopkins’ review (in which the above statements occur) comes from Fraser’s magazine, June and July, 1860. He further stated: “We venture to assert, without fear of contradiction, that any physical theory of inorganic matter which should rest on no better evidence than the theory we are considering, would be instantly and totally rejected by everyone qualified to form a judgment upon it.”
In commenting on Darwin’s method for overcoming his many difficulties, Hopkins replies as follows:
Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin was the Professor of Engineering at Glasgow University who worked with Lord Kelvin in laying the Transatlantic Cable. Jenkin’s review, quoted from The North British Review, June 1867, in the words of Darwin “has given me much trouble.”
Jenkin stated of evolution that “its untruth can, as we think, be proved...”, and “any one of the main pleas of our argument, if established, is fatal to Darwin’s theory.” He concluded, “A plausible theory should not be accepted while unproven; and if the arguments of this essay be admitted, Darwin’s theory of the origin of species is not only without sufficient support from evidence, but is proved false by a cumulative proof.”
Samuel Haughton was a Physiologist and Professor of Geology at Dublin University. In the Natural History Review (1860, Vol. 7, pp. 23-32) Haughton wondered:
Many other critical reviews could be cited but the point should be made. Darwin gathered and systematized a good deal of data, but he had proved nothing. He no more proved evolution by amassing facts than scientists of an earlier era proved the theory of phlogiston or that the world was flat by amassing facts. Facts are facts but they can be interpreted quite differently depending upon presuppositions and other considerations.
As another leading scientist of the day, Louis Agassiz of Harvard University, author of the Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, observed:
Darwin himself admitted his theory was bereft of proof where it was most needed. In a letter to H. G. Bronn he confessed, “You put very well and very fairly that I can in no one instance explain the course of modification in any particular instance,” and further, “When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory,” and finally, “I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce direct evidence of one species changing into another.” In other words, Darwin agreed he had no direct evidence for evolution.
As William Hopkins observed: “A great number of facts are mentioned as being only explicable on this theory, and might thus appear to an inattentive reader to constitute a large amount of inductive evidence. But all that is attempted to be done is to assert, not to prove, that the facts are consistent with the theory;...”
David L. Hull, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, and former visiting Associate Professor, Committee on the Conceptual Foundation of Science, University of Chicago, points out that Darwin’s deficient methodology is still used today:
Again, even Darwin suspected that his factual data were insufficient. He conceded to Asa Gray, “What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work will be grievously hypothetical, and large parts by no means worthy of being called induction, my commonest error being probably induction from too few facts.”
In the end, critical reviews gave Darwin no end of trouble and caused him to constantly revise The Origin of Species. After the “most cutting review” of St. George Jackson Mivart, Darwin thought, “I shall soon be viewed as the most despicable of men.” In a letter to J. D. Hooker January 16, 1869, Darwin complained, “It is only about two years since the last edition of the Origin, and I am fairly disgusted to find how much I have to modify, and how much I ought to add;...”
All of this is why Michael Denton concludes that:
In conclusion, Darwin’s theory was subject to a considerable amount of valid criticism immediately after publication. As we documented in Darwin’s Leap of Faith (1998), the critics were right all along and the scientists and theologians who accepted Darwinism on naturalistic or philosophic grounds were wrong. Evolution came to be an accepted theory not because it was ever proven but because people wanted it to be true. Its appeal was that it provided a seeming scientific explanation for living things as well as a seeming testable mechanism for the origin of those things—natural selection.
Not only was Darwin unable to answer his best critics, but in the subsequent 140 years, neither have modern scientists been able to answer theirs. As Michael Denton observes:
From day one evolutionists have had serious, and, we think fatal problems with their theory. In light of the evolutionary establishment’s constant refrain of “evolution is a fact,” those frank enough to admit such difficulties should be commended.