|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2002|
|How convinced was Charles Darwin about his theory of evolution? Did it gain immediate acceptance within the scientific community? What changed?|
As we discovered while researching our bookDarwin’s Leap of Faith(Harvest House, 1998), Darwin himself had serious doubts about his theory of evolution. Furthermore, the scientific world generally was entirely unconvinced as to the truth of evolution. The reasons for its subsequent acceptance lie beyond the scientific data allegedly in its behalf. Further, what was true for Darwin often remains true today: the theory of evolution is preferred philosophically because it allows one to escaped the consequences of belief in a personal God who holds one accountable for one’s actions in this life.
During the course of this series we will examine Darwin’s own doubts, his apparent motives relative to belief in evolution and how the theory was first received by the scientific community.
The National Academy of Sciences, in an official statement, declares the following: "…it was Darwin, above all others, who first marshaled the convincing critical evidence for biological evolution."
Leading evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson also cites Darwin’sThe Origin of Species(1859) as "the work that first substantially established this truth" of evolution.
Why is a discussion of Darwin’s view and the recent history of evolution important to a modern analysis?
Some argue that since the entire scientific world has now accepted Darwin’s thesis (albeit modified), and "proven" evolution true, that a discussion of Darwin’s views and their initial reception is irrelevant as far as the truth of evolution is concerned.
If evolution is a scientific fact, then this argument is valid. If it is not a scientific fact, then a discussion of both Darwin’s own doubts and the initial rejection of evolution by the scientific community are certainly relevant.
If evolution isn’t proven (to the contrary) and Darwin himself had serious reservations about his own theory, then his doubts are relevant after all. And if thereasonsthat the scientific community of Darwin’s day rejected evolution are still valid today, almost a century and a half later, then one is forced to look to nonscientific reasons for the acceptance of Darwinism.
To have both Darwin and the scientific community expressing grave doubts over evolution is hardly irrelevant. Consider an analogy. What if new evidence was uncovered that Jesus and the apostles had expressed serious doubts about Jesus’ divine nature and His role as Messiah and Savior? The modern Christian’s certainty that Jesus is God, Messiah and Savior is based squarely on New Testament manuscripts concerning Jesus’ own claims, convictions and extensive supporting evidence including Jesus’ fulfillment of messianic prophecy, His unique miracles and resurrection from the dead.
But what if it was now discovered that all this evidence turned out to be seriously misappropriated and, indeed, was just plain wrong? Worse, what if new unimpeachable manuscript evidence came to light proving Jesus to be something like the pitiable figure in Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ (1960)? Christianity would be through and with good reason—it would be a rank deception and fraud.
So if new, unimpeachable evidence is available today that disproves evolution, do not the initial doubts of Darwin and the scientific community take on new meaning? And then, doesn’t the acceptance of evolution by the entire world require a closer look to understand just why this theory became so universally accepted? The reservations of Darwin and the initial skepticism of the scientific community are consistent with the current crisis in evolutionary theory due to the continuing lack of evidence for evolution, even 150 years later.
Regardless of subsequent events, the initial concerns of Darwin and the scientific community were correct after all. And this is something important to know.
Darwin admitted that his volume, The Origin of Species (1859) was "one long argument" for evolution. But reading through The Origin of Species ;one is struck by how weak the case for evolution really is. And Darwin knew it. The data amassed are just as easily interpreted within a non-evolutionary framework. That his interpretation of the data and not the data itself was paramount in his theory is clear from his statement that, "I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stalked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine." In other words, Darwin didn’t really expect to change the mind of anyone who believed that the facts of nature were more readily explainable on the basis of creation than chance.
That Darwin had his doubts is evident from letters he wrote just after publication of The Origin of Species. In one letter to Huxley he said, "Exactly 15 months ago, when I put pen to paper for this volume, I had awful misgivings; and I thought perhaps I had deluded myself as so many have done…" and, in a letter to Lyell he stated, "I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a phantasy." Significantly, both Huxley and Lyell also had their doubts.
Even before Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, "the theory of evolution in biology was already an old, even a discredited one." It had been discredited primarily on two grounds: (1) insufficient geological time to accomplish evolution and (2) lack of a satisfactory mechanism for explaining how the process of evolution works. Today, 130 years later, with supposedly billions of geologic years to allow evolution to occur and endless speculation as to evolutionary mechanisms, the situation has not changed. Sufficient time still does not exist for evolution to occur and no credible mechanism of evolution has yet been put forth.
Evolution claims to operate through beneficial mutations and natural selection. According to Darwin, evolution happens when an organism is confronted by a changing environment. Some organisms in a population became better adapted for survival than others. In part, this is so because of beneficial mutations, incredibly rare events that alter an organism allowing it to improve. Natural selection involves the survival of those organisms best adapted to their environment; those less adapted die out. The best adapted transmit their improved genetic characteristics and populations evolve upward. On the surface, it might seem to make sense—that billions of years could produce sufficient mutations to allow things to slowly improve and change so that all life evolves upward.
But it actually doesn’t make sense at all as we showed in Darwin’s Leap of Faith. Many things in life initially seem true but aren’t—the sun rising and setting; that a given person would be trustworthy; a mirage in a desert, etc. Explanations that can seem to make sense but are false are also not unusual—astrological interpretations, critical rationalistic theories to explain Jesus’ empty tomb, explanations for why the treatment works in certain holistic health practices, etc. In terms of consequences, false explanations can run the gamut from harmless to extremely consequential. For example, in the latter case, misinterpreting demon possession as mental illness or vice versa. When examined critically there is little doubt where materialistic evolution lies.