Darwin's theory and its criticism
In order to establish his doctrine, some fifty years after Lamarck; Darwin advanced many more seemingly significant facts than his predecessor. Unfortunately, however; Darwin thought everything could be explained through the postulate of the all-pervading power of natural selection.
There is no doubt, moreover, that Darwin was strongly motivated by sociological considerations, factors which should have no place in a scientific doctrine, and yet his work is still very well known today. The following reasons may account for his continuing fame:
Darwin’s arguments are extremely cleverly presented, and often subtlety is more effective than the rigorousness of the arguments themselves. Nor should we overlook the satisfaction of certain scientists who were quick to use Darwin’s theory to discredit Biblical teachings on the subject of the origins of man and the fixity of species. Indeed, with regard to the evolution of species, Darwin’s theory was used to prove that man was descended from the great apes. In fact, however, the animalistic origin of man is an idea that was first put forward by Haeckel in 1868.
It is quite common today for people to confuse Darwinism with evolution a misconception that is extremely annoying because it is totally wrong. Darwin himself presented his theory in quite a different way, as the following extract from On the Origin of Speciesshows:
“Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life... Can it, then, be thought improbable, Being that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations?
If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection.”
In actual fact, Darwin indicated that he intended to put forward a theory on the origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. This became the banner of the evolutionists, which they brandished in the fight between materialistic philosophy and religious faith. The same banner is still being waved today in the same spirit.
Darwin has remained one of the idols of the atheistic arsenal, always ready to support whatever ideas bring grist to their mill. As the reader of the present book will see in chapter after chapter, the existence of evolution, even when applied to the human species, no longer constitutes an argument that undermines religious faith. Indeed, the latest studies of biological processes within the cell reveal facts that are significant in a different way from the flimsily based questions, which once formed the subject of discussion. They raised points concerning the organization of life and in fact lead us in a direction totally opposite to the main subject of past controversies.
All in all, Darwin’s doctrine is very straight forward. He notes the obvious fact that there is a wide variety in the number of characteristics present in individuals belonging to a particular species, and he provides reasons for this that are fairly similar to those of Lamarck. Darwin states that the reproductive cells are modified as well, and that newly acquired attributes are hereditary.
He goes further than Lamarck, however, when tie talks of the advantages derived from certain modifications that nature, by means of selection, perpetuates through the elimination of the weakest in favour of those most able to survive this pitiless process. According to Darwin, there is also a process of sexual selection in which the females choose the strongest males...
The concept of natural selection exercised a tremendous fascination, and even today, the followers of Darwin consider the advocate of natural selection to be the greatest genius who ever worked in the field of natural sciences. He still remains one of the most venerated zoologists. The highest honours were accorded to him at his death. Although his work had provided arguments to support atheism in the confrontation between religion and science that raged in the second half of the nineteenth century, his mortal remains were interred by the British nation in Westminster Abbey, London.
In actual fact, Darwin’s work contains two aspects: The first is scientific, but in spite of the impressive quantity of data observed by Darwin, when all is said and done, the scientific aspect is far from solid; while his observations are extremely interesting from the point of view of the various species, they do not tell us very much about evolution itself and that is quite a different matter. The second aspect, which is philosophical, is very strongly stressed by Darwin and very clearly expressed.
The ideas of malthus as applied to the animal kingdom
Darwin does not hide the influence of Malthus’ ideas on his own concept of natural selection. The following quotation from Darwin is taken from P. P. Grasses work `L’homme en accusation’ (Man Stands Accused): “In the next chapter the. Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase, will be treated of. This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.” This statement appears ‘in the introduction to the second edition of On the Origin of Species, 1860.
Before applying a socio economic theory to data observed in the animal kingdom a field that by definition has nothing to do with socio economic theory, Darwin had indeed pursued very logically his thoughts concerning the natural phenomena he had so carefully observed. From 1831 to 1836, he accompanied the mission of the ship the Beagle in the South Atlantic and the Pacific, serving as a naturalist. The voyage provided Darwin with ample opportunity to observe on land.
Thus he was struck by the modifications displayed in the species studied, corresponding to the places in which they lived. From this he derived the notion of an absence of fixity, and he compared this to the selective breeding of domestic animals by humans in an effort to improve the various species.
The question that sprang to his mind was: How could selection be applied to organisms living in their natural state? By this I think what he probably meant was: Do the factors that man uses when making his selections for the purpose of cross breeding animals possess an equivalent in nature? There does indeed seem to be spontaneous selection between animals in their natural state. Thus a question was raised and a hypothesis suggested, but in the answer that followed there was no certainty whatsoever.
It is very difficult to understand how Darwin could have found justification for this theory in the ideas put forward by Malthus. The later was an Anglican clergyman whose initial interest was in demographic factors and their economic consequences. In 1798, he anonymously published an Essay on the Principle of Population in which he proposed various solutions. Some of them are totally inhuman, such as the famous Poor Law, which abolished assistance to those who produced nothing and lived off the rich. As far as Malthus was concerned, selection operated among human beings:
Only those most able to produce deserved to survive, those less favoured by nature were destined to disappear. In view of the dreadful misery present among the working classes at this early stage in the industrial revolution, such total lack of basic human charity is staggering. Darwin saw interesting ideas in the propositions of Malthus, and he applied to human beings the hypothesis of a selective process that ensured the survival of the fittest and most able at the expense of the weak a selection that nature itself would operate.
Those are the facts, and if Darwin’s statement were not there, written in black and white, who would ever think of associating his early ideas with the pitilessly rigid prescriptions of Malthus? In `L’homme en accusation’ (Man Stands Accused) P. P. Grasse is extremely critical of Darwin for having drawn his inspiration from Malthus and for the unfortunate influence he created:
“Due to its basic precepts and final conclusions, Darwinism is the most antireligious and most materialistic doctrine in existence.” P. P. Grasse is amazed that Christian men of science do not seem to be aware of this. He goes on to note that “Karl Marx was much more perceptive. When he read On the Origin of Species, he recognized the materialistic, atheistic inspiration of the work. That is why he admired it so much and why he used it in the way he did. In its pages, Marx found the material needed to dissolve all religious belief, an opinion shared by the founders of the Soviet Union, especially Lenin... They created a Museum of Darwinism in Moscow in order to combat `Christian obscurantism’ with the help of scientific data!”
Criticism of Darwin’s theory
It is patently clear that if left to them, animals or plants that contain a defect or infirmity will be the first to disappear. There is little need to cite examples supporting this statement of the obvious. But to go from this to saying that selection in nature ensures only the survival of the strongest and fittest is quite a different matter. Our response must be much more subtle.
When we observe animal populations living within a certain territory, we are well aware that a system of balances is in operation; even though the balances may not be the same everywhere in one section of the territory a species predominates, in, another it is supplanted by a different species. In cases such as this, there is no doubt that selection is operating within a single population; but it does not influence biological evolution as a whole.
Observations are further distorted by the arrival of cataclysms or extreme changes in climate over the ages. Such events may affect vast areas, striking blindly, and without any of the selective influences one might expect to find in the disappearance of a population: Flooding from rivers or the sea, or fires for example, can cause great devastation, but that does not mean that their victims were specially selected. Likewise during the various geological eras, glaciations struck indiscriminately.
An objection to Darwin’s theory that P. P. Grasse raises is the fact that death does not always make a distinction. It does not always kill the weakest and preserve the strongest, as Darwin would like us to think. P. P. Grasse gives precise examples of cases where it is not possible to know, at ‘a certain stage in the metamorphosis of living beings, why it is that one batch evolves normally and another does not. When animals fight, it is not always the strongest and best equipped who win the battle:
The percentage of animals who are victorious depends on factors such as chance and circumstance. The idea of sexual selection is also open to considerable criticism: It is very unrealistic to imagine that the female always chooses the strongest male, .for the element of chance in such encounters outweighs individual preferences.
What evidence is there of the power of selection to provoke the emergence of new forms? Darwin likened natural selection to the artificial selection practised by man.
In actual fact, however, artificial selection does not create new species; all it does is influence certain characteristics. The individuals themselves do not `take leave’ of their species, as it were. Artificial selection does not trigger the formation of new organs, it does not lead to the creation of a new genus, nor does it engender a new type of organization.
These facts are very clearly stated by P. P. Grasse who cites the example of colon bacillus and drosophila, organisms, which can undergo mutations while preserving the characteristics of their species that have been passed down for millions of years. Thus the minor individual variations mentioned by Darwin are by no means hereditary a point on which Darwin’s theory is just as open to criticism as Lamarck’s.
Data on evolution in the animal kingdom that contradict Darwinian concepts
In this section, we shall quote the objections raised by P: P. Grasse, the first of which is Darwin’s own admission that his doctrine was incomplete: “Judging from letters (and I have just seen one from Thwaites to Hooker), and from remarks, the most serious omission in my book was not explaining how it is, as I believe, that all forms do not necessarily advance, how there can be simple organisms still existing...”
Darwin speaks of the `progress’ that natural selection ought to ensure in living beings, by which he confuses `progress’ with growing organizational complexity, an essential aspect of evolution to which we shall return.
Elsewhere, he expresses his amazement at the existence of living forms which have not changed at all over the course of time but have remained at the stage of very simple organisms: This is a phenomenon that is easily explained today in terms of modern ideas on mutagenesis. Every living being is affected by mutagenesis, minor variations which do not, however, cause the organisms concerned to leave the framework of their species.
For example, zoologists are very familiar with the so-called `pan chronic’ species, which have remained the same throughout the course of time. Blue algae are a case in point: There is every reason to think that these organisms have been in existence for at least one billion years, and yet they are still the same today. Other examples are the ferro-bacteria, sponges, molluscs, and animals such as the opossum or the famous coelacanth which, though hundreds of millions of years old, have not changed at all.
The coelacanth caused great excitement when it was discovered off the coast of South Africa in 1938. It is a fish, over 4 1/2 feet long, that is thought to have appeared roughly 300 millions years ago. Several other examples of this fish have been caught in more recent times almost to order, for the local fishermen are familiar with the coelacanth. Examination of these fish provided important information on the anatomy and physiology of a species, which, like so many others, refused to conform to the natural selection put forward by Darwin.
At the same time however, none of these organisms has ceased to undergo mutations a process that is inevitable. As far as the fish are concerned, however, their evolution has come to an end. If we seek the reason why, we find that Darwin’s theory is unable to provide an answer that both agrees with his doctrine and explains the preservation of these hereditary characteristics.
According to the law of natural selection, such imperfections as the excessive development of a single characteristic should not be allowed to develop and perpetuate themselves, to the extent that they harm the animal or vegetal concerned. Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that certain conifer plants produce chemical compounds that irresistibly attract coleoptera which then devour them. The production of these chemical, compounds is therefore responsible for the death of the plant. This process has been going on for millions of, years: Natural selection does not intervene to save pine and fir trees from destruction by insects.
Similarly, the antelope is able to escape its enemies by its extreme speed, and yet there are species of this animal whose hooves contain glands that secrete a particular odour, which, as the antelope runs, is left on the ground. All the attacking carnivore has to do is follow the scent in order to track down its prey. Thus the graceful antelope is left unprotected by the theories of Darwin! Another example; of a harmful individual attribute is the excessive growth of horns, which can constitute a handicap.
Finally, we are all familiar with the case of the deer, whose antlers impede its movement through the forest.
Studies of the coelacanth have shown the extent to which this fish contains characteristics that are paradoxical to the zoologist. If natural selection were genuinely present, these characteristics ought by rights to have disappeared, thus providing the coelacanth with a more functional morphology. The fact is; however, nothing has changed for several hundred million years.
If we examine the argument put forward by zoological specialists who are opposed to Darwinism, we shall undoubtedly see that it is sometimes quite difficult to distinguish between a harmful and a beneficial morphological change in an animal.
For example, snakes have lost all their limbs, but that does not mean they have been placed in an inferior state. Given a case such as this, what right have we to speak of an animal that has `regressed’?
The example of the snake is indeed extremely revealing, for the loss of its limbs was accompanied by other major modifications of its skeleton and numerous viscera, affecting its general anatomy.
Zoologists are at a loss to explain in Darwinian terms such sweeping changes; they are modifications, which were perfectly coordinated over the course of time, and the succession of phenomena here appears infinitely complex, from an anatomical point of view. Thus we must seek an explanation different from the intellectual view that casts everything in terms of finality in spite of what the Darwinians may say.
In his book `L’Evolution du monde vivant’ (The Evolution of the Living World) (Published by Plon, Paris, 1950. The facsimile of Darwin’s letter is contained in this book. M. Vernet notes that the letter is preserved at the British Museum..), M. Vernet cites a letter that Darwin wrote to Thomas Thorton Esq. in 1861. Darwin states quite clearly that he is aware of having failed’ to explain evolution:
“But 1 believe in natural selection, not because, I can prove, in any single case; that it has changed one species into another, but because it groups and explains well (as it seems to me) a host of facts in classification, embryology, morphology, rudimentary organs, geological succession and distribution...”
Darwin was perfectly well aware; therefore, that the theories he advanced concerned the possible influence of natural selection on a species that did not, however, transform itself into another species. Furthermore, when Darwin put forward the idea of natural selection as a tentative explanation of his objective observations, he was simply proposing a theory.
By definition, a theory is no more than a hypothesis that for a while serves to link facts of various kinds by way of an explanation. While it may prove useful at a certain stage in human knowledge; however, it is the future that determines whether a certain hypothesis is valid or not. The validity of Darwin’s theory has not yet been proven.
Unfortunately for Darwinism; the theory was used for ideological purposes. We are now much more familiar with the process of evolution, owing to more consistent data such as the information provided by paleontology and the natural sciences, as well as new knowledge, acquired since Darwin, concerning heredity (genetics) and biology (especially molecular biology.).
In spite of this, we are still, saddled with the theory formulated by Darwin over a century ago; there are those who do not wish to see its ideological success diminished. That is why we today have the `neo Darwinians’ who hope to use modern discoveries to combine the basic idea of selection with new data. We shall see later on that a combination of this kind is also open to severe criticism.
I should like to conclude this discussion of Darwinism proper by turning once again to the opinions of P: P. Grasse. The reason I have quoted this eminent specialist in evolution so often is that I consider his opinions to be extremely well argued and logical. This is what P. P. Grasse has to say about the influence of Darwin’s work as a whole:
It is significant but often forgotten that Darwin named the book that brought him fame, On the Origin of Species. He sought the mechanism through which one species transformed itself into another; he did not envisage the origin of the basic types of organization. He not only refused to give attention to the general problems concerning the unity of the organizational plan, but he actively distrusted them. He expresses this as follows: “It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the 'plan of creation’, 'unity of design’, & c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact.”
The expression `plan of creation’ does indeed suggest a tendentious interpretation, which we reject. That does not mean, however, that Darwin’s reasoning was correct when he refused to consider the predominant problems of evolution.
In his eyes, natural selection explained everything; he therefore considered an animal in terms of a species. His whole system of explanation was conceived in such a way that he referred only to variations that did not go beyond the species. It is a strange fact; however, that Darwin never took the trouble to define what he meant by `species’, not even in the glossary that appears at the end of On the Origin of Species.
In order to realize the extent to which Darwin is still revered today, one has to have come into contact with the academic world in America, especially in the fields of biology, genetics or evolution. Darwin is venerated, however, in spite of the fact that his theory is outdated and his concepts extremely fragile.
The criticism that may legitimately be levelled at Darwinism, as a result of the proven data on evolution collected by paleontologists, zoologists and botanists, exercises a certain influence on the opinions of specialists in Europe. It has virtually no impact on researchers in the United States, who uphold theories that are for the most part conceived in the laboratory.
One is tempted to ask whether it is possible to be anything but a Darwinian in America. In some people’s opinion, the idea of criticizing Darwin is the same as saying that the theories of Einstein are totally worthless. The difference between them lies in the fact that Einstein’s theories were solidly based and their validity was subsequently demonstrated.
There are indeed people in Europe who persist in their infatuation with the role of natural selection in evolution, but perhaps fewer than in the United States.
The predominant idea at the moment seems to be the integration into the system of newly acquired genetic discoveries: Natural selection no longer intervenes to favour the survival of the fittest, but rather in terms of probabilities. It operates through a statistical process that raises the likelihood that the fittest will be the individuals who transmit their characteristics.
Thus the process of natural selection acts as the agent ensuring the preferential transmission of attributes registered in the genes. The idea of sexual selection lives again in the minds of the neo-Darwinians...
Genetics deals with the subject of heredity, and as we shall see very clearly later on, today’s discoveries in this field allow us to arrive at certain very important theories and practical conclusions for genetics deals with present day phenomena.
With regard to evolution, genetics is currently, attempting to study mutations that modify certain minor characteristics, concentrating its research on living beings that reproduce very rapidly. As it happens, however, evolution that takes place in the animal kingdom over the course of time has a much greater effect than the minimal variations observed in present day organisms.
That is why zoologists specialising in evolution question the extrapolations of the geneticists; the latter choose the wrong method of applied study when investigating present day organisms, and this leads them to mistaken interpretations of past events. In short, they are not studying the real questions of evolution.
If evolution had indeed occurred in the manner suggested by the Darwinians and neo-Darwinians in other words as a result of minimal variations (which as far as we know leave living beings within the framework of their species) how much time would have been required for the formation of the organized types that exist today?
Tens of billions of years! Hundreds of billions! In actual fact, the amount of time needed for the transition from unicellular life forms to the most recent higher mammals was just over one billion years. Furthermore, examination of the transitions undergone by man from the Australopithecines to present day Homo Sapiens indicate that modifications took place at amazing speed within a very small population (we know this from the rarity of fossils.)
This is to be compared with the fact that for hundreds of millions of years bacteria and insects such as cockroaches have remained more or less identical in spite of the tremendous variety of individuals and genetic mutations. Neo Darwinism takes no account of these fundamental points; thus invalidating the very basis of its theory.
We need an explanation of the variable speed of evolution that is different from the spontaneous, unpredictable mutations presented by the neo Darwinians as the motivating force behind an evolution that is controlled by a so called process of natural selection. This leads us to think that modern followers of Darwinian theory have no coherent explanation of evolution to offer us. Their explanatory suggestions however brilliant do not seem applicable to a real situation that requires real answers.