Darwinism : The Refutation of a Myth (1987)
It is doubtful if any single book, except the 'Principia', ever worked so great and so rapid a revolution in science, or made so deep an impression on the general mind [as On the Origin of Species]. 1
… the name of Charles Darwin stands alongside of [that] of Isaac Newton … and, like [it], calls up the grand ideal of a searcher after truth and interpreter of Nature . . . [The present generation] thinkls] of him who bore it as a rare combination of genius, industry, and unswerving veracity, who earned his place among the most famous men of the age by sheer native power.!
All educated persons are familiar with the notion that life on this planet has arisen through a process of evolution. Most people have been taught that the proper name of this theory is ‘Darwinism’, the reasons being that Charles Darwin was the first person to state the idea about organic evolution and furthermore originated the theory of natural selection, which unambiguously accounts for the mechanism through which the process of evolution is realised.
The concept of ‘evolution’ unites all branches of biology, and a person who accomplished these two feats would indeed be greatest among biologists, and might well deserve the epithet: ‘The Newton of Biology’. As appears from the above quotations, Huxley did not hesitate to bestow this honour upon his friend Charles Darwin.
In fact, this comparison was no invention of Huxley’s; ironically enough it appears that Alfred Wallace was the first to come upon this idea, for on 1 September 1860 he wrote to his friend George Silk: ‘Darwin’s “Origin of Species” … you may have heard of and perhaps read, but it is not one perusal which will enable any man
to appreciate it. I have read it through five or six times, each time with increasing admiration. It will live as long as the “Principia” of Newton. ,3
As might almost have been predicted, it was also heralded by Ernst Haeckel. Some few years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, quoting Immanuel Kant, he wrote:
‘ … it is absurd for man even to conceive such an idea, or to hope that a Newton may one day arise able to make the production of a blade of grass comprehensible, according to natural laws ordained by no intention; such an insight we must absolutely deny to man’. Now, however, this impossible Newton has really appeared seventy years later in Darwin, whose Theory of Selection has actually solved the problem, the solution of which Kant has considered absolutely inconceivable!”
Thus, Huxley was not the first, and still less the last one prepared to elevate Darwin to the pinnacles of glory in the history of biology; even today this opinion is shared almost unanimously by all who feel entitled to judge in these matters.
It is important to observe, however, that Huxley makes the comparison between Newton and Darwin with regard to two separate points: the impact of their work and their intellectual excellence.
Surely, no sensible person would contend Huxley’s first assertion; it is indeed true that no other book ever had the influence on the state of science commanded by On the Origin of Species. Is it a corollary that its author was a towering genius, foremost among biologists?
It may not be easy to give a direct answer to this question, and I shall therefore approach the problem by dealing with the two claims made above on behalf of Darwin. Thus (1) is Darwin the founder of the theory of evolution and (2) does his theory of natural selection give an acceptable explanation of the mechanism of evolution? If these two points are indeed borne out, then Darwin may well be the ‘Newton of Biology’ – otherwise not.
In this book I propose to show that in both instances the answer is ‘no’; and if I am right, we obviously end up in a rather awkward situation as far as present-day biology is concerned. But before we reach this point it would be well to outline the issue.
The main tenet of Darwin’s theory is that his natural selection accomplishes evolutionary changes through the accumulation of some of those very slight individual variations which occur in all populations of living beings. The selection of these variations, and hence the direction of evolution, is such that the organisms become
better adapted to the environment in which they happen to live.
Since the struggle for existence is bound to be toughest between adults, it follows that Darwin’s theory is a micromutation theory which accounts for evolutionary innovation primarily through the modification of adult organisms.
This theory was professed ex cathedra when I went to school, and for many years I accepted it without contemplation or dissent. Now and then I read literature dealing with evolution, but being an embryologist I did not think that evolution was of direct concern to me. I do not know when I first began to suspect that there is something questionable in the state of current evolutionary thought, but I know who aroused my suspicions – Karl Ernst von Baer’ and Richard B. Goldschmidt,” and it is because I am an embryologist that their teachings had this effect. These two zoologists quite clearly demonstrated that the origin of the major animal taxa must be sought in modifications of the epigenetic, and notably the morphogenetic processes through which the fertilised egg is transformed, first into an embryo or a larva, and subsequently to a slightly deformed miniature of the adult organism. (This last statement is not valid for animals that undergo extensive metamorphosis.) And the main inference from this insight is that many of the mutations which have been really important from an evolutionary point of view must have been one-stroke changes of features distinguishing disparate major taxa. In other words, the views of von Baer and Goldschmidt imply that macromutations have been of great significance in organic evolution.
I did not examine the consequences of this insight until I was engaged in writing Epigenetics – A Treatise on Theoretical Biology.’ This work aimed at elucidating some of the epigenetic mechanisms responsible for animal ontogenesis. Only at that time did I see that phylogenesis, i.e. evolution, is of primary concern for
epigenetics because phylogenetic innovations imply ontogenetic innovations. Hence I realised that my book would not be complete without a discussion of evolution, particularly a discussion of the consequences of the macromutation theory for our conception of the course and mechanism of evolution.
I therefore undertook a study of the literature on evolution, and made several discoveries which strengthened my conviction that the micromutation theory does not stand up to critical testing. Above all, I discovered that the so-called ‘Neo-Darwinism’ is fundamentally different from Darwin’s theory.
Since that time I have written several publications on evolution, adding steadily to the evidence falsifying the micromutation theory.
However, the most interesting discoveries were made when I began to delve into the history of evolutionary thought. First, I came to see what I should have realised at the outset, namely, that it is Lamarck, and not Darwin, who is the founder of the theory of evolution.
Second, I found that the macromutation theory is older than Darwinism, if not than the micromutation theory, and that it has had supporters, in varying numbers, for about one-and-a-half centuries.
Third, I came to understand that in the last century, hardly anybody, not even Darwin himself, believed that natural selection can accomplish all the events necessary for the occurrence of organic
Fourth, I discovered that the history of evolutionary thought, as it is told today, contains a large number of mistakes and misrepresentations – to express it fairly mildly – all of them aimed at adulating Darwin and debunking his opponents.
Today it is still commonly claimed that Darwin’s natural selection is the evolutionary mechanism par excellence. However, this assertion is not based on any factual evidence, for nobody has ever demonstrated that natural selection can bring about anything but events that are trivial from an evolutionary perspective. And this brings me to the fifth point. Since the publication of On the Origin of Species, and particularly since the Second World War, a lot of empirical observations have been made which may be used to test the evolutionary theories. And the remarkable result is that, just as Darwin found one hundred years ago, the facts obstinately corroborate the macromutation theory and falsify the micromutation theory.
These are the main discoveries I have made in the course of my studies, and I propose to present them in detail on the following pages.
The championship of a heretical point of view is a delicate matter which requires better corroboration than might otherwise be called for. For this reason I have decided to let the dramatis personae speak their own cases as far as possible, and therefore a large part of the following text consists of quotations. This fact does not, of course, guarantee impartiality; against accusations of inequity I can only say that I have done my best. One circumstance which may serve to support this claim is that some persons, above all the principal actor,
Charles Darwin, are quoted to present divergent, even contradictory views.
Before we deal with Darwin’s contribution, we shall first discuss a set of four theories, which in my view are required to account for organic evolution, and some aspects of the history of evolutionary’ thought before Darwin. Subsequently we shall deal with Darwin’s theory, its reception and its fate during the following century. After that follows the presentation of an alternative theory of evolution, which stands up to the problems which have remained unsolved by Darwinism. At this stage, when, in my opinion, the Darwinian myth has been refuted, it may be appropriate to scrutinize it and try to understand why it arose in the first place.