Thursday, March 30, 2023

Darwin’s Top 10 Arguments Against His Own Theory

Herman B. Bouma TYhe purpose of this post is not to propose contemporary arguemnts to criticize evolution. It is to illustrate how a balenced, objective examination of the theory might look. Both sides of the vociferous contemporarty debate could learn from this example.] In a recent article here I referred to my canceled presentation at the annual conference of the National Science Teaching Association. My topic was to be, “The Top 10 Scientific Arguments Against Darwin’s Theory — According to Darwin Himself.” What are those top ten arguments? Let’s take a look. Charles Darwin took seriously objections to his theory that had been raised by many of the most eminent naturalists of his day. In The Origin of Species he considered in detail 37 of them. Darwin acknowledged that there were “a crowd of difficulties” with his theory and stated, “Some of them are so serious that to this day I can hardly reflect on them without being in some degree staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to the theory.” (p. 158) (All citations are to Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: NAL Penguin Inc., 1958).) Based on Darwin’s discussion in The Origin of Species, it is reasonable to conclude that he considered the arguments set forth below to be the top ten scientific arguments against his theory. These arguments relate to Darwin’s proposed mechanism for evolution, i.e., the application of natural selection to randomly produced variations. (Note: With respect to the origin of life, Darwin theorized in The Origin of Species that the very first forms of life (at most, eight to ten forms) were produced by the Creator. He did not consider any arguments against this part of his theory and apparently none were raised by the naturalists of his day, most of whom subscribed to a theory of design.) Darwin’s thoughtful consideration of the scientific arguments against his theory is consistent with his hope for the future: “I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” (p. 444) 1. The Complexity of Eyes Darwin states, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” (p. 168) 2. Existence of Similar Organs in Remotely Allied Species Darwin considers the electric organs of species of fish that are remotely allied and also the luminous organs of insects “belonging to widely different families.” He states that the latter “offer, under our present state of ignorance, a difficulty almost exactly parallel with that of the electric organs.” (p. 176) Darwin admits the difficulty under his theory “of an organ, apparently the same, arising in several remotely allied species.” (p. 176) 3. Existence of Different Organs for the Same Function in Closely Allied Species Darwin considers two genera of orchid, the Coryanthes and the Catasetum. He explains in detail the ingenious “contrivance” that the Coryanthes uses for pollination. He then turns to the Catasetum, which is “closely allied” to the Coryanthes, and states that the construction of the flower in the Catasetum “is widely different, though serving the same end.” (p. 180) Darwin admits that it is common throughout nature for the same end to be gained by the most diversified means, “even sometimes in the case of closely-related beings.” (p. 178) 4. Parts with Little Importance Darwin states, “I have sometimes felt great difficulty in understanding the origin or formation of parts of little importance; almost as great, though of a very different kind, as in the case of the most perfect and complex organs.” (p. 181) He mentions the tail of the giraffe as an example of a part with little apparent importance. He states that it looks like “an artificially constructed fly-flapper” and “[it] seems at first incredible that this could have been adapted for its present purpose by successive slight modifications, each better and better fitted, for so trifling an object as to drive away flies.” (p. 181) 5. Complex Instincts Darwin acknowledges, “Many instincts are so wonderful that their development will probably appear to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.” (p. 228) Darwin states, “He must be a dull man who can examine the exquisite structure of a [honeycomb], so beautifully adapted to its end, without enthusiastic admiration. We hear from mathematicians that bees have practically solved a recondite problem, and have made their cells of the proper shape to hold the greatest possible amount of honey, with the least possible consumption of precious wax in their construction. It has been remarked that a skilful workman … would find it very difficult to make cells of wax of the true form, though this is effected by a crowd of bees working in a dark hive.” (pp. 242-243) 6. Neuter Ants and Their Different Castes With respect to neuter ants, Darwin states it is “one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to the whole theory … for these neuters often differ widely in instinct and in structure from both the males and fertile females, … yet, from being sterile, they cannot propagate their kind.” (p. 250) Darwin goes on to state, “But we have not as yet touched on the acme of the difficulty; namely, the fact that the neuters of several ants differ, not only from the fertile females and males, but from each other, sometimes to an almost incredible degree, and are thus divided into two or even three castes.” (p. 253) He acknowledges, “It will indeed be thought that I have an overweening confidence in the principle of natural selection, when I do not admit that such wonderful and well-established facts at once annihilate the theory.” (p. 253) 7. The Eyes of the Flat-Fish During its early youth the body of the flat-fish is symmetrical with one eye on each side. However, as the body matures, one eye “begins to glide slowly round the head” to the other side. (pp. 209-210) This is beneficial because the adult flat-fish spends most of its time lying on its side on the bottom of the ocean. Darwin agrees that his theory of natural selection cannot account for this feature. He states that it “may be attributed to the habit, no doubt beneficial to the individual and to the species, of endeavouring to look upwards with both eyes, whilst resting on one side at the bottom.” (p. 211) Thus, it “may be attributed almost wholly to continued use, together with inheritance.” (pp. 222-223) 8. Absence of Transitional Forms in the Fossil Record With respect to the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record, Darwin states that under his theory, “…as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.” (p. 287) Darwin admits that “though we do find many links — we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all extinct and existing forms by the finest graduated steps.” (pp. 335-336) He states, “That the geological record is imperfect all will admit; but that it is imperfect to the degree required by our theory, few will be inclined to admit.” (p. 431) He also acknowledges, “He who rejects this view of the imperfection of the geological record, will rightly reject the whole theory.” (p. 336) 9. Absence of Transitional Forms Even Within Particular Geological Formations With respect to the absence of transitional forms even within particular geological formations, Darwin states, “[I]t cannot be doubted that the geological record, viewed as a whole, is extremely imperfect; but if we confine our attention to any one formation, it becomes much more difficult to understand why we do not therein find closely graduated varieties between the allied species which lived at its commencement and at its close.” (p. 298) He confesses, “But I do not pretend that I should ever have suspected how poor was the record in the best preserved geological sections, had not the absence of innumerable transitional links between the species which lived at the commencement and close of each formation, pressed so hardly on my theory.” (pp. 304-305) 10. Sudden Appearance of New Forms of Life Darwin states, “The abrupt manner in which whole groups of species suddenly appear in certain formations, has been urged by several paleontologists — for instance, by Agassiz, Pictet, and Sedgwick — as a fatal objection to the belief in the transmutation of species.” (p. 305) He goes on to state, “There is another and allied difficulty, which is much more serious. I allude to the manner in which species belonging to several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks,” i.e., the Cambrian strata. (p. 308) “To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits … prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer.” (p. 309) Darwin concludes, “The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.” (p. 310)