- Did Charles Darwin express any doubts concerning his theory on evolution?
- Where might Darwin have expressed doubts—to friends, in publications, or elsewhere?
- Do any such doubts remain today? ... or is evolution so air tight that all prior doubts are now resolved?
Yes, Darwin stated doubts concerning evolution. Some were subject to his open expression. He saw the potential—from what he could mentally wrestle and grasp—for unresolvable problems. We should expect no less from an intellect that seeks to coalesce the big picture into a seamless vision.
Conversely, so much seemed to fit the theory and nature seemed to exhibit an order that evolution theory could piece together. After all, natural selection and examples from animal breeding along with the idea of descent from some one or few common ancestral forms was logical, but not entirely reasoned to a final conclusion. Still, there were seeming improbability, gaps in the data, and issues left unexplained. Lingering doubts troubled Darwin, so much so, that he edited his Origin of Species from one edition to the next. Doubts and unresolved issues remained—and with good reason—because evolution was theory and not an established fact. Even today, proof is elusive and perhaps ultimately unobtainable. Darwin was right to express doubts and was right to keep on problem solving as best he could. (See sidebar below on book entitled "Darwin's Doubt")
Darwin's Origin of Species, letters to colleagues, and other writings all exhibit examples of doubts. Several examples are given below (and by further exploration you'll find additional examples).
Modern presentations on evolution may be met with little objection—for example, consider the PBS video animation depicting a smooth evolutionary transformation from simple ancestral to present complex eye (such as found in humans or the octopus). After all doesn't that depict fact? But if there is no clear explanation on how certain presumed transformations arose, then we are left—along with Darwin himself—with unresolved queries and doubt:
Even Charles Darwin thought his own theory was "grievously hypothetical" and gave emotional content to his doubts when he said, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder." To think the eye had evolved by natural selection, Darwin said, "seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree." But he thought of the same about something as simple as a peacock's feather, which, he said, "makes me sick. " Of course, anyone who has knowledge of the intricacies of the human eye and other living structures immediately realizes the problem Darwin sensed. How could an organ of such an intricate magnificence ever have a originated via random chance? Oller and Omdahl (CH) Page 274
Dr. Denton is quite direct in saying:
If anyone was chasing a phantom or retreating from empiricism it was surely Darwin, who himself freely admitted that he had absolutely no hard empirical evidence that any of the major evolutionary transformations proposed had ever actually occurred. It was Darwin, the evolutionist, who admitted in his letter to Asa Gray, that one's "imagination must fill up the very wide blanks.'' Denton (ETC) Page 117
... a key fact: namely, that Darwin did not win over most of his contemporaries. His theory was accepted by only a handful of scientists for a good three-quarters of a century, and then only after Mendelian genetics had provided a clear understanding of heredity. The majority of Darwin's contemporaries came to agree that some form of evolution or development had occurred, but they championed other mechanisms and causes to explain the process. Generally they insisted either that God was directing the process or that it was propelled forward by some internal directing force. Pearcey (MC) Page 75
In fact, discussions of the day posed a challenge to Darwin. Opposition to the theory on evolution begged the question of steps taken to explain exactly how gradual changes were accomplished over time. An array or organisms in the fossil record as well as examples from living species gave reason to think a progression of forms appeared over time. Yet, what seemed reasonable was not easily proven. Even today, new fossil discoveries that appear to fit evolutionary gaps—representing the expected intermediate forms—turn out to be sufficiently distinct species. Darwin needed evidence to support his theory's gradualism, which should give us transitions occurring everywhere along time.
Think about this in terms of today. Do you see lots of variations going on in how people look? What about animals in the wild and in zoos; do they exhibit an array of forms and appearances? Transitional intermediates imply change at many levels is ongoing all the time. But do we see it in fossils? Do we see it around us now? And to be fair, think of this not as small changes leading from one species to a closely related species (say bird to bird) but more in terms of going from group to group (e.g., from one animal phyla to a very different animal phyla).
It was perfectly obvious to Darwin and his contemporaries, who had the difficult task of convincing their skeptical colleagues of the validity of evolution, that transitional forms were essential to the credibility of their claims. The fact that they were largely missing was acknowledged to be a major flaw in their argument. Denton (ETC) Page 158
While Darwin was attempting to convince the world of the validity of evolution by natural selection he was admitting privately to friends to moments of doubt over its capacity to generate very complicated adaptations or "organs of extreme perfection", as he described them. In a letter to Asa Gray, the American biologist, written in 1861, just two years after the publication of The Origin Of Species, he acknowledges these doubts and admits that "the eye to this day gives me a cold shudder." Denton (ETC) Page 326
There is no question that Darwin was trying—as we all do—to find a working order in nature. After all, our life experience in the material sense is rooted in nature's matrix of laws and physical properties. But is that the entire context to explaining existence? That a creation story in the biblical text was not enough to satisfy the evolutionists leads one to search for the physical cause and effect explanations. Admittedly, a lot of what has an accounting within nature covers many objections. Nature works so well within itself ...
Most commonly evolution was seen as an orderly, lawful, goal-directed and purposeful process analogous to the development of an embryo to an adult—"the preordained unfolding of a rationally ordered plan," often a divine plan.
... Darwin demonstrated how one might frame a completely naturalistic account of living things, an accomplishment that was attractive to those whose metaphysical stance was naturalistic and to others who felt that science at least should be complete naturalistic. Pearcey (MC) Page 75
Darwin's quest may ultimately lie in finding the best fit based on the evidence of the day. And the advantage at play in the mid-1800s was one of not knowing the fine points that science has revealed recently. So, a relatively good story could be provided and doubts glossed over for the time being, yet even Darwin knew the theory could not be confirmed. Today we face Darwinists who insist the theory is supported by sufficient fact to make the theory itself a fact. But as Nancy Pearcey notes:
... But Darwin was not so dogmatic. He described his theory as an inference grounded chiefly on analogy. And he praised the author of one review foreseeing "that the change of species cannot be directly proved and that the doctrine must sink or swim according as it groups and explains phenomena " (Darwin 1899, 2:155). In an 1863 letter, he amplified by pointing out that evolution by natural selection was "grounded entirely on general considerations" such as the difference between contemporary organisms and fossil organisms. "When we descend to details," he wrote, "we can prove that no one species has changed [i.e., the cannot prove that a single species has changed]; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not" (Darwin 1899, 2:210). In other words, Darwin was aware that the scientific evidence was short of compelling. Pearcey (MC) Page 77
Perhaps the true scientist in Darwin would never be satisfied until the theory withstood the test of critical scrutiny and more supporting evidence. To be fair, testing ideas, expressing doubts, and simultaneously seeking data is the root of a dynamic investigative process. Darwin deserves credit for desiring the theory to withstand any test.
Indeed, Darwin insisted that direct modes of testing were wholly irrelevant to evaluating theories of origins. Nevertheless, he did believe that critical tests could be achieved via indirect means. As he stated elsewhere: "This hypothesis [common descent ] must be tested ... by trying to see whether it explains several large and independent classes of facts; such as the geological succession of organic beings, and their distribution in past and present times, and their mutual affinities and homologies." Meyer (CH) Page 84
There are other examples of doubts expressed by Darwin and by the skeptics of his day. The references used to compile this feature article provide more details to further solidify the points raised here. Our concern is that general presentations leave out the complete spectrum of thoughts on evolution—even those where Darwin is facing uncertainty in his own thinking. Expressing the doubt is objective and honest. To say the doubts no longer exist is clearly misleading. Additional perspectives covered in other feature articles in this section of WindowView reveal numerous unresolved aspects of the theory. And instead of filling the gaps Darwin recognized, the new data only proves problematic to his theory.
Leave in the doubts and there is work that remains to be completed. That doubts plagued Darwin is actually an honest reflection of the ongoing synthesis that marks true science. The doubts leave open the door to adding more evidence and makes way to refine a rough theory. New evidence takes us from the doubts into directions not embraced by deeply entrenched evolutionism. This is a mark of progress toward where the data actually lead us. Resistance encountered along the way is also an expected part of the process.
The perspective here is one that brings us to the point of being honest. Were Darwin never to admit to doubts, then he'd only deliver us to a smoke and mirrors theory. And he did some of that where support was thin to nonexistent. Yet, holding fast to the standard story in the present day has required some smoke and mirrors tactics. Evolution—from a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian standpoint—is not airtight. Evolutionists insisting evolution is a fact is not an explanation. Once the view clears and multiple perspectives are examined, we arrive at possibilities beyond Darwin's sight horizon. What else might we expect now that additional data have accumulated for some 150 plus years since publication of the Origin of Species.
The video presented here also appears on our page with videos displaying complex examples of structure and function in cells. The voice of Ben Stein concludes this clip with a thought on design. Our purpose by including the video here is to consider what might have added to Darwin's doubts were he able to recognize the incredible complexity of a living cell. In the end, it's not Darwin's doubts that matter ... the real issue is what you conclude based on the evidence we have today!
Quotations from "The Creation Hypothesis" (CH) edited by J. P. Moreland and "Mere Creation" (MC) edited by William A. Dembski are used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used without permission from InterVarsity Press.
And one added addition to this page ... watch a scientific- and information theory-based video that asks you to be a critical thinker and to see why Darwin himself would, today, further support his doubts. Remember, it's not what Darwin thought years ago that counts most. Science today has more than sufficient reason to doubt the naturalistic theory on evolution. Take a moment and watch the video on Programming of Life and you will clearly see the difference.
A most significant text that is a must read for all readers. Follow the scientific explorations and the conclusions that tell why DNA is more than a molecule, but IS information by design and beyond mere chance product of an abiotic origin. Read the book for yourself (to consider obtaining a copy click on the image below):
Writer / Editor: Dr. T. Peterson, Director, WindowView.org
The WindowView drops many of the typical presumptions to take another look. What does scientific data tell us if we start without assumptions? And ... how contiguous is science information if examined along with scriptural perspectives provided by the Bible? The Bible is the only religious or holy book we know of that is in fact consistent with science. While not a textbook, the Scriptures are either contradictory or complementary to scientific perspectives. Have you looked at these perspectives? To see 'Science and Scripture in Harmony' is to reveal life, reality, and your future.