Darwin Had Genetic Blinders
Darwin was a contemporary of Mendel, so why did he get inheritance wrong? That question was addressed on Science Daily by Jonathan Howard of the University of Cologne, Germany. His thesis is that Darwin had philosophical blinders on that prevented him from recognizing the significance of evidence before him.
“Why Didn’t Darwin Discover Mendel’s Laws?” reads the title of the article. “Darwin’s commitment to quantitative variation as the raw material of evolution meant he could not see the logic of inheritance, argues Jonathan Howard of the University of Cologne, Germany.” Quantitative variation forms the core of Darwin’s theory, he said, but that is the last place to see Mendel’s laws, which are based on discreet (discontinuous) inheritance. For instance, Darwin could have seen discontinuous variation in his own breeding experiments with plants. In his book The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species, Darwin even noticed a well-defined unit character, but dismissed its significance. Why? Because he “insisted, because of his belief that only quantitative variation contributed to evolution, that the rules of inheritance were too complex and not ready for definitive analysis.” He left it “unremarked,” therefore, while Mendel, with different assumptions, found this observation a key to a major discovery. “Darwin boxed himself in, unable to see the laws of inheritance in continuous variation, unable to see the real importance of discontinuous variation where the laws of inheritance could be discerned.”
Where did the blinders come from? Howard thinks Lyell provided them. “Darwin’s view of biology was greatly influenced by geologist Charles Lyell during and after the 1831-1836 Beagle voyage, leading to Darwin’s focus on infinitely tiny differences between individuals giving infinitesimal advantages or disadvantages in survival,” the article explains. Janet Browne, in her biography of Darwin, portrayed him as obsessed with the idea that small changes could accumulate over time (see 03/05/2004). This theme colored his entire view of the natural world – geology and biology. That’s not all it did. Darwin “never freed himself from the incorrect belief that environmentally determined changes could also be inherited,” Science Daily said. This error was “another victim of his focus on quantitative characters, height, weight and so on, which are strongly influenced by environmental effects.”
The article also praised Mendel over Darwin. “Mendel had a good understanding of biology, but his understanding of physics, statistics and probability theory were far superior to Darwin’s.” The article includes the reference to Jonathan Howard’s paper in the Journal of Biology.1
1. Howard et al., “Why didn’t Darwin discover Mendel’s laws?” Journal of Biology, 2009; 8 (2): 15 DOI: 10.1186/jbiol123.
This is a remarkable article. It’s a case study on how a scientist can be blinded to facts right before his nose when the data are filtered by his world view. Darwin took image-distorting glasses out of Lyell’s book and wore them all his life. It made him see everything in terms of slow, gradual accumulation of tiny variations. Look what that did. It influenced generations of followers. Darwin Glasses became the new fad, and millions put them on. Evolutionary biologists continue to mistakenly assume that environmental changes can be inherited, and that this creates adaptation. (It may filter out the ones who are not pre-adapted, but no one has demonstrated this neo-Lamarckian hypothesis can originate new genetic information.)
Modern evolutionists will harrumph and declare that all this has been solved. They will admit that Darwin made some mistakes. The few and minor mistakes of this greatest and most perfect scientist who ever walked this planet were all thoroughly corrected in the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1940s, so it is evil to disparage the reputation of the King Charles, the Bearded Buddha. “Now we KNOW that we evolutionary biologists wear NO blinders. We have 20-20 vision, 20-20 hindsight, and 20-20 foresight. All is clear. Now we KNOW that creationists look funny. Blinders? We don’t see no blinders. We’re scientists. We don’t put on blinders any more.” (They don’t need to. They’ve become fused to their eyeballs.)