March 25, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Was a Loser Before He Was Recast as a Legend

The Myth was not the man. A new book
shows this in Darwin’s own words.

 

Did you know that most of the contemporaneous critics of Darwin’s theory
were not theologians or fundamentalist Christians, but renowned scientists?

Dr Robert Shedinger’s new book Darwin’s Bluff quotes the initial reviews of the Origin, showing that the most eminent scientists in the mid 19th century, who were much more knowledgeable about science than Darwin (whose only degree was in theology), noticed an atrocious lack of evidence for his audacious claims. They complained that his book fell far short of the high standards expected for a scientific work. Several laughed out loud at what they considered absurd speculations—such as his notion that bears swimming after fish evolved bigger mouths until they turned into whales. No kidding.

Even Darwin’s closest friends (Joseph Hooker, Asa Gray, Thomas Huxley) had reservations about the creative power of natural selection to accomplish all that Darwin claimed it could. Darwin was wracked by doubts and fears for his theory, his letters show, both before and after publication.

Spurred into action by Alfred Russel Wallace’s surprise letter from Malaysia in 1858 outlining a theory of speciation remarkably similar to his own, Darwin rushed to write his most famous book, The Origin of Species, insisting repeatedly that it “was “just an abstract” of a theory he had been working on for 20 years. Painfully aware that it was short on evidence, he insisted just as often that it would be followed up by a “big book” on speciation with all the footnotes, observations and authorities expected to justify his hypothesis as scientific. Darwin had two-thirds of this “big book” complete before 1859, but he never published it. Why? Shedinger’s book offers an explanation, supported by numerous quotes from Darwin’s correspondence—some of it not widely known before now.

Another surprise is that this “big book” was finally published in a rough form over a century later! Shedinger read it and reviews it. Did it finally provide the needed evidence? More on this in a bit; he concludes that Darwin was bluffing about the evidence for natural selection all his adult life.

The Real Charles Darwin

Shedinger’s book reveals the scientific milieu of Darwin’s time in a well-organized, well-documented way. Numerous books have been written on Charles Darwin. They can be divided into two categories: those that repeat the Mythology of Darwin as a humble naturalist, collecting evidence in the Galapagos for the greatest idea ever conceived in science, and those that attempt to be fair to historical sources. Shedinger’s book is in the latter group. The Charles Darwin portrayed in this book (quoting Darwin’s own words) was no scientific hero. He appears as a weak, vacillating, sickly, unsure-of-himself rich kid, wealthy from his parents’ inheritance so not needing to work, with the ambition of making a name for himself in science. But Charles was always deathly afraid of criticism.

This new work proves with numerous quotes his contention that Darwin never did publish his “big book” with all the required evidences and references for his theory because he could not; Shedinger examines the contents of the “big book” (finally made available in 1975 from Darwin’s notes) and finds it just as facile, evidence-free and speculative as The Origin. It wasn’t until his promoters created the Darwin Mythology that scientists began speaking of him as the greatest scientist who ever lived, with the greatest idea anyone ever had.

How Darwin Bluffed His Readers

As stated, Darwin never did provide the evidence he promised for his theory that everyone was expecting after his “abstract” (The Origin of Species) was published, even though many of his correspondents told him they were eagerly waiting for it. Here are some rhetorical tricks Darwin used to string his customers along. (Note: labels of these strategies are mine, not Shedinger’s).

The ‘I’m too sick’ excuse: Darwin frequently complained of his weak constitution and frequent illnesses. Yet somehow he had the energy to collect specimens and write several long books, including The Descent of Man with 300,000 words and a number of shorter treatises, to say nothing of hundreds of handwritten letters.

The ‘You’ll hate me’ excuse: In many of his letters, Darwin used a type of reverse psychology employing obsequious self-deprecation to coax scientists of known conservative views to be merciful in their criticisms, hoping they would respect his humility—phony as it may have been.

The Futureware move: Darwin kept promising the “big book,” creating a continuous expectation in his readers for the proof that was lacking in the Origin, stringing them on to expect large quantities of irrefutable evidence he had in his possession.

The Flank Move: To his closest associates, Darwin confided that his next book after The Origin, a treatise on Orchids (1861), would outflank his “enemies” by showing what a careful observer he was. The Orchid book, Shedinger shows, supported Paley-esque natural theology more than it did Darwin’s own theory of natural selection! —and not a few readers interpreted it that way.

The Turnaround Move: Frequently in the Origin and in some of his letters, Darwin would confess freely that it seemed absurd that organs of perfection such as the eye could have come about through slight chance variations. But then he would immediately turn around and say things like, ‘But I can see no reason why it is impossible to imagine it happening.’ Were readers supposed to accept Darwin’s imagination in lieu of evidence, simply on the basis of his audacity as a self-appointed authority? It seems to have worked.

The Either-Or Straw Man Tactic: Darwin usually positioned fixity of species as the only alternative to his theory. Most creationists don’t believe in fixity of species. They allow for a fair degree of variability within created kinds. By setting his theory against only one alternative, Darwin mixed the either-or fallacy with the straw man fallacy.

The Bait-and-Switch Move: Instead of hard evidence, Darwin often used “imaginative scenarios” (just-so stories) to argue his points. These begged the question of natural selection, making it seem as if the story rendered his view intuitively obvious.

The Ignore-the-Critic Strategy: Many critics pointed out the fallacy of using artificial selection as an analogy to natural selection, the former being purposeful and intentional, the latter blind and unguided without foresight. Yet throughout his life Darwin ignored this devastating criticism and kept repeating it.

The No-Compromise Move: Darwin insisted on strict naturalism for his theory. When Wallace, Gray, Lyell or other associates tried to make some room for God in the human soul, Darwin steadfastly refused. One exception, he argued, would make his whole theory break down.

The X-Men Strategy: Instead of engaging with critics, Darwin would sometimes send his goons to do it. This happened in the famous Huxley-Wilberforce debate (which Shedinger exposes as a myth, quoting sources who were present). Darwin encouraged his “X-Club” (Huxley, Lyell, and Gray) to write favorable articles, answer critics, and go to meetings in his place, arguing that he was too ill to do it himself. This contributed to his image as the unapproachable Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Janet Browne expounded on this tactic in her biography, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. She also suggested that Darwin grew his his long white beard to appear as a wise sage like Moses leading science into the promised land. As a result, visitors to Down House came in a sense of reverence, hoping the Dear Leader would be well enough to spend a few minutes with them groveling at the feet of the god. Huxley schemed to have Darwin interred in Westminster Abbey.

Darwin the sexist had a very low view of women, Bergman documents.

The impression one gets from reading Darwin’s words and deeds is one of a schemer, conniving to use rhetoric and excuses to dodge criticisms and encourage favorable opinions. Earlier books by Thomas Woodward, a PhD in the Rhetoric of Science (Doubts About Darwin, Darwin Strikes Back) agree that Darwin’s revolutionary takeover of biology was less a conquest due to the power of evidence and more a psychological victory through skillful use of rhetorical devices. Another book by our frequent contributor Dr Jerry Bergman, The Dark Side of Charles Darwin, contains additional rarely-reported facts about Darwin’s childhood and life habits that undergird the portrait of the man as a self-promoter and schemer.

I just completed Shedinger’s book, and think it stands out as a worthy read. It is well-written, easy to follow, and written (without graphics) in a manner that keeps you wanting to continue reading. I find it shocking that the edifice of modern evolutionary biology is built on such a flawed man as Charles Darwin. Shedinger is fair, acknowledging Darwin’s talent for collecting and observing barnacles, orchids, and other things, but the key question of why he could not or would not support his theory according to the rigorous standards expected of scientists is worth knowing about.

Many of our critics insist that biology has moved past Darwin, and no longer need his views. They complain when we call it “Darwinism” instead of evolutionary biology. To some extent, they have a point; Darwin knew little about modern biology and many revolutions have occurred in genetics and biochemistry since his time. But a tree grows from the root, and in the aftermath of a century of Social Darwinism, with all its bitter fruit, that root must be exposed.

So where is Darwin in modern biology? In our experience, papers on evolution frequently cite The Origin of Species as their first reference, and mention Darwin by name. The notoriety still given to Darwin can be seen in ongoing celebrations of Darwin Day, the Darwin Correspondence Project, and the pilgrimages made to Down House where he lived or to his tomb in Westminster Abbey. Some of his defenders like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett continue praising him to high heaven as the chief god in their pantheon who came up with the best idea in the history of mankind (which is odd praise for his Stuff Happens Law).

In the eyes of many, therefore, Darwin is evolution, and evolution is Darwin. He is evolution’s icon. The rest of evolutionary biology consists of mere footnotes to his naturalistic view of the world. And that naturalism, with its idolatrous Selector, extends out to the heavens in cosmology, astrobiology, and the origin of life. Even our universe, some say, was naturally selected out of the multiverse!

The trinity of atheistic materialists is widely cited to consist of Marx, Darwin and Freud. In a real and historical sense, Darwin is the Father of materialists. Being a false god, his icon is fair game for satire.

Humpty Darwin sits on a wall of foam bricks held together by decayed mortar. Cartoon by Brett Miller commissioned for CEH. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  • marcmullie says:

    Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage is a great forgotten book written in 1941 by the French philosopher Jacques Barzun. It is a critique of Darwinian theory in the context of 19th century philosophy, akin to your allusion to Darwin, Marx and Freud.

    Marc Mullie MD

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