Sunday, February 12, 2006

My critique of Darwin's Origin of Species, pp.5-6

My critique of Darwin's Origin of Species, 6th edition, 1872, pages 5-6, as part of Chapter 4, "History ... Darwin," of my book, "Problems of Evolution." My comments are bold and in square brackets. I have broken up the original's paragraphs for easier readability.

[Continued from p.5]


Causes of Variability. [...]

As far as I am able to judge, after long attending to the subject, the conditions of life appear to act in two ways-directly on the whole organisation or on certain parts alone [This is Lamarckism, which Darwin increasingly emphasized in later editions of his Origin of Species in order to protect his theory from falsification.] and in directly by affecting the reproductive system. [This of course was later found to be the case. In his First Edition (1859), Darwin had here (page 8) only "affecting the reproductive system":

But I am strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of variability may be attributed to the male and female reproductive elements having been affected prior to the act of conception.

Even this gives Darwin an unfalsifiable `out', with its vague "I am strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of variability may be ..." (my emphasis) which, as we shall see, is a feature of Darwin's rhetoric in what is supposed to be a major scientific theory. As we see here (and shall see), Darwin's theory in its final form in this the Sixth Edition of his Origin of Species is simply wrong in that it depends heavily on Lamarckian inheritance of the "use and disuse" of body parts.]

With respect to the direct

[page] 6

action, we must bear in mind that in every case, as Professor Weismann has lately insisted, and as I have incidently shown in my work on "Variation under Domestication," there are two factors: namely, the nature of the organism and the nature of the conditions. [This is a truism since it covers all factors (internal and external), without remainder. But if "the conditions" included the guidance of an Intelligent Designer, as Christian Darwinist Asa Gray maintained, and later Sir Charles Lyell who agreed with Gray against Darwin:

"In the argument for design in nature which he advanced here, not be it remembered, against Darwin but against Agassiz and Company, Gray made one significant addition. He finally came up to the problem of how to introduce design into the Darwinian system. Variation was the point he seized upon. At least `while the physical cause of variation is utterly unknown and mysterious, we should advise Mr. Darwin to assume, in the philosophy of his hypothesis, that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines.' [Gray A., "Darwiniana," (1861), Belknap: Cambridge MA, 1963, pp.120-121] ... If Gray's argument for the compatibility of the Darwinian hypothesis with theism failed to win over the Bishop of Oxford, it failed equally to win over an even more important leader, Darwin himself. ... In the fall of 1860 ... Darwin in effect announced his decision. `I grieve to say I cannot honestly go as far as you do about design.' [Darwin C.R., Letter to Asa Gray, November 26th, 1860, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," (1898), Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, pp.145-146] ... While an amiable discussion continued between the two friends, it held from this time on a fundamental disagreement. With Darwin's decision against the design argument, Gray lost his place as a shaper of strategy in the inner circle of friends. The assumption quickly grew up that Darwin had annihilated Paley's argument, and Huxley moved quickly forward to become the interpreter of Darwinism before the public. Gray's solution would obviously have been quite different. Later students have often puzzled over Lyell's hesitation and near estrangement from Hooker, Huxley, and Darwin without noting that Lyell alone of the inner circle in England adhered to Gray's position. Indeed, on the last pages of the Antiquity of Man, he specifically adopted Gray's view of design in nature. Other factors, of course, entered into Lyell's later opinions on the Origin, but he and Gray stepped out of the inner circle together on the same issue." (Dupree A.H., "Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin," [1959], The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore MD, 1988, reprint, pp.296, 300-301)

then Darwinism would not be incompatible with intelligent design or Christian theism. It is the Darwinian unproven and unprovable claim that all genetic changes in the entire history of life have been undirected, that makes Darwinism incompatible with design and therefore with Christian theism. ]

The former seems to be much the more important; for nearly similar variations sometimes arise under, as far as we can judge, dissimilar conditions; and, on the other hand, dissimilar variations arise under conditions which appear to be nearly uniform. [This is vacuous without supporting detail of what exactly the "variations" and "conditions," and what the criteria for "similar" and "dissimilar," are.]

The effects on the offspring are either definite or indefinite. They may be considered as definite when all or nearly all the offspring of individuals exposed to certain conditions during several generations are modified in the same manner. [Again, unless the "conditions" are specified in advance, this is vacuous.]

It is extremely difficult to come to any conclusion in regard to the extent of the changes which have been thus definitely induced. [Agreed, but that's hardly surprising if what is "definite" is not specified in advance so that it can be tested.]

There can, however, be little doubt about many slight changes, such as size from the amount of food, colour from the nature of the food, thickness of the skin and hair from climate, etc. [This is meaningless. There can be no "doubt about many slight changes" that they have happened. But whether Darwin's theory of the natural selection "slight, successive, favourable variations" (p.413) has anything to do with them is what needs to be demonstrated. See above on Darwin's crucial mistake that he thought that "the conditions of life [environment]... act ... directly on the whole organisation or on certain parts alone." But since they don't in an inheritable sense, they are irrelevant to Darwin's argument.]

Each of the endless variations which we see in the plumage of our fowls must have had some efficient cause; and if the same cause were to act uniformly during a long series of generations on many individuals, all probably would be modified in the same manner. [Again, what does this mean (if anything)? It is another truism that every variation "must have had some efficient cause." But that in each instance that it was: 1) "the same cause"; 2) that it "act[ed] uniformly during a long series of generations;" and 3) "all probably would be modified in the same manner," is (apart from being rendered vacuous by the "probably") what needs to be shown.]

Such facts as the complex and extraordinary out growths which variably follow from the insertion of a minute drop of poison by a gall-producing insect, shows us what singular modifications might result in the case of plants from a chemical change in the nature of the sap. [The point is that such "modifications" are not inherited by the plant in the sense that offpsring of plants with galls don't grow with galls in the absence of being parasitised by a gall-producing insect (or fungus, bacteria or mite), so it is irrelevant to his argument. Darwin must have known this, and so it is an example of him deliberately misleading his readers.]

[To be continued]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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