Darwinism is 100 years old. This milestone has been marked by the publication of a volume edited by Dr. S. A. Barnett and entitled A Century of Darwin (Heinemann, London, 1958; 376 pp.; price 30s.). Of the 15 scientists who have contributed chapters, 12 are on the staffs of British and two of American universities, while the odd man out in this respect is Sir Gavin De Beer of the British Museum, who is well known for his uncompromising zeal as an advocate of Darwinism. The editor claims this book shows that, so far from being dead, Darwinism is respectable. Whether it is right is another question; and perhaps it would be unkind to suggest that there is no place more respectable than a cemetery! Inasmuch as this book is a serious attempt by Darwinists of the present day to state their case, it deserves to receive serious attention. Parts of it may prove heavy going for those unschooled in scientific terminology, but on the whole it is well-written. The effect of the whole, however, is neither massive nor impressive. A structure reared upon an ex hypothesi unverifiable assumption preached as an infallible dogma necessarily lacks the appearance of stability.
“Natural selection” is proclaimed as the sovereign power (“the great force,” Professor Dobzhansky calls it) through which operation organic life in the multiplicity of all its forms has come into existence. Indeed, it might perhaps better be described as the new god which has supplanted the God of Scripture to whose creative activity the whole natural order used to be attributed—and still is by those who have been renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created them (Col. 3:10). Thus we are assured by Dr. Barnett that, “once organic evolution was accepted, a new significance was given to the exquisite adaptation of bee to flower or of gull to flight; these, and everything like them, were products of the blind yet rational operation of natural selection. Blind yet rational!—that is a contradiction in terms which it would be difficult to surpass even in the most solemn of obscurantist writings. We perceive that “modern science,” no less than “modern theology,” has its rational/irrational dialectic whereby what happens by undirected irrational chance (the occurrence of mutations in the genetical structure of organisms) is, if advantageous for survival, seized on by the directing rational faculty of natural selection and incorporated into the system. If the irrational factor is disadvantageous for survival, presumably the rational factor must succumb together with the unfortunate organism.
What is abundantly plain is that the biologist who claims to have dispensed with God finds himself compelled to postulate the activity of an all-pervading mystical “force” which cannot be weighed, measured, or seen through the microscope, but which he devoutly exalts as the numen of his scientific cult.
It would seem, however, that the intangible force of natural selection may on occasion be faced with situations which its blind rationality does not find simple of solution. “It is easy to see,” Dr. Maynard Smith confidently affirms in his chapter on “Sexual Selection,” “how sexual selection can have evolutionary consequences in a polygamous species. If the larger stags with better-developed antlers are also the more successful in collecting harems, and if they transmit these characteristics to their numerous male offspring, then this would account for the evolution of greater size and of antlers in male deer.” But it is far from easy to see how this distinctly hypothetical explanation is helped by the consideration that among red deer some stags never develop antlers, and that, as the author admits, these antlerless stags “are often larger than other stags and earlier in coming to rut,” and “are successful in maintaining harems, and can hold their own against other stags.” This being so, it is not unreasonable to inquire why natural selection does not seize on these advantages and transmit them. Dr. Maynard Smith, acknowledging that “the advantages of having antlers are not so obvious as might appear at first sight,” can but reply that “one can only assume that on balance it must pay to have them.” The picture of natural selection weighing up with existential anxiety the pros and cons of the irrational dilemma of antlers-or-no-antlers is entertaining!
Because contemporary evolutionists have radically revised or even abandoned concepts which were regarded by their predecessors as essential and fundamental to their doctrine, leading terms are now having to be redefined with care and precision. And no term is more in need of this today than the word species. For this reason Professor Dobzhansky’s chapter on “Species after Darwin” is welcome. He identifies biological species with mating communities that represent genetically closed systems (that is, that do not interbreed with other communities). His explanation of this sexual segregation is that natural selection (that tireless opportunist) “has confined the sexual union within the limits on which the gene recombination is likely to produce adaptively valuable genetical endowments”—or, more simply, likely to favor survival. Thus “dog is called a species because all varieties of dogs can interbreed.… Dog and coyote are assigned to different species, since they interbreed seldom or not at all.” The whole human race, likewise, must be defined as one species; whereas a large number of species of the drosophila fly have, on this definition, been classified. Dr. Dobzhansky believes that an example of “uncompleted speciation” (species in the process of formation) may be discerned among the different races of salamander found in California. “It is no exaggeration to say,” he confides, “that if no instances of uncompleted speciation were discovered the whole theory of evolution would be in doubt.”
But it is not clear how the formation of new species under Dr. Dobzhansky’s definition can be held to support the basic thesis of evolution, namely, that new and higher forms of life develop from lower forms. It should be noted that claims made by evolutionists today for the formation of new species are confined to a single genera: a new species of salamander does not cease to be a salamander; a new species of drosophila fly is still a drosophila fly. Within the limits set by the precise genetical laws of heredity, the development of new species and of variations within species is comprehensible—and there is no discord with the assertion of Genesis 1 that living things reproduce after their kind.
It is the assumption, unsupported and unsupportable by factual evidence and indeed contrary to scientific knowledge, that life originated from lifeless matter and has, in all its variety and complexity, evolved ultimately from the simplest unicellular organism. With its dogmas, myths, and creedal mystiques, modern Darwinism quite certainly qualifies for a place in current religious thought.
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