Darwin, Evolution and His Critics-Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
Darwin himself expressed serious doubts about his theory, as we see expressed in letters to friends and colleagues.


How Convinced Was Charles Darwin about His Theory of Evolution?

The National Academy of Sciences, in an official statement, declares the following: “…it was Darwin, above all others, who first marshaled the convincing critical evidence for biological evolution.”[1]

Leading evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson also cites Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) as “the work that first substantially established this truth” of evolution.[2]

Why is a discussion of Darwin’s view and the recent history of evolution important to a modern analysis?[3]

Some argue that since the entire scientific world has now accepted Darwin’s thesis (albeit modified), and “proven” evolution true, that a discussion of Darwin’s views and their initial reception is irrelevant as far as the truth of evolution is concerned.

If evolution is a scientific fact, then this argument is valid. If it is not a scientific fact, then a discussion of both Darwin’s own doubts and the initial rejection of evolution by the scientific community are certainly relevant.

If evolution isn’t proven (to the contrary) and Darwin himself had serious reservations about his own theory, then his doubts are relevant after all. And if the reasons that the scientific community of Darwin’s day rejected evolution are still valid today, a century and a half later, then one is forced to look to nonscientific reasons for the acceptance of Darwinism.

To have both Darwin and the scientific community expressing grave doubts over evolution is hardly irrelevant. Consider an analogy. What if new evidence was uncovered that Jesus and the apostles had expressed serious doubts about Jesus’ divine nature and His role as Messiah and Savior? The modern Christian’s certainty that Jesus is God, Messiah and Savior is based squarely on New Testament manuscripts concerning Jesus’ own claims, convictions and exten­sive supporting evidence including Jesus’ fulfillment of messianic prophecy, His unique miracles and resurrection from the dead.

But what if it was now discovered that all this evidence turned out to be seriously misappro­priated and, indeed, was just plain wrong? Worse, what if new unimpeachable manuscript evidence came to light proving Jesus to be something like the pitiable figure in Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ (1960)?

Christianity would be through and with good reason—it would be a rank deception and fraud.

So if new, unimpeachable evidence is available today that disproves evolution, do not the initial doubts of Darwin and the scientific community take on new meaning? And then, doesn’t the acceptance of evolution by the entire world require a closer look to understand just why this theory became so universally accepted? The reservations of Darwin and the initial skepti­cism of the scientific community are consistent with the current crisis in evolutionary theory due to the continuing lack of evidence for evolution, even 150 years later.

Regardless of subsequent events, the initial concerns of Darwin and the scientific commu­nity were correct after all. And this is something important to know.

Darwin admitted that his volume, The Origin of Species (1859) was “one long argument” for evolution.[4] But reading through The Origin of Species one is struck by how weak the case for evolution really is. And Darwin knew it. The data amassed are just as easily interpreted within a non-evolutionary framework. That his interpretation of the data and not the data itself was paramount in his theory is clear from his statement that, “I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stalked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine.”[5] In other words, Darwin didn’t really expect to change the mind of anyone who believed that the facts of nature were more readily explainable on the basis of creation than chance.

That Darwin had his doubts is evident from letters he wrote just after publication of The Origin of Species. In one letter to Huxley he said, “Exactly 15 months ago, when I put pen to paper for this volume, I had awful misgivings; and I thought perhaps I had deluded myself as so many have done…” and, in a letter to Lyell he stated, “I have asked myself whether I may have not devoted myself to a phantasy.”[6] Significantly, both Huxley and Lyell also had their doubts.[7]

Even before Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, “the theory of evolution in biology was already an old, even a discredited one.”[8] It had been discredited primarily on two grounds: (1) insufficient geological time to accomplish evolution and (2) lack of a satisfactory mechanism for explaining how the process of evolution works.[9] Today, 130 years later, with supposedly billions of geologic years to allow evolution to occur and endless speculation as to evolutionary mechanisms, the situation has not changed. Sufficient time still does not exist for evolution to occur and no credible mechanism of evolution has yet been put forth.

Evolution claims to operate through beneficial mutations and natural selection. According to Darwin, evolution happens when an organism is confronted by a changing environment. Some organisms in a population became better adapted for survival than others. In part, this is so because of beneficial mutations, incredibly rare events that alter an organism allowing it to improve. Natural selection involves the survival of those organisms best adapted to their envi­ronment; those less adapted die out. The best adapted transmit their improved genetic charac­teristics and populations evolve upward. On the surface, it might seem to make sense—that billions of years could produce sufficient mutations to allow things to slowly improve and change so that all life evolves upward.

But it actually doesn’t make sense at all.[10] Many things in life initially seem true but aren’t— the sun rising and setting; that a given person would be trustworthy; a mirage in a desert, etc. Explanations that can seem to make sense but are false are also not unusual—astrological interpretations, critical rationalistic theories to explain Jesus’ empty tomb, explanations for why the treatment works in certain holistic health practices, etc. In terms of consequences, false explanations can run the gamut from harmless to extremely consequential; for example, in the latter case, misinterpreting demon possession as mental illness or vice versa. When examined critically there is little doubt where materialistic evolution lies.

In light of what Darwin asked people to believe, it is hardly surprising that he often ex­pressed doubts about the feasibility of his theory. In his sixth chapter, “Difficulties on Theory,” he remarked, “Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered;… ”[11] Darwin considered such things as instinct alone “sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.”[12] He also referred to the common view of many naturalists who “believed that very many [plant and animal] structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory. Yet I fully admit [as evolution requires] that many structures are of no direct use to their pos­sessors.”[13] Commenting on “the difficulties and objections which may be urged against my theory,” a few pages later he observes that “many of them are very grave….”[14]

In Chapter 7 on “Instinct,” he encountered other problems, e.g., “So wonderful an instinct as that of the hive-bee making its cells will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.”[15] In referring to the marvelous community of slave ants he commented, “What can be more extraordinary than these well ascertained facts? If we had not known of any other slave-making ant, it would have been hopeless to have speculated how so wonderful an instinct could have been perfected.”[16] This was a problem for Darwin because he admitted, “No complex instinct can possibly be produced through natural selec­tion, except by the slow and gradual communication of numerous, slight, yet profitable varia­tions”[17] —and the facts of slave-ant communities were difficult, to say the least, to explain on the basis of natural selection. In commenting on how bees build honeycombs he said, “He must be a dull man who can examine the exquisite structure of a comb, so beautifully adapted to its end, without enthusiastic admiration…. Grant whatever instincts you please, and it seems at first quite inconceivable how they can make all the necessary angles and planes, or even perceive when they are correctly made.”[18]

In considering the behavior of other insects he observed, “It will indeed be thought that I have an overweening confidence in the principle of natural selection, when I do not admit that such wonderful and well established facts at once annihilate my theory.”[19] In fact, Darwin has a very difficult time believing that natural selection can accomplish all that he hopes it can: “But I am bound to confess, that, with all my faith in this principle, I should never have anticipated that natural selection could have been efficient in so high a degree….”[20]

In Chapter 9, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record,” Darwin encountered addi­tional problems. If evolution were true, one would expect that the vast majority of fossils would be of intermediary forms. Due to the incredibly slow nature of the evolutionary process such forms would exist over the vast majority of geological time. But Darwin, like modern scientists, could not find the intermediate forms necessary to support his theory. He admitted, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”[21] Further, “to the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer…. The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”[22]

Darwin concluded this chapter by confessing,

The several difficulties here discussed, namely our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links between the many species which now exist or have existed; the sudden manner in which whole groups of species appear in our European formations; the almost entire absence, as at present known, of fossiliferous formations beneath the silurian strata, are all undoubtedly of the gravest nature…. Those who think the natural geologic record in any degree perfect, and who do not attach much weight to the facts and arguments given in other kinds given in this volume, will undoubtedly at once reject my theory.[23]

Darwin faced so many other problems—problems so severe one wonders at his determination to pursue his theory. Among such problems are: “…organs of extreme perfection and complication…”[24]; for example, the human eye. Darwin confessed, “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”[25] In Volume 2 of The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin by Francis Darwin (1887, p. 67), Darwin confessed in 1860 that, “The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder….”[26]

Indeed, a leading modern evolutionist, Pierre-P. Grasse, a leading French Zoologist, ob­serves,

We fully understand Darwin’s fears and wonder what they would have been had he been confronted with the anatomical and cytological complexity that is revealed by modern biology; he would have been even more worried had he known that [natural] selection cannot create anything on its own. We know absolutely nothing about the evolution of the eye of the vertebrate, and embryology is of little help. The problem is to know whether random mutations could have given rise to an organ requiring, because of its complexity, a considerable number of data for its elaboration. The number of mutations must have been enormous…. The complexity of the retina, of the sheathes, etc., need not detain us either; all this is extremely well known, but we must say that no recent publication inspired by Darwinism even mentions it.
In 1860 Darwin considered only the eye, but today he would have to take into consideration all the cerebral connections of the organ. The retina is indirectly connected to the striated zone of the occipital lobe of the cerebral hemispheres: Specialized neurons correspond to each one of its parts—perhaps even to each one of its photo receptor cells. The connection between the fibers of the optic nerve and the neurons of the occipital lobe in the geniculite body is absolutely perfect…. As a rule everything works perfectly.
In fact, the picture we have just sketched is even more complex; we did not consider the molecular structure which shows as many peculiarities of adaptation as the macrostructure… and we have neglected entirely the chemistry of a complex organ capable of multiple adjustments.

We took the eye as an example, but the ear would have been just as instructive. Is not the human brain, the organ capable of abstraction, an even better example?[27]

Another evolutionist wonders, “How then are we to account for the evolution of such a complicated organ as the eye…. Since it must be either perfect, or perfectly useless, how could it have evolved by small, successive, Darwinian steps”?[28]

It is hardly surprising that the human eye bothered Darwin. Even today evolutionists can’t account for it—and they never shall. But the eye was hardly the only thing to concern him. In fact, one encounters the same kinds of problems for every organ of every species. Darwin later admitted, “I remember well when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a Peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick.”[29]

But the stunning beauty and design of peacock feathers are not the real problem; even ordinary feathers are. No evolutionary scientists has ever been able to offer a plausible expla­nation or reconstruction for the evolutionary origin of simple feathers, including their unique shaft barbs and barbules which give them their insulatory and aerodynamic characteristics.

Darwin’s “demons” were everywhere in the natural world. Throughout his book we find statements such as the following: “I have sometimes felt much difficulty in understanding the origin of simple parts….”;[30] “The belief that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection, is more than enough to stagger anyone;…”;[31] and, “It is, no doubt, extremely difficult even to conjecture by what gradations many structures have been per­fected…”;[32] and, turning to the geographical distribution of animals, “the difficulties encoun­tered on the theory of descent with modification are grave enough.”[33]

In Chapter 14, his concluding chapter, Darwin writes, “that many and grave objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny…. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organ­isms and instincts should have been perfected, not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of enumerable slight variations,…”[34] And a few pages later, “Such is the sum of the several chief objections and difficulties which may justly be urged against my theory; …I have felt these difficulties far too heavily during many years to doubt their weight.”[35]

All of the above is why Darwin was impelled to admit in his introduction, “For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be ad­duced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have ar­rived.”[36] He further stated, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.”[37]

Darwin expressed many such doubts. Then he turned around and attempted to resolve them. Then he went back to his original doubts. Such oscillation is hardly surprising for some­one attempting to explain the unexplainable—and ultimately the impossible: how the marvel­ous complexity of all life originated from dead matter. Consider how Darwin attempted to resolve some of his doubts.

In spite of all the difficulties, Darwin usually proposed some seeming explanation that he felt did not make the difficulty necessarily fatal. For example, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.”[38]

Notice how Darwin stresses again and again that we must never doubt the possibility of evolution to accomplish its goal:

We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind.[39]
Although we must be extremely cautious in concluding that any organ could not possibly have been produced by successive transitional gradations….[40]

Isn’t the only reason he must be “extremely cautious” because without mutations’ natural selection there is simply no basis for the theory of evolution to begin with? Over and again we are told, “The difficulty is not nearly so great as it at first appears.”[41] “And those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.”[42]

Again and again, natural selection became the miracle Darwin needed to justify his theory:

This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual….[43]
The electric organs of fishes offer another case of special difficulty; it is impossible to conceive by what steps these wondrous organs have been produced; but, …we must own that we are far too ignorant to argue that no transition of any kind is possible.[44]

In the end, even the miracle of the eye can be explained by natural selection: “Then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.”[45]

No matter how impossible the job, Darwin assumed that mutations and natural selection can account for the production of any given organ, feature, plant or animal. Today it is a scien­tific fact that virtually every complex organ and creature “could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications.” Darwin could not apparently think of a single case when natural selection would fail; today we cannot think of a single case where it would succeed.

Yet Darwin almost certainly knew that he was requesting miracles and that evolution re­quired faith at least as great as the alleged religious “superstitions” he rejected. Consider two illustrations Darwin was willing to let stand in The Origin of Species. Although they hardly convey the degree of miracle required for evolution overall, they nevertheless give us an indi­cation of Darwin’s faith:

We have seen in this chapter how cautious we should be in concluding that the most different habits of life could not graduate into each other; that a bat, for instance, could not have been formed by natural selection from an animal which at first could only glide through the air.[46]


In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water…. I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.[47]

In other words, Darwin believed that the immensely complex radar system of a bat might somehow evolve from a flying squirrel or that a bear, by the “accumulation of infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being” could eventually change into a whale![48] This, of course, is faith, but hardly of the noble variety. It was a faith Darwin invoked at every level of significant evolutionary change.

That his faith was finally irrational is seen in his personal letters illustrating what he termed “my endless oscillations of doubt and difficulty” concerning evolution.[49] Even his theory of natural selection was suspect: “In fact, the belief in Natural Selection must at present be grounded entirely on general considerations…. When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed… nor can we prove that the supposed changes are benefi­cial, which is the groundwork of the theory.”[50]

As noted earlier, Darwin was not alone in having doubts. Darwin, Spencer, Huxley and Wallace were the four pillars of 19th Century Darwinism and the individuals responsible for the acceptance of evolution in that century.

Yet, all of them had doubts. Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-founder of biological evolution, confessed that the human brain “could never have been solely developed by any of those laws of evolution….”[51] T. H. Huxley admitted his belief in evolution was “an act of philosophic faith.”[52] And Herbert Spencer admitted that, “Even in its most defensible shape there are serious difficulties in its way.”[53]

All these men accepted evolution (despite their doubts) because they had first rejected Divine creation and simply had no other option. Because they were biased against the super­natural and preferred not to believe in the Creator God of Genesis, evolution was accepted by default:

The reason these men accepted evolution is not brought out clearly in their scientific works but in their letters, biographies and autobiographies which many scientists have never examined…. The eminent evolutionists of the nineteenth century accepted evolution because of their anti-supernatural bias, and not because of the weight of the scientific evidence….[54]

Overall, in most cases it “was not a study of nature itself that led men to search for some hypothesis of natural evolution, but rather the desire to escape the supernatural.”[55]


  1. National Academy of Sciences, Official Statement in Voices for Evolution (Berkeley, CA: National Center for Science Education, 1995), p. 56.
  2. George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (New York: Bantam, 1971), p. 4.
  3. Evolutionary ideas are ancient and precede Darwin by thousands of years; however, Darwin was the first to systematize data in such a way as to make evolution seem scientifically credible for a world that had already been primed to accept it. (Cf. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution.)
  4. Charles Darwin (ed. J. W. Burrow), The Origin of Species (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1974.), p. 435.
  5. Ibid.
  6. M.D. Bowden, The Rise of the Evolution Fraud (San Diego, CA: Creation Life, 1982), pp. 56-57, citing Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 2, pp. 232, 229.
  7. Bowden, pp. 65, 69.
  8. Darwin, The Origin of Species, p. 27.
  9. Ibid., p. 28.
  10. See, for example, our Darwin’s Leap of Faith.
  11. Darwin, The Origin of Species, p. 205.
  12. Ibid., p. 123.
  13. Ibid., p. 227.
  14. Ibid., p. 230.
  15. Ibid., p. 234.
  16. Ibid., p. 244.
  17. Ibid., p. 236.
  18. Ibid., p. 248.
  19. Ibid., p. 259
  20. Ibid., p. 262.
  21. Ibid. p. 292.
  22. Ibid., pp. 313-314.
  23. Ibid., pp. 315-316.
  24. Ibid., p. 217.
  25. Ibid., p. 217.
  26. W. R. Bird, The Origin of Species Revisited (New York, Philosophical Library, 1987, 1988, 1989.), Vol., 2, p. 73.
  27. Pierre-P. Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence for a New Theory of Transformation (New York, Academic Press/Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977.), pp. 104-05.
  28. In Bird, Vol. 1, pp. 73-74.
  29. Ibid., p. 75, citing F. Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 2, 1887, p. 296.
  30. Darwin, The Origin of Species, p. 224.
  31. Ibid., p. 231.
  32. Ibid., p. 435.
  33. Ibid., p. 437.
  34. Ibid., p. 435.
  35. Ibid., p. 440.
  36. Ibid., p. 66.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid., p. 219.
  39. Ibid., p. 220, emphasis added.
  40. Ibid., p. 222, emphasis added.
  41. Ibid., p. 248.
  42. Ibid., p. 205.
  43. Ibid., p. 258.
  44. Ibid., p. 222, emphasis added.
  45. Ibid., p. 217.
  46. Ibid., p. 231.
  47. Ibid., p. 215.
  48. Ibid., p. 142.
  49. Robert T. Clark, James D. Bales, Why Scientists Accept Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1976), citing Life and Letters, Vol. 2, 211.
  50. Ibid., p. 36, citing Life and Letters, Vol. 2, 210.
  51. Bird, Vol. 1, p. 73, citing A. Wallace, Natural Selection and Tropical Nature, 1895, p. 202.
  52. In Clark and Bales, p. 80.
  53. Ibid., p. 98.
  54. Ibid.; cf., R. J. Rushdoony, The Mythology of Science (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1968), p. 13.
  55. Ibid.

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