Evolution and Recent History: Darwin, Evolution and His Critics-Part 8

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2002
Darwin gathered and systematized a good deal of data, but he proved nothing. He no more proved evolution by amassing facts than scientists of an earlier era proved the world was flat by amassing facts. Facts are facts, but they can be interpreted quite differently depending upon presuppositions and other considerations.

How Was Darwin’s Theory of Evolution First Received?—Part Two

As we showed last time, a number of scientists were critical of Darwin’s theory. Darwin gathered and systematized a good deal of data, but he proved nothing. He no more proved evolution by amassing facts than scientists of an earlier era proved the theory of phlogiston or that the world was flat by amassing facts. Facts are facts but they can be interpreted quite differently depending upon presuppositions and other considerations.

As another leading scientist of the day, Louis Agassiz of Harvard University, author of the Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, observed:

The facts upon which Darwin, Wallace, Haeckel, and others base their views are in the possession of every well-educated naturalist. It is only a question of interpretation, not discovery of new and unlooked-for information.[1]

Darwin himself admitted his theory was bereft of proof where it was most needed. In a letter to H. G. Bronn he confessed, “You put very well and very fairly that I can in no one instance explain the course of modification in any particular instance,” and further, “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,”[2] and finally, “I am actually weary of telling people that I do not pretend to adduce direct evidence of one species changing into another.”[3] In other words, Darwin agreed he had no direct evidence for evolution.

As William Hopkins observed: “A great number of facts are mentioned as being only explicable on this theory, and might thus appear to an inattentive reader to constitute a large amount of inductive evidence. But all that is attempted to be done is to assert, not to prove, that the facts are consistent with the theory;…”[4]

David L. Hull, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, and former visiting Associate Professor, Committee on the Conceptural Foundation of Science, Univer­sity of Chicago, points out that Darwin’s deficient methodology is still used today:

As Huxley observed, the Origin is “a mass of facts crushed and pounded into shape, rather than held together by the ordinary medium of an obvious logical bond; due attention will, without doubt, discover this bond, but it is often hard to find.” The modern reader frequently grows impatient with Darwin’s method in the Origin of piling example on example, but this was the only method open to him given the structure of evolutionary theory. This format is still characteristic of works in evolutionary theory [today].[5]

Again, even Darwin suspected that his factual data were insufficient. He conceded to Asa Gray, “What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work will be grievously hypothetical, and large parts by no means worthy of being called induction, my commonest error being probably induction from too few facts.”[6]

In the end, critical reviews gave Darwin no end of trouble and caused him to constantly revise The Origin of Species. After the “most cutting review” of St. George Jackson Mivart, Darwin thought, “I shall soon be viewed as the most despicable of men.”[7] In a letter to J. D. Hooker January 16, 1869, Darwin complained, “It is only about two years since the last edition of the Origin, and I am fairly disgusted to find how much I have to modify, and how much I ought to add; …”[8]

All of this is why Michael Denton concludes that:

The popular conception of a triumphant Darwin increasingly confident after 1859 in his views of evolution is a travesty. On the contrary, by the time the last edition of the Origin was published in 1872, he had become plagued with self doubt and frustrated by his inability to meet the many objections which had been leveled at his theory. According to Loren Eiseley: “A close examination of the last edition of the Origin reveals that in attempting on scattered pages to meet the objections being launched against his theory the much-labored upon volume had become contradictory…. The last repairs to the Origin reveal… how very shaky Darwin’s theoretical structure had become. His gracious ability to compromise had produced some striking inconsistencies. His book was already a classic, however, and these deviations for the most part passed unnoticed even by his enemies.”[9]

In conclusion, Darwin’s theory was subject to a considerable amount of valid criticism immediately after publication. As we documented in Darwin’s Leap of Faith (1998), the critics were right all along and the scientists and theologians who accepted Darwinism on naturalistic or philosophic grounds were wrong. Evolution came to be an accepted theory not because it was ever proven but because people wanted it to be true. Its appeal was that it provided a seeming scientific explanation for living things as well as a seeming testable mechanism for the origin of those things—natural selection. How valid such ap­pearances were scientifically is shown in the above book.

Not only was Darwin unable to answer his best critics, but in the subsequent 140 years, neither have modern scientists been able to answer theirs. As Michael Denton observes:

Neither of the two fundamental axioms of Darwin’s macroevolutionary theory [i.e., (1) the evolutionary continuity of nature linking all life forms on a continuum leading back to a primal origin and (2) the adaptive design of life [resulting from blind random processes] have been validated by one single empirical discovery or scientific advance since 1859. Despite more than a century of intensive effort on the part of evolutionary biologists, the major objections raised by Darwin’s critics such as Agassiz, Pictet, Bronn and Richard Owen have not been met…. That the gaps cannot be dismissed as inventions of the human mind, merely figments of an antievolutionary imagination—an imagination prejudiced by typology, essentialism or creationism—is amply testified by the fact that their existence has always been just as firmly acknowledged by the advocates of evolution…”[10]

From day one evolutionists have had serious, and, we think fatal problems with their theory. In light of the evolutionary establishment’s constant refrain of “evolution is a fact,” those frank enough to admit such difficulties should be commended.


  1. David L. Hull, Darwin & His Critics: The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 436, citing Atlantic Monthly, January 1874.
  2. Ibid., p. 32, citing More Letters, 1903, Vol. 1, 172 and Darwin, Life and Letters, 1887, Vol. 2, p. 210.
  3. Ibid., p. 292, citing Autobiography, p. 265.
  4. Ibid., p. 267.
  5. Ibid., p. 32.
  6. Ibid., p. 9, citing Letter to Asa Gray, November 29, 1859 in More Letters, 1903, Vol. 1, p. 126.
  7. Ibid., p. 352 citing C. Darwin to A. R. Wallace, July 12, 1871 in Life and Letters, Vol. 2, p. 326.
  8. Ibid., p. 302 citing Letter of January 16, 1869 in More Letters, Vol. 2, p. 379.
  9. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler Publishers, Inc., 1986), p. 69.
  10. Ibid., p. 345.


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