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Darwinism

Facts Concerning Darwinism

Charles Darwin was born in England in 1809. Darwin is considered by most historians to have been a very good scientist. He was meticulous in his record keeping and had a keen eye for observation. He is also considered by most to be the originator of the theory of evolution. Darwin was not however the first to come up with the idea of the evolution of life from a common ancestor. The idea of organic evolution was common knowledge among the scientists of Darwin's day. Jean Baptiste Lamarck was a French naturalist who had developed his own ideas of evolution long before Darwin's time. Lamarck had three theories (these are actually more examples of the misuse of the word theory : see "Is evolution just a theory?") to explain the evolution of life. Theory of need: Lamarck believed that animals would acquire the characteristics they needed to sustain life. His most popular example was the giraffe. Lamarck believed that as a giraffe stretched out its neck to reach up into the trees to forage its neck would get longer. Theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics: Lamarck believed that parents passed their newly acquired traits to their offspring. A baby giraffe would have a longer neck if its parents got one by reaching up into the trees. Theory of use and disuse: If a trait was no longer needed or used then it would slowly disappear from the population. This would result in vestigial organs and tissues that no longer had a necessary function in the organism. Examples commonly cited as vestigial organs or tissues in humans are the tonsils, appendix and tail bone. Even the pituitary gland was at one time listed as a vestigial organ.

While Lamarck's idea that a giraffe could get a longer neck by stretching seems almost humorous to us today the fact is that Darwin accepted Lamarck's ideas. Darwin knew of Lamarck and accepted his ideas but never gave any credit to him in his writings. Darwin never acknowledged Lamarck's influence upon his idea of descent with modification.

Much has been said about the phrase "survival of the fittest". This phrase actually says absolutely nothing. The reason is that to be fit in an evolutionary sense means to leave offspring. But for a species to survive also means to leave offspring. So in effect this statement can be rephrased "survival of the survivalist" or "the fitting of the fittest". This is what is known as a tautology. A tautology is stating the same thing but in two different ways. A tautology really says nothing at all. Survival of the fittest sounds good, has been recited ad nauseum and yet serves no purpose whatsoever. Most people are under the assumption that Darwin uttered that famous phrase. It was not Darwin however but Herbert Spencer who first published those words. Yet Darwin's theory essentially makes the same argument. In his book Origin of Species Darwin stated that "Generally, the most vigorous males, those which are best fitted for their places in nature, will leave most progeny."

Charles Darwin did not know about gene mutations. He lived before the discovery of the DNA molecule. When Darwin proposed his theory of natural selection he had no idea what could be responsible for the transmission of acquired characteristics. He proposed something called a "pangene". (A pangene should not be confused with actual genes which are sections of DNA that code for a particular protein.) Darwin believed that pangenes were in the blood and that they were passed from parents to their offspring thereby transmitting the variations that could then result in evolutionary change. Darwin had no actual evidence for the existence of pangenes. Pangenes were Darwin's attempt to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics. He believed in the concept of descent with modification without any scientific evidence regarding how it actually occurred.

No reputable scientist today believes in either pangenes or Darwinism. In 1953 the DNA molecule was discovered. Gene mutations, not pangenes, were then claimed to be the mechanism by which natural selection could occur. Darwinism then gave way to Neo-Darwinism (new Darwinism).

Observations on Darwinism

This whole episode of history leads to an interesting side-note regarding the scientific community at large. Alfred Wegener was a scientist who also proposed a radical new idea for his time. Wegener developed the idea of continental drift to explain the shape and locations of the continents. He believed that in the past there was a super-continent (pangea). He thought that over a long period of time this super-continent broke up and the resulting pieces drifted slowly around the globe.

Wegener proposed that what we see today are the continents drifting ever so slowly across the planets surface. With quite a bit of circumstantial evidence to support his claim Wegener laid out his ideas and tried to get published in scientific journals. What Wegener lacked was a method by which something as large as a continent could be moved. As a result, his ideas were not just dismissed by other scientists but were ridiculed extensively. But today Wegener's ideas are now accepted as fact. Continental drift is used to explain the shape and location of the continents, how mountains are formed and even why and where earthquakes occur.

Darwin had circumstantial evidence for his claims. Wegener had circumstantial evidence for his claims. Darwin's ideas regarding natural selection were accepted as a fact by the scientific community even though he lacked a method by which it could actually happen. Wegener's ideas were rejected by the scientific community because he lacked a method by which it could actually happen. Why were Darwin's ideas accepted and Wagner's rejected? Could it be that with Darwin's ideas science no longer needed God? I think that the scientific community in general was looking for naturalistic explanations for the existence of life. Darwin's ideas provided a "scientific" explanation and were eagerly accepted. Wegener's ideas, though implicating an old earth, had nothing to do with God and therefore underwent much more scrutiny before being accepted as well.

Darwin's Evidence


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