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Part IV: The Survival of the
Evolution: An Irrational
IN 1964 George Gaylord Simpson presented
the world with a kind of summary of his evolutionary philosophy
under the title This View of Life. (1) I think
it would be difficult to find in current literature any serious
work containing so many dogmatic assertions, the strength of
which depends so entirely upon the author's personal estimate
of the value of his own opinion, nor a like series of pontifical
assertions which, in the final analysis, rest upon so small a
base of experimental evidence.
is some measure of the fragility of his state of mind that he
has felt it necessary to assure the reader so repeatedly that
evolution is a fact. On one page alone, containing only
twenty lines of type, he repeats the phrase "the fact of
evolution" three times, twice within the first four lines.
(2) Throughout the book this begging of the issue runs
like an unending refrain. Evolution is a fact, not a theory;
evolution is one of the few basic facts; it is an unassailable
fact; a fact supported by all other facts; a fact which only
dishonest biologists would argue against. (3) He has
to admit that there are a few problems, but "solution of
these problems is a triumphant theme of recent research."
(4) If ever the sober propriety of true science has been
abandoned for dogma, it is here; yet the author uses the word
"dogma" only once and applies it to the concept of
the literature carefully over a period of some forty years, it
is my impression that the sense of urgency and special pleading
in assuring the public that Darwin was right, has increased steadily
with the passage of time. At first evolution was presented as
a tentative proposal. Then followed a period of facile assurance.
1. Simpson, G. G., This
View of Life, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1964.
Significantly, the subtitle is "The World of an Evolutionist."
2. Ibid., p.151. See also p.193.
3. Ibid., pp.10, vii, 62, 40, 51, 63, 151.
4. Ibid., p.63.
Now, as this assurance has begun to prove less well
founded, we have entered a period of defensive reiteration. A
situation has been reached where a small group of men whose names
are now household words among biologists, has come to form a
kind of College of Cardinals of a new Faith, which to challenge
is heresy, the penalty being almost inevitably excommunication
from the scientific fraternity. This happens in spite of the
increasingly evident fact that virtually all the fundamentals
of the orthodox evolutionary faith have shown themselves to be
either of extremely doubtful validity or simply contrary to fact.
This is true of the argument from homologies as a proof of relationships,
from recapitulation as a proof of lines of descent, from the
appeal to vestigial organs as a demonstration of progressive
change, and now similarly from the whole concept of the struggle
to survive and the survival of the fittest ‹ a concept which
lies at the root of natural selection. So basic are these erroneous
assumptions that the whole theory is now largely maintained in
spite of rather than because of the evidence. But it must be
maintained and Pinnock makes a keen observation in this respect:
of Evolution is so entwined in the current world view that its
absurdities are seldom even noticed. It ought to be apparent
to the casual observer of the history of science since Darwin,
that the theory he propounded, far from becoming better established,
is becoming shakier with every passing year. If you ignore for
a moment the brain washing of magazines with a Time-Life
mentality, and listen to the experts in the various fields, you
would soon realize that the data on which this grand hypothesis
depends are slender indeed, and capable of a dozen different
constructions. . . .
Evolution is believed and taught as a fact is not due to the
evidence for it, but rather due to the need for it [his
As a consequence, for the great majority
of students and for that large ill-defined group "the public,"
it has ceased to be a subject of debate. Because it is both incapable
of proof and yet may not be questioned, it is virtually untouched
by data which challenge it in any way. It has become in the strictest
sense irrational. It is now nothing less than a dogma, an article
of faith held with strong conviction and based on a logical extension
of certain premises which are themselves as yet unproven and
may be beyond proof. According to Simpson, those who refuse to
accept it are either idiotic, dishonest, or both.
Medieval times, the test of the truth of any proposition was
not whether it had received experimental verification but whether
it conformed to current orthodoxy. Whatever was agreeable to
5. Pinnock, Clark H., Set
Forth Your Case, Craig Press, Nutley, New Jersey, 1967, p.38.
pg.2 of 9
was accepted as truth and needed no further validation. The position
today with respect to the theory of evolution is very much the
same. Little, if any, critical examination is applied to any
particular piece of information or to any concept which it is
felt lends support to it. But information or concepts which challenge
the theory are almost never given a fair hearing by the "hierarchy."
They are rather apt to be discounted out-of-hand, as Stanley
Jaki said: "A successful theory can easily produce a state
of mind that fails to recognize the presence of proofs to the
philosophy has indeed become a state of mind, one might almost
say a kind of mental prison rather than a scientific attitude.
For wherever proof is, in the nature of the case, either lacking
or impossible, the scientific attitude is to maintain an open
mind. But this is precisely what the evolutionist is unwilling
to allow. He will not admit that any alternative interpretation
of the data is possible. Yet the data upon which his faith is
postulated is equivocal; it is capable of being interpreted in
two entirely different ways. To equate one particular interpretation
of the data with the data itself is evidence of mental confusion,
and this mental confusion leads to some extraordinary propositions.
example, not long ago it was seriously suggested that man grows
a beard because, in the past, it had a survival value. If a man
is attacked by an animal which goes for his throat, his beard
will tend to trigger the jaw-closing mechanism of the attacking
animal prematurely ‹ and thereby save his life. I have not
documented this beautiful piece of nonsense, but it was in a
perfectly respectable scientific journal. A little reflection
will show how flimsy such an argument really is. Half the world's
population does not grow a beard, the female half ‹ the half
which by nature of their reduced defensive equipment in terms
of height and muscular strength ought perhaps to be more in need
of a beard than the males! Furthermore it is primarily Caucasians
who grow beards which could conceivably be adequate as a defense
of this kind. So that two-thirds of the world's population of
males have not been provided selectively with this natural (?)
defense against predators. And finally, one might ask, would
dogs or other such attacking enemies exist in sufficient numbers
to constitute a threat of adequate dimensions to provide selective
pressure enough -- and would they attack adults only?. . . What
kind of sense does it make? That the editor of that journal should
take such an idea seriously enough to accept the author's
6. Jaki, Stanley, The Relevance
of Physics, University of Chicago Press, 1966, p.280.
paper for inclusion suggests
that the theory of evolution somehow or other is detrimental
to ordinary intelligence and warps judgment.
It can also lead to some astonishing
instances of circular reasoning. In a paper entitled "The
Dynamics of Evolutionary Change," G. Ledyard Stebbins wrote
this statement: (7)
sure, many examples are known in which a new type of animal or
plant appears suddenly and seems to be completely separate in
respect to many large differences from any earlier fossil forms.
these apparent saltations Simpson assumes that the fossil record
contains many highly significant gaps.
Consider what this extraordinary statement
means. There are many gaps. These gaps are labelled saltations.
It sounds better than simply calling them gaps. . . . According
to Stebbins, Simpson explains these saltations by saying there
are probably "many highly significant gaps." In short,
the many highly significant gaps which are called saltations
are explained by the many highly significant gaps. There is surely
something wrong with a mind so imprisoned in a theory that it
is capable of presenting as a serious contribution to scientific
theory this kind of "explanation."
course, the most favoured explanation of evolution at the present
moment is Natural Selection acting upon random mutations within
a population. But this explanation, of which Simpson assures
the reader that the solution of its remaining problems "is
a triumphant theme of recent research on evolution," is
now being increasingly called in question, even by those who
are themselves confirmed evolutionists. When Sir Julian Huxley
published his Evolution in Action, a kind of ex cathedra
pronouncement on the subject of natural selection, Sir James
Gray reviewed the book in the English journal Nature,
noting the fervour with which Huxley "preaches his gospel."
Gray put it this way: (8)
orthodoxy demands implicit faith in the efficacy of natural selection
operating on chance mutations. Subscribe to this, and all doubts
and hesitations disappear; question it and be forever lost. The
case for orthodoxy can seldom have been stated with greater cogency
and enthusiasm than by Dr. Julian Huxley in "Evolution in
A few readers,
perhaps rather pagan in their outlook, may think it a little
strange that, if the case is quite so strong as they are asked
to believe, it should
7. Stebbins, G. Ledyard, "The
Dynamics of Evolutionary Change," in Human Evolution:
Readings in Physical Anthropology, edited by N. Korn and
F. Thompson, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1967, p
pg.4 of 9
8. Gray, Sir James, "The Case for Natural Selection,"
Nature, February 6, 1954, p.227, in reviewing Sir Julian
Huxley's Evolution in Action, Chatto & Windus, London,
still be necessary
to argue the merits of natural selection with almost evangelistic
Gray went on to point out that he
is not challenging the concept of evolution itself. This he accepts.
What he is challenging is the mechanism by which it is currently
explained. And he notes that Huxley himself introduces an anomolous
note when he says, "The human species today is burdened
with many more deleterious mutant genes than can possibly exist
in any specie of wild creature." At that point Gray commented,
"It seems a great pity that Natural Selection should have
met its Waterloo just when it was most needed."
to what most laymen think on the subject, it appears therefore,
that natural selection does not necessarily lead to its supposed
corollary, "the survival of the fittest." For if mutant
genes indicate a deterioration in the organism at a basic level,
as is almost universally agreed, then man is perhaps the un-fittest
of all creatures. And yet he is supposed to be the climax of
the evolutionary process, as Wood Jones pointed out with complete
the ordering of Nature, life on Earth was destined to flourish
and multiply, to outfold its forms and increase its varieties,
it must be recognized as a tragic failure of its destiny that,
so far, it has merely achieved the emergence of the arch-destroyer
of life, and the sources of food and shelter necessary for its
One might argue, of course, that given
sufficient time man will come to grips with this problem and
turn out in the end to be Nature's supreme achievement. However,
there is more reason to believe that he will go on accumulating
and increasing the number of mutant genes that he carries so
that by the time he ought to be preparing to take his place as
its paramount chief he may be so deteriorated as to be totally
unfit. Moreover, there are even now signs that the complexification
of his central nervous system has already begun to bring about
his downfall just on a purely neurophysiological basis. Speaking
on this matter, Raymond Pearl pointed out: (10)
2.5 times more mammals than birds and reptiles die from causes
affecting the nervous system. The corresponding figure for the
more primitive of human groups is about 18.0. That for the most
highly civilized and culturally advanced human groups is about
words it appears that in the evolutionary progress from reptiles
and birds to the most advanced sorts of men, the relative mortality
9. Jones, F. Wood, Trends
of Life, Arnold, London, 1953, p.18.
10. Pearl, Raymond, Man the Animal, Principia Press, Indiana,
to breakdown of
the central nervous system has been multiplied more than twenty-seven
are not to be regarded as absolutely precise appraisals, but
roughly they do indicate something of the biological price that
man has to pay for his high-toned brain.
enough, an editorial appeared in the English journal Endeavour
that proposed that history bears out this progressive deterioration.
Writing on "The Future of Man," Holmyard, after suggesting
that there was little evidence of any improvement in man's intelligence
over the last six or seven thousand years, felt it necessary
to point out that there is some evidence in the opposite direction:
is, however, another possible factor to be considered. Hitherto
there is no sign that the progress of science is being hindered
by the limitations of the human brain, but we may legitimately
surmise that sooner or later a stage will be reached when the
mind is inadequate to effect further advance.
existence of warfare may perhaps be taken as an indication that
this stage has indeed already been arrived at, so far as morals
and ethics are concerned; its eventual attainment in the quest
for scientific knowledge would then be equally sure.
If worthiness is an aspect of fitness,
it is suddenly becoming increasingly apparent that the epitome
of evolutionary processes is no longer either fit or worthy
to survive. Man shows no improvement physically or mentally,
nor in behaviour. At the end of his book, John Greene, still
an evolutionist, recognized this fact and asked the question:
in truth a kind of Prometheus unbound, ready and able to assume
control of his own and cosmic destiny? Or is he, as the Bible
represents him, a God-like creature who, having denied his creatureliness
and arrogated to himself the role of Creator, contemplates his
own handiwork with fear and trembling lest he reap the wages
of sin, namely, death? The events of the twentieth century bear
tragic witness to the realism of the Biblical portrait of man.
Natural selection is a meaningless
concept unless it leads to the survival of the fittest and to
the elimination of the unfit. The fitness of all forms of life
(apart from man), by and large, impresses the naturalist everywhere
he looks. It impressed Darwin. It could be evidence of the hand
of God; or it could be evidence of some natural law which sees
to it that all unfit forms are eliminated, constantly, unfailingly,
being given no chance to perpetuate their kind. Darwin thought
he had discovered this mechanism, the struggle to survive,
11. Holmyard, E. J., "The
Future of Man," Endeavour, January 1946, p.2.
pg.6 of 9
12. Greene, John C., The Death of Adam, Iowa State University
Press, 1959, p.338.
to the survival of the fittest. And the very temper of the times
in which he lived prepared the public to welcome a concept which
seemed to justify the ruthless exploitation of the weak by the
strong, a philosophy deeply engrained as a consequence of the
Industrial Revolution. (13) In his autobiography, Andrew Carnegie,
who made his fortune in steel, described as follows his conversion
to evolution on reading Darwin and Spencer: (14)
that light came as in a flood and all was clear. Not only had
I got rid of theology and the supernatural but I had found the
truth of evolution. "All is well since all grows better,"
became my motto, my true source of comfort. Man was not created
with an instinct for his own degradation, but from the lower
he had risen to the higher forms. Nor is there any conceivable
end to his march to perfection. His face is turned to the light;
he stands in the sun and looks upward.
Montagu observed in connection with Big Business that John D.
Rockefeller (who certainly should have known better) said, "The
growth of a large business is merely the survival of the fittest.
. . . This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely
the working out of a law of nature and a law of God." Montagu
was offered as no mere apology. It was more positive than that,
it was a validation, a biological justification for competition.
This doctrine has become part of the behavioral equipment, the
system of overt beliefs, of almost everyone in the western world
today. . . .
This view of life is completely false.
Yet it largely motivates the conduct of most persons in the western
world. And it has brought man into the sorry state of personal,
interpersonal, and international conflict in which he finds himself
It seemed so entirely proper, and
the arguments which Darwin used to support the concept so very
reasonable, and the evidence which he selected to illustrate
how it works in Nature so convincing, that very few people paused
long enough to ask whether it was really true.
retrospect, we can see now that many of the catch-phrases with
which he bolstered his thesis ought to have been challenged from
the very beginning. Is Nature really in a constant state of warfare?
Do animals over-populate the territory they occupy so that many
of them are constantly on the border of starvation and only the
13. Calverton, V. F., The
Making of Man, Modern Library, New York, 1931, p.2. He said,
"Every force in the environment, economic and social, conspired
to the success of the doctrine."
14. Davidheiser, Bolton, Evolution and Christian Faith,
Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, Nutley, New Jersey,
15. Montagu, Ashley, On Being Human, Schuman, New York,
fit survive? Is it true that animals are entirely "selfish"
and that they are neither altruistic nor interdependent? Do only
the fit survive?
fact is that, little by little, a more careful examination of
what goes on in Nature has shown that the answer to every one
of these questions is negative. It is the object of this Paper
to give some of the evidence now available that Nature does not
necessarily eliminate or "select out" the unfit, a
circumstance which naturalists in their desire to find a mechanism
for evolution for a long while tended to overlook. Nature is
not in a state of constant warfare. Animals do not under normal
circumstances over-populate the territory they occupy. Cooperation
and interdependence in the community life of animals is not a
rare thing, but seems rather to be an essential part of the very
fabric of it. The whole concept of natural selection, which is
still so fundamental to current evolutionary theory, only makes
sense if we assume that it eliminates the unfit and that this
process of elimination results from struggle of some sort. But
what is becoming increasingly apparent is that there is as much
co-operation as there is struggle in Nature, and indeed probably
more. The unfit often survive, and when they do it is not infrequently
because members of their own species actually assist them to
short, the premises of evolutionary theory are about as invalid
as they could possibly be. Yet this new knowledge has made only
a very small dent in the armour of current biological orthodoxy.
If evolutionary theory was strictly scientific, it should have
been abandoned long ago. But because it is more philosophy than
science, it is not susceptible to the self-correcting mechanisms
that govern all other branches of scientific enquiry. Nevertheless,
it can only be a matter of time before there must come some pretty
fundamental revisions. Although he had in mind certain problems
in connection with the part played by mutations, Waddington admitted,
even in this regard, at the Alpbach Symposium in Switzerland,
"I think we are going to see some extraordinary changes
in our ideas about evolution pretty soon." (16)
But at present ‹ no matter how frequently the old foundations
are undermined by further knowledge, only to be replaced by alternative
foundations which in their turn prove equally insecure ‹
belief in evolution remains unshaken, whereby we may know that
it is indeed a dogma.
the next two chapters, some of the basic assumptions relative
to the supposed operation of Natural Selection are re-examined
16. Waddington, Sir C. H.,
"The Theory Or Evolution Today," in Beyond Reductionism,
edited by A. Koestler and J. R. Smythies, Hutchinson, London,
pg.8 of 9
of certain facts about the web of life which have tended to be
ignored or overlooked. And it will be seen that these facts stand
clearly against not only the theory of evolution per se,
but also against the extension of this theory as a key to the
understanding of human behaviour.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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