In Part 1 of this series of articles on natural selection we found that in the past creationists have accepted natural selection as some sort of a reality. We also found that some evolutionists are skeptical about the power of natural selection to do anything, while others believe it has super powers. Many experts in many fields of science and philosophy have had lots to say about Darwin’s book and natural selection. In this part we will look at some of what Darwin himself had to say in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

I want to emphasize two things up front. First, Darwin wrote many times throughout his book that he knew his theory had numerous problems. Second, his definition for natural selection had a number of variations.

An example of his mention of problems was in his consideration of the fossils in the rock record. He was perplexed by the total lack of transitional forms that should be obvious if his theory was to be valid. He wrote, “But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?” [Page 80.*] He brought this exact point up again time after time. I found mention of it also on pages 152, 158, 179 and in his conclusion on page 242 where he wrote, “The noble science of Geology loses glory from the extreme imperfection of the record. The crust of the earth with its imbedded remains must not be looked at as well-filled museums, but as poor collections made at hazard and rare intervals.”

So, Darwin blamed geologists for not finding the transitions that he, in faith, was sure were there in the rocks somewhere. And, with his total commitment to deep time that he picked up from Charles Lyell, there was no doubt in his mind that the transitions existed and would soon be discovered. The problem remains, and most paleontologists today believe that they have a pretty good collection of most of the fossil groups that do exist. The transitional forms are still missing!

Next let’s look at some of Darwin’s quotes regarding natural selection.

“Natural Selection almost invariably causes much Extinction of the less improved forms of life, and leads to what I have called Divergence of Character.” [Page 7.*] You will notice that Darwin often, but not always, capitalized his natural selection. In A Pocket Style Manual, fourth edition by Diana Hacker she writes, “The following types of words are usually capitalized: names of deities, religions, religious followers, sacred books, words of family relationships used as names; particular places; nationalities and their languages, races, tribes; educational institutions, departments, degrees, particular courses, government departments, organizations, political parties; historical movements, periods, events, documents; specific electronic sources; and trade names.” So, at times Darwin treated natural selection as sort of a deity and other times not. It seems to me he was conflicted on this point.

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through accumulation of slight but useful variations given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.” [Page 32.*] Please notice how Darwin has made an analogy between intelligent human breeders with minds and the ability to act with a purpose to nature which has none of those characteristics. This will be a common thread as we move through this multi-part discussion of natural selection

“This preservation of favorable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or Survival of the Fittest.” [Page 40.*] Eight pages later in this quote it seems natural selection has gained the power to destroy as well as select. Perhaps he felt extinction was a synonym for destruction. Do we think human breeders consciously destroy things?

“Man can act only on external and visible characters: Nature, if I may be allowed to personify the natural preservation or survival of the fittest, cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they are useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good: Nature only for that of the being which she tends.” [Page 41*.] A lot of good science has determined that much of the beauty we see in organisms has no apparent use for the organism. Human plant and animal breeders do often select for beauty.

“How fleeting are the wishes and effects of man! How short his time! And consequently how poor will be his results, compared with those accumulated by Nature during whole geological periods! Can we wonder, then, that Nature’s productions should be far ‘truer’ in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?” [Page 41.*] Here we see Darwin introducing the analogy of natural selection’s workmanship to that of God’s. If natural selection can do all this there is no need for God.

“[Natural Selection] leads to the improvement of each creature in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life, and consequently, in most cases, to what must be regarded as an advance in organization. Nevertheless, low and simple forms will long endure if well fitted for their simple conditions of life.” [Page 63.*] Here we see the tremendous ignorance Darwin had about the complexity of all of life, especially on the small scale. He looked at creatures as being made up of blobs of protoplasm as he had little knowledge of the cell and its myriads of complex components.

“That many and serious objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through variation and natural selection, I do not deny. I have endeavored to give them their full force. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs or instincts have been perfected, not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor.” [Page 230.*] So here we see that Darwin has nothing to say about the origin of species, only their modifications. Notice too that in this quotation “natural selection” is not capitalized. Has he lost faith in its great godlike power by the time he reaches the conclusion of his book?

Well, we have just gotten started on this subject in these first two parts. Next time we will take our first look at external versus internal adaptation in living organisms. Had anyone prior to Darwin invented an external concept of organism adaptation?

J.D. Mitchell

*Note: All Darwin quotes are from Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Volume 49 Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1952.


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