Even more can be said along these lines, as Stove implies; but this
will do to move the motion that Darwinism is among the greatest
intellectual con-tricks of all time.
Unfortunately, a fanatical sect tries to make out that "the"
alternative to (neo)Darwinism is Creationism®: the totalitarian slogans
"the first 3 chapters of the Bible, plus the Noah story, can be understood
literally", "all spp were created in 6 d", "evolution is incompatible with
creation", etc. This well-funded, grossly irrational sectarian tendency
has been invading NZ, helped by a surprising degree of cowardice from
'evangelicals' who on many other topics show some courage.
One of the suspicious features of IDT is its refusal to refer to mainstream
scholarship (Temple, Sir A Hardy, Morton, etc). It does not really welcome
discussion, and is suspiciously frozen on the one tiny point.
I tentatively plot a spectrum of positions in this 'long argument':-
theistic evoln (Morton, Broom, Sheldrake, me)
- IDT (Dembski)
- Old Earth Creationism (Hugh Ross)
- Young Earth Creationism
So You Think You Are a Darwinian?
Most educated people nowadays, I believe, think of themselves as
Darwinians. If they do, however, it can only be from ignorance: from not
knowing enough about what Darwinism says. For Darwinism says many things,
especially about our species, which are too obviously false to be believed
by any educated person; or at least by an educated person who retains any
capacity at all for critical thought on the subject of Darwinism.
Of course most educated people now are Darwinians, in the sense
that they believe our species to have originated, not in a creative act of
the Divine Will, but by evolution from other animals. But believing that
proposition is not enough to make someone a Darwinian. It had been
believed, as may be learnt from any history of biology, by very many people
long before Darwinism, or Darwin, was born.
What is needed to make someone an adherent of a certain school of
thought is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar to
that school, and are believed either by all of its adherents, or at least
by the more thoroughgoing ones. In any large school of thought, there is
always a minority who adhere more exclusively than most to the
characteristic beliefs of the school: they are the 'purists' or 'ultras' of
that school. What is needed and sufficient, then, to make a person a
Darwinian, is belief in all or most of the propositions which are peculiar
to Darwinians, and believed either by all of them, or at least by
I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in
the sense just specified. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct
falsity about our species or, where the proposition is a general one,
obviously false in the case of our species, at least. Some of the ten
propositions are quotations; all the others are paraphrases. The
quotations are all from authors who are so well-known, at least in
Darwinian circles, as spokesmen for Darwinism or ultra-Darwinism, that
their names alone will be sufficient evidence that the proposition is a
Darwinian one. Where the proposition is a paraphrase, I give quotations or
other information which will, I think, suffice to establish its Darwinian
My ten propositions are nearly in reverse historical order. Thus,
I start from the present day, and from the inferno-scene - like something
by Hieronymus Bosch - which the 'selfish gene' theory makes of all life.
Then I go back a bit to some of the falsities which, beginning in the
1960s, were contributed to Darwinism by the theory of 'inclusive fitness'.
And finally I get back to some of the falsities, more pedestrian though no
less obvious, of the Darwinism of the 19th or early-20th century.
1. The truth is, 'the total prostitution of all animal life,
including Man and all his airs and graces, to the blind purposiveness of
these minute virus-like substances', genes.
This is a thumbnail-sketch, and an accurate one, of the contents of
The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins. It was not written by
Dawkins, but he quoted it with manifest enthusiasm in a defence of The
Selfish Gene which he wrote in this journal in 1981. Dawkins' status, as a
widely admired spokesman for ultra-Darwinism, is too well-known to need
evidence of it adduced here. His admirers even include some philosophers
who have carried their airs and graces to the length of writing good books
on such rarefied subjects as universals, or induction, or the mind.
Dawkins can scarcely have gratified these admirers by telling them that,
even when engaged in writing those books, they were 'totally prostituted
to the blind purposiveness of their genes. Still, you 'have to hand it' to
genes which can write, even if only through their slaves, a good book on
subjects like universals or induction. Those genes must have brains all
right, as well as purposes. At least, they must, if genes can have brains
and purposes. But in fact, of course, DNA molecules no more have such
things than H20 molecules do.
2 ' it is, after all, to [a mother's] advantage that her child
should be adopted' by another woman.
This quotation is from Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, p. 110.
Obviously false though this proposition is, from the point of view
of Darwinism it is well-founded, for the reason which Dawkins gives on the
same page: that another woman's adopting her baby 'releases a rival female
from the burden of child-rearing, and frees her to have another child more
quickly.' This, you will say, is a grotesque way of looking at human life;
and so, of course, it is. But it is impossible to deny that it is the
3. All communication is 'manipulation of signal-receiver by
This profound communication, though it might easily have come from
any used-car salesman reflecting on life, was actually sent by Dawkins, (in
The Extended Phenotype, (1982), p. 57), to the readers whom he was at that
point engaged in manipulating. Much as the devil, in many medieval plays,
advises the audience not to take his advice.
4. Homosexuality in social animals is a form of sibling-altruism:
that is, your homosexuality is a way of helping your brothers and sisters
to raise more children.
This very-believable proposition is maintained by Robert Trivers in
his book Social Evolution, (1985), pp. 198-9. Professor Trivers is a
leading light among ultra-Darwinians, (who are nowadays usually called
'sociobiologists'). Whether he also believes that suicide, for example,
and self-castration, are forms of sibling-altruism, I do not know; but I do
not see what there is to stop him. What is there to stop anyone believing
such propositions? Only common sense: a thing entirely out of the question
5. In all social mammals, the altruism (or apparent altruism) of
siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism
(or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring.
This proposition is an immediate consequence, and an admitted one,
of the theory of inclusive fitness, which says that the degree of altruism
depends on the proportion of genes shared. This theory was first put
forward by W. D. Hamilton in The Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1964.
Since then it has been accepted by Darwinians almost as one man and has
revolutionized evolutionary theory. This acceptance has made Professor
Hamilton the most influential Darwinian author of the last thirty years.
6. ' no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single
person, but everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers [or
offspring], or four half-brothers, or eight first-cousins.'
This is a quotation from the epoch-making article by Professor
Hamilton to which I referred a moment ago. The italics are not in the
text. Nor are the two words which I have put in square brackets; but their
insertion is certainly authorized by the theory of inclusive fitness.
7. Every organism has as many descendants as it can.
Compare Darwin, in The Origin of Species, p. 66: 'every single
organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to
increase in numbers'; and again, pp. 78-9, 'each organic being is striving
to increase at a geometrical ratio'. These page references are to the
first edition of the Origin, (1859), but both of the passages just quoted
are repeated in all of the five later editions of the book which were
published in Darwin's lifetime. He also says the same thing in other
But it would not have mattered if he had not happened to say in
print such things as I have just quoted. For it was always obvious, to
everyone who understood his theory, that a universal
striving-to-the-utmost-to-increase is an essential part of that theory: in
fact it is the very 'motor' of evolution, according to the theory. It is
the thing which, by creating pressure of population on the supply of food,
is supposed to bring about the struggle for life among con-specifics, hence
natural selection, and hence evolution. As is well known, and as Darwin
himself stated, he had got the idea of population permanently pressing on
food, because of the constant tendency to increase, from T. R. Malthus's
Essay on Population (1798).
Still, that every organism has as many descendants as it can, while
it is or may be true of most species of organisms, is obviously not true of
ours. Do you know of even one human being who ever had as many descendants
as he or she could have had? And yet Darwinism says that every single one
of us does. For there can clearly be no question of Darwinism making an
exception of man, without openly contradicting itself. 'Every single
organic being', or 'each organic being': this means you.
8. In every species, child-mortality - that is, the proportion of
live births which die before reproductive age - is extremely high.
Compare Darwin in the Origin, p. 61: 'of the many individuals of
any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive';
or p. 5, 'many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly
survive'. Again, these passages, from the first edition, are both repeated
unchanged in all the later editions of the Origin.
Proposition 8 is not a peripheral or negotiable part of Darwinism.
On the contrary it is, like proposition 7, a central part, and one which
Darwinians are logically locked-into. For in order to explain evolution,
Darwin had adopted (as I have said) Malthus's principle of population: that
population always presses on the supply of food, and tends to increase
beyond it. And this principle does require child-mortality to be extremely
high in all species.
Because of the strength and universality of the sexual impulse,
animals in general have an exuberant tendency to increase in numbers. This
much is obvious, but what Malthus's principle says is something far more
definite. It says that the tendency to increase is so strong that every
population, of any species, is at all times already as large as its
food-supply permits, or else is rapidly approaching that impassable limit.
Which means of course that, (as Malthus once put it), the young are
always born into 'a world already possessed'. In any average year,
(assuming that the food-supply does not increase), there is simply not
enough food to support any greater number of the newborn than is needed to
replace the adults which die. But such is the strength of the tendency to
increase that, in any average year, the number of births will greatly
exceed the number of adult deaths. Which is to say, the great majority of
those born must soon die.
Consider a schematic example. Suppose there is a population, with
a constant food-supply, of 1000 human beings. Suppose - a very realistic
supposition, in fact a conservative one - that 700 of them are of
reproductive age. Suppose that this population is already 'at
equilibrium', (as Darwinians say): that is, is already as large as its food
can support. According to Malthus's principle, people (or flies or fish or
whatever) will reproduce if they can. So, since there are 350 females of
reproductive age, there will be 350 births this year. But there is no food
to support more of these than are needed to replace the adults who die this
year; while the highest adult death-rate which we can suppose with any
approximation to realism is about 10%. So 100 adults will die this year,
but to fill their places, there are 350 applicants. That is, there will
this year be a child-mortality of 250 out of 350, or more than 70%.
It was undoubtedly reasoning of this kind from Malthus's principle
which led Darwin to believe that in every species 'but a small number' of
those born can survive, or that 'many more' are born than can survive.
What did Darwin mean by these phrases, in percentage, or at least
minimum-percentage, terms? Well, we have just seen that Malthus's
principle, in a typical case, delivers a child-mortality of at least 70%.
And no one, either in 1859 or now, would dream of calling 30 or
more, surviving out of 100, 'but a small number' surviving. It would be
already stretching language violently, to call even 23 (say), surviving out
of 100, 'but a small number' surviving. To use this phrase of 30-or-more
surviving, would be absolutely out of the question. So Darwin must have
meant, by the statements I quoted above, that child-mortality in all
species is more than 70%.
Which is obviously false in the case of our species. No doubt
human child-mortality has often enough been as high as 70%, and often
enough higher still. But I do not think that, at any rate within
historical times, this can ever have been usual. For under a
child-mortality of 70%, a woman would have to give birth 10 times, on the
average, to get 3 of her children to puberty, and 30 times to get 9 of them
there. Yet a woman's getting 9 of her children to puberty has never at any
time been anything to write home about; whereas a woman who gives birth 30
times has always been a demographic prodigy. The absolute record is about
32 births. (I neglect multiple births, which make up only 1% of all
births.) As for the last 100 years, in any advanced country, to suppose
child-mortality 70% or anywhere near it, would be nothing but an outlandish
It is important to remember that no one - not even Darwinians -
knows anything at all about human demography, except what has been learnt
in the last 350 years, principally concerning certain European countries or
their colonies. A Darwinian may be tempted, indeed is sure to be tempted,
to set all of this knowledge aside, as being of no 'biological' validity,
because it concerns only an 'exceptional' time and place. But if we agreed
to set all this knowledge aside, the only result would be that no one knew
anything whatever about human demography. And Darwinians would then be no
more entitled than anyone else to tell us what the 'real', or the
'natural', rate of human child-mortality is.
In any case, as I said earlier, Darwinians cannot without
contradicting themselves make an exception of man, or of any particular
part of human history. Their theory, like Malthus's principle, is one
which generalizes about all species, and all places and times,
indifferently; while man is a species, the last 350 years are times, and
European countries are places. And Darwin's assertion, that child-mortality
is extremely high, is quite explicitly universal. For he said (as we saw)
that 'of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born,
but a small number can survive', and that 'many more individuals of each
species are born than can possibly survive'. Again, this means us.
9. The more privileged people are the more prolific: if one class
in a society is less exposed than another to the misery due to
food-shortage, disease, and war, then the members of the more fortunate
class will have (on the average) more children than the members of the
That this proposition is false, or rather, is the exact reverse of
the truth, is not just obvious. It is notorious, and even proverbial.
Everyone knows that, as a popular song of the I 930s had it,
The rich get rich, and
The poor get children.
Not that the song is exactly right, because privilege does not
quite always require superior wealth, and superior wealth does not quite
always confer privilege. The rule should be stated, not in terms of
wealth, but in terms of privilege, thus: that the more privileged class is
the less prolific. To this rule, as far as I know, there is not a single
And yet the exact inverse of it, proposition 9, is an inevitable
consequence of Darwinism all right. Malthus had said that the main
'checks' to human population are misery - principally due to 'famine, war,
and pestilence' - and vice: by which he meant contraception, foeticide,
homosexuality, etc. But he also said that famine - that is, deficiency of
food - usually outweighs all the other checks put together, and that
population-size depends, near enough, only on the supply of food. Darwin
agreed. He wrote (in The Descent of Man, second edition, 1874), that 'the
primary or fundamental check to the continued increase of man is the
difficulty of gaining subsistence', and that if food were doubled in
Britain, for example, population would quickly be doubled. But now, a
more-privileged class always suffers less from deficiency of food than a
less-privileged class does. Therefore, if food-supply is indeed the
fundamental determinant of population-size, a more-privileged class would
always be a more prolific one; just as proposition 9 says.
William Godwin, as early as 1820, pointed out that Malthus had
managed to get the relationship between privilege and fertility exactly
upside-down. In the 1860s and '70s W. R. Greg, Alfred Russel Wallace, and
others, pointed out that Darwin, by depending on Malthus for his
explanation of evolution, had saddled himself with Malthus's mistake about
population and privilege. It is perfectly obvious that all these critics
were right. But Darwin never took any notice of the criticism. Well,
trying to get Darwin to respond to criticism was always exactly like
punching a feather-mattress: 'suddenly absolutely nothing happened'.
The eugenics movement, which was founded a little later by Darwin's
disciple and cousin Francis Galton, was an indirect admission that those
critics were right. For what galvanized the eugenists into action was, of
course, their realisation that the middle and upper classes in Britain were
being out-reproduced by the lowest classes. Such a thing simply could not
happen, obviously, if Darwin and Malthus, and proposition 9, had been
right. But the eugenists never drew the obvious conclusion, that Darwin
and Malthus were wrong, and consequently they never turned their indirect
criticism into a direct one. Well, they were fervent Darwinians to the
last man and woman, and could not bring themselves to say, or even think,
that Darwinism is false.
A later Darwinian and eugenist, R. A. Fisher, discussed the
relation between privilege and fertility at length, in his important book,
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, (1930). But he can hardly be
said to have made the falsity of proposition 9 any less of an embarrassment
for Darwinism. Fisher acknowledges the fact that there has always been, in
all civilized countries an inversion (as he calls it)
of fertility-rates: that is, that the more privileged have always and
everywhere been the less fertile. His explanation of this fact is that
civilized countries have always practised what he calls 'the social
promotion of infertility'. That is, people are enabled to succeed better
in civilized life, the fewer children they have.
But this is evidently just a re-phrasing of the problem, rather
than a solution of it. The question, for a Darwinian such as Fisher, is
how there can be, consistently with Darwinism, such a thing as the social
promotion of infertility? In every other species of organisms, after all,
comparative infertility is a sure sign, or even the very criterion, of
comparative failure. So how can there be if Darwinism is true, a species
of organisms in which comparative infertility is a regular and
nearly-necessary aid to success?
Fisher's constant description of the fertility-rates in civilized
countries as 'inverted', deserves a word to itself. It is a perfect
example of an amazingly-arrogant habit of Darwinians, (of which I have
collected many examples in my forthcoming book Darwinian Fairytales). This
is the habit, when some biological fact inconsistent with Darwinism comes
to light, of blaming the fact, instead of blaming their theory. Any such
fact Darwinians call a 'biological error' an 'error of heredity', a
'misfire', or some thing of that kind: as though the organism in question
had gone wrong, when all that has actually happened, of course, is that
Darwinism has gone wrong. When Fisher called the birth-rates in civilized
countries 'inverted', all he meant was that, exactly contrary to Darwinian
theory, the more privileged people are the less fertile. From this fact,
of course, the only rational conclusion to be drawn is, that Darwinism has
got things upside-down. But instead of that Fisher, with typical
Darwinian effrontery, concludes that civilised people have got things
Fisher, who died in 1962, is nowadays the idol of ultra-Darwinians,
and he deserves to be so: he was in fact a sociobiologist 'born out of due
time'. And the old problem for Darwinism, to which he had at least given
some publicity, even if he did nothing to solve it, remains to this day the
central problem for sociobiologists. The problem (to put it vulgarly) of
why 'the rich and famous' are such pitiful reproducers as they are.
Of course this 'problem' is no problem at all, for anyone except
ultra-Darwinians. It is an entirely self-inflicted injury, and as such
deserves no sympathy. Who, except an ultra-Darwinian, would expect the
highly-privileged to be great breeders? No one; just as no one but an
ultra-Darwinian would expect women to adopt-out their babies with maximum
expedition. For ultra-Darwinians, on the other hand, the
infertility of the privileged is a good deal more than a problem. It is a
But they react to it in accordance with a well-tried rule of
present-day scientific research. The rule is: 'When your theory meets with
a refutation, call it instead "a problem", and demand additional money in
order to enable you to solve it.' Experience has shown that this rule is
just the thing for keeping a 'research program' afloat, even if it leaks
like a sieve. Indeed, the more of these challenging 'problems' you can
mention, the more money you are plainly entitled to demand.
10. If variations which are useful to their possessors in the
struggle for life 'do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more
individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having
any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of
surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel
sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly
This is from The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81. Exactly the same
words occur in all the editions.
Since this passage expresses the essential idea of natural
selection, no further evidence is needed to show that proposition 10 is a
Darwinian one. But is it true? In particular, may we really feel sure
that every attribute in the least degree injurious to its possessors would
be rigidly destroyed by natural selection?
On the contrary, the proposition is (saving Darwin's reverence)
ridiculous. Any educated person can easily think of a hundred
characteristics, commonly occurring in our species, which are not only 'in
the least degree' injurious to their possessors, but seriously or even
extremely injurious to them, which have not been 'rigidly destroyed', and
concerning which there is not the smallest evidence that they are in the
process of being destroyed. Here are ten such characteristics, without
even going past the first letter of the alphabet. Abortion; adoption;
fondness for alcohol; altruism; anal intercourse; respect for ancestors;
susceptibility to aneurism; the love of animals; the importance attached to
art; asceticism, whether sexual, dietary, or whatever.
Each of these characteristics tends, more or less strongly, to
shorten our lives, or to lessen the number of children we have, or both.
All of them are of extreme antiquity. Some of them are probably older than
our species itself. Adoption, for example is practised by some species of
chimpanzees: another adult female taking over the care of a baby whose
mother has died. Why has not this ancient and gross 'biological error'
been rigidly destroyed?
'There has not been enough time', replies the Darwinian. Well,
that could be so: perhaps there has not been enough time. And then again,
perhaps there has been enough time: perhaps even twenty times over. How
long does it take for natural selection to destroy an injurious attribute,
such as adoption or fondness for alcohol? I have not the faintest idea, of
course. I therefore have no positive ground whatever for believing either
that there has been enough time for adoption to be destroyed, or that there
has not. But then, on this matter, everyone else is in the same state of
total ignorance as I am. So how come the Darwinian is so confident that
there has not been enough time? What evidence can he point to, for
thinking that there has not? Why, nothing but this, that adoption has not
been destroyed, despite its being an injurious attribute!
But this is palpably arguing in a circle, and taking for granted
the very point which is in dispute. The Darwinian has no positive evidence
whatever, that there has not been enough time.
Mercifully, Darwinians nowadays are much more reluctant than they
formerly were, to rely heavily on the 'not-enough-time' defence of their
theory against critics. They have benefited from the strictures of
philosophers, who have pointed out that it is not good scientific method,
to defend Darwinism by a tactic which would always be equally available
whatever the state of the evidence, and which will still be equally
available to Darwinians a million years hence, if adoption (for example) is
still practised then.
The cream of the jest, concerning proposition 10, is that
Darwinians themselves do not really believe it. Ask a Darwinian whether he
actually believes that the fondness for alcoholic drinks is being destroyed
now, or that abortion is, or adoption - and watch his face. Well, of
course he does not believe it! Why would he? There is not a particle of
evidence in its favour, and there is a great mountain of evidence against
Absolutely the only thing it has in its favour is that Darwinism
says it must be so. But (as Descartes said in another connection) 'this
reasoning cannot be presented to infidels, who might consider that it
proceeded in a circle'.
What becomes, then, of the terrifying giant named Natural
Selection, which can never sleep, can never fail to detect an attribute
which is, even in the least degree, injurious to its possessors in the
struggle for life, and can never fail to punish such an attribute with
Why, just that, like so much else in Darwinism, it is an obvious
fairytale, at least as far as our species is concerned.
It would not be difficult to compile another list of ten obvious
Darwinian falsities; or another one after that, either. But on that scale,
the thing would be tiresome both to read and to write. Anyway it ought not
to be necessary: ten obvious Darwinian falsities should be enough to make
the point. The point, namely, that if most educated people now think they
are Darwinians, it is only because they have no idea of the multiplied
absurdities which belief in Darwinism requires.