Darwin's Theory - His 'Inconceivably Great' Numbers Of Intermediate Life Forms? Faces In The Clouds?

Charles Darwin spent some thirty pages in 'The Origin' discussing difficulties with his theory. He says, 'Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered...'. However, the problems that the theory still faces, 150 years after 'The Origin', are almost invariably ignored in both school textbooks and in media references to the theory. Indeed, in the latter case the theory is usually treated as an unquestionable background fact. Based on such sources of information one would be hard-pressed to discover the issues that challenge the theory and to make an informed decision about its credibility. Fortunately, Darwin's Theory is such that we can all readily understand what it asserts, and discover and assess the facts relevant to it - without having to be experts in Biology and Palaeontology (my own background is mainly in Physics/Maths, which I taught in Further Education).

Darwin's Theory Of Evolution has enormous scope, in claiming to be the complete explanation of the development of all life, but it can be expressed in just two basic propositions:

1 - All organisms alive now or that have ever lived have been arrived at by extremely gradual changes along sequences made up of, as Darwin puts it in 'The Origin', 'inconceivably great' numbers of 'intermediate and transitional links'

2 - The mechanism of change along the sequences is dependent on Natural Selection preserving those characteristics that are inheritable and advantageous for survival

Evolutionary change is sometimes represented by a 'tree of life'. If we put vertebrates alive today in their appropriate places on such a 'tree', we find that there are localised numerical 'explosions' as species of fish, amphibians etc. mount up. However, we do not find sequences of life forms, corresponding to descendants of the supposed intermediates, to populate the trunk and branches of the tree, linking together the different distinct groups. All we have are a handful of curious individuals - these include monotremes, suggested as a link between reptiles and mammals - of these, Molecular Biologist, Michael Denton (in his 1985 'Evolution - A Theory In Crisis') says: 'Instead of finding character traits which are obviously transitional we find them to be basically reptilian or basically mammalian so...they afford little evidence for believing that any of the basic character traits of the mammals were achieved gradually in the way evolution envisages.'

When Darwin was writing 'The Origin' he knew that there were no fossil sequences to directly support his theory of gradual organic change. He wrote: 'That our palaeontological collections are very imperfect, is admitted by everyone' - so presumably he expected that the fossil evidence his theory required would turn up as fossil collections became progressively more complete.

So what's the situation now, after 150 years of fossil-hunting? Dr. Niles Eldredge says (Guardian Weekly - 26th Nov. 1978): '...geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years, and no transitional forms were found in them.' And Michael Denton says (ibid., page 162): '... while the rocks have continually yielded new and exciting and even bizarre forms of life ... what they have never yielded is any of Darwin's myriads of transitional forms...'.

As with the living, the fossils throw up individuals commonly referred to as 'missing links'. However, to characterise such an individual as a 'link' is to assume the once existence of a chain from which it was a part - but that is to assume the very thing for which the evidence does not exist i.e. the reality of such chains of organic change.

Darwin's Theory was consistent with the overall structure of the then (1859) known fossil record - but the concern he expressed in 'The Origin' that 'Geological research...has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate varieties' is as true now as it was in 1859. Couple this with the parallel fact that there are no sequences amongst the living corresponding to descendants of his 'inconceivably great' numbers of 'intermediate and transitional links', and it seems that Darwin's proposed huge sequences of organic change have no more correspondence to a demonstrable physical reality than do faces seen in the clouds.

© Copyright 2009 Andy Chains (andychains.com)

by Andy Chains


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