Evolution, A Theory in Crisis

New Developments in Science are Challenging Orthodox Darwinism

Michael Denton, 1985

There is a very interesting discussion of this book (published in 1985) on in Ch 3 &4 of Woodward'f Doubts About Darwin along with a discussion of Thaxton, Bradley, & Olsen's The Mystery of Life's Origin (1984). Woodward's comment: ".. these two books began working in concert as powerful midwives and sculptors of the emerging genre of Design." (p86).

Denton starts each chapter with a brief quote from Darwin's "Origin".




1. Genesis Rejected

This is a carefully done and painful treatment of how a "young earth" and rigid view of the development of the universe and of life in the religious community of the day led to a headon collision with Darwin's accidental development of life from the "warm little pond". I would gather that Denton was impacted negatively by both sides, as Philip Johnson on p36 of Doubts About Darwin comments about Denton: "Denton raised in Christian home but became agnostic in university years".

p18-20 Discusses the prevalent view of "typology" from several perspectives. On p18 "The so-called typological model of nature adhered to by biologists early in the century was not without a considerable degree of empirical support. To anyone observing nature over a short time span of time it must have seemed self evident that species bred to type generation after generation, and that the living world flowed according to a fixed and preordained plan." Cites Cuvier and Owen about distinct types or phyla and that "organisms clearly intermediate between different classes were virtually unknown."

p19-20 Discusses Paley and natural theology which strongly influenced the society of the day. Many scientists were very religious.

p21-24 Discusses literal interpretations of Genesis, and included a six thousand year old earth and fixity of species, described like "after their kind" and bred "true to type". But Lyell and other geologists were impacting now with their uniformitarianism, conflicting with the catastrophism that was being brought in to try to reconcile geology with Genesis. Darwin insisted on a continuous development of life by tiny increments, and that didn't fit well with fixed types.

p25-35 Description of Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, his experiences in the Galapagos, the finches, and all the things he saw that profoundly changed his outlook and brought him to his "mutation and natural selection" territory.

p35 "...because in Darwin's mind and in the minds of many nineteenth-century biologists, typology was closely associated with the whole supernatural biblical framework with its emphasis on a recent Earth, on the miraculous and special creationism, a framework which was frankly non-scientific and irreconcilable with the fundamental aim of science to reduce wherever possible all phenomena to purely natural explanations."

One difficulty for me with this paragraph was the use of the word "typology", an unfamiliar word to me. Googling gave me: "Taxonomy: The science of classification as applied to living organisms. Typology: Classification of things according to their physical characteristics. Typology : the study or system of dividing a large group into smaller groups according to similar features or qualities ." So p18-20 helped me to get the picture.

2. The Theory of Evolution

Woodward's comment on p51 of Doubts About Darwin describes strategy of Ch2 of Denton: 19 quotes from "Origin" used to hammer the problem of the lack of transitional forms.

It is a useful chapter to me because of the number of actual substantial quotes from "Origin", which gives me a ready source for those quotes. Between the quotes from Origin he described how Darwin's views had been developed.



p693. From Darwin to Dogma

p69 "The popular conception of a triumphant Darwin increasingly confident after 1859 in his views of evolution is a travesty. On the contrary, by the time the last edition of the Origin was published in 1872, he had become plagued with self-doubt and frustrated by his inability to meet the many objections which had been leveled at his theory."

On the whole, Denton showed considerable sympathy for Darwin and was complimentary of his care about accuracy and truth. One of the big problems at his time was that there was no coherent understanding of genetics and inheritance, though it would come shortly from Mendel.

Despite Darwin's honest doubts, the theory of evolution took the day and became overwhelming. One of the influences which helped with that course was the analogy with Lyell's uniformitarianism in geology, which helped evolutionism by analogy, and challenged the religious young-earth views.

Denton has a good description of the progress from science to dogma.

p75 From Julian Huxley at the extravagant Darwin centennial in 1959:
"The first point to make about Darwin's theory is that it is no longer a theory but a fact ... Darwinism has come of age so to speak. We are no longer having to bother about establishing the fact of evolution."

"Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, is even more emphatic, for him:
'The theory is about as much in doubt as the earth goes round the Sun."

"Now of course such claims are simply nonsense."

p76 "Although it is nonsense to claim that Darwin's theory is a fact, ironically both Huxley and Dawkins are right in the sense that, once a community has elevated a theory into a self-evident truth, its defense becomes irrelevant and there is no longer any point in having to establish its validity by reference to empirical facts."

p77 "The overriding supremacy of the myth has created a widespread illusion that the theory of evolution was all but proved one hundred years ago and that all subsequent biological research - paleontological, zoological and in the newer branches of genetics and molecular biology - has provided ever-inceasing evidence for Darwinian ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the evidence was so patchy one hundred years ago that even Darwin himself had increasing doubts as to the validity of his views, and the only aspect of his theory which has received any support over the past century is where it applies to microevolutionary phenomena. His general theory, that all life on earth had originated and evolved by gradual successive accumulation of fortuitous mutations, is still, as it was in Darwin's time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from that self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe."

p794. A Partial Truth

This chapter affirms microevolution and establishes the two-part approach to evolution, micro- and macro-evolution.

p79 Describes the peppered moth experiments, the first quantitative experiments that showed natural selection at work.

p81 Experiments with European gulls and Drosophila in Hawaii showed natural selection and speciation.

p83 - 85 Evidence of speciation with wood warblers of North America and Hawaiian honeycreepers. Also lizards in the Caribbean.

p91 "Systems can undergo gradual microevolution through a succession of minor changes in their component structures but macro-evolution invariably involves a sudden 'saltational' change. Clearly, in all such cases, the extrapolation from micro- to macroevolutionary change does not hold." (Related to the limitations on chance, Ch 13).

p91 "...it followed, just in the case of any sort of functional machine, that because fundamental change in the design of an organism would require simulltaneoous and coadaptive change throughout the organism to assure that all the components would sill function together in a coherent and integrated manner and, because such a sudden adaptive reorganization involving all the parts of an organism seemed to Cuvier and Agassiz and indeed all early nineteenth century biologists quite literally inconceivable, this completely precluded any sort of gradual transformation."

5. The Typological Perception of Nature



6. The Systema Naturae from Aristotle to Cladistics



7. The Failure of Homology

p142 Diagram of the "pentadactyl" pattern which is common over a wide range of animal forms from our five fingers to the five bones in a whale's flipper.

p143 Long quote of Darwin in "Origin" about the powerful evidence for common descent associated with homology.

p151 "With the demise of any sort of straightforward explanation of homology one of the major pillars of evolution theory has become so weakened that its value as evidence for evolution is greatly diminished." [This is quoted by Bethell in "Darwin's House of Cards" p114.]

p151 Quotes Sir Alister Hardy in "The Living Stream" "The concept of homology is absolutely fundamental to what we are talking about when we speak of evolution - yet in truth we cannot explain it at all in terms of present day biological theory."


8. The Fossil Record

p178 "Anyone who has been privileged to handle, as I have, both a marsupial and a placental dog skull will attest to the almost eerie degree of convergence between the thylacine[marsupial] and the placental dog. Yet in terms of the soft anatomy of their reproductive systems there is an enormous difference between the two groups."

[Discussed in Bethell's "Darwin's House of Cards", p118. I would wonder how Gould would feel about this - the whole head similar, an enormously complex structure? How could the playing of different tapes with all foresight forbidden reach the same final rendition? Takes a lot of faith!]






9. Bridging the Gaps






10 The Molecular Biological Revolution






11. The Enigma of Life's Origin






12. A Biochemical Echo of Typology






13. Beyond the Reach of Chance

p308 This is the most outstanding chapter that I have found about the inability of chance to produce the complex information in the structure of life.The other excellent approach to that which I value is the treatment by

p308-312 Goes through the details to show that the creation of a short English sentence by blind chance would be beyond reasonable possibility. Uses a watch and a checker game as further evidence of the practical futility of blind chance.

p314 Briefly reviews the Wistar conference and its challenges to evolution by chance.

p316 Cites Paley and the watch and watchmaker.

p317 Jukes draws analogy of aircraft development and 3 billion years of evolution. But Denton's rebuttal is right on target: "Unfortunately, the analogy is false. At no stage during the history of the aviation industry was the design of any flying machine achieved by chance, but only be the most rigorous applications of all the rules which govern function in the field of aerodynamics. It is true, as Jukes states, that 'wide-bodied jets evolved from small contraptions made in bicycle shops, or in junkyards,' but they did not evolve by chance."

p318-320 General discussion of the improbability of chance selection finding a functional protein.

p321 Discusses change in enzymes by amino acid replacements, and draws analogy with changing the letters in a brief meaningful sentence. Hartley: "It is hard to see how these alternative arrangements could have evolved without going through an intermediate that could not fold correctly (i.e.would be non functional."

p322-323 Some flexibility in amino acids on the surface of proteins, but those in the center cannot be changed, and a sequence of 10 amino acids would occur by chance only once in 1013 times, and this quickly leads to a judgment of impossibility of occurring by chance. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe calculated some of the probabilities in 'Evolution from Space'.

p324 Good summary page.

p324 "The Darwinian claim that all the adaptive design of nature has resulted from a random search, a mechanism unable to find the best solution in a game of checkers, is one of the most daring claims in the history of science. But it is also one of the least substantiated. No evolutionary biologist has ever produced any quantitative proof that the designs of nature are in fact within the reach of chance. There is not the slightest justification for claiming, as did Richard Dawkins recently:
'...Charles Darwin showed how it is possible for blind physical forces to mimic the effects of conscious design, and, by operating as a cumulative filter of chance variations, to lead eventually to organized and adaptive complexity, to mosquitos and mammoths, to humans and therefore, indirectly, to books and computers.'"

"Neither Darwin, Dawkins nor any other biologist has ever calculated the probability of a random search finding in the finite time available the sorts of complex systems which are so ubiquitous in nature. Even today we have no way of rigorously estimating the probability or degree of isolation of even one functional protein. It is surely a little premature to claim that random processes could have assembled mosquitos and elephants when we still have to determine the actual probability of the discovery by chance of one single functional protein molecule!"

p32614. The Puzzle of Perfection

This is a beautiful chapter, describing some of the amazing systems in living beings. I'm thinking it might have served as some encouragement to write his later book "The Miracle of the Cell" in 2020, which I read before this one.

p326 "In a letter to Asa Gray, the American biologist, written in 1861, just two years after the publication of The Origin of Species, he acknowledges these doubts and admits that 'The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder.'"

"It is easy to sympathize with Darwin. Such feelings have probably occurred to most biologists at times, for to common sense it does appear absurd to propose that chance could have thrown together devices of such complexity and ingenuity that they appear to represent the very epitome of perfection. There can hardly be a student of human physiology who has not on occasion been struck by the sheer brilliance apparent in the design of so many physiological adaptations. Like, for example, in the elegance manifest in the design of the mammalian kidney which combines so many wonderfully clever adaptations to achieve water and salt homeostasis and the control of blood pressure while at the same time concentrating and eliminating from the body urea, the main end product of nitrogen metabolism.

Or like the choice of the bicarbonate buffer system as the body's main defense against the accumulation of metabolic acids. This is a particularly elegant adaptation which exploits the ready availability of bicarbonate base, the main end product of oxidative metabolism, as well as the unique capacity of bicarbonate to combine with hydrogen ions to form water and the innocuous gas carbon dioxide, which can so conveniently be eliminated from the body by the lungs to achieve a highly efficient and ingenious system for the maintenance of acid base homeostasis.

p327 "Aside from any quantitative considerations, it seems intuitively, impossible that such self-evident brilliance in the execution of design could ever have been the result of chance." "...in general, biological adaptations exhibit, as Darwin confessed: 'a perfection of structure and coadaptation which justly excites our admiration.'" Origin, 6th Ed, p26.

p327-328 Mentions Alpbach Symposium of 1969 and the Wistar Conference of 1966.

p328-330 A reverie about the cell, later to be expanded in "The Miracle of the Cell" as mentioned above. He visualized expanding a cell to the size of a city. A couple of paragraphs to attempt to show the spirit:

"We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage nd retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction. In fact, so deep would be the feeling of deja-vu, so persuasive the analogy, that much of the terminology we would use to describe this fascinating molecular reality would be borrowed from the world of late twentieth-century technology."

"What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have the capacity not equalled in any of our own most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours . To witness such an act at a magnification of one thousand million times would be an awe-inspiring spectacle."

p332-333 Discussion of the eye.

p334 Discussion of information storage

p336 Discussion of gene overlapping

p339-341 Reference to Paley: An excellent review and response to Hume's supposed negation of Paley's Watchmaker.

p339-341 "According to Paley, we would never infer in the case of a machine, such as a watch, that its design was due to natural processes such as the wind and rain; rather we would be obliged to postulate a watchmaker. Living things are similar to machines, exhibiting the same sort of adaptive complexity and we must, therefore, infer by analogy that their design is also the result of intelligent activity."

"One of the principal weaknesses of this argument was raised by David Hume, who pointed out that organisms may be only superficially like machines but natural in essence. Only if an object is strikingly analogous to a machine in a very profound sense would the inference to design be valid. Hume's criticism is generally considered to have fatally weakened the basic analogical assumption upon which the inference to design is based, and it is certainly true that neither in the eighteenth century nor at any time during the past two centuries has three been sufficient evidence for believing that living organisms were like machines in any profound sense. "

"It is only possible to view an unknown object as an artifact if its design exploits well-understood technological principles and its creation can be precisely envisaged. For this reason, stone age man would have had great difficulty in recognizing the products of twentieth-century technology as machines and we our selves would probably experience the same bewilderment at the artifacts of a technological civilization far in advance of our own."

"It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution and with the advances in cybernetic and computer technology that Hume's criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing. In opening up this extraordinary new world of living technology biochemists have become fellow travelers with science fiction writers, explorers in a world of ultimate technology, wondering incredulously as new miracles of atomic engineering are continually brought to light in the course of their strange adventure in to the microcosm of life. in every direction the biochemist gazes, as he journeys through this weird molecular labyrinth, he sees devices and appliances reminiscent of our own twentieth-century world of advanced technology. In the atomic fabric of life we have found a reflection of our own technology. We have seen a world as artificial as our own and as familiar as if we had held up a mirror to our own machines." "Paley was not only right in asserting the existence of an analogy between life and machines, but was also remarkably prophetic in guessing that the technological ingenuity realized in living systems is vastly in excess of anything yet accomplished by man."

"Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design which existed in the watch exists in the works of nature with the difference, on the side of nature, being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation ... yet in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances ... than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity." Paley

"The almost irresistible force of the analogy has completely undermined the complacent assumption, prevalent in biological circles over most of the past century, that the design hypothesis can be excluded on the grounds that the notion is fundamentally a metaphysical a priori concept and therefore scientifically unsound. On the contrary, the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions."

"If we are to assume that living things are machines for the purposes of description, research and analysis, and for the purposes of rational and objective debate, as argued by Michel Polyani and Monod among many others, there can be nothing logically inconsistent, as Paley would have argued, in extending the usefulness of the analogy to include an explanation for their origin."

"It is interesting to speculate how the theory of natural selection might have fared in t he nineteenth century had the analogy between the living and mechanical worlds been as apparent then as it is today. The depth of the machine-organism analogy would have more than satisfied William Paley, and would certainly have provided Darwin's antagonists with powerful ammunition with which to resist the idea of natural selection."

"Although the argument for design has been unfashionable in biology for the past century, the feeling that chance is an insufficient means of achieving complex adaptations has continually been expressed by a dissenting minority, and this dissent is undiminished today."

p342 Ends his two chapter expression of skepticism about the role of chance by quoting the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland "Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

15. The Priority of the Paradigm

p344 Affirms microevolution to the point where "new reproductively isolated populations - species - do in fact arise from pre-existing species." Also concedes "the process involves a gradual accumulation of small genetic changes guided mainly by natural selection." This basically confirms Darwin's "special theory". But he quotes Mayr, who dissents from Darwin's "general theory" by concluding that the claim

...all evolution is due to the accumulation of small genetic changes guided by natural selection and that transpecific evolution is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events which take place within population and species ...

"remains as unsubstantiated as it was one hundred and twenty years ago."


  • Darwin's macroevolutionary theory
    • The functional continuum of all life forms linking all species together and ultimately leading back to a primeval cell
    • That all the adaptive design of life has resulted from a blind random process
  • Neither has been validated by one single empirical discovery or scientific advance since 1859.

p358 "Ultimately the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century. Like the Genesis based cosmology which it replaced, and like the creation myths of ancient man, it satisfies the same deep psychological need for an all embracing explanation for the origin of of the world which has motivated all the cosmogenic myth makers of the past, from the shamans of primitive peoples to the ideologies of the medieval church."

"The truth is that despite the prestige of evolutionary theory and the tremendous intellectual effort directed towards reducing living systems to the confines of Darwinian thought, nature refuses to be imprisoned. In the final analysis we still know very little about how new forms of life arise. The 'mystery of mysteries' - the origin of new beings on earth - is till largely as enigmatic as when Darwin set forth on the Beagle. "

Windows of Creation
Evidence from nature Is the universe designed?
Reasonable faith
  Reasonable Faith Go Back