What Is Darwin's Disclaimer?
(And Why It Should Be Taught in Public Schools)
Carl: So what is it, Lucy? I've never heard it mentioned in any of my biology classes let alone any program on PBS or National Geographic.
Lucy: It's rather simple, Carl. After Darwin had finished writing Origin of Species he clearly retained doubts about his theory and wrote a disclaimer in the Introduction to his magnum opus.
Carl: Seriously?. You're telling me that Darwin was skeptical of his skepticism?
Lucy: Absolutely. Read it yourself, Carl. In fact, have a bookmark to remind yourself that even Darwin knew it was possible to come to directly opposite conclusions. (Click on the image for a full sheet of bookmarks that you can print and give away to your teachers and friends.)
Carl: So what opposite conclusions could he have had in mind?
Lucy: The two most obvious conclusions relate to the fact that the disparity of the major body plans appears before the diversity of species completely opposite to his theory's predictions and the ability of natural selection to inhibit major evolutionary change on a gradual step-by-step basis.
Keep in mind that Darwin knew that "Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory." Flat-Earthers might get away with extrapolating micro to macro but competent scientists never should. Get the picture?
Like I said, the pervasive patterns of natural history were directly opposite to those predicted by his theory. While his theory predicted that species would gradually transform into new species producing new genera, families and orders and then gradually increase their morphological disparity to produce new classes and phyla, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Rather than Darwin's bottom-to-top pattern, the history of life shows a top-to-bottom appearance with the disparity of phyla preceding the diversity of species. In fact, the pervasive patterns of natural history parallel the same patterns found in the history of technology. Major innovations appear suddenly followed by variations on these pre-existing themes.
Read over some of the quotes I've collected for you on the fossil record and the origin of phyla and you'll see just how serious the problem is for the theory. The situation was bad in Darwin's day and has only become worse. By 1980, Stephen Jay Gould even described neo-Darwinian theory as "effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy." To get the real picture take a look at the diagrams in the article "Conflicts Between Darwin and Geological Succession".
Regarding his mechanism of evolution, I'm sure he was well aware that nature can't select anything that doesn't already exist and that his theory only dealt with the "survival of the fittest" rather than the "arrival of the fittest".
Besides that, it must have occurred to him that natural selection can actually prevent major evolutionary change from occurring by eliminating useless transitional stages that might otherwise lead to new body plans.
Darwin was not without his critics. In his book, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth, Soren Lovtrup points out that "some critics turned against Darwin's teachings for religious reasons, but they were a minority; most of his opponents ... argued on a completely scientific basis." He went on to explain:
When it came to explaining the "arrival of the fittest", neo-Darwinists would add random mutations to the formula that would act as a god-of-the gaps for Materialists, Naturalists and Physicalists. If you think about it rationally, however, random changes to a fully functional pre-existing design is a formula for disaster. Fortunately, the one thing that natural selection can do well is to eliminate deleterious mutations as well as useless incipient and transitional stages that might otherwise lead to new body plans and the disparity of the higher taxa. See what other scientists are saying about random mutations and natural selection and you'll get a better idea of how nature actually functions.
Carl: I suppose you're going to claim that Darwin should have developed a theory of intelligent design by means of bio-engineering and progressive creation.
Lucy: The data and logic certainly do point in that direction, Carl, but I wasn't going to go there.
Carl: You're kidding me, aren't you? Isn't the purpose of your whole argument to lead me to some unknown intelligent designer?
Lucy: Relax, Carl. The data may point away from a theory of unintelligent design, but that whole idea was dead in the water anyway. "It just happened" isn't a scientific explanation for anything and constantly invoking Naturalism's "god-of-the-gaps", Pure Chance (e.g. random mutations), without realistic probabilities isn't scientific either. Besides, if scientists can't distinguish between intelligent design and unintelligent design why should either of them be considered scientific?
Carl: Good question. So what's your point?
Lucy: It's two-fold, Carl. First of all, all high schools teachers and university professors should read Darwin's Disclaimer to their students whenever evolution is taught. This is not to undermine natural history and geological succession in any way, but rather to keep Darwin's theory and all of its problems from undermining the true history of life on Earth. Besides, imagine how much more exciting it would be to students to be exposed to unsolved problems in science. Teaching them to regurgitate old theories and then telling them that the educational and scientific establishments don't want them to evolve any new theories isn't exactly progressive thinking. In fact, its teaching students not to think. Think about it.
Carl: Hmm. If we have to dump Darwin to save evolution, I might go there with you.
Lucy: But wait. There's more.
Do you know the whole title of Darwin's Origin of Species?
Carl: I doubt that even Richard Dawkins could tell you.
Lucy: It's The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
Carl: It's not fair to play the race card, Lucy.
Lucy: What do you mean? What race card?
Carl: Bringing Darwinian Race Theory into the conversation. You know what Darwin thought about the superiority of white Europeans.
Lucy: No, Carl. That's certainly not where I was going. While Darwin probably should be on Cancel Culture's Top Ten list, the word I want to focus on is "preservation". He really should have developed a Theory of Conservation based upon the pervasive patterns of natural history including macro-stasis and the ability of natural selection to preserve the major body plans over time.
Carl: Macro-stasis? A Theory of Conservation?
Lucy: Let's start with Stephen Jay Gould's description of the fossil record.
"The history of most fossil species include two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:
1) Stasis - most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless;
2) Sudden appearance - in any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and 'fully formed'."
Carl: Once again, I feel that you are trying to get me to believe in an intelligent designer of 'fully formed" species, but invoking a creator is not a scientific explanation. Science is limited to explaining what is purely natural.
Lucy: You are step ahead of me, Carl. That's exactly where I'm going. Stasis and the preservation of basic biological designs is purely natural. That's what a Theory of Conservation would describe. In fact, stasis, stability and conservation appears all the way up the taxonomic ladder although it may be most pronounced at the higher taxonomic levels.
Carl: Is that why you coined the term macro-stasis? I don't think I've ever heard that one before.
Lucy: Whether the term is original or not, it is certainly prevalent in natural history, is obviously natural and is something that scientists can research and explore in much greater detail. Hopefully, there is a brave scientist who can pursue this line of thinking. Darwin didn't have the time, space or inclination to pursue this "opposite conclusion" in his Origin of Species, but remember that science cannot progress unless it evolves.
Carl: Cancel Darwin to save evolution? I'll have to think about that. But what could possibly take the place of a purely naturalistic theory of origins?
Lucy: Conservation and stasis are purely natural and clearly subject to scientific investigation. But how do you know that the origin of new body plans was purely natural? After all, nature itself didn't have a natural cause. Remember that reason tells us that either the Cosmos or its creator has always existed and that science tells us that it's not the Cosmos.
Note from the author: Having received both positive feedback on the dialogue as well as some serious concern regarding the title of this episode, I strongly encourage anyone having an interest in a fair and balanced presentation of origins, not to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools. To paraphrase the viewpoint of those at ID's leading think-tank: "The last thing we need is another lawsuit and Dover Disaster." Point well taken.
Rather than forcing teachers to teach something they might not believe themselves or even want to teach, my personal advice is to encourage intelligent students to ask their teachers with all "gentleness and respect" if they have ever heard of Darwin's Disclaimer and what the great scientist himself could possibly have had in mind when he admitted that "directly opposite conclusions" were indeed possible if given a fair and impartial balancing of facts.
Not only should the student be rewarded for his or her intelligent and thoughtful class participation, the student shuld be instantly hailed as a courageous hero by admiring classmates.
For further information, I recommend the following articles on Education and Academic Freedom from the Discovery Institute on the matter: