How Darwin Failed His Own Test

By Bob Davis

What has the past 150 years shown us about Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Like any good scientist, Charles Darwin made a prediction by which other scientists could test his theory in the future. In other words, he made Darwinism falsifiable—capable of being proved false. More than a century and a half later, we are in a position to judge whether his theory has indeed been falsified.1

Precursors vs. Sudden Appearances

Darwin packaged up his book On the Origin of Species shortly after its publication and sent it to the most renowned scientist of the time, Harvard geologist and paleontologist Louis Agassiz.2 After reading it, Agassiz informed Darwin that the fossil record did not support Darwin’s theory that all life began from a common ancestor and then proceeded through the process of natural selection, generating gradually more complex life-forms.

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Agassiz pointed out that, instead, the fossil record was marked by the sudden appearance and disappearance of unrelated and different species. Moreover, many of the most complex life-forms appeared very early in the history of existence.

In a written response, Darwin acknowledged that if whole groups of species were to have indeed appeared suddenly, his theory would be proved false. Darwin wrote, “If numerous species belonging to the same genera or families have really started into life all at once, the fact would be fatal to the theory of descent with slow modification through natural selection.”3

The most disturbing fossil evidence against Darwinism in the mid-nineteenth century was the sudden geological appearance of a whole range of complex sea creatures in the Cambrian formation of Scotland. The Cambrian fossils date back to 530 million years ago and have no apparent predecessors, only very simple life-forms like sponges and unicellular animals.

However, Darwin remained confident that with continued fossil collection, paleontologists would find the precursors his theory demanded.

So how has this dispute between two great intellects of nineteenth-century science played out to-date?

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