What Was Darwin’s ‘Original’ Thought?

by Nancy Pearcey

[On] February 12, fans of Charles Darwin [celebrated] his birthday, which they have dubbed “Darwin Day.” The city of Shrewsbury, Darwin’s birthplace, will hold its annual celebration with toasts, tours, and lectures. For this year’s festivities, the tagline is that Shrewsbury is “the origin of original thinking.”

Original thinking? The truth is that there was little about Darwin’s scientific theory that was original—and the part that was original was not scientific.

The idea that organisms undergo minor variations was not original. For millennia, farmers and breeders have known that they could induce minor changes in a breeding population (typically a species or genus). This process also happens in nature, where it is called microevolution.

What was original was Darwin’s proposal that the same minor variations might accumulate via undirected natural selection to originate completely new organs and body plans (generating higher taxonomic categories such as orders, classes, or phyla). This is called macroevolution—and it does not happen in nature.

Again, this is something farmers and breeders have known for millennia. Minor changes do not accumulate to produce the near-endless variation required by Darwin’s theory—even under the direction of intentional as opposed to natural selection The further an organism is bred from the wild type, the weaker it grows, and the more prone to disease, until it becomes sterile and dies out. Most highly bred animals would not survive long in the wild.

Even today, pick up any magazine written for farmers and breeders, and you will find articles dealing with the many diseases to which highly bred animals are prone.

Darwin was a skilled propagandist, and he sought to overwhelm readers’ objections by highlighting the sheer variety that can arise within an existing breeding pool. An amateur pigeon breeder himself, he illustrated his theory with pouter pigeons, fantail pigeons, trumpeter pigeons, and a host of other surprising variations that have emerged from the common rock pigeon.

What he ignored, of course, was that they were all still pigeons…

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