Quote of the Month: H. Allen Orr on Darwin’s Failure to explain the Origin of Species

“He [Darwin] recognized that he asked his readers to believe both that most evolution is due to natural selection and that sterility of hybrids routinely evolves. Indeed, Darwin spent an entire chapter of the Origin of Species trying to explain away this paradox, but his attempt was less than overwhelmingly successful. Hence the common (and correct) charge that the Origin of Species neglected to explain the origin of species.”

-H. Allen Orr (“Dobzhansky, Bateson, and the Genetics of Speciation” – Genetics Society of America) 

Orr’s comment here echoes the pioneering Dutch geneticist, Hugo De Vries, when he famously stated that ‘natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.'(1) In more modern times, we hear similar admissions from evolutionary biologists like Andreas Wagner in his book Arrival of the Fittest, claiming that Darwin left evolution’s greatest puzzle unexplained. These claims are of course historical rather than about the current state of evolutionary biology. With regard to modern evolutionary theory we are repeatedly assured that Darwin’s theory and its many and various extensions have most things covered nowadays. That is another question altogether, but as it happens, I see little evidence that, even now, the ‘arrival of the fittest’ has been adequately explained under the reigning naturalistic framework.

As to the historical claim about Darwin’s lack of success, I have no desire to exaggerate or  on the other hand downplay his achievements beyond what the evidence really shows us. It’s important to be honest. It is however a breath of fresh air to have these rather more subdued assessments of Darwin’s work rather than the highly suspect pronouncements made by most avid Darwinists, who tell us that Darwin gave us a sufficiently detailed and unassailable naturalistic account of biological change. He did no such thing.

What do you think?

References

  1. Glenn Branch, Whence “Arrival of the Fittest”?, Available at: https://ncse.com/blog/2015/05/whence-arrival-fittest-0016357
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