Content Soren Lovtrup's Rebuttal of Darwinism  

Hiram Caton

Søren Løvtrup. Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth. Croom Helm, Kent, England. 1987.

Løvtrup’s book was on my reading list for some time, but it wasn’t until recently that it reached my desk. I had expected a good book. I wasn’t disappointed. Løvtrup has spent a life-time researching epigenesis, an amorphous field that only in the past couple of decades has begun to shape into an evolutionary theory. This career path made him especially sensitive to the theoretical requirements of an adequate evolutionary theory. The purpose of this book is to facilitate the replacement of Neo-Darwinism by evolution theory based on epigenesis. He states in the Preface that ‘I tried to show that the currently accepted theory of evolution—called ‘Neo-Darwinism’ or ‘the modern synthesis’—is false’. Indeed, he maintains that Darwin’s theory ‘was refuted from the moment it was conceived’. This somewhat clumsy expression means that Darwin’s theory was in unmendable conflict with facts from the outset; that he recognized the conflicts and attempted to explain them away; that most of his informed contemporaries, including Thomas Huxley, believed natural selection to be a flawed explanatory theory; that significant rival theories were put forward; that one rival, Mendelian genetics, superceded Darwinism; that the ‘Neo-Darwinian’ synthesis is misnamed—it should be called ‘Neo-Mendelism’, and more.

A key element of the Darwin myth equates evolution with Charles Darwin’s ideas. In contemporary media this is taken for granted as baseline fact. Yet this popular truism is a staggering obliteration of history. Most Neo-Darwinians know that it isn’t quite so, yet they cater to it, often by dismissing briefly mentioned ‘precursors’ as primitive and misguided. Thus the current high profile Darwin Exhibition (American Museum of Natural History) doesn’t mention, for example, that evolution was intensively discussed in the popular press and in drawing rooms for about 15 years prior to the publication of the Origin. But acknowledgement of this context undercuts the mystique that the Origin was a sudden bolt from the blue delivered by a genius. In this way the Darwin image mimics that of the prophets of old. Lovtrup would correct this credulity by devoting about 85 pages to ‘pioneers’. He includes Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Patrick Matthew, Edward Blyth, Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire, Karl von Baer, and Robert Chambers, among others. Today all this is well established in the historical literature. If there is a criticism here, it is that Lovtrup does not alert his readers to the extensive French studies of evolution between 1790-1840 (see Pietro Corsi, The Age of Lamarck). Taking it into account would double his evidence that original ideas are hard to find in Darwin’s writings.

Rat Snake
The pioneers chapters are followed by discussion of Darwin’s principles and arguments, with special attention to the reasoning that dismisses evidence inconsistent his theory. Løvtrup reminds us that an interpretation of variation is central to the theory: very slight variations, continuously selected over time, accumulate to evolutionary novelty, eg, speciation. Add to this that selection pressure is a natural necessity (the Malthus moment), and the outcome is the Matthew-Wallace-Darwin thesis that evolution is a struggle for existence in which the weak perish while the strong are organisms bearing traits that can be selected for their survival advantage, or fitness.

It’s ‘descent with modification’, as Darwin so often wrote. This theory is vulnerable at many points. Løvtrup’s bête noir is the gradualist thesis, in its double aspect of denying the role of macromutations (or saltations in his language) in evolutionary change and in asserting that evolutionary change is continuous. Saltations are well known to naturalists and to domestication. They include not only ‘sports of nature’ (the two-headed calf), but less spectacular variations that qualitatively change morphology, physiology, or behavior. For Løvtrup these variations, which Matthew-Wallace-Darwin arbitrarily dismiss, are the fuel of evolutionary change. The second line of attack is to underline the gross unfactuality of ‘descent with modification’. The reality, for the naturalist and for domestication, is that ‘like produces like’. Darwin’s contemporary critics (among them Thomas Huxley) objected that the fossil record is completely at odds with the gradualist thesis. Instead of continuous change, we find long periods of stasis, followed by wholly new assemblages of taxa with no evidence of gradual change. The Wallace-Darwin response was to speculate that as the fossil record expands, it will document the currently missing gradual changes. The casuistry of this response is well exposed by Løvtrup. Suffice to point out one fatal objection: the fact of stasis by itself falsifies the gradualist principle. End of theory. Yet there is more. Darwin proposed domestication evidence as an analogy to natural selection. In reality, the breeding of domestics disconfirms his analysis.

  •  Varieties selected for breeding are picked thanks to the occurrence of a saltational variation to be optimized.
  • Breeding requires back-crosses, which cannot occur in nature, at least not with the required regularity. Back-crosses help control for unwanted traits.
  • Selection for a single trait always induces changes in other traits.

Selection for a single trait, generation after generation, accordingly results in an organism optimally maladapted. End of theory. There is yet another disproof of Darwin’s attempt to construct domestication as an analogy to natural evolution: Gregor Mendel’s 1866 paper on hybridization was the initial statement of the laws of genetics. A comparison of Mendel’s experiments and reasoning with Darwin’s would exemplify Løvtrup’s contention that Darwinian theory does not meet the standards of science. Unfortunately, Løvtrup does not make this comparison. He apparently deems it to be sufficient to bring Mendel into the picture though his discussion of the conflict between Mendelians and Darwinists in the post-1900 period. I found his summary discussion to be helpful, but let it be noted that this phase of science history has been examined in great depth.

There is much more in this fine book that cannot be mentioned in so short a review. For example, his discussion of how and when Darwinism was transformed into sacred doctrine is well done. He nominates the Darwin-Huxley campaign to destroy St. George Mivart’s reputation, and his critical examination of Darwinism (the Genesis of Species 1871), as the decisive event that elevated Darwin the Naturalist to Darwin the Omniscient. Løvtrup has also combed the literature for informed critical opinion. I’ll wind this up with a quote from one critic, the eminent physiologist Walter F. Cannon: ‘Two of Darwin’s chief virtues were ones not usually praised in a scientist: jumping to conclusions which go well beyond the evidence available; and maintaining his faith in his position regardless of the valid arguments that could be brought against it’.

© 2008