Is Darwinian evolution true?

  • Clarifying the question

    Darwinism (or Neo-Darwinism) is any view of evolution which places special emphasize on natural selection. This natural selection, acting on random variations, is hypothesized to have produced virtually all of the diverse complexity in species on Earth. Is Darwinism true?

    1. Some critics object to the use of the term Darwinism, but the term has long been canonized in reputable academic sources and standard works. [See below]
  • Define: Darwinism (Neo-Darwinism)

    Some critics object to the use of the term Darwinism, but the term has long been canonized in reputable academic sources and standard works. See:

    Oxford's "A Dictionary of Science" (entry: Evolution): “Darwin proposed a feasible mechanism for evolution and backed it up with evidence from the fossil record and studies of comparative anatomy and embryology (see DARWINISM; NATURAL SELECTION). The modern version of Darwinism, which incorporates discoveries in genetics made since Darwin’s time, remains the most acceptable theory of species evolution.” [304.]; “natural selection The process that, according to Darwinism, brings about the evolution of new species of animals and plants.” [Elizabeth Martin (Oxford, 2010), 549.] [“Darwinism”] “a theory of organic evolution claiming that new species arise and are perpetuated by natural selection”

    A Dictionary of Zoology: “Darwinism The theory of evolution by natural selection, often used incorrectly as a synonym for the theory of evolution itself. The term ‘neo-Darwinism’ is often used to denote the ‘new synthesis’ (i.e. synthetic theory).” [Ed. Michael Allaby. (Oxford, 2009), online.]

    William Dembski & Michael Ruse: “Is the appearance of design in organisms as exhibited in their functional complexity the result of purely natural forces acting without prevision or teleology? Or does the appearance of design signify genuine prevision and teleology, and, if so, is that design empirically detectable and thus open to scientific inquiry? Four main positions have emerged in response to these questions: Darwinism, self-organization, theistic evolution, and intelligent design.” [Debating Design (Cambridge, 2004, 2006).]

    Francisco Ayala (Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at California; 2001 National Medal of Science): “There are many thoughtful discussions of the dialogue between Darwinism and Christianity” [“Design without Designer” in Debating Design (Cambridge, 2004, 2006), 74.]

  • Significant controversy exists over whether Darwinism is true

    Eugene Koonin is one of the most renowned living evolutionary biologists. and on the recent 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” his entry in the Journal “Trends in Genetics” was the introductory piece. It was a synopsis of where he and many others feel the field of evolutionary biology is today.

    Eugene Koonin: “The summary of the state of affairs on the 150th anniversary of Origin is somewhat shocking: in the post-genomic era, all major tenets of the Modern Synthesis are, if not outright overturned, replaced by a new and incomparably more complex vision of the key aspects of evolution. So, not to mince words, the modern synthesis is gone.” [“The Origin at 150: Is a New Evolutionary Synthesis in Sight?,” Trends in Genetics Vol. 25:473, (2009): 474.] (Internal citations omitted).1

    Similarly, in Nature,…

    Kevin Laland and colleagues: “The number of biologists calling for change in how evolution is conceptualized is growing rapidly. Strong support comes from allied disciplines, particularly developmental biology, but also genomics, epigenetics, ecology and social science. We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit fully from these other disciplines. The data supporting our position gets stronger every day. Yet the mere mention of the EES often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation. Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.” [“Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Nature 514 (October 2014), online]

    Some other examples

    Lynn Margulis (US Presidential Medal for Science recipient; originator of endosymbiotic theory): “At that meeting [Francisco] Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism, but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead” [Suzan Mazur, The Altenberg 16 (Berkeley, 2010), p. 285)]

    David J. Depew & Bruce H. Weber: “We trace the history of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, and of genetic Darwinism generally, with a view to showing why, even in its current versions, it can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory. The main reason is empirical. Genetical Darwinism cannot accommodate the role of development (and of genes in development) in many evolutionary processes. … Darwinism in its current scientific incarnation has pretty much reached the end of its rope. … it is largely because Lamarckism, saltationist (sudden) mutationism, and inner-driven orthogenesis, to name the most enduring alternative traditions in evolutionary biology, failed to become mathematized empirical sciences with at least a foothold on value-neutrality that Darwinism still rules the evolutionary roost … in the past, improved versions of Darwinism have taken the place of inadequate ones and that a new version -- a Darwinism of the future -- may well displace population genetical Darwinism without ending, but instead enriching, Darwinism as such. [The Fate of Darwinism: Evolution After the Modern Synthesis, Biol Theory (2011) 6:89-102]

    Scott Gilbert: “[t]he modern synthesis is remarkably good at modeling the survival of the fittest, but not good at modeling the arrival of the fittest.” Evolutionary paleobiologist Graham Budd was similarly open in the article saying, “When the public thinks about evolution, they think about the origin of wings and the invasion of the land … [b]ut these are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about. [John Whitfield, "Biological Theory: Postmodern Evolution?,” Nature 455 (2008): 281.] (quoting Scott Gilbert).]

    Nicola Nadeau & Chris Jiggins.: “Nonetheless, most studies of recent evolution involve the loss of traits, and we still understand little of the genetic changes needed in the origin of novel traits. [“A golden age for evolutionary genetics?” Trends in Genetics 26(11)(2010): 484-92. Epub 2010 Sep 28.]

    William Provine (Cornell University historian of science and evo-biologist): “[e]very assertion of the evolutionary synthesis below is false": Natural selection was the primary mechanism at every level of the evolutionary process. Natural selection caused genetic adaptation…. Macroevolution was a simple extension of microevolution. … Evolution is a process of sharing common ancestors back to the origin of life, or in other words, evolution produces a tree of… The evolutionary synthesis was actually a synthesis.” [Abstract of talk before the History of Science Society titled “Random Drift and the Evolutionary Synthesis.” [online at]

    Adam Wilkins (Editor of BioEssays, edits commentaries section of Genetics): “the book’s [Shapiro's] contention that natural selection’s importance for evolution has been hugely overstated represents a point of view that has a growing set of adherents. (A few months ago, I was amazed to hear it expressed, in the strongest terms, from another highly eminent microbiologist.) My impression is that evolutionary biology is increasingly separating into two camps, divided over just this question. On the one hand are the population geneticists and evolutionary biologists who continue to believe that selection has a ‘creative’ and crucial role in evolution and, on the other, there is a growing body of scientists (largely those who have come into evolution from molecular biology, developmental biology or developmental genetics, and microbiology) who reject it.” [Review of Evolution: a view from the 21st century (2011) by James A. Shapiro, Genome Biology and Evolution (2012) [online]2

    1. Margulis has articulated this several times.

      Lynn Margulis: The Anglophone tradition was taught. I was taught and so were my contemporaries. And so were the younger scientists. Evolution was defined as ‘changes in gene frequencies’ in natural populations. The accumulation of genetic mutations were touted to be enough to change one species to another. … No. It wasn’t dishonesty. I think it was wish fulfillment and social momentum. Assumptions, made but not verified, were taught as fact.
      Lynn Margulis (After being asked about I.D. proponants): The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It's just that they've got nothing to offer by intelligent design or "God did it." They have no alternatives that…

“Yes, after all…
  • Complex designs appear explosively in life-history

    Life-forms appears explosively, or change suddenly in a way inconsistent with the observed usual varation in organisms. [Forthcoming] This is relevant because the rate defies even the most charitable Darwinian models.

  • DNA modifications don't create organs/body-plans

    Richard Sternberg, Stephen Meyers, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells: “But there are solid empirical grounds for arguing that changes in DNA alone cannot produce new organs or body plans. A technique called "saturation mutagenesis"1,2 has been used to produce every possible developmental mutation in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster),3,4,5 roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans),6,7 and zebrafish (Danio rerio),8,9,10 and the same technique is now being applied to mice (Mus musculus).11,12 None of the evidence from these and numerous other studies of developmental mutations supports the neo-Darwinian dogma that DNA mutations can lead to new organs or body plans--because none of the observed developmental mutations benefit the organism.” [Citations from original source]

    1. R. M. Myers, L. S. Lerman & T. Maniatis, "A general method for saturation mutagenesis of cloned DNA fragments," Science 229 (1985): 242-247.
    2. T. S. Wong, et al., "Sequence saturation mutagenesis (SeSaM): a novel method for directed evolution," Nucleic Acids Research 32 (2004): e26. Available online (2010) at html
    3. C. Nüsslein-Volhard & E. Wieschaus, "Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila," Nature 287 (1980): 795-801. 4 .K. V. Anderson & C. Nüsslein-Volhard, "Information for the dorsal-ventral pattern of the Drosophila embryo is stored in maternal RNA," Nature 311 (1984): 223-227.
    4. H. G. Frohnhöfer & C. Nüsslein-Volhard, "Organization of anterior pattern in the Drosophila embryo by the maternal gene bicoid," Nature 324 (1986): 120-125.
    5. D. V. Clark & D. L. Baillie, "Genetic analysis and complementation by germ-line transformation of lethal mutations in the unc-22 IV region of Caenorhabditis elegans," Molecular & General Genetics 232 (1992): 97-105.
    6. R. C. Johnsen, S. J. Jones & A. M. Rose, "Mutational accessibility of essential genes on chromosome I(left) in Caenorhabditis elegans," Molecular & General Genetics 263 (2000): 239-252.
    7. M. C. Mullins, et al., "Large-scale mutagenesis in the zebrafish: in search of genes controlling development in a vertebrate," Current Biology 4 (1994): 189-202.
    8. P. Haffter, et al., "The identification of genes with unique and essential functions in the development of the zebrafish, Danio rerio," Development 123 (1996): 1-36. Available online (2010) at
    9. W. Dreiver, et al., "A genetic screen for mutations affecting embryogenesis in zebrafish," Development 123 (1996): 37-46. Available online (2010) at
    10. K. E. Hentges, et al., "Regional variation in the density of essential genes in mice," PLoS Genetics 3 (2007): e72. Available online (2010) at
    11. J. A. Hagarman & T. P. O'Brien, "An essential gene mutagenesis screen across the highly conserved piebald deletion region of mouse chromosome 14," Genesis 47 (2009): 392-403.