Macbeth vs. Darwin

​​​​​​​The Naturalist’s Gambit That Failed Unnoticed

I became so intrigued by what I had read about Tom Bethell in February that I purchased a used copy of the 1971 book that he referenced in his 1976 Atlantic article, “Darwin’s Mistake.” The book is Darwin Retried, and it was written by Norman Macbeth, a Harvard-trained lawyer who “made the study of Darwinian theory his avocation for many years.”

The book jacket is a garish 1970s style. It goes from top to bottom, from yellow to orange, then pinkish to purplish, with a background of more than dozen circles, from bottom to top going from several yin-yang symbols to silhouettes of great apes to a few Neanderthals and finally to modern man. The publishers, Gambit Incorporated, Boston, may not have known quite how to market such a book and to put on the cover. The atmosphere on many American campuses of higher learning and scholarly inquiry was rife with reefers, and many young scholars got sidetracked by the new morality and co-ed free love. Gambit wanted to intrigue book browsers, so they placed this unusually long copy on the book jacket after the title:

How convincing is Darwinian theory today? Is it science? Does it explain? Or have we merely substituted the jungle ethics of survival for the fairy-tale philosophy of the creation, and does a mystery still remain for a new generation of scientists to solve?

Darwin Retried crossed the Pond to Great Britain, home of Darwin, where it appeared in 1974 with a different cover, with just the title and picture of a statue (of whom it is not clear) on a large rectangular pedestal, which has a very large crack in the front of it. The London publisher was Garnstone. Apparently, this 188-page attempt to topple Darwin off his pedestal never caught on in the UK, and the 1885 statue of Darwin was moved into the main hall of London’s Natural History Museum in 2009.

I’ve read most of Macbeth’s critique of Darwinism. He is not a scientist. He’s a lawyer, a layman. But like Richard Weaver pointed out, who taught English at the University of Chicago, the rules of logic and evidence are not restricted to those trained in the sciences. The details of research certainly are the domain of the scientist, but those making claims about how things happened must at least explain how and why their theory make sense.

But it’s not that Macbeth takes Darwin to task on many details. He exposes clear contradictions in what scientists themselves were saying in the years immediately following the much-ballyhooed centennial of The Origin of  Species in 1959. He quotes top evolutionists pointing out the many uncertainties, contradictions and gaps in what they thought—gaps that have not been filled in with any facts that confirm Charles Darwin’s original theory. Back in 2004 I wrote:

“At the Darwin centennial, naturalist Ernst Mayr and geneticist Sewall Wright could not agree on the mechanism of Darwinism (genetic change or natural selection), yet everyone swore fealty to “gradualism,” even though no one really knew what the gradual steps were. Gradualism was the crucial feature of Darwin’s theory, as it claimed that minute random steps, accumulated over time, eventually produced a wide variety of species.”

There are tons of citations by Macbeth revealing the lack of agreement—not on details—but on the main mechanisms of evolution.

As far as I can tell, the issues have never been resolved. As a layman I ask, please, Mr. Evolutionist, use your new hi-tech computers, software, graphics, and knowledge of genetics and produce a video showing step-by-step how life emerged, carefully explaining how the natural laws that we have discovered make possible each little step. Surely one of our billionaires would love to fund the project that would refute Bible believers and other skeptics. Or maybe explain something smaller? Like the emergence of the human eye step by step. Or deliver the goods on the very promising 2001 Time Magazine cover story, “How Apes Evolved into Men.” Can anyone really explain how that happened without resorting to pure guesswork at crucial stages? What can be imagined is imaginary, not science.

Macbeth, who evidences no sign of religious belief in his book nor opposition to the idea of evolution itself, shatters the pillars upon which Darwinism depended: natural selection, survival of the fittest, all the way back in 1971. And there is nothing to replace those pillars. I’ve read nothing since then that undermines his case.

But maybe evolution—whatever that is—happened. Okay, but how? No one today knows. And just like people who believed in evolution many years before Darwin didn’t know how it happened, people today who believe in evolution are back to square one. Darwin’s stab at an explanation—small changes, over long periods of time, fueled by natural selection, creating totally new species—has not been proven and is full of more and more holes. Of the serious debate over the mechanisms of evolution, Macbeth wrote in 1971:

“It is surprising that so little word of it has leaked out, because it seems to have been one of the most important academic debates of the 1960s, and as I see it the conclusion is pretty staggering: Darwin’s theory, I believe, is on the verge of collapse.”

Perhaps word didn’t leak out because it might cause the new atheists to backslide. The reluctance to admit Darwin’s gambit was a mistake is strong. His revered statue remains in place. But if I may at least answer the question posed by Gambit on the book jacket in 1971: does a mystery still remain for a new generation of scientists to solve? Fifty years later, yeah, it certainly does.

is the executive editor of Salvo and Touchstone magazines.

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