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Early Review of A.N. Wilson’s Anti-Darwin Biography Could Have Been Predicted


We haven’t yet seen a copy of A.N. Wilson’s forthcoming anti-Darwin book, which isn’t out in the United States until December 12. See David Klinghoffer’s post, “Ouch: A Slashing New Anti-Darwin Biography from Darwin’s Own Publisher.” However, if all you knew was that the biographer and literary critic has written a book titled Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker, and a preview op-ed titled “It’s time Charles Darwin was exposed for the fraud he was,” the response would be predictable.

The book could be good, or it could be bad. We’re agnostic. But Darwinists defend their man ferociously, and the offense is worse coming not from a creationist but someone who, given class loyalties, ought to be on their side. A creationist they would simply ignore. It’s the class treachery angle that really stings them.

Thus we have an early review for New Scientist, “‘Radical’ new biography of Darwin is unreliable and inaccurate,” by historian of science John van Wyhe who edits the website Darwin Online.

Excerpts from the review:

This book provides an appallingly inaccurate rendition of Darwin’s theory and its scientific context. According to Wilson, Darwin told his contemporaries “that their land-grabs in Africa, their hunger for stock-market wealth in the face of widespread urban poverty, their rigid class system and their everlasting wars were not things to be ashamed of, but actually part of the processes of nature”. The theory is not science, Wilson concludes, just another offering in a bazaar of “ersatz religions”….

Wilson’s book contains numerous and serious factual errors such as “if Darwin were correct, there would be hundreds, thousands of examples” of transitional fossils. There are. Darwin’s first grandchild did not die in childbirth as Wilson states. A fragment of Wallace’s letter to Darwin from when Wallace was living in Ternate does not survive. “Darwin believed that his own theory… made it impossible to believe in the Bible.” Not so. The first 50 pages of Darwin’s evolution notebook are not missing, they were located and published by 1967. (Wilson copied this claim from a conspiracy-laden essay, “Darwin, Coleridge, and the Theory of Unconscious Creation“, published by Loren Eiseley in 1965, two years before Darwin’s pages were published.)…

Throughout, Wilson bashes Darwin for supposed arrogance, dishonesty and incompetence and trots out a long line of old anti-Darwin myths: for example, that Darwin stole ideas from Edward Blyth, whom Wilson mistakes for an evolutionist. (This too is borrowed from Eiseley.) Wilson invents and condemns a “towering ambition” Darwin had “to be a universal genius”. And eugenics and Nazi race laws are also blamed (incorrectly) on Darwin.

Wilson’s competence or incompetence on Darwin remains to be seen with our own eyes.

Having said that, John van Wyhe is a Darwinian partisan so some of what he says is surely to be anticipated. His claims of “thousands” of transitional fossils supporting Darwin’s theory (contra Wilson) and that Darwin’s theory does not rely upon slow, gradual change are simply incorrect, as Jonathan Wells and Stephen Meyer have thoroughly explained. The Cambrian explosion really is a problem for Darwinism.

The reviewer is too quick to dismiss the influence of Darwinian theory on Nazi ideology (see Richard Weikart’s books) and its social implications (see John West’s Darwin Day in America). Van Wyhe is also wrong to criticize Wilson for claiming that Darwin’s theory “made it impossible to believe in the Bible.” In his Autobiography, Darwin states his emerging belief in the unreliability of Bible and his rejection of design in nature clearly enough.

Yet van Wyhe’s criticisms of some factual errors, if accurate, make Wilson’s book problematic. Some of the issues attributed to the book are more than just Darwinian talking points, e.g., incorrect dates, bad references, and other basic errors of fact which are, again, if correct, serious matters.

We noticed that, contrary to what Wilson wrote in the previously referenced newspaper article, Cuvier was not an evolutionist. And van Wyhe is correct in describing the giraffe stretching his neck as the iconic illustration of classic Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, not Darwinism, as he says Wilson suggests.

Also, it is true that the early notebooks of Darwin were discovered in the mid 1960s and published in 1965. They are not “missing,” as van Wyhe claims Wilson asserts.

The key is exactly what does Wilson say and how does he say it. We know well by now to be cautious of Darwin’s defenders. They are often cagey and misleading. So at this point, who knows?

Photo credit: Patche99z (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.