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Barry Gale: Evolution Without Evidence

A review by Gert Korthof   24 Nov 2013 updated 16 Jan 2014

BARRY GALE EVOLUTION WITHOUT EVIDENCE
Barry Gale (1982) 'Evolution Without Evidence. Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species'. University of New Mexico Press, hardback 238 pages.


The title of the book Evolution Without Evidence is rather sensational. It suggests that Darwin had no evidence for his theory. This looks like a creationist claim (3). However, Barry Gale is not a creationist. He was trained in the history and philosophy of science (p. 160). His book is well researched, and he has certainly interesting things to say about Charles Darwin and the origin of The Origin of Species. Gale's book is a pleasure to read for everyone interested in that revolutionary book The Origin of Species.
There are basically three groups of scientists studying Darwin's work: 1) intellectual historians, 2) scientists (biologists) interested in history, 3) scientists within the academic discipline of the history and philosophy of science (p. 154). The last category can be further subdivided into those with a negative, a neutral and a positive attitude towards Darwin. Gale classifies himself as a historian and philosopher of science with a neutral opinion about Darwin (p. 160–161).

What does he do in this book? The purpose of this study is to show (in Gale's own words):

  1. how Darwin was ill-equipped in 1838 in terms of knowledge and experience [botany, zoology] for the tasks that lay ahead of him (convince others of his theory);
  2. how really dependent he was on the help of others for much of his species work [f.e. Hooker];
  3. Darwin's well-developed social skills to get information from others [by mail];
  4. Darwin' failure to win important converts to his theory as late as 1859 [Charles Lyell, Asa Gray, Thomas Henry Huxley];
  5. Darwin's concern about the weakness of the argument of the Origin which contained no so much the best theory but the least objectionable one.
  6. Darwin was forced to publish his theory too soon (p.5-6).
Evidence

The 'Evolution Without Evidence' claim is not present in this list. Gale does not distinguish clearly enough between a 'good theory' and 'good evidence' for a theory. Darwin's theory could be good without having good evidence at the time he published The Origin. I think Darwin's theory was as complete as it could be in 1859 (considering the status of biology and geology at that time). The absence of the theory of sexual selection which he developed in The Descent of Man is an example of incompleteness of his theory. But the incompleteness was not the problem for his readers. The real problem was that Darwin needed much more evidence to convince his readers of the truth of his theory (5), (6). For example, Darwin essentially had no fossils to support his theory, let alone transitional fossils. This fact is easily overlooked by the modern reader familiar with extensive fossil and molecular evidence. We need to subtract all modern evidence to evaluate the power of The Origin to convince readers in 1859. Gale could have included some examples of important supporting evidence that came to light after 1859 or after Darwin's time to illustrate his paucity-of-evidence-point (4).
There are passages in Gale's book that contradict the 'Evolution Without Evidence' claim: "Darwin obviously considers the evidence from classification, morphology, embryology, and rudimentary organs to be the strongest in support of his theory." (p.134)
Gale does not consider whether later publications such as Descent of Man; Variation in animals and plants add new evidence. I suspect that Gale neglects evidence in The Origin because he is not a biologist (?).

Theory

I object to Gale's (5) 'the least objectionable theory'. It would be better to say the least objectionable way to present his theory considering the space available, the time available, and the intended public (including lay people and not only scientists). Furthermore, 'least objectionable' contradicts Gale's own descriptions such as "the monumental contribution to the history of biology that the Origin represents" (p. 137), "the Origin contains page after page brilliant argumentation" and: "the skillfull marshalling of his materials and the deft and often ingenious aligning of his arguments" (137). Brilliant argumentation cannot be 'the least objectionable theory'. Maybe the best description of The Origin is: "Darwin's ability to put together in reasonably effective fashion an incredibly complicated argument based on a relative paucity of evidence." (p. 161). The words 'relative paucity of evidence' is not the same as Gale's own 'Evolution without evidence'.

Darwin as a scientist-manager

Gale points out that Darwin could impossibly be an expert on geology, botany, zoology, systematics, geography, palaeontology at the same time! Gale describes Darwin's abilities as an manager (he requested information related to the species problem by sending hundreds of letters and even asked to collect information and do experiments) (7).

Appendix

Below follow 3 tables from the Appendix:

Major Elements of Darwin's Theory

ElementsEvidence presented in support
1VariationCertainly exists in a domestic setting, at least to those practiced in domestic breeding; in nature it exists also; numerous variations occur, but hardly ever noticed by naturalists; Darwin indirectly answers question of existence of variation in nature by discussion of differences between species and varieties, showing that variations are constantly being produced in nature; we are ignorant about the laws of variation.
2Struggle for ExistenceSome naturalists (De Candolle, Lyell) have shown, but have not shown in true intensity; Darwin shows how a struggle for existence might happen (using Malthus as a point of reference) because of an imbalance between population growth and food supply; Darwin provides a few examples of struggle based on various experiments performed at Down.
3inheritance of acquired characteristicsUses domestic breeding analogy; laws of inheritance unknown
4divergence of characterUses domestic breeding analogy; provides a hypothetical example of how it might occur in nature
5extinctionAssumed; indicated Beagle voyage evidence (remains of mastodon, megatherium, taxodon, etc)
Appendix, p. 165

The remarkable thing about this list is that two core components of Darwins theory, Natural Selection and Common Descent (Descent with Modification), are missing.

Key Difficulties on Darwin's Theory

DifficultyEvidence to Resolve
1Lack of interminable numbers of intermediate forms that should existNatural Selection process exterminates intermediate forms; no right to expect to see directly connected forms, only links between organism and some extinct and supplanted form
2Lack of fossil remains of interminable number of forms; sudden appearance of whole groups of species; lack of fossil remains below Silurian systemFossilization process rare in nature; only small portion of world has been geologically explored; great imperfection of the geological record; only organic beings of certain classes can be preserved in a fossil condition.
3Complex and useless organsThis difficulty not real if we admit: gradations in the perfection of each organ exist now of could have existed; all organs and instincts are variable to some extent; there is a struggle for existence leading to preservation of each profitable deviation, through in the course of time they may become useless; the truth of the above propositions, Darwin feels is "indisputable".
4InstinctsSame reason as above
5Universal sterility of species when first crossed, universal fertility of varietiesDarwin contention that this is not so: cites exceptions
6Wide geographical diffusion of some species with no apparent means of dispersalDuring long period of time always good chance for wide migration by many means; we are ignorant of past climatic and geographic changes [Darwin's glacial period theory]; profoundly ignorant of many occasional means of transport.
Appendix, p. 166.

Gale omitted references to pages or chapters for the items in his list. So, they need to be verified. Furthermore, he does not mention which edition of The Origin he used. This is important because Darwin added a new chapter 'Miscellaneous Objections To The Theory Of Natural Selection' (Chapter VII) to the 6th edition (1872) in which he answered those objections.

Evidence Adduced in Support of Darwin's Theory

Facts of NatureDarwin's View of a Natural Selection explanationversus Creationist explanation
1Lack of clear demarcation between species and varieties makes sense in terms of natural selection theory where varieties are viewed as incipient species makes no sense form creationist view
2Classification of groups subordinate to groups Makes sense in terms of natural selection, where large groups increase in size and decrease in character with attendant extinction "utterly inexplicable" by Creationist view
3"Natura non facit saltum" (nature makes no leaps) Natural selection can act only by accumulating slight, successive, favorable variations, and hence supports natura non facit saltum ideawhy this should be so on creationist view "no man can explain"
4Cases of lack of absolute perfection in organisms –e.g., upland geese, which never swim, having webbed feet makes sense in terms of natural selection which adapts inhabitants of each country only in relation to the degree of perfection of its inhabitantsmeaningless from creationist point of view
5Reverson to long lost characters explained by natural selection in sense that characters are those of descendants "inexplicable" by theory of creation
6Specific characters more variable, generic characters less variable in all speciesmakes sense in natural selection theory, where species are only well-marked varieties and where genetic characters are those inherited without change for an enormous period of timemakes no sense in creationist view
7Parts developed in very unusual manner highly susceptible to variationby nautral selection theory , part has undergone considerable variation and will continue to do soinexplicable by theory of creation
8The geological record, where new species have come on slowly, where extinction is evident, where species do not reappear once the chain of ordinary generation has been broken, where extinct species are closely related to living forms in closely related geographical areasmakes sense with natural selection theory where organisms are related in a genealogical waydoes not make sense from creationist point of view
9The leading facts in the geographical distribution of organisms: parallelism in the distribution of organic beings throughout space, and in their geological succession throughout time;
- the close connection of inhabitants of the same continents under the most diverse geographical and environmental condtions;
- the relation of oceanic to nearest continental productions;
- the fact that species which cannot easily cross wide spaces of ocean do not inhabitat oceanic islands;
- the existence of closely allied or representative species
makes sense with idea of migration and with subsequent modification because the real affinities of all organic beings are due to inheritance or community of descent "utterly inexplicable" in creationist view
10Morphological evidence–i.e., bones being the same in the hand of a man, wing of a bat, etc.makes sense from natural selection point of view, where all organisms are related inexplicable in creationist position
11embryonic state of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes alikemakes sense from natural selection point of view, where successive variations do not always supervene at early agemakes no sense on creationist view
12Rudimentary organsmakes sense from natural selection point of view, where a once important organ has atrophied from disuse from creationist point of view, why would useless characteristics be produced?
Appendix p.167–169 (1).

Gale compiled a handy list of 12 facts of nature and how they are explained in Darwin's theory and in the creation view as described by Darwin. In my view Darwin contrasted his theory with the creationist view and not with the scientific view of Lamarck because he wrote for the English public who were very well familiar with biblical creation and not with the Frenchman Lamarck. So it did make sense what Darwin did. It must be added, however, that Darwin also referred to "the common view of the immutability of species" which is not a theological doctrine.

Conclusion

Gale invites us to consider the relative paucity of evidence Darwin faced in 1859. Writing The Origin was a huge challenge for Darwin. Gale recognises that we should not lose sight of the monumental contribution to the history of biology that the Origin represents (p.137). In my view, the appreciation for the courage of Darwin only grows if we know about the big obstacles he had. Today, we are in a far superior position with fossil and molecular evidence.

Notes

  1. At the time Gale published his book, The Origin of Species was not available online. So, he must have compiled the tables in the Appendix manually. Today one can search all of Darwin's publications online: http://darwin-online.org.uk.
  2. See: scan of chapter 1 of the book in books.google.com (but poor quality)
  3. Among the many creationist claims is Jim Nelson Black, author of The Death of Evolution: Restoring Faith and Wonder in a World of Doubt: [1] "Was Darwin really the greatest scientist who ever lived?" [2] "Did his single under-graduate degree in theology prepare him for such a role?" [3] "There is no evidence in the fossil record of the kinds of transformation Darwin describes" (source). We see here issues that are in the domain of the history of science and are studied by scientists like Barry Gale, but are used against Darwin and evolution by people like Jim Nelson Black.
  4. For example, during Darwin's lifetime "for mammals one can observe almost every transition and sequence leading from one type to another definitive group." (1878). An example of complete lack of evidence is the origin and fast diversification of Angiosperms (flowering plants), also called 'Darwin's abominable mystery' (wikipedia). See for more examples: In what way was Darwin wrong? on this site. 'Darwin's abominable mystery' is discussed in Strickberger's Evolution Fourth Edition page 331.
  5. Yet, Michael Ruse writes: "Enough empirical evidence existed to convince people of its [evolution] truth, and it had been Darwin's genius in the Origin to show precisely why the empirical evidence is so convincing." chapter 12 'Evolution: From Pseudoscience to Popular Science, from Popular Science to Professional Science' in: Philosophy of Pseudoscience. Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem', Edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry (2013).
  6. "In 1861, less than two years after the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, in a session before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a critic claimed that Darwin's book was too theoretical, and that he should have just 'put his facts before us and let them rest'". from: 'This View of Science: Stephen Jay Gould as Historian of Science and Scientific Historian, Popular Scientist and Scientific Popularizer' by Michael B. Shermer, Social Studies of Science 32/4(August 2002) 489–525 (p. 515)
  7. Much later, in 1882, in The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex Darwin wrote: "This I have attempted to do, as far as the extreme complexity of the subject permits, from information derived from various sources; but a full essay on this subject by some competent ornithologist is much needed.". Since evolution covers every field in biology, it is clear you cannot be an expert in every field.

Reviews

  • New Scientst 3 Feb 1983 Doubts and convictions about Charles. "is de jacket blurb [ had no more evidence in support of his theory than did the creationists ] a caricature of Gale's quite unexceptionable thesis."
  • Richard Lewontin (2001) mentions Barry Gale's Evolution Without Evidence in his It Ain't Necessarily So. The dream of the human genome and other illusions, second edition, paperback, The New York Review of Books. Gale is mentioned in Chapter 2 'Darwin's Revolution':
    "Barry Gale has changed all that. I do not know whether his thesis in Evolution without Evidence that Darwin published On the Origin of Species without confidence in his evidence, and well before he intended to, is right or wrong. ... But a corpus as rich as the Darwin letters and notebooks, there are qutotations to prove anything." (p. 63).
    The last statement is an insult. Independent of the letters and the notebooks, The Origin itself is the main proof of Gale's claim.

Further Reading

 

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Copyright ©G. Korthof 2013 First published: 24 Nov 2013 Updated: 16 Jan 2014 Further Reading/Notes: 3 Apr 2014