In a recent review article by Russell Grigg, I found one section particularly interesting. (The relevant footnotes at the bottom.)

Excerpted from

Richard Peachey


What did Darwin actually say in his Origin of Species?

Darwin wrote the first edition in a great hurry to forestall Alfred Russel Wallace getting the credit for what he considered to be ‘his’ theory (see Alfred Russel Wallace), and then spent the next 13 years revising and correcting what was a literary monument to indecision, uncertainty, and obfuscation. Consider:

a) Thousands of changes

Researcher Morse Peckham compared the six editions of the Origin and wrote:

Of the 3,878 sentences in the first edition, nearly 3,000, about 75 per cent, were rewritten one to five times each.18 Over 1,500 sentences were added, and of the original sentences plus these nearly 325 were dropped. Of the original and added sentences there are nearly 7,500 variants of all kinds in terms of added sentences, the sixth edition is nearly a third as long again as the first.19

Another researcher, Barbara Bordalejo, counted a total of 15,000 changes in words and phrases in all sentences.19 Many changes dealt with counter-arguments raised by others, and in the new Chapter VII, Miscellaneous Objections, in the 6th edition (1872), Darwin mostly addressed George Jackson Mivart’s many contra arguments (1871).

b) Hundreds of equivocations

Far from being a definitive work, the Origin is saturated with conjecture. In the final 1876 printing20 of the 1872 sixth edition, Darwin employed the word “may” 642 times, “if” 493 times, “might” 203 times, “probable” or “probably” 182 times, “tend” or “tendency” 153 times, “suppose(d)” 141 times, “perhaps” 63 times, “no doubt” 58 times, and so on.21 “I believe” occurs 58 times, and “I think” 43 times; down from 97 and 81 times respectively in the 1st edition, because Darwin’s correspondents complained!19

Here’s a sample of Darwin-speak from p. 100 of his 6th Edition: “variations in a single species inhabiting an isolated station might be beneficial, and thus the whole mass of individuals might be modified, or two distinct forms might arise.” (Emphases added.) But equally, they might not … might not … might not. Darwinian conjecture does not constitute scientific evidence.

c) No actual evidence of anything

In Chapter 4 on Natural Selection, under the heading: “Illustrations of the Action of Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest”, Darwin wrote: “In order to make it clear how, as I believe, natural selection acts, I must beg permission to give one or two imaginary illustrations.”22 (His words, emphasis added.) Why “imaginary illustrations”? Well, when you can’t cite a single real-life example of natural selection producing anything new, the only resources left are imaginary ones!

The first of these is about wolves chasing their prey. Darwin wrote:

… let us suppose that the fleetest prey, a deer for instance, had from any change in the country increased in numbers, or that other prey had decreased in numbers. … Under such circumstances the swiftest and slimmest wolves would have the best chance of surviving, and so be preserved or selected. … I speak of the slimmest individual wolves, and not of any single strongly-marked variation having been preserved.22

Actually, the facts about wolves are substantially different, as Sir David Attenborough has demonstrated in several of his nature-study TV films. Wolves prefer to hunt in packs rather than singly, and whatever their prey group is, they don’t choose the strongest and fleetest individual to attack but the weakest and slowest, which may be injured or sick or old or a juvenile.

So, not only could Darwin not produce a single real-life example of natural selection producing anything, even this imaginary case was contrary to the facts. The Origin is all speculation, ad hoc assumptions, and special pleading. See:

Muddy waters: clarifying the confusion about natural section

Natural selection ≠ evolution

Refutation of New Scientist’s Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions

How information is lost when creatures adapt to their environment


18. Presumably he means in the subsequent five editions.
19. As reported by Bordalejo, B.,  Introduction to the Online Variorum of Darwin’s Origin of Species. See A variorum is a work in which all editions or versions of a text are printed side by side for easy comparison.
20. Labelled in 1876 by the publisher John Murray as “final text”.
21. Readers can check this for themselves by going into <Darwin online On the Origin of Species> in Google, scroll down to an Edition, click on the ‘Text’ link, then when the page is loaded, press CTRL [or Command for Apple] + F [to find], and type in the search box whatever word or phrase you want to check. Note: words need to be entered with a space before and after to be isolated, and to prevent their being counted when they also occur within other larger words. Enjoy!
22. Darwin online Origin of Species, 6th edition, pp. 70 ff.