Darwinism and Just-so Stories — Further Thoughts

Charles Darwin

In a previous article I discussed just-so stories. These are explanations for stages in evolution, based on the assumption of the truth of Darwinian theory, which can then be claimed to be true, even though they can never be verified. I quoted paleontologist Colin Patterson, who explained the idea very clearly: “It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another, and to find reasons why the stages should be favoured by natural selection. But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way of putting them to the test” (1).

Here are three examples of dedicated Darwinians who concede nevertheless that there is very little evidence for what they believe. If that is true, then the stories they create must be at best speculation, at worst fiction, in either case just-so stories. (Why are they therefore so convinced by the theory?) Please note that these three statements appeared soon after the Darwin exhibition of 1981 at the Natural History Museum - it would seem that those open-minded cladists were on to something (2).

  • Jonathan Howard, although a believer, in his book Darwin said: “All evolutionary reconstructions… rest heavily on plausibility rather than evidence to command assent” (3).
  • Dr. Brian Charlesworth, in an article ‘Neo-Darwinism — the plain truth’ (4), stated: “…we are usually so ignorant of the genetic structure of fossil populations and of the relations between environment, fitness and morphology that we cannot provide explanations for any particular historical pattern of evolution”.
  • Dr. Leslie Orgel wrote an article ‘Darwinism at the very beginning of life: Even before there was life there was natural selection’ (5), in which he claimed that life evolved in a Darwinian fashion from chemicals. Although he was convinced that this was the case, he nevertheless conceded: “I must admit that attempts to reconstruct this evolutionary process are extremely tentative… A major conceptual or experimental breakthrough may be needed before we can make any substantial progress”.


(1) letter to Luther Sutherland, April 10th 1979

(2) For details see my two articles:

(3) Oxford University Press, 1982, p63

(4) New Scientist, April 15th 1982

(5) also New Scientist, April 15th 1982