Evolution vs. Creation Rhetoric Watch: Cornelius Hunter Notices an Interesting Rhetorical Move That Charles Darwin Made in the Origin of Species

At his blog recently, Cornelius Hunter called attention to this statement of Charles Darwin’s from the Origin of Species:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.

Cornelius Hunter flags Charles Darwin’s use of the phrase could not possibly to make the following observation about his rhetoric:

Darwin was requiring that the skeptic prove that such structures “could not possibly” have evolved. . . . Darwin was not looking for examples that show evolution to be unlikely. He did not say “did not likely” evolve. He said “could not possibly” evolve. Darwin was erecting high walls around his idea.

Good catch!

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to Evolution vs. Creation Rhetoric Watch: Cornelius Hunter Notices an Interesting Rhetorical Move That Charles Darwin Made in the Origin of Species

  1. andrewclunn says:

    That’s a good point. If creationists could bring forth evidence in support of a creator, I would gladly accept creationism as a possibility.

  2. Given the time scale of evolution on earth (>4B yrs), “could not possibly” and “did not likely” are not really that far apart.

    Also, the more extraordinary a claim is, the more extraordinary the evidence must be. Darwin’s theory is that species evolve in accordance with natural law, which is a fairly conservative proposition, since natural laws are observable and testable. In fact, we do not require evidence at all for the existence of “Nature” and natural laws. But if someone wishes to posit some force outside of nature, and/or some power over and above natural laws, then such claim must be accompanied by concomitantly convincing evidence.

    • santitafarella says:

      What Darwin is asking for is a deductive falsification of his theory. He’s asking if there is something logically impossible about evolution by random variation and natural selection. Obviously, there is not. We can all think of logically possible ways for mutation accompanied by natural selection to go from A (bacteria) to B (humans). And, obviously, logical possibility becomes logical inevitability if you are willing to posit enough time to achieve the trick (or enough multiverse rolls-of-the-dice to get to our apparently implausible state of affairs).

      But logical possibility is not the same as logical plausibility (or empirical demonstrability). I’m not questioning descent from a common ancestor or the age of the universe (obviously). I’m questioning whether random variation accompanied by natural selection plausibly accounts for what we actually see. If it doesn’t, then it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether or not life’s information came from mind (as opposed to matter accompanied by time and luck).

      Naturalism is just another way to say that the blind activity of matter in time is all that’s necessary to account for the jaw-dropping levels of information that we see encoded in the DNA. Supernaturalism (paired down to its minimum) is just another way to say that matter is not all that is necessary to account for the information we see; that we need a non-material mind to account for it.

      A non-material mind prior to matter accounting for the universe’s extraordinary information content does not sound at all implausible or ridiculous to me. It is certainly no more ridiculous than the multiverse hypothesis. And, I’m sorry, but you have to choose. You simply don’t have enough time (13.7 billion years) with just a single big bang universe to account (by raw chance) for what’s going on here.


    • santitafarella says:


      If you discovered someone telling you that your bedroom had been cleaned by time and chance absent mind, and only 10 minutes prior you had been in your bedroom, and saw that it was a total mess, would you conclude that time and chance really accounted for the result?

      Or would you treat the time constraint as evidence that more than chance was involved, and that mind must have been at work?

      I would argue that what’s happened over the course of our 13.7 billion year old big bang universe is akin to leaving your messy room for ten minutes and finding it cleaned. If vastly greater time amounts are not in play, then you’ve got to posit a mind’s involvement.

      How in heaven and earth do you get the cosmological constants the way they are (life enabling) on the first bang? And how does that first bang get to mind-bearing, conscious creatures? It seems that the universe is more like a tree bearing fruit than a happenstance.


      • Longtooth says:


        The notion of more time than 13.7 billion years seems intuitively reasonable. The existing material universe may itself be composed of the ruminants of some previous “universe”. perhaps an incredibly ancient succession of universes is at work characterized by some tendency toward greater complexity in each generation. The potentiality for biological life in the present universe might thus be a product of that tendency. By way of analogy, I’m thinking of the heavy elements (upon which life depends) which are exclusively produced in the caldrons of dying giant stars, all post big bang events.

        In any case, in spite of gaps in the fossil record and the dispersions cast by nifty mathematical analyses, if some great creator intelligence(s) did author the universe, it seems to me that making biological life anything other than self initiating, self sustaining, and self evolving, would amount to a rather unintelligent design. And what of free will in such case?

      • Santi Tafarella says:


        I agree that the multiverse hypothesis is a way out of the dilemma, and I also agree that survival of the fittest, with its massive death toll, is one hell of a way to get to humans (if you are a god and want to get to humans).

        Better to simply twitch your nose (like Samantha on Bewitched) and have things poof into existence straight off.

        —Santi : )

  3. That was significant blog post!!!

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