Chapter I

1.5 Dissing Darwin

Benjamin Wiker & others take a hatchet to the Darwin Bicentennial.

As the science and general media geared up for the Darwin bicentennial in 2009, the parlor game of Darwin-bashing saw something of a resurgence, with The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime by former BBC producer Roy Davies (2008), The End of Darwinism: And How a Flawed and Disastrous Theory Was Stolen and Sold by Vietnam War-era investigative reporter Eugene Windchy (2009), and The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin by the Discovery Institute’s Benjamin Wiker (2009a), variously reviving the discredited accusations of Butler and others about Darwin supposedly stealing his main ideas from his fellow scientists, especially Wallace, and attributing all manner of ills to Darwin (including, of all things, an acceptance of “natural slavery”).

Such a view would be hard to defend based on scholarship such as Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Desmond & Moore (2009), though a few antievolutionists have taken a whack at it. Creationist Rockie Fordham (2009b; 2010) showed no familiarity with Darwin’s views on slavery or racial equality apart from what she extracted from secondary religious apologetics, a method Fordham (2012) apparently followed as she recycled a limited array of sources for her online “Creation versus Evolution” course. Over in ID land, though. while Michael Flannery (2009a) at Uncommon Descent did not take issue with the main thrust of Darwin’s Sacred Cause (that Darwin was an abolitionist champion), Flannery (2009c) extolled Wiker’s book at Evolution News & Views, including how it “convincingly refutes” the view of Desmond & Moore (2009) on this very point—a neat trick in that the main thesis of Darwin’s Sacred Cause only came up once, Wiker (2009a, 144) alluding to it in a single sentence: “It has been argued that Darwin’s affirmation of common ancestry for human beings was formed in great part by his hatred of slavery.”

Though Wiker cited the book in the footnote, there was no discussion whatsoever of the case presented by Desmond & Moore—let alone any refutation of it. The details in Darwin’s Sacred Cause showed how little Darwin’s thinking resembled that of 19th century defenders of slavery, and how Darwin’s evolutionary conceptions conflicted with the views of actual racists. That centuries of Christian slaveholders managed to rationalize their ownership practices without relying even a smidge on anything even remotely “evolutionary” should also be kept in mind, as explored in Chapter 6 of Downard (2004).

As for the Wallace plagiarism/priority canard, Shermer (2001, 283-306), Slotten (2004, 157-162, 170-173), Kevin Padian (2008; 2009), Milner (2009, 129-130) and Van Wyhe & Rookmaaker (2012) thoroughly dispose of that, which one may compare with the back-and-forth at (2008) as well as the very detailed analysis by Todd Wood (2009), the Young Earth Creationist baraminologist writing for Answers in Genesis. Darwin was organizing his 1842 natural selection sketches when Wallace was 19, yet to even start any field work, Slotten (2004, 152), and was incontestably confiding in his close friends about the essentials of the theory during this period, such as his 1844 letter to Joseph Hooker, Bagley (2010). By late 1853 Wallace was just starting to realize that some species were younger than others, but not yet hitting on natural selection as the explanation for it, Slotten (2004, 55, 93-95). Slotten (2004, 281, 288) further noted how Wallace explicitly acknowledged Darwin’s priority and hard work in an 1870 collection of essays, and how they agreed scientifically on 19 of 20 points. Slotten (2004, 6) summed up the legacy issue thus:

Some have blamed Darwin for failing to give Wallace proper credit for his contributions. But this is not true. Darwin made plenty of allusions to Wallace. If anyone can be faulted, it is Wallace himself, who deferred to Darwin time and again throughout his long life, thus ensuring that posterity would forget him. It was also Darwin, not Wallace, who wrote the great book. Had Wallace completed “On the Law of Organic Change,” his text on evolution, he might be celebrated today. Once The Origin of Species had been published, however, he saw no point in continuing to work on a book dealing with the same subject.

What all the recent anti-Darwin tomes have in common, compared to the regular scholarly biographies of Darwin, is how surprisingly thin and selective their background documentation were. Windchy’s entry was the worst of the lot, dispensing with stodgy formalities like source citations altogether, which tells us something in turn about the lazy tastes of conservative pundit Pat Buchanan (2009) when he drooled over The End of Darwinism without pausing to check whether any of his undocumented claims were actually true (for instance, assertions about the evolution of bird feathers from reptilian scales is examined in Downard (2003b) and Chapter 2 of Downard (2004).

While Davies had some footnotes, this didn’t help him much critically. John Wilkins (2009) had no trouble spotting holes in Davies’ accusation that Darwin stole the evolution idea from Wallace in the 1850s, including Wallace’s own repeated acknowledgment of Darwin’s priority. More damningly, The Darwin Conspiracy was so superficial it couldn’t even persuade Todd Wood (2009), who pulled Windchy’s argument to shreds over at Answers in Genesis, which may be compared to the giddy Michael Flannery (2008) at Uncommon Descent, willing on the basis of Windchy’s gossamer scholarship to reappraise Darwin as “a rather pathetic attention-getter, interested more in fame than facts, worried more about reputation than science, a borrower, a poseur, a cheat.”

As for Wiker’s book, The Darwin Myth benefited from plenty of internal promotion along the Kulturkampf grapevine, from the laudatory Bill Muehlenberg (2009a) and Ray Bohlin (2009c), to the online reaction at A Catholic Social Commentary regarding Matthew Warner (2009). Alfred Regnery’s conservative Human Events (2009) recommended The Darwin Myth (published by, guess who, Regnery Publishing) along with the similarly demonizing anti-Obama tome Catastrophe by Dick Morris & Eileen McGann. In this self-congratulation department, a December 2009 mailing by the Discovery Institute hailed the publication of The Darwin Myth as one of the Institute’s notable accomplishments for the year, and Flannery (2009b) characterized this “Must Read!” work as “the absolute best yet” in the Darwin “analytical biography” department.

From a scholarly methods perspective things are not necessarily rosier over in the pro-Darwin camp, at least at the blog level. As we’ll be seeing more of regarding initial reactions to the likes of Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells and Stephen Meyer, the first snap reviews of works (pro or con) are often cursory. This is because it does take time to explore and research a topic properly, and the temptation to snap judgments is as strong there as anywhere else. So while Sander Gliboff (2009) offered substantive criticisms of The Darwin Myth for the NCSE, the brief critique by Bjørn Østman (2009b) played off only the publication summary of the book, and the predictably unsympathetic reaction at the (2009) was a parade of “oh, not that again!” chagrin unaccompanied by the likelihood any of them would eventually consult the book itself.

This is not to give the impression that Wiker’s argument might really have some merit only because so few well-aimed shots were fired at it to start. To the contrary, once you dive into the text and start matching up scholarly citations with the available evidence, The Darwin Myth starts unraveling as completely as Davies or Windchy.

Though The Darwin Myth had references they were not copious, but more telling is that at critical junctures Wiker slips in bald assertions without even trying to support them. Thus Wiker (2009a, 16-17) accused Darwin’s nonbeliever father Robert Darwin (1746-1848) of cravenly supporting the Anglican church only to curb the revolutionary excesses of “the lower orders”, since “Radical thought, while fine enough if it circulated quietly among the upper, closed circles of society, was too heady a wine for the masses—or for women, who as weaker vessels, also needed the crutch of religion, he believed.” Wiker went on to tar the Unitarianism so many of the Darwin-Wedgwood clan believed in as “the church of the smart-set, who were smugly certain that the Bible was merely one more book of ancient mythology.”

Smugly certain, was it? And how exactly did Wiker establish that? There were no references cited—not for that, nor his jab at Robert Darwin’s attitudes on the working class or women. It reminds me of a potshot fired by creationists Morris & Morris (1996c, 156-161), tactically quoting from radical feminist critiques to disparage Darwin the man (while cautioning readers not to be deceived by actually embracing that feminism) and insisting that Christianity alone has not “relegated women to a very inferior place in society” because all are equal before God. And thereby was the history of women’s subordination over centuries in European culture (and their long secular struggle to achieve legal and social equality) gently nudged under the rug.

Actually, the Darwin-Wedgwood set had an armada of some of the most strong-willed and dedicated women you are likely to find in any family, and it is difficult to imagine anyone taking such figures as prone to the vapors or needing some crutches (religious or otherwise). Many examples appeared in Adrian Desmond & James Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause (a work Wiker only peripherally cited): Fanny Wedgwood (1800-1889), daughter of the charismatic abolitionist James Mackintosh (1765-1832), and a deep influence on Darwin, as well as Fanny’s great friend, the “deaf and indomitable” Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), whose gripping publications on American slavery motivated British abolitionists to extend their cause across the Atlantic, Desmond & Moore (2009, 65, 127).

As for biblical exegesis, was Wiker simply assuming that it was impossible for anyone to entertain skepticism about the factual basis of many Bible tales (whether in the early 19th century or since) without exhibiting smugness? That no one could arrive at a view of the Bible as an all-too-human document based on considered investigation or deep introspection, and honest conviction? That cat was already out of the bag by the mid-19th century, certainly represented by “The Seven Against Christ” Anglican scholars in their 1860 Essays and Reviews collected by John William Parker (1792-1870), representing a rising liberal tide of rejecting dogmatic tradition, from the abolition of the Religious Test for public office to embracing the new German “Higher Criticism” of the Bible, Francis (1974) and Altholz (1982).

Clerical Darwin critic Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) highly disapproved of Essays and Reviews, and three of the contributors, Henry Bristow Wilson (1803-1888), Rowland Williams (1817-1870) and Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), had heresy charges thrown at them—though only Wilson and Williams were actually tried (in 1862, convicted on three of the eight charges, but overturned on appeal in 1864). However stuffy and timid Parker (1860) might appear today, the volume was thus hot stuff in its day, and “for at least a decade received more attention than Darwin’s Origin,” Noll (2011, 154)—indeed, Essays and Reviews still raises hackles for some, such as Roger Beckwith (1994) for the English Church Society Churchman.

But even Wiker (2009a, 34-35) must have known that this abandonment of a literal reading of the Bible was hardly limited to the elite “smart set” in which he was trying to pigeonhole the Darwins, since he explicitly brought up Darwin’s college mentor, geologist (and devout Anglican priest) Adam Sedgwick, stressing that Sedgwick was not “a scriptural fundamentalist” and whose anti-transmutationist views involved progressive appearances in a geological framework following “a pattern established in Genesis but written on a much grander scale of time.”

In other words, Sedgwick was one of those scientists who had flatly abandoned the plain reading of Scripture that had prevailed for centuries. Answers in Genesis or the ICR do their own pigeonholing for such people today: invidious compromisers who let their own fallible human observations override the Creator’s clear description of exactly what and when things were made in Genesis—and that would include Benjamin Wiker, accused of just such apostasy by Don Batten (2010) over in AiG country. But there is no reason to believe Sedgwick arrived at his religious views with any more or less application of smugness than the Darwins had—especially comparing the rhetorical attitude Sedgwick (1860) deployed when criticizing Darwin. The problem was not with individual personalities. The difficulty was that by the 19th century it was increasingly untenable for thoughtful people to take the traditional Bible worldview straight up serious, especially when it came to trying to reconcile the Genesis account with developing geology, nicely illustrated by the thorough Anglican jurist and Egyptologist Charles Wycliffe Goodwin (1817-1878) in his contribution to the Essays and Reviews, Goodwin (1860).

As it happens, though, smugness seems a uniquely Darwinian malady in Wiker’s framework. “A daguerreotype survives from 1842 of Charles and young William,” recounted Wiker (2009a, 68), “a smugly beaming father who knows, to his complete satisfaction, that he holds a once and future king on his lap.” This afforded Wiker an opportunity to diagnose Darwin on the health decline as a setup for a cheap shot: “Darwin’s eyes revealed the toll. He was sicklier, his eyes were dark and haggard, and his weight had dropped below one hundred and fifty pounds. Not good, for a man almost six feet tall. He seemed to be singularly unfit to survive the rigors of science and the pressures of secretly fine-tuning his arguments about the survival of the fittest.”

Here I was reminded of a similar attempt at retroactive medical diagnosis by Young Earth Creationists Morris & Morris (1996a, 109): “Charles Darwin was a vigorous, healthy, almost happy-go-lucky man before he was converted to evolution, but a man of sickly body and troubled mind all his life thereafter.” Conservapedia (2013h) concluded their coverage of the topic with the view “that Darwin’s illness was the result of guilt and/or fear.” But it is hard to beat the seldom-temperate Jerry Bergman (2004a) at ICR wondering: “Was Charles Darwin Psychotic?” Bergman buttressed this inflammatory diagnosis by some particularly strained innuendo, such as translating Darwin’s youthful fondness for bird shooting into evidence of a “sadistic streak” (a broad tarring that would seem just as applicable to the “Duck Dynasty” hunting constituency of the NRA in the 21st century, so Bergman should be very careful how he swings that brickbat when wandering into the Kulturkampf underbrush).

Darwin did indeed suffer repeated bouts of ill health (often relating to social visits), and Desmond & Moore (1991, xx, 335) noted Darwin was “addicted to quackery” when it came to what to do about it (whether from desperation or conviction is hard to say)—notably the cold shower “water cure” vividly depicted in the stolid 2009 Darwin biopic Creation, which film earned a quite temperate review by Sahms (2010) at Hollywood Jesus. Relying on water therapy may have contributed to the death of his daughter when Darwin took her to the Malvern clinic to cure her too, and the disastrous outcome of that must have entered the anxiety mix jostling in Darwin’s head to further fuel his fitful ill health and hypochondria as he worked over the Vestiges of Creation implications of the scientific arguments he was offering, along with deflecting the offended religious convictions of his more devout wife.

That complicated psychological approach has been taken in treatments from Edey & Johanson (1989, 62-63) to Pasnau (1990). Barloon & Noyes (1997) decided more specifically that Darwin suffered from “panic disorder with agoraphobia” while Katz-Sidlow (1998) identified deeper issues involving a father prone to withdrawing into the manner of “a detached clinician” when it came to matters like resolving family grief (Charles lost his mother when he was four) and ending up having “difficulty relating to a healthy Charles” (father and son got together most often when Charles consulted his father on his flaring health problems).

There are more proximate biological candidates to consider, though, starting with Chagas’ disease—misspelled as “Chaga’s disease” by Bergman (2004a) in his dismissive coverage of the issue. Caused by the trypanosome parasite, it is vectored by a South American insect (the Benchuca) that may have bitten Darwin during the Beagle voyage, Bernstein (1984) and Carl Zimmer (2000e, 158; 2000f, 44). But a more recent analysis by Orrego & Quintana (2007) narrowed the field to another culprit: Crohn’s disease (a bacterial intestinal disorder not diagnosed in the 19th century, which Darwin may have come down with in 1834 while in Chile). Its chronic symptoms match the bulk of Darwin’s etiology, and even accounts for the seeming benefits of the water cure: “cold enhances cortisol secretion, which depresses the immune system and inflammation, and ameliorates the symptoms of the disease,” at least for a while.

Whatever the cause of Darwin’s recurrent tummy troubles, the fact remains that the 38-year-old parent alluded to by Wiker would live another forty years and revolutionize biological thinking along the way. Wiker didn’t feature any illustrations for the reader to observe Darwin’s deterioration firsthand, though the 1842 daguerreotype was shown in Desmond & Moore (2009, Plate 17)—and also in Van Wyhe (2008, 40-41), along with an 1853 one of his wife holding their son Leonard. What seems clear enough comparing the two photos in Van Wyhe is the image of parents trying to sit sufficiently still for the photographs to be taken (the daguerreotype process in particular required excruciatingly long exposure times). So we see William and Leonard transfixed by the camera, while daddy Darwin had a look of dreamy reverie staring off to one side, and Emma appeared most resolute as she gripped her son tight until the exposure was done. Van Wyhe noted, by the way, the 1842 portrait with William was the only time Darwin sat for a formal photograph with any of his children—perhaps due to his smugness.

Far more significant than Wiker’s photographic forensics or “smug” potshots, though, is how he repeatedly tiptoed past any of the evidence Darwin drew on in his work. Given the conviction of Flannery (2009b) that Wiker “ably marshals his facts and analysis,” this is no trivial issue, but cuts at the core of Wiker’s reliability as a secondary redactor. To start, Wiker (2009a, 45, 57) mentioned Darwin’s finds of “a partial Megatherium skull, an extinct version of the living land sloth, only much larger, and a llama-esque or camel-esque, long-snouted Macrauchenia patachonica,” and the “extinct, sloth-like creature, Scelidotherium, weighing in at about three tons, and the Toxodon and Glyptodon, oversized versions of the capybara and armadillo, respectively,” but does not share with the reader what he thought of them. Were these many “-esque” and “-like” forms related to their modern exemplars by natural means or not?

With no more concern than someone discarding a candy wrapper, Wiker has name-dropped taxa sprawling across the last 100 million years of mammal evolution. The sloths and armadillos are members of the Xenartha, originating in South America and undergoing a radiation after the KT extinction, Delsuc et al. (2001). M. patachonica is a representative of the Litopterna exclusive to South America, an extinct order of hoofed mammals that branched off from very early mammals, like Protungulatum tracing back to the Late Cretaceous, Archibald et al. (2011), which would generate over the millions of years to come many cousins, including horses, pigs and whales. A couple million years ago Toxodon was one of the more common large hoofed animals in South America, part of another now-extinct group, the Notoungulata, Billet (2011).

Returning to the parade of sidestepping data in The Darwin Myth, Wiker (2009a, 47) asked rhetorically of the Galápagos island fauna: “Were they just plopped down from heaven?” again without venturing an opinion himself (one may recall the finch paternity suit outlined back in section 1.4). Or Wiker (2009a, 69) dangling the venerable antievolutionary claim about the absence of “smooth transitions between species” in the fossil record: “As with his later Origin, he met them, not by arguing against them directly, but largely by appeal to indirect evidence of circumstance that would explain away the problem. The fossil record, for example, was not yet fully unearthed, and further, fossils simply were not that frequently preserved, so gaps were only gaps in fossilization, not in actual species that had lived.”

Once more there were no citations, but in the chapter devoted to the “Imperfections of the Geological Record” Darwin (1859, 298-300) specifically noted how fossil discoveries had already improved the picture for several groups: monkeys, whales, fish, and barnacles (that latter a topic fresh in Darwin’s mind, having just completed his definitive monograph as noted in section 1.4 earlier), all of which had been thought to have appeared only in recent strata but where earlier examples were turning up. Since paleontology over the last century and a half since the Origin vindicated Darwin’s optimism on a spectacular scale, as we’ll see in numerous examples (including those monkeys, whales and fish), Wiker’s repetition of the fossil transitions mythology indicated the powerful role lack of curiosity can play when the object is axe-grinding rather than understanding.

Even with Darwin’s pioneering work on barnacles Wiker (2009a, 78) weighted his coverage with minimizing terminology: “He glimpsed the whole drama in what appeared to be the succession of evolutionary stages in the barnacles marching in front of his tired and triumphant eyes.” So they just appeared to be that—but not really, due evidently to a weary clouded vision—and all without corroborative citation to distract Wiker’s stroll down the Darwinian evidential sand walk.

Consider what was known about barnacles by 2009. There are fossil examples, though before they developed their distinctive calcareous coverings the deep ancestors of barnacles had a slim chance of getting preserved. There is a possible lepadomorph barnacle (a murky polyphyletic group with a thin fossil record generally) back in the Cambrian, Collins & Rudkin (1981), but the main radiation didn’t take place until a hundred million years later (in the Silurian) and several groups in the acorn barnacles diverged and proliferated after the dinosaurs checked out, Pérez-Losada et al. (2009). Stanley & Newman (1980) traced the immense impact of an initially minor variation in those acorn barnacles: the earliest and quite successful chthamaloids were driven into niche ecologies by the balanoid barnacles because their development of sturdy tubiferous wall structures eventually allowed them to grow more quickly and displace competitors.

Sorting out the evolutionary dynamics of how barnacles did all this required the merging of fossil data with developmental studies, along with cladistic taxonomy tools and genetic information unavailable to Darwin in the 19th century, but all actively in play by the time Wiker arrived to dangle his vague ID alternative: such as Glenner et al. (1995), Pérez-Losada et al. (2002) and Briggs et al. (2005). Pérez-Losada et al. (2008) had just undertaken a major review of the field, and the perspective by Zelnio (2011) illustrated the level of detail involved. Such scientific labor has continued in Pérez-Losada et al. (2012) and Petrunina et al. (2014).

This “tiptoe close then run off” reticence continued all the way through the book, so that by Wiker (2009a, 138-139) all he could do was repeat the canards creationists have been trotting out for the last century, and which have been dressed up by his modern Discovery Institute colleagues: the supposed lack of species transitions, the claimed contra-Darwinian Cambrian Explosion, the inadequacy of natural selection—and, yes, even the venerable “living fossils” claim made a bow, this time Wiker tossing in “creatures that have not changed significantly over hundreds of millions of years, like the crocodile, alligator, cockroaches, dragonflies, and so on.”

Once again, Wiker didn’t think he needed to document any of this. Just as with the “smug” Darwin, the desire for it to be so appears to have been enough. Drop down onto the science workroom floor, though, and a very different picture of crocodiles emerges. The detailed taxonomical survey of crocodiles by Christopher Brochu (2003, 359), for example: “However similar modern crocodylians are to some of their older relations, we cannot regard crocodylians as ‘living fossils.’ They seem not to have changed much if we observe them at a distance, but up close they show significant change over time.” Salisbury et al. (2006, 2439) is similar: “the morphological diversity that crocodyliforms display today represents only a fraction of that during the Mesozoic.” General illustrations of this are not hard to find in this Internet age, such as the more current University of Bristol (2012) or zoologist blogger Darren Naish (2012).

Had Wiker wanted to muck around in some of the data he could have started with the supposedly static “living fossil” croc itself: their distinctive snout shapes (blunt versus narrow) have gone through repeated iterations over their history, Brochu (2001), but these modern forms only arrived during the Cretaceous—far from the “hundreds of millions of years” in Wiker’s bracket with the insects. If Wiker further supposed no transitional forms linked crocodile ancestors, he’d be wrong there too. There is the 100-million-year-old Australian fossil described by Salisbury et al. (2006, 2439): “Isisfordia fills an important gap in terms of fossil evidence for one of the major anatomical transitions in the evolution of crocodyliforms. In almost all respects, Isisfordia neatly conforms with Huxley’s 1875 model for the gradual evolutionary transformation of crocodyliforms, possessing the morphology expected for a basal eusuchian.”

As one would expect of animals evolving from natural predecessors, ancestral Late Triassic crocodylomorphs such as Hesperosuchus, J. Clark et al. (2000), or Gracilisuchus, Lecuona & Desojo (2011), are hard to differentiate from their so-similar closest archosaur cousins. Nor did these early critters look much like the classic croc model: they were agile sprinters, possibly with a warm-blooded metabolism, powered by a four-chambered heart that modern crocs retain, though modified later as they adapted to an aquatic sit-and-wait-patiently ambush predator lifestyle, Seymour et al. (2004). That shift also co-opted locomotion muscles for use in breathing and body orientation during dives, Carrier & Farmer (2000) and Uriona & Farmer (2008). Crocodiles have drawn on this fertile metabolic base more than once, evolving the functionally bipedal pristichampsines in the Eocene, animals few would mistake for a typical crocodile, Brochu (2003, 366-367).

More recent finds have only reinforced this picture of crocodylomorphs, clarifying and illuminating their diversity and origins with ever improving resolution, such as the Triassic apex predator Carnufex carolinensis that gave early dinosaurs a run for their munch money. “Carnufex bridges a problematic gap in the early evolution of pseudosuchians by spanning key transitions in bauplan evolution and body mass near the origin of Crocodylomorpha,” Zanno et al. (2015).

The same evolutionary factors that we encountered in the P-E debate play out here too. The metriorhynchids, alligators that lived from the Middle Jurassic to Late Cretaceous, took the marine approach to the limit, with full flippers and tail fin, M. T. Young et al. (2010); Prehistoric Life (2009, 254-255) illustrates several examples. Looking at the skulls of their two main subfamilies, assessing bite strength and other factors reflecting their habitat, M. T. Young et al. (2011) found that the “smaller, piscivorous metriorhynchines” showed a static layout nudged by occasional functional adaptations, while the “mostly megapredatory geosaurines” followed a broader random adaptive track. This depth of analysis is a long way from the postage stamp “living fossil” sticker in Wiker’s Discovery Institute book, and renders particularly ironic Flannery (2009b) accusing Darwin of a willingness “to brush both evidential and philosophical problems aside” and not the author of The Darwin Myth in whose footsteps Flannery so credulously followed.

However reluctant Wiker was to wrestle with croc paleontology, though, Wiker (2009a, 105) was nonetheless certain that after the Origin of Species proved popular, the triumphant Darwin clique set out to purge doubters: “Opponents were locked out, ignored, and mocked. As Browne reveals, Darwin made his contributions from behind the scenes, letting his more forceful proponents do the direct work of takeover.” This was an unreferenced allusion to Darwin biographer Janet Browne (2002, 10-12, 101-104), who had described how effective Darwin’s global network of scientific correspondents was to the acquisition of new information and the dissemination of his ideas, especially in a proliferation of new magazines made possible in the industrial age. The only problem was that nowhere in Browne’s extensive book did she indicate any incident of opponents “locked out” of the scientific world on this account, and one may note again how Wiker neglected to specify any instance of anyone who was.

The game was, if anything, rather lopsided. As Browne (2002, 129) noted: “Darwin’s opponents failed to achieve anything like the same command of the media or penetration of significant institutions. Opponents did not unite with the same esprit de corps.” Browne (2002, 329) later contrasted “Darwin’s Bulldog” Huxley, who “enjoyed his cliques and believed that small groups of ‘right-minded men’ were by far the most effective way to get things done,” with St. George Mivart (1827-1900), a devout Catholic who “wanted none of this.” Mivart fell through the cracks doubly, as Mivart (1871) was an early Darwin critic, but was eventually excommunicated for accepting some of the evolutionary framework—examples of Mivart’s anti-Darwinian claims will be encountered in due course.

In a period when natural history museums essentially reflected the views of their founding curators, it was inevitable that the competing camps in the evolution debate marched around them too. Geologist John Phillips (1800-1874) opposed Darwin from his Natural History Museum at Oxford, while the Huxley block undercut Richard Owen’s planned national museum, not built until the 1880s, Browne (2002, 97-100, 110-111, 337). Not all was hard feelings, though, as Owen joined Huxley to recommend Wallace as director for a new Bethnal Green Museum in 1868, but it was never built, Slotten (2004, 270). Scientific arguments with Owen were inevitable, of course, given his tendency to let his antipathy for evolution get the better of himself factually, such as fielding a highly questionable “expert” on the newly discovered gorilla, Browne (2002, 156-160).

Darwin did bear one grudge according to Browne (2002, 87-88): for a highly critical early review of the Origin of the Species—though as it was an anonymous one, this was obviously no example of any person being hounded or persecuted. Another incident Browne (2002, 353-356) recounted involved St. George Mivart. It had nothing to do with Mivart’s criticism of Darwinian evolution, though, but more personal: the Darwin camp blocked his membership in the Athenaeum Club after Mivart went ballistic over Charles Darwin’s son George advocating liberalizing divorce law for cases of marital abuse or mental disorder. Catholicism to this day does not recognize divorce (though in special instances some can inveigle a tactical annulment), but Mivart embodied the Church’s long-standing difficulty in dealing with the realities of sexual life (from contraception to priestly sex abuse scandals) by deeming this perfectly reasonable reform in Britain’s secular law would promote “hideous sexual criminality” and “unrestrained licentiousness.” Papa Darwin was not amused with this fuming attack on his son’s advocacy (again perhaps manifesting that lamentable “smugness” trait).

Incidentally, Darwin critic Windchy (2009 98) argued a lot like Wiker when he explicitly mentioned the Mivart episode as his sole example of how the Darwin camp could “punish their opponents,” but funneled the facts into the Kulturkampf frame by broadly characterizing George Darwin’s proposal as “recommending some liberalizing of divorce laws in the interests of eugenics. Mivart slammed the idea as just the sort of moral breakdown to which natural selection theory was bound to lead.” Windchy did not speculate on the converse logic of his own position: namely, whether a spouse having to endure mental or physical abuse in a marriage they could not escape (explicitly following Catholic but not Protestant dogma here) represented “just the sort of moral breakdown to which” a theology-driven inability to accept some form of “natural selection theory was bound to lead.”

Admittedly, all these glosses on Darwin’s “lies” were far less exaggerated than, say, the image of the naturalist in the clever 2012 Claymation movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits, based on the Gideon Defoe book series. In their wacky world of British science (“The Royal Society: Playing God Since 1687”) the young Darwin is so utterly smitten with the new Queen Victoria that to curry her affection he duplicitously nicks the last remaining dodo, the beloved mascot of a group of dim but decent pirates who had mistook the animal for a parrot. Darwin does mend his criminal ways somewhat once he realizes Her Majesty is actually a murderous knife-wielding anti-pirate ninja who only wanted the bird served as dinner for the elite “Rare Creatures Dining Club” of similarly ravenous world leaders. Unlike Windchy and Wiker, though, the movie’s makers were deliberately (and successfully) trying to be funny.