Darwin's Philosophy and Living Fossils
Apparent evidences that caused Charles Darwin to believe in the common ancestry of all living organisms
were dinosaur and pterosaur fossils. Without those fossils, how could he have felt confident in his theory? He thought they were the
evidence needed to support his idea that many forms of life existed anciently and that those forms differed from presently-living
forms. “Living fossils” were thought to be exceptions. (Before living-Coelacanth discovery)
But by the end of the 20th Century, reports of living dinosaurs and living pterosaurs began to spread, including news articles about
Central-Africa expeditions. By 2006, many web sites covered sightings of apparent living dinosaurs and pterosaurs with names like
Mokele Mbembe, kongamato, and ropen. There is even a report of a long-tailed living pterosaur flying over a swamp in South Carolina.
But how do these living-fossil cryptids relate to Darwin’s philosophy, the General Theory of Evolution?
What was Darwin’s philosophy? First consider how it came about. His belief in the existence or non-existence of God seemed to have
evolved throughout his life. The death of one of his daughters and of his father may have played a part. Some of the popular dogmas
of Christian churches in 19th Century England may also have played a part: The standard religious perspective on his father’s demise
included hell-fire, without any end to the torture: the old man failed to adhere to orthodox Christian expectations. In the last years
of Charles Darwin’s life, reflected in his writings, he thought much on extinctions and came to doubt the existence
Darwin came to believe that all life-forms have lived and died, over vast ages, only according to presently-observed natural processes;
he came to disbelieve in divine origins. The variations or differences that he noticed between closely-related families of animals—these
he correctly recognized as traits related to environment. He also correctly recognized that closely-related families have common ancestry.
His mistake was in his assumption that the kind of evolution he observed, what is now often called “micro-evolution,” is unlimited.
He assumed that because it was unlimited, common-ancestry is unlimited: that every living organism had the same ancestor. By the early
20th Century, it had become obvious that the mechanism he imagined was incorrect; thus Darwinism
was replaced by Neo-Darwinism. But
the philosophy of unlimited common-ancestry remained a popular axiom.
The point is this: Should the Mokele Mbembe, kongamato, and ropen turn out to be “living fossils,” one of the foundations of Darwin’s
General Theory of Evolution would be truly dismantled, for the apparent rarity of such “ancient” creatures was one of the principle
ingredients in the origin of his General Theory
of Evolution. Would Darwin have constructed his theory of life-form-origins if he had
known about living dinosaurs and pterosaurs? It is doubtful. He was observant enough that he would have realized that the evidence
for “ancient” creatures was insufficient.
By Nathaniel Coleman