Culture Darwinism Intelligent Design News

Literary figure Samuel Butler, it turns out, coined the term “Neo-Darwinism” in 1880

Spread the love
“Samuel Butler 1858″/ Dutton, NY, 1920

Further to “FYI: Who invented the term neo-Darwinism?, a new wrinkle has developed: It turns out it was a literary figure, Samuel Butler (1835–1902), back in 1880, well before Romanes. (He has probably been overlooked in discussions that rely on the scientific literature as such.)

Advising us of this, Jonathan Wells writes to say,

Actually, the term “neo-Darwinism” predates even Romanes:

”Neo-Darwinism” has had many meanings. The term was first used by Samuel Butler in 1880 to distinguish Charles Darwin’s theory from that of his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. Butler used “Darwinism” to refer approvingly to Erasmus’s theory that new variations arise “due to the wants and endeavours of the living forms in which they appear,” while Butler used “Neo-Darwinism”to refer disparagingly to Charles’s ascription of new variations “to chance, or, in other words, to unknown causes” [415,416]. In 1895, Georges Romanes used “Neo-Darwinian” to describe the view (which he attributed to August Weismann and Alfred Russel Wallace) that “natural selection is the only possible cause of adaptive modification;” Romanes used “Neo-Lamarckian” to describe the view (which he attributed mainly to Americans) that “much greater importance ought to be assigned to the inherited effects of use and disuse than was assigned to these agencies by Darwin. According to Romanes, Charles Darwin’s view (which he called “Darwinism”) stood “between these two extremes” [417].

415. Darwin C (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. John Murray (London) p 131.

416. Butler S (1880) Unconscious Memory. David Bogue (London) ch 13.

417. Romanes GJ (1895) Darwin, and After Darwin. Longmans, Green (London) v 2 pp 12-13.

See also: Membrane Patterns Carry Ontogenetic Information That Is Specified Independently of DNA

Note: Butler, son of a clergyman, had definite views about a lot of things, including Darwinism:

When Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) came into his hands soon after his arrival in New Zealand, it took him by storm; he became “one of Mr. Darwin’s many enthusiastic admirers,” and a year or two later he told a friend that he had renounced Christianity altogether. Yet, as it proved, Christianity had by no means finished with him. For the next 25 years it was upon religion and evolution that Butler’s attention was mainly fixed. At first he welcomed Darwinism because it enabled him to do without God (or rather, without his father’s God). Later, having found a God of his own, he rejected Darwinism itself because it left God out. Thus, he antagonized both the church and the orthodox Darwinians and spent his life as a lonely outsider, or as Butler called himself after the biblical outcast, “an Ishmael.” (Britannica)


Darwin had not really explained evolution at all, Butler reasoned, because he had not accounted for the variations on which natural selection worked. Where Darwin saw only chance, Butler saw the effort on the part of creatures to respond to felt needs. He conceived creatures as acquiring necessary habits (and organs to perform them) and transmitting these to their offspring as unconscious memories. He thus restored teleology to a world from which purpose had been excluded by Darwin, but instead of attributing the purpose to God he placed it within the creatures themselves as the life force. (Britannica)

Follow UD News at Twitter!

3 Replies to “Literary figure Samuel Butler, it turns out, coined the term “Neo-Darwinism” in 1880

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to,,,

    Darwin had not really explained evolution at all, Butler reasoned, because he had not accounted for the variations on which natural selection worked. Where Darwin saw only chance,,,,

    Butler was very prescient. The random chance, i.e. unguided chance, aspect at the core of Darwinian theory is the very aspect of the theory that prevents it from ever being formulated as a serious scientific theory,,,

    “It is our contention that if ‘random’ is given a serious and crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness postulate is highly implausible and that an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws—physical, physico-chemical, and biological.”
    Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory,” Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, editors Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan, June 1967, p. 109.

    Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Wolfgang Pauli on the Empirical Problems with Neo-Darwinism – Casey Luskin – February 27, 2012
    Excerpt: “In discussions with biologists I met large difficulties when they apply the concept of ‘natural selection’ in a rather wide field, without being able to estimate the probability of the occurrence in a empirically given time of just those events, which have been important for the biological evolution. Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposesiveness. While they pretend to stay in this way completely ‘scientific’ and ‘rational,’ they become actually very irrational, particularly because they use the word ‘chance’, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability, in its application to very rare single events more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle.'”
    Wolfgang Pauli (pp. 27-28) –

    “By calling the unknown cause ‘chance’ for so long, people begin to forget that a substitution was made. . . . The assumption that ‘chance equals an unknown cause’ has come to mean for many that ‘chance equals cause.’”
    Robert C. Sproul

    Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness – Talbott – Fall 2011
    Excerpt: The situation calls to mind a widely circulated cartoon by Sidney Harris, which shows two scientists in front of a blackboard on which a body of theory has been traced out with the usual tangle of symbols, arrows, equations, and so on. But there’s a gap in the reasoning at one point, filled by the words, “Then a miracle occurs.” And the one scientist is saying to the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”
    In the case of evolution, I picture Dennett and Dawkins filling the blackboard with their vivid descriptions of living, highly regulated, coordinated, integrated, and intensely meaningful biological processes, and then inserting a small, mysterious gap in the middle, along with the words, “Here something random occurs.”
    This “something random” looks every bit as wishful as the appeal to a miracle. It is the central miracle in a gospel of meaninglessness, a “Randomness of the gaps,” demanding an extraordinarily blind faith. At the very least, we have a right to ask, “Can you be a little more explicit here?”

    “On the other hand, I disagree that Darwin’s theory is as `solid as any explanation in science.; Disagree? I regard the claim as preposterous. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen or so decimal places; so, too, general relativity. A leaf trembling in the wrong way would suffice to shatter either theory. What can Darwinian theory offer in comparison?”
    (Berlinski, D., “A Scientific Scandal?: David Berlinski & Critics,” Commentary, July 8, 2003)

    WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT? Evolution is True – Roger Highfield – January 2014
    Excerpt:,,, Whatever the case, those universal truths—’laws’—that physicists and chemists all rely upon appear relatively absent from biology.
    Little seems to have changed from a decade ago when the late and great John Maynard Smith wrote a chapter on evolutionary game theory for a book on the most powerful equations of science: his contribution did not include a single equation.

    supplemental notes:

    Unguided or Not? How Do Darwinian Evolutionists Define Their Theory? – Casey Luskin – August 11, 2012
    Excerpt: While many new atheists undoubtedly make poor philosophers, the “unguided” nature of Darwinian evolution is not a mere metaphysical “add on.” Rather, it’s a core part of how the theory of Darwinian evolution has been defined by its leading proponents. Unfortunately, even some eminent theistic and intelligent design-friendly philosophers appear unaware of the history and scientific development of neo-Darwinian theory.

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Eugene Wigner – 1960
    Excerpt: ,,certainly it is hard to believe that our reasoning power was brought, by Darwin’s process of natural selection, to the perfection which it seems to possess.,,,
    It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions, or to the two miracles of the existence of laws of nature and of the human mind’s capacity to divine them.,,,
    The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.

    Mathematics and Physics – A Happy Coincidence? – William Lane Craig – video

    1. If God did not exist the applicability of mathematics would be a happy coincidence.
    2. The applicability of mathematics is not a happy coincidence.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    Not only can we not formulate a rigorous mathematical foundation for Darwinism because of the random postulate at the base of the theory, but the random postulate also undermines our ability to trust our own reasoning.

    Scientific Peer Review is in Trouble: From Medical Science to Darwinism – Mike Keas – October 10, 2012
    Excerpt: Survival is all that matters on evolutionary naturalism. Our evolving brains are more likely to give us useful fictions that promote survival rather than the truth about reality. Thus evolutionary naturalism undermines all rationality (including confidence in science itself). Renown philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued against naturalism in this way (summary of that argument is linked on the site:).
    Or, if your short on time and patience to grasp Plantinga’s nuanced argument, see if you can digest this thought from evolutionary cognitive psychologist Steve Pinker, who baldly states:
    “Our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth; sometimes the truth is adaptive, sometimes it is not.”
    Steven Pinker, evolutionary cognitive psychologist, How the Mind Works (W.W. Norton, 1997), p. 305.

    Verse and Music:

    Proverbs 21:30
    There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.

    Alison Krauss – There Is A Reason

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    Seems there’s always somebody on the new-old game out there. New wine vs old wine-skins, anyone?

  3. 3

    The first chapter of Butler’s Evolution Old and New – he is a teleological evolutionist by the way – is a useful introduction to the question of whether there is purpose and design in nature. He even uses the term ‘intelligent design’ in the last paragraph:

    ‘… while gladly accepting his [William Thomson’s] testimony to the omnipresence of intelligent design in almost every structure, whether of animal or of plant…’

Leave a Reply