Friday, 23 January 2009

Goodbye, Tree of Life!

Joel Kontinen

In November 2004 National Geographic coyly asked, “Was Darwin Wrong?” David Quammen, who wrote the cover story, was quick to point out that Darwin was definitely Not wrong.

The latest issue of New Scientist is no longer so coy. It says bluntly: Darwin was wrong.

So what was he wrong about?

The Tree of Life was one of Charles Darwin’s key concepts and one of the phenomena that Dr. Jonathan Wells criticised in Icons of Evolution. The only illustration in The Origin of Species was about this very tree. (It’s on page 91 in my paperback copy of Origins).

Now New Scientist is willing to say goodbye to the Darwinian tree of life and replace it with a bush and horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between species.

Some Darwinists might remember that I called into question the existence of the tree of life in April 2008 when I wrote about a little sea creature that upset this very concept. They were not exactly reluctant to claim that I misinterpreted Darwin.

Perhaps they will now acknowledge that I did not misinterpret Darwin but that he was simply wrong about one of the key concepts of his theory.

However, in spite of the sensational headline (which has already drawn some fire on Richard Dawkins' site), New Scientist is not about to say goodbye to Darwin.

But it would be honest to admit that for years creation-believing scientists have been saying that an orchard is a more accurate description of the development of life than the tree of life.


Darwin, Charles. 1859 (1998). The Origin of Species. Ware: Wordsworth.

Lawton, Graham. 2009. Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life. New Scientist 2692 (24 January), 34-39.