At The Deathbed Of Darwinism: A Series Of Papers Informative Summary


This 1904 book, “At the Deathbed of Darwinism,” argues that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is failing in the scientific community and is being replaced by alternative theories of evolution. Author Eberhard Dennert presents a series of arguments from prominent biologists and paleontologists who reject Darwin’s central ideas, citing the lack of supporting empirical evidence.

Dennert highlights the growing recognition that evolution is not solely driven by random mutations and a struggle for survival, but is also shaped by internal forces and predetermined lines of development. The book explores concepts like the transmission of acquired characters, organic growth, heterogenesis, and multiple origins as potential explanations for evolutionary changes. It also critiques the Darwinian concepts of mimicry and sexual selection, highlighting their lack of empirical support.

Key Findings:

  • Darwinism’s Decline: Darwinism is losing its sway in the scientific community, with prominent scientists rejecting its central tenets.
  • Internal Forces and Predetermined Lines: Alternative theories emphasizing internal forces, organic growth, and predetermined lines of development are gaining traction.
  • Lack of Empirical Support: Darwin’s theories, especially those of natural selection and sexual selection, are criticized for lacking sufficient empirical evidence.
  • The Importance of Historical Context: Palaeontological evidence does not support Darwin’s gradual evolution model. The book emphasizes the importance of studying fossils and historical records to understand evolution.


  • Darwinism’s Limitations: The reader learns that Darwin’s theory of natural selection, while historically influential, is not a complete explanation for the origin of species.
  • Alternative Theories of Evolution: The book introduces concepts like the transmission of acquired characters, organic growth, and heterogenesis as potential mechanisms driving evolution.
  • Importance of Evidence: The reader learns about the importance of empirical evidence in scientific inquiry and how the lack of such evidence has led to the decline of Darwinism.
  • The Role of Internal Forces: The book challenges the purely mechanical view of evolution and suggests that internal forces and predetermined lines of development play a significant role in shaping evolutionary processes.

Historical Context:

The book was written in 1904, a time when Darwinism was still a dominant scientific theory, though already facing increasing challenges. The book reflects the growing skepticism towards Darwin’s ideas within scientific circles, particularly among younger generations of biologists.


  1. Darwinism’s Decline: Darwinism has lost its prestige among men of science. It has seen its day and will soon be reckoned a thing of the past.
  2. New Theories: Many scientists propose alternative theories of evolution that emphasize internal forces and predetermined lines of development, rejecting Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
  3. Lack of Intermediary Forms: Palaeontological research has failed to find the countless transition forms between species that Darwinism predicts, supporting the theory of saltatory evolution.
  4. Multiple Origins: The principle of multiple origins suggests that new species may have evolved from different primitive stocks, contradicting Darwin’s idea of a single common ancestor.
  5. The Impossibility of Mimicry: Darwin’s theory of mimicry is demonstrably false, as the resemblance of butterflies to leaves is not a result of adaptation for protection but rather a consequence of inherent developmental patterns.
  6. The Biogenetic Principle’s Limitations: Haeckel’s biogenetic principle, which claims that an organism repeats the development of its ancestors during its individual development, is not universally true and has been challenged by scientists.
  7. The Impotence of Natural Selection: Even some supporters of Darwinism acknowledge that natural selection, while it may play a role, cannot explain all evolutionary changes.
  8. The Importance of Internal Forces: Scientists increasingly recognize the significance of internal forces, such as organic growth and predetermined lines of development, in shaping evolution.
  9. The Uselessness of Sexual Selection: Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, which claims that females select mates based on physical traits, has been refuted by scientists.
  10. The Role of Environment: While environment plays a role in shaping evolution, it is not the sole determining factor. Internal forces and predetermined developmental patterns are also crucial.
  11. The Concept of Perfection: There is a gradual ascent of perfection in the organic world, a phenomenon that cannot be explained by Darwin’s theory of random mutations and struggle for survival.
  12. The Limited Number of Developmental Lines: The book points to the limited number of directions in which species can evolve, suggesting that evolution is not a chaotic process of random change.
  13. Autochthon-Morphological Characters: The book differentiates between “autochthon-morphological” characters, which are innate and not related to utility, and “adaptive-morphological” characters, which are related to utility and adapt to the environment.
  14. The Importance of Direct Proof: The book emphasizes the need for direct empirical evidence to support the theory of Descent, as indirect proofs through comparative anatomy and ontogenetic development have proven insufficient.
  15. The Failure of the Parade-Horse: The commonly used example of the horse’s evolution, based on the palaeontological record, has been shown to be incomplete and does not fully support the theory of gradual evolution.
  16. The Archaeopteryx: The Archaeopteryx, a fossilized bird, does not represent a clear transitional form between reptiles and birds, as initially thought.
  17. The Fresh-Water Snail of Steinheim: The idea that the fresh-water snail of Steinheim provides evidence for gradual evolution is demonstrably false.
  18. The Importance of Observation: The book emphasizes the need for extensive observation and experimentation to understand the complexities of evolution.
  19. The Limitations of Logic: The book argues that a purely logical approach to understanding evolution is insufficient and cannot account for the complexities of biological phenomena.
  20. The Importance of Heuristic Maxim: While the theory of Descent may lack conclusive proof, it still serves as a valuable heuristic maxim, guiding scientific inquiry and prompting further research.


  1. Weight of Bacteria: Cohn estimated that the offspring of a single bacterium, at its ordinary rate of increase under favorable conditions, would in three days amount to 4,772 billions of individuals with an aggregate weight of seven thousand five hundred tons.
  2. Elephant Population: Darwin calculated that 19,000,000 elephants should theoretically exist today, perpetuating the lives of each pair that mated in the twelfth century.
  3. Water Secretion: A full-grown leaf of the Liane javas (Conocephalus ovatus) secreted 2.76 g. of water (that is 26 per cent. of its own weight) in one night.
  4. Salt Content of Water: The distilled water secreted by the Liane javas contains only 0.045 g. salts.
  5. Number of Types: Naturalists have identified sixteen to seventeen different types of animal structures, suggesting that evolution has not produced a single common model.
  6. Number of Species: Millions of species are estimated to have existed on earth over millions of years, but only a small fraction have been fossilized and preserved.
  7. Age of Earth: The duration of the earth’s existence is measured in millions of years.


  1. Darwinism: The theory of evolution by natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin.
  2. Natural Selection: The process by which organisms with traits that make them better adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce.
  3. Struggle for Existence: Competition between organisms for limited resources, a key element in Darwin’s theory.
  4. Heterogenesis: The sudden appearance of new variations in organisms without gradual transitions.
  5. Orthogenesis: Development along predetermined lines, a concept that rejects the Darwinian idea of random mutations.
  6. Mimicry: The resemblance of an organism to another organism or an object, often for protection from predators.
  7. Sexual Selection: The process by which individuals choose mates based on certain physical characteristics.
  8. Biogenetic Principle: The theory that an organism repeats the developmental stages of its ancestors during its individual development.
  9. Adaptation: The process by which organisms become better suited to their environment.
  10. Teleology: The doctrine that events are guided by a purpose or final cause.


  1. The Archaeopteryx: The Archaeopteryx, a fossilized bird, was initially thought to be a transitional form between reptiles and birds, but further research has shown it to be a distinct bird species.
  2. The Fresh-Water Snail of Steinheim: The fresh-water snail of Steinheim was once used as evidence for gradual evolution, but closer examination revealed that it does not support the Darwinian model.
  3. The Liane javas: Haberlandt’s experiments on the Liane javas demonstrate that new organs can arise suddenly and without gradual transitions, challenging Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
  4. The Parade-Horse: The palaeontological record of horse evolution, commonly used to support Darwin’s theory, has been shown to be incomplete and does not fully support the idea of gradual evolution.
  5. The Swallow-Tail and Sailor Butterfly: Eimer’s experiments with these butterflies show that artificial heat can induce changes in wing shape and color, demonstrating that external factors can influence development and undermine the Darwinian idea of random mutations.
  6. The Butterflies: Eimer’s studies on butterflies reveal that similar color patterns and designs can arise in non-related species, contradicting Darwin’s theory of mimicry as an adaptation for protection.
  7. The Egg-Cell: Hertwig argues that the egg-cells of different animal species are fundamentally different and do not represent a simple recapitulation of earlier forms, challenging Haeckel’s biogenetic principle.
  8. The Mammal Egg-Cell: Hertwig points out that the egg-cell of a mammal is a complex structure, not a simple and indifferent form, contradicting the idea of a simple recapitulation of earlier forms during development.
  9. The Ape-Like Animal: Darwin’s claim that an ape-like animal “thought” of imitating a beast of prey to warn its fellows is a speculative and improbable explanation for the development of language.
  10. The Elephant and the Mouse: Steinmann points out the absurdity of explaining the extinction of giant saurians as a result of competition from small marsupials, highlighting the weaknesses of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest.


Dennert’s book “At the Deathbed of Darwinism” provides a compelling argument against the central tenets of Darwinism, emphasizing the lack of sufficient empirical evidence to support it. The book highlights the increasing acceptance within the scientific community of alternative theories that emphasize internal forces and predetermined lines of development in evolution. While the book does not fully reject the concept of evolution, it challenges the simplistic, mechanistic view put forward by Darwinism and points towards a more complex and multifaceted understanding of the processes shaping life on Earth.

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