For Darwin Day, Robert Shedinger Calls Darwin’s Bluff

By Jonathan Witt Published on February 12, 2024

It’s Darwin Day 2024, the birthday of Charles Darwin, and Discovery Institute Press has a new truth bomb for the occasion — Darwin’s Bluff: The Mystery of the Book Darwin Never Finished. The book, by Robert Shedinger, Professor of Religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, drags from Charles Darwin’s closet a long overlooked skeleton devastating to the Darwinian mythology.

Tucked away in Darwin’s surviving papers is a lengthy manuscript he never finished, The Origin of Species’ oft-promised sequel on speciation he said would finally supply solid empirical evidence for the creative power of natural selection. He admitted such evidence was largely absent from the Origin, a work he repeatedly described as a “mere abstract.” And yet Darwin soon abandoned his sequel, and without ever revealing this decision to his reading public.

A Long-Unsolved Mystery

The question of why Darwin set the work aside has never been satisfactorily resolved. In this fresh and engrossing piece of historical detective work, Shedinger probes Darwin’s letters, notebooks, and the unfinished manuscript itself to piece together the solution to the mystery — namely, that Darwin never finished his big sequel because in the end he couldn’t deliver the promised goods. His book, begun in earnest, devolved into a bluff.

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Shedinger previously authored The Mystery of Evolutionary Mechanisms: Darwinian Biology’s Grand Narrative of Triumph and the Subversion of Religion. That earlier book received praise from scientists inside and outside the intelligent design community.

Scientists and scholars are also singing the new book’s praises. Historian Richard Weikart, author of Darwinian Racism, calls Darwin’s Bluff “fascinating.” Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Professor of Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, UK, describes it as “nothing short of a demythologization of modern biology’s origin story.”

“History of Science at Its Best”

The book resonated at a personal level for Günter Bechly, an internationally distinguished paleontologist. As he explains, “In 2009, as a card-carrying Darwinist serving as a fossil curator in one of Germany’s natural history museums,” he came to the startling realization that modern Darwinism rests “on a carefully constructed bluff.” Shedinger’s new book helped him see that, as Bechly puts it, such evolutionary “bluffing has a long pedigree, stretching back to the master of Down House himself. What emerges from Shedinger’s deep dive into Darwin’s private writings is a picture of a man wracked by doubts and insecurities about his evolutionary theory, but also a man not above a good bluff, one he sold so artfully that he may even have persuaded himself.”

Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion at Rice University, says the new book also exposes modern Darwinism. Kripal lauds Darwin’s Bluff as “a minutely researched piece of new scholarship,” which shows that “the confident scientific naturalism for which Darwin is mythologized today is largely a set of rhetorical devices and dogmatic beliefs that add up to a massive bluff.” Shedinger’s book, Kripal concludes, “is the history of science and the study of religion at their best.”


Jonathan Witt is the Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Originally published in Evolution News and reprinted by permission of Discovery Institute.

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